Democracy Watch Accuses Trudeau Government Appointed Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger of a Cover-Up

ABOVE: Federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger. (Photo: ici.radiocanada)

Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch, has bluntly accused Federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger of covering up questionable, if not illegal, activities by lobbyists instead of holding them to account under federal law. Bélanger was appointed Commissioner of Lobbying by the Trudeau government in 2017 for a seven-year term.

 Democracy Watch issued a press release yesterday referencing specific cases and details of alleged influence peddling by lobbyists in Ottawa.

The respected watchdog organization  is calling on Commissioner Bélanger to release her rulings on five violations of the Lobbying Act that she referred to the RCMP between January 2018 and November 2020. Belanger testified in November 2020 before the House Ethics Committee that she had referred eleven cases to the RCMP since she became Commissioner in January 2018.

In the release, Democracy Watch accuses Commissioner Bélanger and the RCMP of hiding 11 rulings because they involve key ethical lobbying rules that Bélanger is proposing to gut despite widespread opposition.

Conacher says that “it’s shameful that the RCMP and Crown prosecutors continue to take so long to investigate lobbyists who violate the law and continue to fail to prosecute most violations.” Conacher also noted that “by continuing to hide her rulings on the five lobbying violation situations, Commissioner Bélanger is not only protecting the lobbyists and the politicians and public officials they were lobbying, but she is also covering up situations that may relate to her proposed gutting of key ethical lobbying rules.”

On February 3, 2023, Commissioner Bélanger told the Committee that she had not referred any more cases to the RCMP but that the RCMP had let the lobbyists involved in five situations off the hook and referred the cases back. (Click here and see page 7 of the PDF). 

Bélanger said the RCMP had charged one lobbyist. The RCMP did not issue a news release about the charge.

In their release, Democracy Watch says this means there are five other lobbying law violation cases the RCMP has been investigating for more than two years and ask, “How could these five investigations possibly take that long, and why are these five violations still being kept secret?”

According to Democracy Watch, the violation situations that have been referred to Commissioner Bélanger include:

1. The unregistered lobbying and favours for Cabinet Ministers that Kevin Chan and others at Facebook did (Click here to see Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint to the Commissioner).

2.  The unregistered lobbying WE Charity lobbyists did from January 2019 to August 2020 and the trip gifts they gave to former Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his family.

3.  The lobbying by former PCO Clerk Kevin Lynch for SNC-Lavalin that was not registered by CEO Neil Bruce (Click here to see Democracy Watch’s March 2019 complaint) and by SNC-Lavalin lawyer Robert Pritchard and others.

4.  The lobbying by Imperial Oil of then-Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, and by CPA Canada of Minister Karina Gould, at a May 2019 event they sponsored?

Democracy Watch says that the Trudeau appointed Belanger is pushing a proposal to gut key federal ethical lobbying rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct that will allow lobbyists to do significant campaigning for and fundraise unlimited amounts of money for politicians and their parties and lobby them at the same time or soon afterward. (Click here to see Backgrounder). 

The Globe and Mail’s editorial board in two editorial articles—one on March 23,2023  and a second on April 23, 2023—and a coalition of 26 citizen groups with 1.5 million total supporters, and 41 lawyers and professors (many of them leading experts in government ethics), and 20,000+ voters, all oppose Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed changes, and the House Ethics Parliamentary Committee’s call for loopholes to be added to the gift rules because gutting these key ethical lobbying rules violates Canadians’ Charter Rights to integrity and equal opportunity to participate in policy-making processes. (Click here for details about the groups, lawyers, professors, and voters). 

Democracy Watch says that MPs on the House Ethics Committee (except the NDP MP) support the gutting of these rules, and all MPs on the committee want loopholes added to other rules proposed by Commissioner Bélanger so that it will effectively be legal for lobbyists to use gifts, hospitality and “sponsored travel” as unethical ways of influencing MPs.

Conacher says, “The Commissioner’s proposed unethical changes are based on one secret opinion that she commissioned from one law firm through a sole-source contract, an opinion she refuses to make public, which makes her proposed changes even more questionable.”

He adds that “It’s shocking that MPs on the Ethics Committee would call for loopholes to allow lobbyists to buy them off, essentially bribe them, with fundraising, favours, trips, gifts and wining and dining worth thousands of dollars each year,” said Conacher. “The changes that the Ethics Committee wants are deeply unethical and will allow for corrupt favour-trading between lobbyists and politicians.”