While Hamilton council dithers over how and whether to establish a lobbyist registry, Toronto offers a well–developed model exposing the massive amount of influence–peddling that municipal politicians and their staff face. Similar arm–twisting of both councillors and staff is evident in Hamilton but with no rush to make this corporate pressure transparent.
The on–line Toronto registry records over 5500 instances of municipal lobbying last year. It identifies 561 lobbyists operating on behalf of 1870 clients, and an additional 691 companies that use in–house employees to influence the decisions of municipal officials. The registry offers multiple search options – from who is being lobbied, to the subject matter, to lists of lobbyists and their clients.
In contrast, Hamilton’s voluntary registry lists just three individuals and provides nothing on whom they’ve approached or about what. We know councillors and staff have been invited to private dinners with a developer group, and that senior staff demanded exemption from rules restricting accepting dinners from corporate representatives.
The chair of the subcommittee that was instructed six years ago to come up with a Hamilton registry is still expressing concerns and confusion over who is a lobbyist, what constitutes lobbying, who should be required to register, and whether the cost to taxpayers is too high, as well as whether a registry should cover lobbying of city staff, apply to meetings in informal settings, or impose penalties.
The Toronto registry answers all these queries and much more – in plain terms on the city’s website, and in a legal form in the bylaw adopted by Toronto in 2008 on the recommendation of a public inquiry into municipal corruption.
The website says “lobbying is communicating with a public office holder on a range of subjects including decisions on by–laws, policies and programs, grants, purchasing, and applications for services, permits, licenses or other permission.” Communication is defined in the bylaw as “any form of expressive contact, and includes oral, written or electronic communication.”
The definition of a “public office holder” includes councillors, employees of the city and most members of advisory boards and community councils, including the city manager, city solicitor, treasurer, general managers and directors and their deputies or stand–ins, as well as “employees in other management positions who are in a position to influence programs and services” offered by the city.
Applied to Hamilton that would cover the general managers of public works and of economic development, both of whom have apparently been regularly invited to private dinners with the Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association – until last year when the councillors chairing the two standing committees that these managers report to pointedly and publicly refused to accept the invitations.
Last fall Enbridge Inc decided to lobby individual councillors instead of making a public presentation, and Brad Clark revealed he has refused multiple dinner offers from developers – a revelation greeted with silence by other councillors although it seems unlikely that Clark is the only one who has had such invitations.
And such treatment for senior staff was openly acknowledged years ago when the general manager of economic development and planning convinced council not to apply the rule forbidding gifts over $100 to senior managers.
“It is part of our job in terms of networking, and being part of industry celebrations and community celebrations,” Tim McCabe explained. “We’re finding ourselves one or two nights a week going to dinner, and these are business meetings, and they have to take place in order for us to attract this investment.”
The Toronto bylaw was presented to Hamilton’s accountability and transparency subcommittee in 2010, and the director of their registry addressed the subcommittee last May. V