Lobbying: Inequity in Government

There is no such thing as bad publicity, at least not in Pierre Poilievre’s poll-pumped world right now. He attracted a complete swarm of attention last week when he pronounced that lobbyists were useless. The immediate reaction from both left- and right-leaning media was, “Then why do you keep meeting with them?”

I’m more interested in figuring out what possible reason he could have for saying what he did. I mean, lobbyists are paid for by the people who need their services. If they aren’t any use, why should that bother a politician?


Cutting through the rhetoric, let’s face the facts. Government is a very complicated business. 130,000 civil servants slave away in Ottawa alone. Dealing with this complex system requires knowledge of how policy is formed and how to get access to that process. Simply put, “Who do I call and what do I say?”

Lobbyists provide services ranging  from mapping the process for making an application through providing contacts in government, all the way up to actually making presentations to appropriate officials, whether elected or public service, and even orchestrating contact with the general public. The most positive aspect of this activity is that it is a source of knowledgeable information flowing up to those regulating our country.

On the Flip Side

For once, the public perception of this process is pretty close to the mark. Expending money to influence lawmakers is a systemic problem in all governments, and lobbying is the tip of the iceberg. It is a free-enterprise occupation, and improvisation is the name of the game. Conflict of interest is rife. The transition from “you scratch my back” to outright bribery is a slippery slope. Last and most important, the decisions that are affected influence the outflow of billions of dollars of government largess. No wonder there are over 8,000 lobbyists in Ottawa representing over 3,300 organizations. There is a lot of money to be made, and there are a lot of unsavoury characters buzzing around the honeypot.

As Andrew Coyne opined last week, if a new law is going to inconvenience the common people, they’re out of luck. If it’s going to inconvenience a large business that can afford to pay $10,000 to a lobbyist, there will be action. I would add that the action might be in varying shades of legal.

Two Indisputable Facts:

  1. Poilievre’s ridiculous rant aside, lobbying is a useful activity for many reasons.
  2. Lobbying requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of work, which costs a lot of money and thus favours those who can afford it.


As with every catchy pronouncement Poilievre makes, “lobbyists are useless” cannot be taken at face value. The best guess is that he is downplaying their power so that he can continue to use them without offending his outside-the-in-crowd supporters. In the situation last week, he was also trying to deflect attention away from the fact that he had promised a policy statement on another topic, and as usual he had no policy to state.

The Bottom Line

But for once his politicking contained a grain of usefulness. The lobbying situation is one of the most undemocratic elements of our political system. It needs extensive remodeling to make it fair for everyone. It is too effective for too few Canadians.

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