The changes would give the Integrity Commissioner the ability to ban someone from lobbying, to order individuals to testify and to force lobbyists to provide documents.
The government of Ontario is continuing its crack-down on lobbying. Any reforms implemented will make it more challenging for those in the lobbying industry to do their work, therefore making lobbying less profitable. A sidebar will be less organizations willing to use external lobbyists from fear of getting caught in a scandal; at the same time, politicians will be more wary of seeking the advice of lobbyists, because they won’t want to suffer the slings and arrows of social media, either.
Done properly, there is a definite public benefit in terms of transparency and accountability. It’s kinda nice to know how policy decisions are being informed and who’s playing a role in deciding the public’s fate, as well as knowing where on the margins our tax dollars are being spent. There’s a real big negative to the track being followed, though – lobbying is being turned into a dirty word. If a lobbyist is brain-storming with a client and throwing out far-fetched ideas to build context before settling on a direction to take, would that kind of information be accessible to the public? Would it be presented with context, or in a way that validates the narrative of a journalist/politician/interest group? How would bans work? Would they be permanent, would they involve remediation? If a politician needs to understand how a complex set of issues impact a sector in language they understand, who will provide them with that insight?
While there are real and justifiable concerns about how lobbying works, we have to keep in mind just what the role of an effective lobbyist is. The good ones aren’t just meeting-arrangers or influence-peddlers; they’re translators. They speak the languages of business, of specific sectors like health care or education and they speak politics. This is no small thing; we have a silo-based system of governance and silo-based industries that really don’t know how to communicate with each other. It's not as easy as one might think to pick up the phone and reach a Minister, or a Deputy Minister, or even an MPP. Besides, when you get them, what do you say? How do you frame your message in a way that connects with the political folk? How do you resonate? Do you understand their specific position and what's informed that position? This is the gap that good lobbyists fill. Without them, who will?
The sad truth is, nobody will. That level of communication will just cease to happen or even worse, be driven so far underground that only the bad apples who are spoiling the industry will take the risk of skirting the rules and make bigger bucks for doing so. Meanwhile, tri-sector partners will circle each other like heart-breaking best friends, wanting to reach out but not knowing how. The duplications, gaps and overlaps of our system will expand; the distance between our social silos will grow wider.
There's a better way, but it's not an easy one. It requires all parties to shift their thinking a little bit and get past the demand for elevator-pitch explanations. Lobbyists will have to want to be transparent in the way they work, but doing so will also help build their brand. They'll have to develop goals beyond profit that they work towards, holding themselves to rigorous standards. For its part, the public will have to be open to the idea that politics isn't simple, that translation is necessary and that it's not a bad thing to have third-party mediators connecting not just government and the private sector, but the Not-For-Profit sector as well. After all, you can't develop win-win solutions without a bit of give-and-take.
Believe it or not, the model to follow on this was innovated by The Courtyard Group. They started with an idea - improving healthcare - and focused all their attention, all their expertise on that sphere. They made money, but they did so in the context of solving a problem. Were there issues with how that idea played out? Of course there were; that doesn't invalidate the idea, but rather provide a lesson to learn from. Firms of any sort that follow a practice-area model develop specialized expertise in both subject-matter and communication, which is an invaluable tool for everyone. The trick now is for everyone to dedicate just a bit more effort to considering the broader context and both how they git into that matrix and how that role will be perceived.
This is the model that is being pursued by the rising number of social entrepreneurs in Ontario and across the country. These are people who have figured out it's possible to do the right thing and make money at the same time. They don't see admitting mistakes as putting blood in the water, but as an opportunity to share and learn from collective experience. I myself fall into this category; I know where my passions lie and I have the skills, experience and connectivity to turn them into positive solutions. I'm also conscious of the fact I don't have all the answers and can only achieve my goals through strategic collaborations. The future of GR will, from necessity, embody this approach. It might be a harder path, but ultimately, a more rewarding one both selfishly and altruistically. Consultants conscious of their place in a societal network will focus less on getting rich quick and instead, put more emphasis on building a lasting, positive legacy.