Author: Jill McBeth
Date: April 4, 2024

The dirty business of lobbying and the impact on road safety

In the arena of politics and government decision-making, lobbying is a controversial practice that often sparks debates and raises concerns about its influence on public policy. While lobbying can serve as a powerful tool for advocacy and positive change, it also has a dark side marked by unethical behaviors and potential manipulation of government regulations.

Lobbying, defined as the act of attempting to influence decisions made by government officials, is a common practice in both the United States and Canada. However, the way lobbying is conducted, and its impact vary between the two countries. In the United States, the connections between lobby groups and donations to government officials have raised suspicions and led to scrutiny, especially during presidential elections. On the other hand, Canada has a smaller lobbying industry with less influence of money, but it is not immune to lobbying scandals.

One such scandal that rocked the Canadian political landscape was the SNC-Lavalin affair, where a prominent engineering company engaged in unlawful lobbying activities to secure a government agreement. The scandal shed light on the ethical and legal implications of lobbying practices, highlighting concerns about transparency in government decision-making and the potential for undue influence on public policy.

While cases like the SNC-Lavalin scandal tarnish the reputation of lobbying, not all lobbying efforts are harmful. Advocacy organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in Canada have successfully lobbied for stricter laws and policies to combat impaired driving, leading to tangible improvements in road safety and a reduction in alcohol-related accidents.

However, the issue arises when lobbying serves the interests of specific industries at the expense of public safety and accountability. This example of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) lobbying on behalf of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors (CAOEC) to secure exemptions raises questions about the integrity of lobbying practices.

The AMTA successfully lobbied Alberta Transportation and got exemptions to the Oilfield Exemption Permit as it relates to the Hours of Service regulations. Specifically, under this permit, a driver does not have to use the prescribed log book required in the Hours of Service regulation. Drivers under this permit are already exempt from using a ELD and should be using a paper log to meet the Hours of Service requirements. However, because of lobbying instead of a paper log these drivers are allowed to record working time on a “tour sheet”. The criteria for a “tour sheet” only requires the total on-duty and off duty hours for the day. No work shift start and end time is required. There is absolutely no way for an auditor to confirm total off duty requirements are met if there is no start and end time. The CAOEC essentially got an exemption to the very heart of the regulation which is to ensure drivers are getting adequate off duty time. By influencing Alberta Transportation to grant exemptions that compromise driver safety and accountability, the AMTA and CAOEC showcase how lobbying can be used to circumvent regulations for the benefit of industry interests.

Farmers and Ranchers in Alberta have been asking for a ELD permit or a ELD exemption for years and it has been ignored. The disparity in treatment between different sectors, as seen in the case of farmers and ranchers in Alberta seeking ELD permits or exemptions, further underscores the need for fair and transparent lobbying practices.

When government decisions prioritize economic interests over public safety, it creates a concerning precedent that undermines the trust in regulatory processes. Unethical lobbying practices erode trust in government institutions and jeopardize public welfare. It is crucial for policymakers, advocacy groups, and citizens to remain vigilant and hold lobbying activities with government accountable to ensure transparency, fairness, and ethical conduct in shaping government decisions.