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Lobbying czar calls for federal investment after 10 years of stagnant funding

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OTTAWA — Canada’s lobbying czar says she needs more funding to meet the growing demands of her office and to properly modernize the country’s lobbyist registry.

The federal lobbying commissioner’s office has not received an increase to its annual budget of $4.5 million since it was first created 10 years ago.

Commissioner Nancy Belanger said she believes more must be done to increase education and outreach efforts to ensure all lobbyists and public office holders understand lobbying rules and to maintain a high level of transparency for the public — but she needs more money to do it.

“We will not be able to sustain the level of demands on our staff right now and (on) the registry,” Belanger said in an interview.

“If we want to be able to modernize, there is no way we will be able to do it with the current budget. That’s clear. So one day we won’t be able to put another Band-Aid on it and it will crash.”

Half of the office’s budget currently pays for salaries, which leaves little for program development, Belanger said, and even less for updating the technical aspects of the registry itself.

As a result, the registry has been forced to forgo more modern features, such as allowing lobbyists to upload information on mobile devices.

“We need to modernize our system, but I have such a small budget it’s very difficult to prioritize and get to it when it’s so I.T.-based and so expensive.”

Belanger, who was appointed as Canada’s lobbying watchdog last December, tabled her office’s annual report last week.

In 2017-18, some 9,084 lobbyists were registered over the course of the year — the largest total in seven years, and a number that’s only expected to grow. That’s why Belanger said she needs to be able to expand her office’s capacity.

“The monthly communications reports have been going up, everything is increasing,” she said. 

“That enhances the demand on our staff on all fronts, so at some point, with a team of 26 people, there’s only so much we can do.”

Her office asked Treasury Board for a one-time increase of $3 million over three years over three years to pay for modernizations like a new website and updates to the registry, as well as $700,000 more a year in base funding. No such help materialized in the federal budget.

Belanger said her office is “maintaining” things for now, but hopes government will consider an increase soon.

Treasury Board did not respond to media inquiries Tuesday.

As for the work of her office, Belanger said she believes there’s a lack of knowledge and understanding about what lobbyists do and why her work is important.

For many, lobbying remains a dirty word awash in corruption and secrecy — something that’s simply not true in Canada, where stringent rules govern organizations and companies that wish to influence the decision-making powers of government, she argued.

“(Lobbyists) appear to have a negative reputation, when in fact the work that they do is good for democracy,” Belanger said.

“It’s good for our public office holders to have the information in order to make decisions that are in the public interest.”

 

– Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

 

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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Woman and her dog lost for 72 hours in B.C. woods are found safe

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INVERMERE, B.C. — A 52-year-old woman and her dog are both safe and unharmed after wandering lost for 72 hours in the thick woods in southeastern B.C.

RCMP Sgt. Chris Newel says Louise Baxter hopped off a rescue helicopter Wednesday, hugged her husband and was talking and laughing with her rescuers.

Baxter went out for a hike with friends in the Jumbo Pass area on Sunday, but she disappeared after taking her leashed dog out for what she said would be a short walk.

Newel says Baxter appears to have become disoriented shortly after leaving her friends and then heading down the mountain, moving “west when she probably should have been heading east.”

The dog, a golden poodle named Maverick, was with her the whole time and Newel says the animal is also in good health. 

At the height of the search, there were three helicopters, four search dogs, a drone and 35 search and rescue volunteers looking for the woman in the difficult, mountainous terrain.

Newel, who was the incident commander for the search, said Baxter saw the search helicopters and tried to flag them down, but no one saw her.

“But if anybody’s every been in a helicopter, trying spot a person in forested area is extremely difficult and a lot harder than you would think,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “I can’t imagine the emotion that would have gone through her seeing these helicopters and not be able to signal them in some sort of way.”

Baxter is an avid hiker, Newel said, adding the general rule of thumb for those who get lost in the woods is to stay put. Baxter did stay in one place for a while but proceeded down the mountain because she thought help wasn’t coming, he said.

“But she was working further and further out from the primary search area.”

He said she found water along the way and ate berries, but didn’t have anything else to eat.

“I couldn’t believe when she walked off that helicopter and practically ran to her husband,” Newel added.

 

The Canadian Press


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National

Greens won’t run candidate in Burnaby South as ‘leader’s courtesy’ to Singh: May

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VICTORIA — The Green party will not run a candidate against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in the riding of Burnaby South.

Green Leader Elizabeth May says the decision is an extension of a “leader’s courtesy,” a long-standing Canadian parliamentary tradition that facilitates a newly elected party leader’s entry to the House of Commons in an unopposed byelection.

She says in a statement the Greens believe it is right to step aside to allow the leader of “an important part of the political spectrum” to serve in Parliament.

Singh announced his candidacy for the federal riding after New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart indicated he was stepping aside to run for mayor of Vancouver.

The Liberal and Conservative parties have not announced candidates in the riding, but the Liberals have said they will contest the byelection.

May received the leader’s courtesy in 2008 when then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion chose not to run a candidate against her in Central Nova. She extended the same gesture to Dion.

In 2002, the Liberals and Conservatives stepped aside for Stephen Harper when he ran in a byelection held shortly after he became leader of the Canadian Alliance.

No date has been set for a byelection.

Singh sat in Ontario’s legislature and served as the provincial NDP’s deputy leader before he replaced Tom Mulcair as the federal leader.

The Canadian Press


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