AccountabilityWatch: Hey, remember that five year ban on lobbying by former public office holders?

Oh, don’t worry, it’s still in place. But according to a spokesperson for interim Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd, since the new rules came into effect last July, the office has received seven requests for exemption to the five year ban.

So far, only one has been granted – to Guy Bujold, formerly interim director of the Canadian Space Agency, now president and CEO at CANARIE Inc.

In her decision, Shepherd concludes that Bujold’s new employer “will not gain unfair commercial advantage by virtue of his previous functions” and that his previous gig as an associate deputy minister – a position also covered by the ban – is irrelevant, since he held the post before the Federal Accountability Act came into force.

That’s good news, we’re sure, for Bujold – who, incidentally, seems to have been operating on a policy of preemptive permission-seeking, since he hasn’t yet registered to lobby on CANARIE’s behalf — but what about those other six applicants, whose identities are protected by privacy laws unless and until a request is approved by the commissioner?

We don’t even know how many of those requests are still under review by the comissioner — according to the OCL, there is no firm timeline for processing; the commissioner “looks at each case according to its merit.” If approved, an exemption will be posted online, but unsuccessful applications disappear down the memory hole, with no public record of which former senior civil servant or ministerial staffer tried, and failed, to get around the five year ban, or why the commissioner put the kibosh on their effort to do so.

Somehow, it all seems distinctly less transparent than was promised back in 2005, when then-opposition leader Stephen Harper issued the following warning to his supporters: “Make no mistake. If there are MPs in the room who want to use public office for their own benefit, if there are Hill staffers who dream of making it rich trying to lobby a future Conservative government, if that’s true of any of you, you had better make different plans.  Or leave.”

Then again, everything is different when you’re in government. Really, what ITQ is waiting for is the day that someone – maybe a retiring deputy minister, maybe one of those overworked political staffers who slaves away til the wee small hours of the morning – finds themself on the other side of the revolving door and challenges the five-year ban in court.

If it really is too long – and during the leadup to the FAA crackdown, there were more than a few lobbyists and legal experts who suggested that it might well run afoul of the constitution by unduly restricting the ability to earn a future – a true transparency aficianado would be rooting for the court to strike it down, if only so we would no longer have to wonder which former public office holders believe that the rules shouldn’t apply to them.

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