By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton residents will get their say until June to determine if the city should have a lobbyist registry after nearly three years of residing in legislative limbo.
After about a three-hour debate at the April 2 general issues committee, councillors unanimously agreed to allow homeowners 45 days to submit written opinions on whether or not a lobbyist registry should be established for the city. In addition, a special government issues committee meeting will be held in June to allow people to speak on the issue in front of politicians. The recommendations still have to be approved by politicians at their April 9 council meeting.
The ultimate goal, said Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, who is running for mayor, is to create a lobbyist registry next year. The position will be incorporated into the integrity commissioner’s responsibilities, said staff. The registry is projected to cost $214,000, which includes developing a website.
It’s a development that citizen member of the accountability and transparency committee David Broom called long overdue. Appearing before politicians, he accused them of trying to sink the document from sight.
“This council purposely and secretively tried to bury this issue without debate,” said Broom, a member of the advisory committee since 2007. “It seem as through some subcommittee members were trying to stall the lobbyist registry and ensure it went nowhere.”
Ontariobecame the first province inCanadato create a lobbyist registry in 1998. Over 10,000 people are registered. Of municipalities inOntario, only Toronto and Ottawa created lobbyist registries. If Hamilton creates one, it will become the third municipal jurisdiction to do so.
The idea of creating a lobbyist registry had been referred by the general issues committee last year to the 2014 budget debate as an enhancement. No councillor during the budget discussions raised the issue.
Broom, who was accompanied by another citizen committee member Joanna Chapman, told councillors that a lobbyist registry would benefit them.
“It is not to encumber council,” he said. “It will take away the perception of the back door deals.”
Some councillors argued a lobbyist registry will cost too much money, and is too complicated to oversee. They wondered if talking to a constituent about an issue will mean the councillor is violating a city policy.
“This is creating a nervousness and discomfort,” said Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson. “There will be abuse.”
Mountain councillor Tom Jackson pointed out that community organizations such as the Yes We Cannon group, and non-profit outfits such as Mission Services and the Good Shepherd would be classified as lobbyists.
“Is Yes We Cannon a lobbyist? No question they were lobbying us,” saidJackson.
Jacksonremained skeptical of creating a lobbyist registry. He supported the creation of the integrity commissioner, and some of the projected problems of having a commissioner have become a reality for him.
Jackson, as a few other councillors implied, including Terry Whitehead, said creating a lobbyist registry was more politically motivated than anything else.
“I just want to do my job,” said Jackson. “I don’t want to be in a state of paralysis.”
Whitehead questioned council’s priorities. As the city’s infrastructure crumbles, and residents are pleading for lower taxes, politicians are adding another layer of bureaucracy.
“They don’t want us to waste anymore taxpayers’ money,” he said.
But Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, who is also running for mayor, was whole heartedly behind the project. As a former MPP he had to work with the province’s own lobbyist registry, and he had no problems with it.
“It’s not as complicated as my colleagues make it out to be,” said Clark. “It’s not something to be fearful. A lot of fear has been thrown out. It’s an issue of transparency.”
The provincial definition of a lobbyist is a paid person representing a company more than 20 per cent of the time. The provincial registry has no investigative or enforcement powers. Since its’ inception, no charges have been laid by the province, or by the Toronto lobbyist registrar. Violating the provincial act is a fine of $25,000.
Clark said under the committee’s draft lobbyist proposal there are exemptions for non-profit and charitable organizations, and constituents.
The city’s solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski summed up the effort to craft a lobbyist registry bill: “It’s complicated.”