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Chambers of commerce, boards of trade call for lobbying exemption

Province's lobbying regulations are too onerous, business groups say
Victoria's downtown skyline. TIMES COLONIST

Arguing lobbying rules make their advocacy work on behalf of the business community near impossible, a group of ­chambers of commerce and boards of trade is pushing the province for an exemption.

The Greater Victoria ­Chamber of Commerce is among a group of chambers urging the Attorney General’s Ministry to exempt them from the B.C. ­Lobbyists Transparency Act, which requires among other things that lobbyists complete a monthly report of lobbying activities.

“Our mandate is to give voice to business. In healthy communities, the public sector and private sector co-exist in a balance that creates employment and healthy economies and enables sound policies,” said Bruce Williams, chief executive of the Greater Victoria Chamber. “This isn’t new, but it is being threatened by onerous requirements that miss their target. We are putting historic relationships at risk with this paternalistic red tape that is effectively censuring important conversations.”

The province’s Lobbyists Act came into force in the spring of 2020 with amendments designed to increase transparency in lobbying. Organizations that communicate with government officials now face fines up to $25,000 and a ban on lobbying for up to two years if they break any of the rules.

According to a letter written to Attorney General David Eby, the chambers are asking for several changes to the act.

Included in their request is defining small organizations as those with fewer than 25 employees, providing full exemption for all small organizations, streamlining the lobby report process, and only requiring the registration of an actual act of lobbying — a letter, meeting or policy decision — upon completion, increasing the 50-hour threshold to 200 hours for charities and not-for-profits, and eliminating the requirement for chambers of commerce and boards of trade altogether.

“This is yet another request to the B.C. government by the board of trade/chamber of commerce industry to remove the red tape of the Lobbyists Transparency Act, which makes doing our job almost impossible,” said Anita Huberman, chief executive of the Surrey Board of Trade.

“The mandate and purpose of boards of trade and chambers of commerce is to instigate change at all levels of government. As we have ongoing, sometimes daily, conversations with political representatives to help business, the burden of reporting with the new lobbying rules increases our administrative burden.”

The group also noted smaller chambers don’t have the capacity to take on the additional administrative burden, and the new rules have some groups reconsidering whether to even reach out to elected officials.

In a statement to the Times Colonist, the Attorney General’s Ministry acknowledged it had received the letter and will be reviewing the concerns.