By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson is taking a cautious approach on whether Hamilton should create a lobbyist registry.
The chair of the accountability and transparency sub-committee says councillors should weigh such factors as how much it will cost taxpayers; if it will drive businesses away; how will it benefit the city; and will it be fair.
“I’m not sure about it,” said Ferguson, when asked about registry. “I don’t like the cost. And we have to be careful about our businesses. We don’t want to turn them away.”
The subcommittee members for the last two meetings have listened to Ontario Integrity Commissioner Lynn Morrison, and Linda Gehrke, Toronto’s lobbyist registrar, describe their programs, the only two in the province.
The Toronto registry was created in 2007 out of the Bellamy Commission that examined the city’s procurement issues. The office has seven employees, conducts inquiries and investigations, and oversees a lobbyist code of conduct that involves politicians, their staffs, members of local boards, and standing committees. The cost to Toronto, acknowledged Ferguson, is significant: $1 million annual operating budget, and a one-time $2 million capital budget to create the online registry, which is free.
Gehrke said she has laid one charge since the registry was created, but it was ultimately withdrawn.
“It’s a big investment,” said Gehrke. “Think carefully about it.”
But she argued investing in a registry has benefited the city of Toronto with fewer scandals, and a more transparent municipality.
“Lobbyists do not want that negative publicity,” she said.
But Gehrke advised the members they could improve uponToronto’s registry. For instance, unions are not registered as lobbyists, a point that surprisedFerguson.
“You have a blank slate,” said Gehrke.
Ferguson said since 60 per cent Hamilton’s budget involves salaries, that’s a group he would consider adding to any lobbyist registry.
He said later it would look silly if you don’t register the city’s unions, while forcing “some poor” local business owner, who simply wants a liquor license, or is looking to expand his patio, to register as a lobbyist.
Other issues the subcommittee needs to consider is should the office have the power to investigate, something the Ontario commissioner doesn’t possess. And should the bylaw include a code of conduct for lobbyists, and banning lobbying when the city is involved in a procurement process.
Gehrke said another option for Hamilton could be contracting Toronto officials to do the integrity commissioner work. She said Ottawa, which is also examining whether to create the position, has looked at the Toronto system.
“I would happily agree to share any information with you,” she said.
Subcommittee members have discussed the idea of recommending to council the creation of a lobbyist registry. Ferguson said there is no timeline when to present a report, nor is there any indication if the members even want to create one. The subcommittee did recommend the creation of an integrity commissioner, while also tightening up the rules for politicians on what they can receive, and limiting the value of those gifts.
A lobbyist registry would force politicians to change how they approach people, especially planners and developers, as well as non-profit organizations, and community groups.
Toronto’s registry is stricter thanOntario’s, requiring a registered lobbyist to identify who the person is talking to, and when. Under Toronto’s definition, a lobbyist is an employee who lobbies on behalf of an employer, a consultant, and a voluntary person who lobbies or causes an employee to lobby on behalf of the non-profit organization. Union groups, and not-for-profit groups, such as community entities are exempt.