Our Letter on the Lobbyist Transparency Act

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On September 29, 2020 we sent the letter below to outline our concerns around the Lobbyist Transparency Act and the administrative burden it places on not-for-profit organiations. If you would like to join our advocacy efforts on this issue please email us. To get updates on all of our advocacy work for not-for-profits, we invite you to join as a not-for-profit member.


Mr. Richard Fyfe, Deputy Attorney General
PO Box 9290, Stn. Prov. Govt.
Victoria BC, V8W 9J7

and

The Honourable Carole James, Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier
Room 153 Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC, V8V 1X4

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

RE: Meeting request to discuss negative impacts of Lobby Transparency Act on the BC not-for-profit sector

Dear Mr. Fyfe and Hon. James:

I am writing to you today on behalf of Vantage Point, the undersigned, and approximately 41 organizations that wish to remain anonymous to avoid potential penalties for perceived lack of compliance with the New Lobby Transparency Act (LTA). We are writing to request a meeting to discuss the very difficult and chilling impact the LTA is having on our sector.

Collectively, we wish to express concerns regarding the negative and, likely unintended, impacts of the LTA on the charitable and not-for-profit sector. The LTA creates substantial barriers to the fulfillment of our mandates to maximize community wellbeing and contribute to democratic debate. This letter builds on comprehensive dialogue our organizations have had among ourselves, with the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists (ORL), the Office of the Attorney General, and the Premier’s Office. While we support your efforts to increase lobbying transparency in relation to activities that are aimed at advancing private benefits to corporations and their shareholders, we urge you to acknowledge that our organizations are created for the purpose of advocating and caring for our communities, not to advance private interest. If there is a need to be transparent about meetings and engagement with our sector, we urge you to take the administrative burden upon yourselves by requiring MLA’s to track and reporting such engagements rather than the not-for-profit.

About BC’s not-for-profit sector

Not-for-profits are critical to the lives of people in British Columbia. There are over 29,000 not-for-profit societies registered in BC. Our sector provides more than 86,000 jobs and mobilizes volunteers who contribute the equivalent support of over 146,000 positions. Our workers and volunteers also make a direct economic contribution of more than $6.4B to our province’s GDP.

We provide a critical level of support to the Government of British Columbia, businesses, and the public. We provide everything from the provision of health and other essential frontline services, to supporting victims of domestic violence, deploying volunteers safely, and creating arts and cultural services. The not-for-profit sector is vital to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our province. We are an essential safety net for the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. Our work has never been more urgently needed as we navigate unprecedented circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, an exacerbating opioid crisis, and worsening inequities for communities suffering historic patterns of oppression and discrimination. Our employees and volunteers are stretched to the limit of their capacity responding to these extremely difficult circumstances. Our research has documented extremely high levels of stress and burnout among our peers. Our research also indicated that one in five not-for-profit organizations are unlikely to survive the current environment. This will put immense undue pressure on remaining organizations.

LTA’s burden on the not-for-profit sector

Among our organizations there is a substantial level of concern, anxiety, and frustration with the additional burden and overreaching implications of the new LTA. The Act creates barriers in our ability to respond effectively to growing challenges affecting our communities. Our concerns and challenges are significantly heightened as there was inadequate consultation with the not-for-profit sector during the development of this new legislation. Our sector not only provides essential services to British Columbians, but it is a major source of economic prosperity for our province.

Yet we see a continual pattern of consulting with a very narrow representation of the not-for-profit sector and a lack of comprehensive consultation on legislation which significantly impacts our operations and the ability to fulfill our missions.

Blending of lobbying and advocacy under the LTA regulation

At the heart of our concerns, many of our organizations have received LTA’s interpretations which do not seem to make a distinction between the advocacy and lobbying. Advocacy are efforts to strengthen public wellbeing and speak up for marginalized voices. Lobbying is done to advance private, corporate, and/or shareholders’ interests. In fact, the LTA’s design actually allows the lobbying of private interests to go unreported by including small private firms in the few exclusions to compliance (for example, organizations with less than 6 employees do not need to report their lobbying activities).

For-profit companies have the capacity to change how they function very quickly. There is nothing stopping a private lobbying company of twelve employees from dividing itself into two smaller firms very quickly. No twelve-person not-for-profit organization in BC could do that, nor would it be responsible of a volunteer Board to make such a decision. Instead of acknowledging the multiple layers of accountability charities and not-for-profits have to donors, members, and the communities that we serve, the LTA’s requirements undermine our capacity to meet those accountability requirements. In fact, the expectations of the LTA to reporting donations and funding to support our organizations threatens the trust that individual donors, foundations, and the public has granted us to support our vital work.

Legislation’s overreach

We are concerned that the LTA design did not take in consideration the unique circumstances, objectives, and strategies in which not-for-profit organizations deliver their vital services. The depth of our relationships with communities throughout BC provides critical sources of evidence on the evolving impact of social, economic, environmental conditions facing British Columbians. Being in the front-lines of some of the most complex challenges facing our communities, our organizations regularly communicate with government representatives to inform them of these circumstances, the impact of public policy, and to advance solutions that our organizations regularly develop to address these challenges. Through these essential advocacy efforts, we help strengthen public benefits for our communities, the economy, and the natural environments in which we all live.

The over-reach of the LTA’s requirements to report all communication directed at public office holders – including social media posts on Twitter and Facebook – may actually contribute to distorted public perceptions that not-for-profit organizations do substantially more lobbying compared to activities to advance private interests. Some not-for-profit organizations have been informed even endorsing the advocacy activities of a third party may constitute lobbying. This lobbying would be assigned to an individual/organization which should have registered as a designated filer with the Lobby Registry. This approach will limit the capacity of Not-for-profit organizations to do their own research to inform public policy submissions, endorsing, and signing on to letters or petitions put together by sector leaders as is a common practice to help inform and influence government and public opinion. This means not-for-profits may opt to silence themselves rather than risk compliance issues. And this has a detrimental impact on the ability for not-for-profits to advocate to advance their missions and provide essential services to British Columbians.

Fifty percent of not-for-profits are already highly regulated as charities, a legal system that has extensive processes for ensuring charitable activities are unquestionably of public benefit and NOT to advance private interests. Most Not-for-Profits have volunteer Boards of Directors whose sole interest is to ensure community benefit is at the forefront. Donors and funders (including the government) demand that we keep our administrative costs to an absolute minimum. In fact, prevalent funding structures in the sector limit investment in contingency funds, technology, employee benefits, and stable governance and have generated an insidious precariousness of our vital work. By demanding we spend donor, government, and foundation dollars on tracking all advocacy and dialogue discussions for compliance with the LTA, this government is in effect silencing not-for-profits and charities in BC. According to the responses we have collected from the Office of the Lobby Registrar, that is exactly what you are asking of us: ‘Be quiet or be fined,’ and put our organizations at even more risk.

All this has resulted in a very troubling, chilling effect that the LTA’s application is having on the not-for-profit sector, the communities, and people we serve. These circumstances ultimately have the potential to undermine democratic dialogue. The fact that 41 organizations were not willing to publicly put their names on this letter is evidence of this reality. The detrimental and unforeseen consequences would be a dark legacy of your government which will harm the future of our province.

We must believe it is not your government’s intention to create a burden on not-for-profits or reduce democratic debate. To this end, we urge you to acknowledge the LTA’s unintended negative impacts on not-for-profit and charitable organizations and acknowledge the following:

Recommendations

  1. Extend a moratorium to not-for-profit and charities for perceived noncompliance with the LTA regulations that came into place at the end of the transition period which expired on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, until further consultation with the sector takes place.<.li>
  2. Open a meaningful and comprehensive consultation with the entire sector of not-for-profit and charitable organizations that puts the burden of recording such a dialogue on the government and not the sector. This consultation should fully examine ways to strengthen the LTA rules and reduce the burden on the not-for-profit sector.
  3. Shift the LTA’s burden and chilling effect by establish an obligation for MLA’s and other public office holders, to track their interactions with not-for-profits and charities themselves and making it public. We have no objection to public scrutiny of our efforts to inform the government about what is happening in our communities across the province.
  4. As recommended by the Pacific Legal Education and Outreach Society’s letter on September 15, 2020, we urge you to amend the LTA and exempt not-for-profit and charities from lobby reporting requirements for activities that seek to maximize public wellbeing (except for organizations that serve management, union, or trade and professional interests, or that have representatives who are profit-seeking enterprises, or who engage in lobbying through a not-for-profit).

We request a meeting at your earliest convenience with a delegation of not-for-profit leaders who have endorsed this letter. Together we seek to engage in constructive dialogue to identify ways to enhance lobbying transparency without harming the vital work our sector does in service of all British Columbians. We look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Alison Brewin
Executive Director
Vantage Point
T: (604) 637-8207
E: abrewin@thevantagepoint.ca
www.thevantagepoint.ca

cc:

Hon. David Eby, MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey
Hon. John Horgan, MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca
Mr. Michael McEvoy, Registrar of Lobbyists for BC
Hon. Mike Farnworth, MLA for Port Coquitlam

In 2019, Vantage Point supported 9,799 not-for-profit leaders through leadership development, board training, strategic planning, and more. We have over 550 not-for-profit members from 48 communities across the province.

About the Author

As Executive Director, Alison Brewin is responsible for executing the Vantage Point’s mission and vision. Alison graduated with a Law Degree from the University of Victoria in 1991 and was called to the Bar in 1992. Throughout the 1990s, she worked in non-profit management, as political assistant...
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