20 February 2014

Who is lobbying whom these days? #nlpoli

When it needed a lobbyist in Ottawa to monitor the federal environmental review process for its Kami project, Alderon Iron Ore turned to Summa Strategies and a well-connected fellow named Tim Powers.

You can find out information like this thanks to the federal registry of lobbyists.  Powers’ registration number for the Alderon gig is 777504-308605.  It’s a matter of public record.

For those who may not know, Powers is also a registered lobbyist (777504-14002) for Nalcor Energy in its dealings with the federal government.  Again, it’s a matter of public record. 

But what about Alderon’s dealings with the provincial government and its agency, Nalcor Energy?  Did they have anyone interceding on their behalf? 

Good question. 

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

There is a provincial lobbyist registry.  In 2006,  then-Premier Danny Williams called it the best lobbyist registration law in the country.  As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. 

A lobbyist working within a company – an in-house lobbyist - only has to register if he or she spends more than 20% of his job lobbying. Back in 2006, three companies managed to persuade the provincial government to spend millions of taxpayers dollars on a fibre-optic scheme.  No one ever registered as a lobbyist on behalf of any of the companies.

Another company lobbied unsuccessfully for provincial government money to keep a resort project afloat.  No one registered as a lobbyist for that venture either.  

And just recently Shawn Skinner managed to work  - unsuccessfully – on landing a big contract with Nalcor for his employer.  Shawn never registered as a lobbyist.  Indeed, no one has registered as a lobbyist meeting with Nalcor on any project even though the company fits the definitions under the lobbyist registration law.  There’s been absolutely no consequence for any of these blatant violations of the lobbyist act even though the law has some some pretty hefty penalties in it for violating its provisions.

And there’s where the problem comes on something like the third power line to western Labrador. A lobbyist registry is supposed to keep There are plenty of companies with a big financial interest in getting the government to spend taxpayers money on the line.  If any of them lobbied the provincial government on the decision, it doesn’t seem that any of them registered. 

The way the law is written, someone like Danny Williams, as a hypothetical in-house lobbyist, could have met one day a week, all day with people in the provincial government about the third line.  Under the lobbyist registration law, there was no legal requirement for him to register. The same would apply to any of a number of Alderon’s director, some of whom – like Brian Dalton, for example  - have very strong ties to the provincial Conservatives and to Nalcor.

The provincial lobbyist law may look good on paper, but it’s proven to be a complete sham in practice.  To borrow Danny Williams’ own words on the subject, since “there is no [effective] legislation in this province, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador do not know which individuals and groups are lobbying their government to make decisions that will benefit the lobbyists or those they represent. Disclosure reassures the public that their representatives' arms are not being twisted behind the scenes.”