Lobbyists impede citizen access to government

Lobbyists impede citizen access to government

Though stale, the cliché that “money makes the world go ‘round” identifies a general truth: it is the influence of monied interests that captures (and generally holds) the ear of government. In the jungle, it’s not the rustle of the mice that captures our attention, it’s the roars of the lions; in politics it’s usually corporate money that has the loudest voice, so loud that progressive politicians like American presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren have advocated banning lobbying.

Practically an industry unto itself, lobbying is done by PR professionals or employees of specific companies or trade groups who meet with government officials and regulators, with the goal of changing legislation to the benefit of the company or group affected. Hundreds of lobbyists are registered with Canada’s federal government, which has a Lobbying Act and Code of Conduct designed to make these contacts fair and without conflicts of interest.

Imagine being a newly- elected government or opposition MP. You find yourself bombarded with industry lobbyist meetings, perhaps lunches or dinners, meetings with representatives of some of the largest industries in the country, meetings where you are subtly flattered (and given hundreds of pages of documents biased toward the interests of the industry). Would it not be difficult to remain completely neutral on the issues raised in these meetings?

Environmental groups and other NGOs also lobby the government. But they are widely outspent by industry.

In 2018, 415 investors representing over US $32 trillion in assets signed a public statement of support for the Paris climate agreement, strongly urging “all governments to implement the actions that are needed to achieve the goals of the Agreement, with the utmost urgency.” Their statement argues that it “is vital for our [investment] decisions that governments work closely with investors to incorporate Paris-aligned climate scenarios into their policy frameworks and energy transition pathways.”

What constitutes a lion’s voice in lobbying? How much influence does $32 trillion imply? Is the government listening to these financial outsiders? It doesn’t seem so. Instead, already well-entrenched lobbying efforts seem to hold sway, particularly those of the oil and gas industry. (Other industries such as banking and pharmaceuticals also spend heavily on lobbying.)

According to a story in The Tyee last May, the oil industry employs “a small army of lobbyists” in Ottawa. Various supportive groups include the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, and the Canadian Gas Association. During Kinder Morgan’s efforts to expand its pipeline to BC’s coast, their own company “initiated 368 meetings with federal officials between 2011 and 2016.” Now, after years of controversy and complicated conflict, congratulations! You (we) are the new owner of a pipeline, one that apparently comes accompanied by considerable ongoing financial risk to taxpayers

It is important that citizens of Canada be allowed to contact their elected representatives with their concerns. After all, supposedly those representatives work for us, and they need to be well-informed. But lobbying seems to be making a hash of it all. (Given the recent fuss, one wonders how much money SNC Lavalin spends lobbying.)

Instead of acting as science dictates we should, we waste billions on keeping the oil economy humming, while CO2 emissions keep rising (along with temperatures and sea levels). The absurd tragicomedy of Canadian politics continues to play to an indifferent house.

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