Lobbying czar calls for federal investment after a decade of stagnant funding
Parliament Hill is seen at sunset on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. (Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018 5:06AM EDT
OTTAWA - Canada's lobbying czar says she needs more funding to meet the growing demands of her office and to properly modernize the country's lobbyist registry.
The federal lobbying commissioner's office has not received an increase to its annual budget of $4.5 million since it was first created 10 years ago.
Commissioner Nancy Belanger said she believes more must be done to increase education and outreach efforts to ensure all lobbyists and public office holders understand lobbying rules and to maintain a high level of transparency for the public - but she needs more money to do it.
"We will not be able to sustain the level of demands on our staff right now and (on) the registry," Belanger said in an interview.
"If we want to be able to modernize, there is no way we will be able to do it with the current budget. That's clear. So one day we won't be able to put another Band-Aid on it and it will crash."
Half of the office's budget currently pays for salaries, which leaves little for program development, Belanger said, and even less for updating the technical aspects of the registry itself.
As a result, the registry has been forced to forgo more modern features, such as allowing lobbyists to upload information on mobile devices.
"We need to modernize our system, but I have such a small budget it's very difficult to prioritize and get to it when it's so I.T.-based and so expensive."
Belanger, who was appointed as Canada's lobbying watchdog last December, tabled her office's annual report last week.
In 2017-18, some 9,084 lobbyists were registered over the course of the year - the largest total in seven years, and a number that's only expected to grow. That's why Belanger said she needs to be able to expand her office's capacity.
"The monthly communications reports have been going up, everything is increasing," she said.
"That enhances the demand on our staff on all fronts, so at some point, with a team of 26 people, there's only so much we can do."
Her office asked Treasury Board for a one-time increase of $3 million over three years over three years to pay for modernizations like a new website and updates to the registry, as well as $700,000 more a year in base funding. No such help materialized in the federal budget.
Belanger said her office is "maintaining" things for now, but hopes government will consider an increase soon.
Treasury Board did not respond to media inquiries Tuesday.
As for the work of her office, Belanger said she believes there's a lack of knowledge and understanding about what lobbyists do and why her work is important.
For many, lobbying remains a dirty word awash in corruption and secrecy - something that's simply not true in Canada, where stringent rules govern organizations and companies that wish to influence the decision-making powers of government, she argued.
"(Lobbyists) appear to have a negative reputation, when in fact the work that they do is good for democracy," Belanger said.
"It's good for our public office holders to have the information in order to make decisions that are in the public interest."