Observers are not allowed at monthly meetings that have been going on for more than a decade between the city and a developers’ lobby group. The “liaison committee” meetings with the Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association (HHHBA) appear to provide ample opportunity for lobbying but would not be covered by the currently proposed lobbyist registry.
The “HHHBA/City of Hamilton Liaison Committee” has existed since 2002. Neither the agendas nor the minutes appear on the city’s website, but they can be obtained by those who know the committee exists and ask for the material. However these one to two page documents offer only a very limited description of what takes place in the committee, and a request by CATCH to observe the meetings has been rejected.
The HHHBA describes itself as “the voice of the local construction industry” representing “250 active members working in all areas related to new home construction, including builders, land developers, trades, suppliers, renovators and others.” The website states the HHHBA advocates “for our members and the building industry as a whole” and claims to also represent the interests of new home buyers.
Some of the committee agenda items appear to be explanations by city staff of new or existing policies but many seem to be driven by the HHHBA and various individual developers who are also listed as attending. For example, the HHHBA website currently includes a report on how the organization used a recent liaison committee meeting to challenge a city policy on the size and location of side yards in new development.
Other topics discussed in the last year include “revisions to environmental impact statement guidelines”, “HHHBA concerns regarding stormwater management”, and the “urban woodlands bylaw”. On the latter item, the January minutes record that “HHHBA has requested consultation in drafting the Planning Committee report prior to proceeding to Committee for consideration.”
For much of the liaison committee history, one or more city councillor attended the meetings but that practice appears to have ended soon after its existence became public and their participation was challenged by Brad Clark as illegal. In February 2011 the HHHBA had asked for more council participation and the request was conveyed to council by Maria Pearson who said the liaison group addressed “hot button issues in the next little while or how can we address these”.
She was supported by then general manager of planning and economic development Tim McCabe who described it as a working committee. “We have a draft new sidewalk policy. Let’s work together, discuss it,” said McCabe. “We encourage more participation [of councillors].”
But Clark pointed to the Municipal Act and argued that the inclusion of councillors created a “cosy relationship” that was inappropriate.
The minutes of the subsequent April 2011 meeting show Lloyd Ferguson and Maria Pearson attending, but no councillors have been listed since that date. In early 2012, Clark and Brian McHattie publicly refused to follow “a tradition” of twice–annual private dinners hosted by the HHHBA for councillors who headed the powerful public works and planning committees.
The liaison committee is alternately chaired by an HHHBA or city representative. Tony Sergi, the director of development engineering, is the most frequent city chair. The HHHBA president, secretary and policy director are the usual representatives of the developer’s group.
The proposed lobbyist registry returns to councillors this week as the twenty–sixth item on the agenda of the general issues committee. The draft limits the application of the bylaw to councillors and the city’s senior management team – seven general managers of divisions that don’t include Sergi. In contrast, Toronto’s lobbyist registry applies to all city employees. V