EDMONTON — Alberta's ethics commissioner is urging that provincial laws be changed so politicians are banned from accepting any hospitality gifts from lobbyists that exceed $100.
Marguerite Trussler says a cap tied to events or food is easy to understand and to enforce.
"That leaves nothing to interpretation,'' Trussler said Tuesday to an all-party legislature committee tasked with recommending changes to election, campaign and conflict-of-interest rules.
"You know the exact amount. And it does allow lobbyists to still offer modest hospitality to members.''
"That leaves nothing to interpretation."
Currently, politicians can accept gifts worth up to $200 each, along with event invitations up to a maximum of $400 a year. The ethics commissioner can also approve event invites over the $400.
In her written submission to the committee, Trussler said three out of every four calls she gets from MLAs on gifts relate to lobbyists.
"Directly excluding giving of more expensive gifts by lobbyists would go a long ways towards reducing perceptions that members are being, or are able to be, influenced by lobbyists,'' she wrote.
The current gift rules raised questions under the former Progressive Conservative government, before Trussler's tenure, when government members were given the green light for everything from fishing trips to rounds of golf to helicopter rides and hotel rooms, paid for by companies.
"For the most part, lobbyists seeking the attention of individual members should be meeting with them in their offices."
Trussler noted the $100 limit would still allow for "meet-and-greet'' events followed by lunch or light dinner.
"For the most part, lobbyists seeking the attention of individual members should be meeting with them in their offices.''
The cap is one of many suggestions made by Trussler to the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, which will have its recommendations eventually submitted for debate in the legislature.
Trussler also recommended that a one-year cooling-off period for former cabinet ministers be doubled to two years before they can take jobs as lobbyists.
"A one-year cooling-off period is too short as former ministers still have considerable contacts and influence within their former departments,'' Trussler wrote.
Important to avoid conflicts of interest
She also said that, to avoid conflicts of interest, former cabinet ministers should be required to get approval from the ethics commissioner before accepting any job during the cooling-off period.
Trussler also said her office needs more freedom to inform the public when and why it is working on an investigation.
And she said it needs access to documents otherwise protected under legal privilege.
There is a way to balance the confidentiality of such documents while also making them available to investigators, she said, citing the recent case of former premier Alison Redford.
In 2010, Redford was in charge of the Justice Department when it awarded a contract to sue Big Tobacco to a firm that included her ex-husband.
Then-ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson cleared Redford of conflict of interest, but the case was reopened after it was discovered that Wilkinson did not have access to documents protected under solicitor-client privilege.
British Columbia's conflict-of-interest commissioner is now reviewing the Redford file.
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Here are some of the highlights of the Alberta 2016-17 budget. Story here: http://huff.to/1Nr7xhN
Revenue is pegged at $41.4 billion against $51.1 billion in spending. Projected revenue is down, as benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil is expected to average US$42 a barrel. If oil prices drop to $30 a barrel, the government plans to add a $700-million buffer.
Province is amalgamating 26 agencies, boards and commissions to save $33 million. Salaries and supplies for government will be cut by 2 per cent.
The only new tax is a carbon tax, that will cost households earning more than $100,00 a year about $500 annually. The new tax is part of the province's new climate change plan.
The province has created two new tax credits to encourage investment in small- and medium-sized businesses. Small-business tax will be cut to two per cent.
The government says its spending on employment incentives and capital will create about 100,000 jobs in Alberta over the next three years.