It may be next spring before council decides whether to establish a lobbyist registry despite a 2007 endorsement in principle. Although there is strong support from citizen members of the Accountability and Transparency Subcommittee, multiple objections from politicians may still derail the reform that has exposed corporate influence on Toronto councillors for nearly five years.
An information report with no recommendations was presented by staff to last week’s meeting of the subcommittee suggesting a timeline that would establish a Hamilton registry by the end of this year, but chair Lloyd Ferguson warned that council would likely refer funding for the change to the 2014 budget debate. The timeline also called for staff recommendations in “April/May”, but when the subcommittee agreed to ask for those, staff said they couldn’t provide them until “late May”, and extra time for public feedback was also added to the mix.
The meeting – only the third since last May – was a replay of previously voiced concerns, especially by Ferguson. His concerns included worries about cost, confusion over definitions of a lobbyist, and an expectation that residents of a councillor’s ward would be automatically excluded from having to make public their lobbying efforts.
“I guess a constituent is not a lobbyist either,” opined the Ancaster councillor, who expressed surprise that “you cannot even talk to someone in Sobeys or a United Way fundraiser”. He also questioned how much time a corporate employee would have to spend lobbying to be added to the registry.
Citizen member Joanna Chapman suggested that identifying lobbyists was not that complicated.
“I would think that people would have a basic knowledge of whether they are lobbying for the benefit of making money, or whether they are just talking about something that … is a public good. I also think that a person who lobbies is well aware of whether they’re trying to get a councillor to agree with a particular development or whether they’re discussing the price of cheese.”
Chapman suggested that the “overarching and most important aspect” of the registry is “to improve the public’s confidence in the way council works”, and that once established is will become a normal part of good government.
David Broom, another citizen member, pointed to the 40 cents per person annual cost of the Toronto registry and the 22 cents a year expected for the recently adopted registry in the City of Ottawa and suggested that these weren’t “a big burden” and will likely be similar for Hamilton taxpayers.
Another citizen member of the committee, David Arbuckle, pressed for firm recommendations in the next staff report, and inclusion of senior city staff in the rules along with councillors. He also advocated oversight by the “arms length” office of the integrity commissioner, and suggested that an automatic response explaining the registry be issued to everyone who emails a city official.
A voluntary lobbyist registry has been in place since 2005 but only three people have registered – none of them paid representatives of companies seeking development approvals or doing business with the city in other ways. Councillor Judi Partridge noted the ineffectiveness of the current system that asks each delegation to council to indicate whether or not they are a lobbyist.
“Why everyone ticks off that no, they’re not a lobbyist, is beyond me because we’ve definitely had some folks present – especially around the casino issue – who are definitely lobbying.”
The recent speaking request by casino developer PJ Mercanti indicates he is not a lobbyist. Disclosure would be required in Toronto’s lobbyist registry established after a 2008 judicial inquiry into municipal corruption. V