Attorney General Wally Oppal is refusing to say whether he'll fix British Columbia's deeply-flawed Lobbyists Registration Act prior to the next election. At issue: yesterday, registrar David Loukidelis stated he won't be reviewing alleged violations of the act until he has the legal "tools necessary to properly investigate and address" those complaints. This, after top provincial Liberal backroom boy Patrick Kinsella refused to "consent to any investigation or reporting" by the registrar into his interactions with the Campbell administration. Despite that impasse, though, Attorney General Oppal told reporters he can't give a "precise time frame" for when Mr. Loukidelis's concerns will be addressed.
Still, shouldn't Liberal supporters, such as Mr. Kinsella, cooperate with the registrar's reviews - even if he doesn't presently have the authority to conduct such investigations? "Well, should a person cooperate with the authorities if there's no basis for any kind of allegation?" responded Attorney General Oppal. "Look, I'm not defending Mr. Kinsella. I don't know what he does. He's probably relying on legal advice. I don't know."
Mr. Kinsella has never registered as a lobbyist. In the past, he has repeatedly denied ever lobbying the government he was instrumental in electing. And, according to a written statement issued by his company, The Progressive Group is "confident it has consistently and correctly followed the requirements of the Act," registering "each and every" time it communicates with public office holders on behalf of clients.
But a national payday loan company executive has told Public Eye his firm hired Mr. Kinsella to do lobbying work. Earlier records exclusively obtained by Public Eye also show Mr. Kinsella's strategic communications company has helped win major contracts and benefits for foreign and business interests. And those same records show Mr. Kinsella was scheduled to repeatedly meet with one government minister.
Under the act, consultant lobbyists are required to sign-up if they, for pay, communicate with a public office holder in an attempt to influence government - although there are some exceptions to that rule. But consultants must always register if they, for pay, arrange a meeting with an office holder and another "person."
The following is an edited transcript of the aforementioned scrum.
Media Can you comment on the pathetic state of the Lobbyists Registration Act in this province?
Attorney General Oppal That's a bit of a leading question.
Media Don't you think it's accurate?
Attorney General Oppal Well, I received a letter from Mr. Loukidelis. I had a meeting with him this summer. It was a second meeting. And I have made no secret of the fact I think the act needs to be changed. Keep in mind the fact that when this act was enacted in 01/02 it was one of the early pieces of legislation in Canada. And, obviously, time has overtaken it. And clearly there is a need for change. And Mr. Loukidelis has made certain suggestions and they won't surprise you - that the act needs some investigative tools, it needs more transparency, more accountability. And I think all of those suggestions and recommendations are well taken. And we'll have to consider them. And we need to change the act.
Media Would you agree that now with Mr. Loukidelis saying he's not even going to investigate that the lobbyists registry is almost useless?
Attorney General Oppal It's not useless because it does provide registration mechanisms. And it does all of that. But, as I said a moment ago, times have changed since it first came into effect. And he's quite right. He doesn't have the power to investigate. But that doesn't mean that anyone who contravenes the act can't be investigated because they can be investigated by the police. That could still happen. But his point is very well taken that investigative tools and enforcement powers ought to be in that act.
Media You've known about failures in the lobbyists registry for a long time now. So why hasn't the government failed to act on this?
Attorney General Oppal Well, I dispute that. All of these issues began to arise about a year ago. And we are looking at all of those things. It's a question of getting all of the recommendations and getting everyone on side. It takes a while to get legislation into legislative form. But it will be done.
Media Do you think Patrick Kinsella is making a bit of a mockery of this by refusing to cooperate?
Attorney General Oppal First of all, I'm not going to comment on his actions.
Media Why not?
Attorney General Oppal Merely, because this is ought into the public and the opposition has taken the liberty to expose his name doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve any kind of public comment. If someone is contravening the act, there is a remedy - in spite of the fact it's not within the act. The fact is the police could investigate that person.
Media He's a prominent Liberal supporter. Leave his name out of it. Shouldn't prominent Liberal supporters respect the spirit of the act, which is to cooperate?
Attorney General Oppal Well, the other side of the coin is maybe he's not a lobbyist. I don't know.
Media How are we going to find out if he's not going to cooperate with the investigation?
Attorney General Oppal Well, should a person cooperate with the authorities if there's no basis for any kind of allegation?...Look, I'm not defending Mr. Kinsella. I don't know what he does. He's probably relying on legal advice. I don't know.
Media Mr. Loukidelis says there are numerous complaints that have been made to his office. There is no fall session. So this is going to stay open for a while. And the public is left with the perception there are numerous people ought there running afoul of the rules. Nothing is going to happen to them. The police aren't going to proactively investigate.
Attorney General Oppal First of all, Mr. Loukidelis has said on more than one occassion - and I agree with this - that lobbying itself should not be stigmitized. Lobbying itself is a legitimate way of government hearing legitimate complaints about legisilation and a myriad of other issues. So that should not be lost in any discussion of what takes place. What the public should know is we've taken these complaints into consideration, we will do something about it, we have to think what is the appropriate thing to do. We're looking at the Alberta legislation, for instance. I think it's a good act. And I think that might be one way to go.
Media When government acts on legislation, it can act very quickly on legislation. It can act on legislation within a month's time. So why is it taking so long to act on this legislation?
Attorney General Oppal That's not a bad question. The thing is, these things all have a sequence to going into the legislative calendar. I would like to get this thing done, if for only other reason to get you guys off my back. But can I say this is more important than healthcare? Is this more important than education or climate change or all the other legislative intiatives that are on the calendar. So I think this deserves some kind of consideration. And I think you will find we will do something.
Media According to the house leader, there is no legislative agenda this fall. That's why we don't need a sitting. If there had been a sitting, would this be an item that you could have dealt with?
Attorney General Oppal It's not quite that simple. I thought it was before I came here. But before anything gets put into legislation there are a number of steps that have to be taken. There has to be consultation. There has to be input into what type of legislation there ought to be. There has to be the drafting of the act. And that has to be gone over with a meticulous comb. So it's not that simple to say, "If we had a fall session, we could pass this." Even if we had a fall session, this would not be ready for legislation.
Media Have you responded to Loukidelis's communication regarding this issue?
Attorney General Oppal No, I only got it a couple days ago. But we had productive meetings in July. His point is well-taken. And we'll have to consider what is workable and what isn't.
Media When can you anticipate we'll see changes.
Attorney General Oppal Well I can't give you a precise time frame. But I can tell you it's coming.
Media Will it be before the next election?
Attorney General Oppal I can't comment on that.