Do Lobbyists have as much influence in Canadian Politics as they do in American? And why?

Thread title says it all.

I’m a humble Canadian and as an outsider looking into the US political system I get the impression that Lobbyists have massive influence on political policy, legislation, etc.

I assume lobbyists exist in Canada, but are they able to influence politics as much? If not why? What part of our differing political system prevents this from happening?

Just curious…


General answer, in my opinion, is no, not nearly as much, for at least four reasons:

**1. Limits on campaign donations. **

Laws at both the federal and provincial levels put significant limits on campaign donations. Major corporations no longer can write major cheques to political parties or candidates.

In fact, at the federal level and in some provinces, corporations can’t donate to political parties or candidates at all. Only living breathing voters can make campaign donations, and those are capped. No Koch Brothers for you!

That means a major tool of US lobbyists is denied to Canadian lobbyists.

2. Party Discipline

Party discipline is much stronger in Canada. That means that individual MPs don’t have as much direct influence in Parliament as Congress folk have in the States. Parties collectively decide on their platforms, and then implement them. An MP who doesn’t accept that collective decision and votes differently will have their career in that party limited.

Nor do Committee chairs have the same power in our system as seems to be the case in the US system. A government bill will make it through Committee except in unusual situations. The committee chair won’t block it, nor will governement members of the committee need any special commitments to ensure they vote for it. They’ve already approved the bill through caucus decisions.

That means that to be able to sway the decision, lobbyists have to persuade the party as a whole to adopt a position, and without being able to contribute to the election campaigns, their means of persuasion are limited to things like policy arguments - you know, the things we want gouvernements to listen to. How good their arguments are will be important, but so too will the governing party’s sense of where the voters are going.

3. More Difficult to Target Local MPs in elections Elections are mainly about the party and the leader, not the local MP. Candidates stand for election as a team, and the chance of a government MP getting re-elected depend much more on the voters’ impression of the PM and the governement as a whole, than on the conduct of an MP in Parliament. That means it’s more difficult to target an individual MP about a particular vote than it strikes me it is in the States. “You voted for x” is met with, “Yes, because that’s what our party stands for, and I support that policy.” To get traction against a local MP, a lobbyist has to challenge the entire policy of the government.

4. No primaries. I gather that one of the tools lobbyists can use in the US is the threat of a primary challenge. That has much less power in Canada, for two reasons. First, we don’t have primaries where anyone can vote on the party’s nominee. The nomination is done by te party members at the local riding association, so a threat of a nomination challenge doesn’t carry as much risk. Second, the people who vote on the nomination are people who generally support the party’s policies, because those
Same party activists helped to define those policies through party meetings and conventions. If the local MP has voted along party lines (i.e. in support of the party policy that party members generally support) and the PM, it’s highly unlikely that another person would succeed in challenging the nomination. “Yes, our MP voted to support party policy and the PM. If you wouldn’t vote that way, why would we want you? If you don’t support the party policy, why are you trying to stand for the party.”
Which isn’t to say lobbying doesn’t happen. Just that it is divorced from both money and trying to sway one important person, like the chair of a committee in the US Congress, who can individually decide what bills get to the floor.

I’ve been involved in lobbying at the federal level for an organisation unveiling to, and our work was mainly filing open letters with Cabinet ministers and committee chairs, followed by public appearances at parliamentary committees, to make submissions in support of our group’s policy positions (not that I ever did that; my work was in preparing the policy letters).

Edit window closed - meant to add, our lobbying was very much about the perceived merits of the policy on issue, from our perspective. But we didn’t have any other sticks, like threats of electoral challenges, or pressuring individual members or committee chairs. Because their policy decisions were made as a group, there was little benefit in trying to target individual MPs.

I was just noodling around over on OpenSecrets, which tracks lobbying and campaign contributions in the US. I decided to take a look at campaign contributions by health lobbyists. They have a chart of the top contributors : OpenSecrets:Health:Summary

In Canada, none of those groups would be able to donate at the federal level, since they are corporations, and only individuals can donate to federal campaigns. That’s based on the principle that corporations aren’t voters, so don’t get to donate.

This is true in the USA too, at the federal level and in many states.

The Koch Brothers make some campaign donations but mostly spend their election-related money in other ways.

If corporations are barred from making campaign contributions in the States, how are the health care companies listed on the Open Secrets webpage I linked to able to make campaign contributions? They all appear to be corporations, not living breathing people. :confused:

What are the other ways?

They buy time on TV and make commercials. They contribute to Political Action Committees. They contribute to non-profits that make TV commercials supporting their point of view. And some of those contributions are tax deductible.

And most of those activities would also be subject to election spending laws in Canada, again meaning that Canadian lobbyists don’t have those tools.

It’s not uncommon (in my experience) to see commercials on Canadian TV paid for by various unions (teachers, public service employees, whatever). Are those permissible if they’re not specifically stating who to vote for?

That’s my understanding, but it’s not like I’ve ever done a legal opinion on it - just what I’ve gathered from news articles.

Policy based adverts that don’t advocate for a candidate, but for an issue, generally don’t come within the spending limits.