Ontario Premier Seeks Tougher Laws, Jail Time for Rule-Breaking Lobbyists

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Premier Doug Ford of Ontario has called upon the province’s attorney general to consider revising the legislation that supervises lobbyists, additionally implementing severe penalties, potentially jail time, for the breaking of such rules. The urgency of this request evolves from a disconcerting report by the integrity commissioner which shed light upon the preferential treatment some developers, well-connected with the housing ministry staff, have been enjoying, particularly on the issue of Greenbelt land removal.

The report also revealed incidents involving an unregistered lobbyist, referred to as “Mr. X”. Mr. X appeared to have enticed staff with offers such as inviting them for lunches, giving out Raptors tickets, and golfing trips, as part of a landowner deal. CTV News Toronto sources strongly suggest this person to be former Clarington Mayor John Mutton.

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A statement issued from the Office of the Attorney General declared, “it has become clear that a few bad actors have taken advantage of the system.” It further added, “Our government does not and will not tolerate this type of behavior. While public advocacy plays an important role in our democratic system, it must be done in an ethical and transparent manner.”

The government pledged to reassess legislation governing lobbyists in the near future, confirming the premier’s recommendation of enhanced accountability and stricter penalties, even extending to jail time, for those in violation of the act.

However, further clarification regarding what categorizes a serious violation, and consequently, what warrants a jail sentence or criminal charge, remains undefined at present.

Under the current Lobbyists Registration Act, an individual could be banned from lobbying for a maximum of two years if found guilty of an offence. The severity of the penalties varies based on whether it’s a first offence, resulting in a fine of up to $25,000, or subsequent offences, carrying a fine of up to $100,000. The supposed violations could range from displaying a conflict of interest in a public office holder, accepting public funds as payment, or enticing payment based on lobbying success.

The integrity commissioner of Ontario accuses Mr. X of bargaining over a $1 million “Greenbelt fee” dependent on developing a part of land in Clarington, an unjust act if he was indeed a registered lobbyist.

The push for review and revision of the lobbyist rules sprung from one of the 15 suggestions made by Ontario’s auditor general in a critical report. The report expressed the government’s discernible partiality towards certain developers when directing which land should be excised from the Greenbelt.

Further on, the auditor general has also requested to reevaluate the Members’ Integrity Act and the Public Service of Ontario Act.

Upon acknowledging the defectiveness of the system, the Ford Government has consented to 14 out of the 15 recommendations proposed by the auditor general. Following the revelation of these incriminating reports, both by the auditor general and integrity commissioner, housing minister Steve Clark, as well as his chief of staff, who was accountable for deciding on the Greenbelt sites, have resigned from their respective posts.