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Doug Ford recommends possible jail time for Ontario lobbyists caught breaking the rules

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has instructed the province’s attorney general to review legislation governing lobbyists and add increased penalties, including jail time, if they break rules.

The request comes amid a shocking integrity commissioner report that highlighted how certain developers with access to staff within the housing ministry were given an unfair advantage when it came to the removal of Greenbelt land.

It also found that an unregistered lobbyist identified as “Mr. X” tried to woo staff with offers of lunches, Raptors tickets and golf games as part of a deal with a landowner.

Sources have confirmed to CTV News Toronto that Mr. X is likely former Clarington Mayor John Mutton.

In a statement from the Office of the Attorney General, officials said “it has become clear that a few bad actors have taken advantage of the system.”

“Our government does not and will not tolerate this type of behavior. While public advocacy plays an important role in our democratic system, it must be done in an ethical and transparent manner,” the statement reads.

The government has committed to reviewing legislation governing lobbyists in the coming weeks. The attorney general’s office confirmed the premier recommended possible changes, including “a higher degree of accountability and increased penalties for those who violate the act up to and including jail time.”

No further details are available at this time as to what would constitute a severe enough violation for a jail sentence or criminal offence.

As it stands now, if a person is convicted of an offence under the Lobbyists Registration Act, an individual may be prohibited from lobbying for a maximum of two years. The person’s name and violation may also be made public.

They may also be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence and a fine of up to $100,000 for subsequent offences.

Potential violations could include placing a public office holder in a position of conflict of interest, accepting payment from public funds, or encouraging payment based on their success as lobbyists.

For example, Ontario’s integrity commissioner alleges that Mr. X negotiated a $1 million "Greenbelt fee" contingent on getting a parcel of land developed in Clarington. If he was a registered lobbyist, this would not have been allowed.

The request by the premier’s office to review lobbyist rules was one of 15 recommendations made by Ontario’s auditor general in a scathing report that found that the government favoured certain developers when deciding what land should be removed from the Greenbelt.

The auditor general has also asked for a review of the Members’ Integrity Act and Public Service of Ontario Act.

The Ford government has agreed to accept 14 of the 15 recommendations made by the auditor general after acknowledging that the process was, in fact, flawed. Steve Clark resigned from his position as housing minister following both the auditor general and integrity commissioner’s reports, as has his chief of staff who was responsible for selecting the Greenbelt sites. Top Stories

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