First-ever charges laid under Lobbying Act

The first-ever charge under the federal Lobbying Act has been laid in what is being called a “wake-up call” to those working with, or in, the government.

Andrew Skaling of New Brunswick has been charged with failure to register as a consultant lobbyist as required by s. 5(1) of the Lobbying Act.

He is alleged to have undertaken to communicate with a public office holder, for payment, on behalf of the Canadian Network of Respiratory Care. The charge relates to alleged activity between June 2010 and January 2011.

It has not been confirmed whether Skaling is the same Andrew Skaling who served as the City of Ottawa’s director of media relations for three years, was a Conservative Party media spokesperson during the 2004 federal election, and acted as director of media relations during Belinda Stronach’s bid for Conservative Party leadership.

The political communications specialist had previously worked in New Brunswick and was most recently a partner at Ottawa-based public affairs firm McKenney & Skaling, the web site for which appears to have been taken offline today.

Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP partner Guy Giorno says the charge is the first one since the law took effect in 1989.

“It’s a wake-up call to everyone who’s involved in the government to pay attention to these laws, to ensure that you’re taking steps to comply,” says Giorno, former chief of staff to Prime Minster Stephen Harper and chairman of the law of lobbying and ethics committee of the Canadian Bar Association.

The act requires anyone paid to communicate or arrange meetings with federal public office holders, concerning a list of subjects set out in the statute, to register their activities in the Registry of Lobbyists.

The definition of “public office holder” includes most people working in the government of Canada, including members of the Senate and the House of Commons and their staff, employees of federal departments and agencies, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Complaints are investigated by the lobbying commissioner, who can refer cases to the RCMP. Between 2005 and 2010, 11 cases were referred to the RCMP but no charges were brought, according to a parliamentary background paper on the Lobbying Act. The RCMP is not required to explain why cases do not result in charges.

“The thinking has always been that the RCMP in connection with the PPSC [Public Prosecution Service of Canada] believe that the charges wouldn’t stick,” says Giorno.

Last year, a former staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office, Keith Beardsley, was criticized in a report by lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd for trying to arrange a meeting between then-chief of staff Giorno and a wireless telecoms firm.

The Lobbying Act bans public office holders from lobbying for five years after they have left office, and Giorno alerted the commissioner that he had been contacted by Beardsley. Shepherd sent the file to the RCMP, but they declined to press charges.

Giorno says there seems to be a high threshold for charges, but the lobbying commissioner is determined to “crack down” on alleged flouting of the rules. “I don’t think there’s anybody who practises in this area who thinks that Parliament intended that lobbyists were exempt from the law,” he says.

The case demonstrates that clients employing lobbyists must ensure contracts contain explicit assurances that the rules will be followed, he adds.

Although the charge was laid on Jan. 29, at Ottawa Provincial Court, it only come to light when Shepherd mentioned it to a parliamentary committee on April 29, without providing the name of the accused.

Skaling is due to appear again on May 15. Giorno says it looks like he will have a summary hearing, which could carry a prison sentence of up to six months, or a $50,000 fine. If he is indicted, the sentence could be up to two years.

There is no suggestion of any misdemeanors on the part of Skaling’s client, the Canadian Network of Respiratory Care.

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