Sales have been slow so far but there’s been keen interest in Alberta’s new lobbyist registry since the website went live on Monday, said registrar Brad Odsen.
“I’m quite pleased that it’s slow but steady because one doesn’t want to overwhelm the Internet,” he said.
Consultant lobbyists have 30 days to register and other organizations have two months. So far, no one has officially registered but 23 organizations have made an initial application, Odsen said.
Registration is mandatory for any organization that spends 100 hours or more lobbying the provincial government. Odsen has fielded a lot of questions from organizations trying to figure out if they qualify as a lobbyist.
“My advice to them is, if you know you’re lobbying, why worry about trying to track your time? Just register and you’re over and done with,” Odsen said.
Flagrant non-compliance could bring fines of up to $25,000 or $100,000 on a second offence. However, Odsen will only investigate if he receives a complaint as there’s no oversight mechanism in place.
“I don’t even know what kind of mechanism could be put in place to try and address that issue,” he said. “It’s based on the honour system that if lobbyists are lobbying they know that they are required to register and they will do so.”
He doesn’t expect the website will be a big hit among citizens. Rather, it will mainly be used by people and groups with an interest in specific government activities.
“For the general public, it’s just one of how many billions of websites out there,” he said.
While lobbying is often shrouded in innuendo of wrongdoing, it’s important to remember that it’s a legitimate activity, he said.
“Citizens of whatever kind … have the right to talk to government about what’s important to them. That’s one of the fundamental hallmarks of a free and democratic society,” Odsen said.
It’s good to have lobbying information out in the open, said St. Albert MLA Ken Allred, however he thinks the registry is mainly about appearances.
“I’ve been dealing with lobbyists municipally for many, many years,” said the former St. Albert alderman.
“I think I can meet with people and be lobbied and separate the wheat from the chaff,” he said. “The perception is probably the biggest concern and I’m sure there’s a lot of people that bend to lobbyists.”
The Alberta Liberals say the registry contains major flaws.
For one, it exempts the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission from scrutiny, opening up the possibility that its $1.5 billion in gaming funds can be used for ski hills, golf courses and horse racing facilities.
The registry also doesn’t apply when the government initiates contact through a minister, deputy minister or assistant deputy minister, something the Liberals describe as a “fatal flaw.”
“You could drive a truck through the loopholes in the registry,” said Liberal critic Kent Hehr. “It’s just window dressing that attempts to spruce up the ugliness of the Tory love for backroom deals and behind-closed-doors meetings.”
The online registry is available at www.lobbyistsact.ab.ca.