As well, when comparing February’s activity with one month earlier, the 2,927 communications reports marked a 185 per cent gain from January.
“You’ve got a combination of things happening here,” said Joe Jordan, a lobbyist with J.L. Jordan Group and former Liberal MP. “You’ve got a government that has signalled, through what it’s said and what it’s done, that it values consultation. And then you’ve got the front end of a four-year mandate and a budget.”
Topics of discussion listed in communications reports that saw notable gains in February included; aboriginal affairs, for which its 310 reports marked a 933 per cent gain from one year earlier; 295 reports for infrastructure, up 638 per cent, 280 reports for economic development, up 637 per cent, and 130 reports for climate, up 6,400 per cent from just two a year earlier.
Mr. Jordan said these are “topics this government has signalled, absolutely, they’re going to move on. And it’s attracting a lot of attention, like when little kids play soccer and there’s always 100 kids around the ball. People are going to flock to those subject areas.”
He recalled how there was a lull in lobbying activity late last year, after the new Liberal government was sworn in Nov. 4, which he attributed to “logistics” as many new ministers and MPs were still setting up their offices and staff.
He said February’s high numbers are probably a result, in almost equal amounts, of the friendlier stance the Liberals have toward consulting with lobbyists, and also because of the budget that is coming down on Tuesday.
Still, Mr. Jordan said February would have been a little late to have a profound influence on the direction taken in this upcoming budget, though he doesn’t discount efforts made by lobbyists.
“It would probably need to be something that almost directly aligns with a mandate objective, because I don’t think [the government] has a lot of leeway to drift off the script there,” he said. “I think it’s always useful to make budget submissions because sometimes you have ask for something a couple times before you get some serious consideration.”
Mr. Jordan said this high level of contact between lobbyists and public officials will likely taper off in the months ahead as the government starts saying “no” to proposals more often, and ministers and MPs start feeling worn out. However, he said the federal lobbying scene will continue to be more active than it was under the Conservative government.
Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a former cabinet minister under the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, said the accelerated lobbying as of late is the result of groups wanting to get familiar with the many new faces that occupy cabinet positions and MPs’ offices.
“Every organization that deals with the federal government is needing to reach out to build relationships to talk about their priorities, but also get an understanding of what the new government’s priorities are,” Mr. Beatty said.
He added that the government, too, has made efforts to reach out to various stakeholders, including his group.
“I’ve been astonished and very pleased at the amount of outreach they have done, ministers who have taken the initiative to call me with nothing more on their minds other than to say, ‘Look, I’m new to the portfolio. I just wanted to introduce myself and to say that we welcome input.’ … That is very refreshing, because it means that there’s a good open dialogue with the front end of the government.”
Two organizations, in particular, stood out for the number of communications reports they filed for February. The Canadian Federation of Students had the most with 178, followed by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters with 106. The next group, Ford Motor Co. of Canada, had 33.
Despite the surge in communications reports, the quantity of active registrations has stayed stable. As of March 17, there were 3,015 registrations, up slightly from 3,011 on the same date in 2015. Registrations from consultant lobbyists were up 1.7 per cent to 2,236, down 4.2 per cent to 293 for in-house corporate lobbyists, and registrations for in-house organizational lobbyists declined by 4.1 per cent to 486.
Yet, there were notable gains in registrations that included certain subject matters. For example, there were 655 registrations that included infrastructure as a topic of discussion as of March 17, up 19 per cent from a year earlier. Economic development was in 635 registrations, a gain of 27 per cent.
“The reason for that is they know we’ve made the big commitment on infrastructure,” said Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), who is chairman of the House Finance Committee. “They’ve heard the [finance] minister and the prime minister say we’re going live with that commitment, even with the changing economic times. …. So certainly there is more pressure from companies, municipalities, provinces, that they want to have a piece of that pie.”
Mr. Easter said those lobbying on infrastructure are looking for investments in things such as highways, water-and-sewage equipment, social housing, and the internet, among other things.
The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) is one organization that has been lobbying the government on both infrastructure and economic development.
“Given that this is a new government with fairly well documented and published mandate letters, it is extremely important the we bring in front of the government and the appropriate ministers what are the key issues that are important for the technology sectors,” ITAC president Karna Gupta said.
While discussion of infrastructure often brings to mind images of roads and bridges, Mr. Gupta said his group has been trying to convince the government of the importance of technological infrastructure.
For example, he said increasing broadband internet access, particularly in rural and remote areas, is the kind of investment that can have longer-term benefits to economic growth.
“As you’re building bridges and roads, make sure when you dig up the ground, you also lay down the fibre that’s needed [for broadband internet],” he said. “It’s not just about paving over sand.”
He added that another type of infrastructure investment could be improving the level of online-service delivery by government to Canadians.
“Infrastructure discussions would always have a level of service delivery and application on top,” he said. “If I bring a pipe to your house and I don’t deliver water, it’s no good, right? All citizens consume and engage with government in terms of service consumption for everything … checking your EI, pension, you name it. Service delivery is very much part of this expansion of digital infrastructure that’s on the table”
Mr. Gupta said a lack of mobile-friendly websites and apps are a major shortcoming right now of online government services.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is another organization that’s registered to lobby the government on infrastructure and economic development.
Raymond Louie, FCM president and a Vancouver city councillor, said his group is calling on the government to prioritize public transit, affordable housing, and the environment in its upcoming infrastructure investments, adding that this falls largely in line with what the government has already promised.
He noted that the government has promised investments of $20 billion over 10 years in, each, public transit, social infrastructure, and green infrastructure. While he’s hoping this week’s budget provides greater detail on what specifically is meant by social and green infrastructure, he said he supports this level of investment.
“It’s a bold investment that this government’s made, and it’s very different to what the last government had committed to—essentially doubling the infrastructure spend,” Mr. Louie said.
Generally, Mr. Louie said he would like to see the government’s approach to funding municipal infrastructure transition to more of a consistent and stable funding model, rather than the current way of requiring cities to apply for federal funding on a project-by-project basis, likening it to a “lottery system.”
Physical fitness advocacy group Participaction is among the organizations lobbying the government on economic development. When asked about how the group’s mandate extends to economic development, Participaction spokeswoman Katherine Janson cited a study her group did in partnership with the Conference Board of Canada that found if 10 per cent of Canadians became more active, it would benefit the economy by $7.5-billion by 2040 and save $2.6-billion in health-care costs. The economic benefits would come from things such as less worker absenteeism, fewer people on disability leave, and fewer premature deaths, according the study released in October 2014.
Ms. Janson said Participaction is seeking additional federal funding for Participaction of about $35.5-million over the next five years, or $7.1-million a year. Information on Participaction’s lobbying registry shows it received $2.9-million from the federal government in the fiscal year ended March 2015; $2-million from Sport Canada and almost $900,000 from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Ms. Janson said Participaction’s approach to lobbying government and its requests have not changed since the election, though the group is finding the new Liberal government has been receptive.
“We’ve been met with open arms in Ottawa,” she said. “We’ve been able to secure meetings with ministers and with members of Parliament who are receptive to hearing from us, and who are enthusiastic about championing our message. So we couldn’t be more pleased about that.”
Author: DEREK ABMA