Tories cast wider net over lobbying

OTTAWA - The Harper government is casting a wider net over lobbying activities on Parliament Hill that will now cover backbenchers and political staff.

OTTAWA - The Harper government is casting a wider net over lobbying activities on Parliament Hill that will now cover backbenchers and political staff.

Regulations restricting former cabinet ministers and their staffs from pitching the government for corporate and personal interests will now apply to all MPs and senators, as well as staff in the Opposition leader's office, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said Thursday.

The Lobbying Act imposes a five-year cooling-off period on former politicians and requires existing lobbyists to register if they have contact with the government.

Day called it a step toward greater transparency and suggested it should have opposition support because MPs passed a motion last spring that recommended a wider definition of lobbying under the law.

"We want to make sure that lobbying is something not only that is allowable in a democratic society but that under certain provisions people should know it should be open and transparent who is doing lobbying classified as an official lobbyist," Day said.

A Commons committee probed the business dealings of former Conservative caucus chair Rahim Jaffer, who the opposition claimed got favourable treatment from two cabinet ministers when he made inquiries about access to a green fund.

Jaffer is not registered as a lobbyist and denied any wrongdoing or receiving any federal cash.

The new rules would continue to require that registered lobbyists report their activities to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, but they do not put the onus on MPs to report contact with lobbyists.

Day was non-committal about whether the onus might be shifted to MPs and staffers in the future.

NDP House leader Libby Davies welcomed the changes but said the onus should be on MPs to report their dealings with lobbyists, in light of the Jaffer affair.

"It should go further, in terms of members of Parliament themselves registering when they're being lobbied, so it can be clear if there are lobbying overtures and work being done by people who are not registered," she said.

Day said there is a 30-day period where people can offer comments on the new rules and he would be "happy to look at that."

He also said a legislative review of the Lobbying Act will take place this fall, allowing for further suggestions.

"So we're open to suggestions from the public that will probably come through members of Parliament," Day added.

Earlier this spring, Liberal MP Derek Lee faced accusations that he was lobbying because the website of a Toronto law firm said he pitched the government on behalf of clients.

Lee has said the information was inaccurate.

Day said the lobbying commissioner must investigate the allegations against Lee and decide what further action could be taken.

Day said the changes will be made to government regulations later this week and will be formalized next month.