Ethics investigation flags problem in Alberta’s Lobbyist Act

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One of Alberta’s rules for registering lobbyists needs to change “to promote public transparency” according to a recent investigation by Alberta’s office of the ethics commissioner.

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In a report dated Monday, the office said it began an investigation in May to determine whether Mark Kuspira, the owner of a business known as Crush Imports, had breached the Lobbyists Act — specifically whether he failed to appropriately file a return with the lobbyist registry , and whether he had been lobbying without a filed return.

The investigation determined that while Kuspira was neither required to register nor in breach of the act, the case “highlights just how much lobbying of Alberta public office holders can occur without any public transparency.”

The report describes Crush Imports as a liquor agency registered with Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC), which controls the importation and sale of liquor in Alberta.

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A list of facts from the report indicates that on June 17, 2021, Kuspira created an organization lobbyist account in the Alberta Lobbyist Registry for his company, Consuming Ventures Inc. (operating as Crush Imports), and listed himself as the designated filer. Once an account has been created, the report adds, the designated filer must complete a return.

The office said it attempted to help Kuspira complete a return or determine whether registration was required under the act, but Kuspira told the office he wanted to “withdraw” from the registration process, and did not provide sufficient information that would have allowed the office to determine whether he was required to register, thus spurring the investigation.

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According to the act, Kuspira would have been required to file a return with the lobbyist registry if he or others in the organization “lobbied or had a duty to lobby” on behalf of the business for at least 50 hours annually, the report added.

The investigation found that Kuspira spent about five hours in 2020 and 14.5 hours in 2021 either communicating or preparing to communicate directly with public office holders outside his regular business transactions.

“Some of Mr. Kuspira’s communication was clearly done in an attempt to influence the development, establishment, amendment or termination of programs, policies, directives or guidelines of the AGLC,” the report said, citing multiple occasions on which Kuspira told the regulator it should create an independent liaison position to mediate between AGLC and liquor agencies.

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The investigation also found that Kuspira did not consider it his duty to lobby for at least 50 hours per year on the businesses’ behalf, and cited Kuspira himself who said “he simply did not have the time, on top of his regular work, to commit to what it would take to be a lobbyist.”

The investigation flags how the 50-hour threshold fails to promote transparency in lobbying activities and should be lowered, “as has been recommended by this office previously,” the report concluded.

Kuspira’s influence and access to the regulator were significant enough that Jody Korchinski, vice-president of liquor services for AGLC from August 2016 to April 2022, told Kuspira that he should consider registering under the act, the report noted.

“In fact, Mr. Kuspira could have spent twice as much time lobbying in 2021 and still may not have been required to register,” the report added.

hissawi@postmedia.com

@hamdiissawi

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