The Lobbying Registry
November 18th, 2019
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…. Well, it was the Federal Lobbying Registry. But it might as well have been forgotten lore. People don’t pay much attention to Registry contents.
I was updating our records of the Lobbying Registry’s forgotten lore last week, rummaging through records, and something just didn’t seem right. The entries seemed boring. True, all these entries seem boring, but these somehow more so. They seemed familiar. Ah, said I, it’s nothing really, just the fancies born of memories of so much time online, only this and nothing more.
Ah, distinctly I remember, t’was in the bleak December… of 2014 actually, when we’d found the first problems within CSA’s Lobbying Registration.
I was seeing last week some of the same things I’d seen in 2014. It didn’t seem at all like fancies; more like facts. So I ran an experiment.
I entered CSA’s 2019 Registry data into a Word document, then their previous entry, then the previous one, and so on for a few years. Registrants must file at least twice a year, and sometimes much more than that, and CSA’s no exception. So yes, I had quite a few Word files running. Then I ran a document comparison.
It turns out that there’s a lot of sameness in the entries. A lot. Of sameness. But hey, it’s just a sample, right?
So I ran more tests for more years, going back to 2008 (when the current Registry reporting system took affect). Quite a few of CSA’s entries from eleven years ago are found in the current 2019 report. Verbatim.
The same goes for the financial reporting. Year after year of CSA’s financial reports to the Registry, showing amounts receipted from elsewhere in government, are duplicated month after month after month, throughout the reporting periods.
I contacted the Lobbying Registry about it. I noted that “about 30% of subject matter details in 2013 are found verbatim in 2019. Nearly all of these individual entries are highly specific, such as funding for a particular project / conference / committee meeting. The earliest record (after the Lobbying Act was updated) in 2008 shows several items found in every entry, verbatim, over the next eleven years.”
For example, apparently CSA “discussed possible funding for a new standard on cisterns for potable water” with government departments in 2008, and every quarter of every year since. Likewise, meetings to discuss funding for the “Product Safety Project Committee” apparently took place repeatedly and consistently, and without interruption, throughout the period. Same goes for discussions about a “blast standard.”
I noted in my letter to the Registry that “I am unclear how the same discussion took place repeatedly, several times per year, in every year for over a decade. It doesn’t look quite right, you know?” They know.
I also noted that the lists of government funding show a remarkable number of duplicate values year to year. While I appreciate that certain funding is ongoing and will show as recurring entries, the scale of duplication is highly suspect. Then I gave examples.
“Comparing the 2016 and current 2019 entries, one finds an overlap of 40% of all funding entries (26 of 65 items in 2019). While not impossible, the record seems improbable.”
In this context, I asked the Registry three questions. These are them:
1. Does the Office of the Commissioner for Lobbying in Canada have confidence in the accuracy of the CSA entries on the lobbying registry?
2. Who is responsible for submitting data to the lobbying registry? Is it CSA alone, or is responsibility shared with the department(s) referenced within the data?
3. Is it a problem if inaccurate data has been submitted to the registry? If so, what happens in such circumstances?
In their reply, the Lobbying Registry advised that “the information in a registration appears as entered by the person responsible for the registration” and “it is the responsibility of the registrant to ensure that the information entered in the registration is accurate and up-to-date. The registrant must certify that the registration is accurate.” That addresses question #2.
They also do spot checks, verifying the Registrant’s entries against Departmental information. Discrepancies are to be corrected by the Registrants, in this case CSA, within 10 days of discovery.
The Lobbying Registry answered question #2 and #3, but ducked question #1. Contextually, it seems the Registry does not vouch for the accuracy of the data found within its, um, registry.
I pondered the civil service response, plodded again through the records, deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing -doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. Except Guy Fawkes, obviously. I sent the Registry a supplemental question.
“I assume based on your comments below that the discrepancies identified on this file have resulted in a request to CSA to correct the information. What happens if the discrepancies are not corrected by the registrant, and what regulation is applicable in such case?”
Their response reiterated that discrepancies are to be corrected by the Registrant within 10 days, but added that “if they do not, it is an offence under the Lobbying Act. When the Commissioner believes that there is [sic] reasonable grounds that an offence had occurred, she refers the matter to a peace officer (e.g. RCMP) who then decides whether to lay charges or not.”
That would be the same RCMP that dropped the criminal investigations into the civil service just weeks after the civil service dropped the criminal investigations into the RCMP’s 2013 activities in High River. Quid pro quo? It’s also the same RCMP that listed CSA as a “Canadian Federal Dept [or] Agency” in 2014 while they were under investigation, then as a private not-for-profit after the civil service let the RCMP off the hook. So, you know, we’re not hugely hopeful of any RCMP accountability with the Lobbying Registry.
Also, the Registry pointedly did not confirm that the discrepancies we outlined are being treated as such.
They did however, advise that in cases of Registrant non-compliance; “it is the Commissioner’s view that administrative monetary penalties would be a better means to deal with offences such as being late for registering or updating their registrations.”
Of course, this is meaningless to the civil service, for they just pay the fine from taxpayer dollars, paid from one civil service entity (CSA) to another civil service entity (the Lobbying Registry). A shell game. If this result really is where they’re landing, then they’ve made the whole enforcement mechanism meaningless.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning…
However infuriatingly familiar the situation may be, we will indeed give the Lobbying Registry the full Monty of CSA’s discrepancies, and we’ll give them their 10 days for correction, and then we’ll report what correction took place, if any, and if not, what sort of Registry correction of CSA will then take place. If any.
What we do know, right now, with confidence is that the current Lobbying Registry entry for CSA is constituted mostly of fiction.
Or, you could say; poetic license. With apologies to Poe fans everywhere.
Should you trust CSA? Nevermore.