The GNWT is on its way to becoming more transparent when it comes to lobbying, thanks to a motion recently passed to examine the possibility of creating a lobbyist registry.
The motion to investigate the implementation of a lobbyist registry that would be publicly accessible online passed in the legislature on Feb. 19, after being introduced by Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny.
“Lobbying the government is in itself not a bad thing. Government can learn a lot from outside experts such as businesses, non-profits, environmental groups, religious organizations,” Dolynny told the assembly. “It is legitimate and legal activity. It’s to the greater transparency of lobbying and the greater accountability of public officials where one needs to consider a tool that helps curb inappropriate influence to provide the public scrutiny for its elected decision-makers.”
Many members took the opportunity to voice their support for the motion.
“I think, for the most part, devolution has changed the landscape within the NWT, how we do business, and this motion setting forth a lobbyist registry is timely in that we need to ensure that we do things in a fair, transparent, accountable manner,” said Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli, the chair of the Government Operations Committee, who seconded the motion.
“A lot of this stems from the fact that devolution has given us more province-like powers, no doubt,” Dolynny said in an interview with The Journal. “We have a minister right now who is not only a promoter of resources and development, we have a minister who is a regulator of resource development. That minister alone has a dual function to which I think most of us would be inclined to know who is meeting that minister and promoting various interests.”
Some in support made early suggestions for the registry’s framework.
“The investigation needs to look beyond just establishing a registry,” said Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro. “It’s one thing to have a list of people who are lobbying, it’s another thing to know how often they are lobbying and who they are lobbying, and basically the registry will show what they are lobbying for.”
Premier Bob McLeod pointed out that the NWT currently has a dearth of people who would meet the criteria of a paid lobbyist as defined by the Lobbying Act, a federal document that many provinces and municipalities base their own legislation on. As such, he declared the government would be abstaining from the motion.
“There’s no reason why the public should not know with whom ministers are meeting and why,” McLeod said. “That information is available now upon request. There is nothing to hide. To date, we have not received any such requests. Ministers meet regularly with representatives of all sectors. I can state with certainty that we meet with representatives of Aboriginal governments and 39 non-government organizations far more frequently than we do with paid lobbyists.”
Other members weren’t enthralled with the idea of a registry, like Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who abstained from the vote.
“I don’t think that at this time a motion like this is needed in the Northwest Territories, especially in our small communities,” Yakeleya said. “We (as MLAs) can almost be the lobbyist ourselves because we want issues and things dealt with in our communities. Right now this, for me, raises too many questions.”
Dolynny believes the registry can be created on a relatively small budget, a necessity considering the GNWT’s tight finances.
“It must be kept in line with the size and activity of our jurisdiction with very modest resources,” he said. “The budget for the Government of Canada Registry is $825,000 where more than 5,000 lobbyists are registered. By all accounts, a GNWT registry would be much more humble by design.”
The NWT is one of five jurisdictions in Canada without existing lobbyist legislation, including Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut and New Brunswick.
McLeod compared the registry to “making a mountain out of a molehill,” but Dolynny disagrees.
“I was a bit taken aback by the comments that came from the premier,” he said. “I believe this is transparency at its finest; I believe this is something the public should expect from their government and if the rest of the world is doing this, including most of North America, then this is a catch-up component and I think we need to give it serious consideration.”