A provincial cabinet minister says there may have been some lobbying at a recent forestry industry reception for MLAs, an event that highlights the lack of a lobbyist registry in New Brunswick.
It’s been more than eight years after a Liberal government promised to establish a lobbyist registry, and members of the legislature are still meeting privately with dozens of organizations looking to influence public policy.
The latest example was Wednesday evening, when both Liberal and Progressive Conservative MLAs attended a reception with Forest NB, the group that represents the forestry industry.
Natural Resources Minister Denis Landry said whether the reception can be considered a lobbying session depends on what individual industry representatives and stakeholders said to individual MLAs.
“If you tell somebody you’re going to do [something], is it lobbying? If you ask somebody for something you want from government, that could be considered lobbying. Some are asking, some are not,” said Landry.
The Forest NB directors’ reception took place on Wednesday, the eve of the industry group’s annual meeting.
For the reception, “we extend an invitation to all MLAs, regardless of party lines,” says Mike Legere, the executive director of Forest NB.
“It’s an informal chance for them to get informed on the topics. It’s very valuable for us to make sure they understand what the issues are and it gives them a chance to ask us questions.”
‘How would you define lobbying?’
Legere said he wasn’t sure whether the reception amounted to lobbying by his industry members.
“How would you define lobbying? Are we trying to drive home a particular point? We’re certainly trying to inform them. If they have questions, we want to make ourselves available to answer them,” he said.
PC MLA Jake Stewart said on Twitter Wednesday the forestry reception was “positive,” but he said holding such private events with MLAs “highlights the need for a lobbyist registry.”
The organization represents large and small players in the industry, although J.D. Irving Ltd., the province’s biggest forestry company, is not a member.
Landry said “a few” MLAs from both the Liberal and PC parties attended the reception. He said David Coon, the Green Party leader, did not.
“I think there would be thousands of those events during our mandate,” he said, citing associations that represent nurses, pharmacists, municipalities and others.
“Sometimes they’ll ask government for something,” Landry said. “Sometimes they’ll bring suggestions about things they’d like to do in the future.”
In 2007, the previous Liberal government of Shawn Graham promised a lobbyist registry similar to what exists in Ottawa and other provinces.
They require people seeking to influence governments for clients, or for organizations they work for, to register publicly.
The Graham Liberals never delivered on the promise and the PC government of David Alward failed to keep its commitment as well.
Registry still not running
The PCs passed a bill to establish a registry before losing the 2014 election, but the registry itself was not put in place. After the election, Liberal Premier Brian Gallant said he wanted to find out why the registry wasn’t operating.
But 16 months later, Gallant’s government hasn’t got it running either.
Legere says topics discussed with MLAs at the reception included Crown land management and the industry’s competitiveness, as well as “things that would be topical” such as royalty rates paid by logging companies and the use of the herbicide glyphosate.
“I would hope it would influence [decisions] to the extent that it creates an informed opinion from people, rather than not having the full scope of information that they need.”
Landry said groups looking for something specific from the government tend to set up meetings at his office, rather than buttonholing him at a reception.
“People were bringing good ideas and were talking about different projects that are out there now that are working,” he said.
“It’s not at this kind of meeting that I make a decision,” he said. “Usually we have to study what they’re asking for: does it make sense?”