Executive summary

In 2002, Quebec adopted the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act. This Act recognises the legitimacy of lobbying and the right of citizens to know who is attempting to influence decision-makers in parliamentary, government and municipal institutions. It provides for the mandatory registration of lobbyists in a public registry, a code of conduct applicable to those who engage in lobbying activities, a Commissioner of Lobbying responsible for the monitoring and oversight of these activities, and a system of criminal and disciplinary sanctions.

In order to respond to changing lobbying practices and the evolving socio-political context in Quebec, Quebec could consider modernising the legislative and regulatory framework to continue strengthening a culture of transparency and integrity.

In Quebec, the same legal and institutional framework applies to both lobbying activities targeting the Quebec government and activities taking place at the municipal level. In this respect, the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act is one of the most comprehensive and coherent legislative frameworks among OECD countries, and it is therefore desirable to maintain its coverage of municipalities. However, this specificity requires finding a balance between the Act's objective of transparency, addressing risks in local public management, and the proper functioning of local democracy, for example the need to maintain a citizen dialogue with public institutions.

The Quebec legislator made a choice in 2002 to apply transparency requirements to actors based on whether their activities involve the pursuit of a pecuniary and corporate benefit, rather than on the nature of their influence communications and their impact on public decision-making. However, these criteria are insufficiently clear and can be seen as hindering transparency. Above all, this categorisation may have contributed to perceptions that only certain activities carried out for corporate interests should be associated with the word "lobbying" and be subject to legislative measures to prevent abuse. Today, lobbying in Quebec is perceived negatively by the public and remains associated with certain practices that may be considered illegitimate or even illegal.

The reporting obligations in the Lobbyist Registry only imperfectly meet the transparency objectives of the Act and do not allow for a real understanding of the scope or weight of a lobbying activity. The launch in the spring of 2022 by the Quebec Commissioner of Lobbying of a new platform designed to remedy the technological shortcomings of the current Registry will undoubtedly constitute an important step towards greater simplicity and efficiency in relation to transparency obligations.

Despite the Quebec Commissioner of Lobbying’s extensive awareness-raising activities, the benefits of a lobbying framework are not sufficiently known to the public. Moreover, the Act does not clearly assign responsibilities to the State, public institutions and public office holders with respect to the transparency of lobbying activities.

Main recommendations

While maintaining the coverage of the current Act with respect to municipalities, the Quebec legislator could consider further adapting the scope of application to different local levels and types of decisions. Similarly, the Act could better reflect advances in transparency and integrity made possible by the Act respecting contracting by public bodies and the strengthening of electoral laws.

In order to take into account the evolution of lobbying practices, made more complex by the advent of social media, the Act could cover grassroots lobbying, as is the case at the federal level and in most Canadian jurisdictions. The Act should also consider the definition of "lobbyist" in an inclusive manner to cover all interest groups, whether business or not-for-profit entities, that seek to influence public decisions. However, in order to strike the right balance between the diversity of lobbying entities, their capacities and resources, on the one hand, and the measures taken to increase transparency, on the other hand, it seems necessary to provide for exemptions for certain collective action organisations and ad hoc lobbying activities. These measures appear necessary so that the administrative burden of compliance does not become an impediment to fair and equitable access to government.

The provisions regarding the “significant part of duties” is confusing and could be reviewed. At the very least, the Quebec legislator could consider providing that the status of lobbyist is assessed by considering all of the activities of the legal person concerned, and not those of the individuals who make up the entity, in order to determine more relevant thresholds triggering an obligation to register.

The register should place the obligation to register on entities, not individuals. The initial declaration could be simplified, while more precise information -- such as the dates of lobbying activities, the specific public officials and decisions targeted -- could be required in regular updates, in order to allow citizens to fully grasp the scope and depth of these activities. These measures could be complemented by tailored disclosures according to the category of public official targeted.

Public officials and lobbyists share the responsibility to apply the principles of good governance, in particular transparency and integrity, in order to maintain confidence in public decisions. On the lobbyists' side, the Code of conduct could be strengthened and Quebec could encourage companies and interest representatives to implement principles of responsible engagement. On the part of public officials, the regulation of lobbying activities must also be part of a broader approach aimed at promoting a culture of integrity within public institutions. Quebec could consider making public officials partly accountable by requiring them to ensure that representatives of companies or organisations contacting them have actually registered their lobbying activities, or by implementing open agenda initiatives for certain public officials. Increased co-ordination with the Treasury Board Secretariat of Quebec, the Ethics Commissioner of Quebec and the Municipal Commission of Quebec on matters related to lobbying and integrity could help strengthen awareness and promote training activities on the integrity standards applicable to public officials in the specific context of lobbying activities.

Finally, to ensure compliance with the rules, the Quebec legislator could consider giving the Commissioner of Lobbying the power to impose administrative monetary penalties, as well an educational mission to raise awareness so as to reinforce the efforts already made by the Commissioner in this area.

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