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Lobbyist registry delayed until September

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 After years of being buried in legislative limbo, Hamilton councillors seem poised to approve a lobbyist registry in September.

A lobbyist registry has been a cornerstone of a number of community activists to make councillors more open and transparent about their activities. Over the last few years councillors have created an integrity commissioner, and approved a code of conduct for politicians. But a lobby registry similar to Toronto’s, has been the final legislative piece to hold councillors accountable to the public.

Don McLean, of Environment Hamilton, who has been urging politicians to approve a registry since at least the last municipal election, told councillors at their June 18 general issues committee meeting, it would help protect politicians, while making a secretive part of councillors’ meetings open.

“There is a wide spread view that corruption pervades this place,” saidMcLean.

He championed the Toronto lobbyist registry, and pleaded with councillors to don’t delay and approveHamilton’s registry, which is modeled on Toronto legislation, which was implemented in 2007.

“It’s a bit of a no brainer,” he said.

But even more frustrating for McLean has been the way the lobbyist registry discussion has meandered through the Hamilton’s political and administrative bureaucracy, avoiding the light of day.

A citizen member of the accountability and transparency subcommittee, David Broom, which drafted a proposed lobbyist registry bylaw a few years ago, blasted councillors in April for “burying” the bylaw.

“It seemed some members of the subcommittee members tried to stall the lobbyist registry and make sure it went nowhere,” said Broom.

Broom argued a lobbyist registry will eliminate the perception there are back room deals occurring among councillors.

Mayor Bob Bratina pointed out at the committee meeting that a registry won’t eliminate scandal. It merely, he said, informs the public who is talking to politicians.

Councillors decided last April to allow the community to voice its views on the idea of a registry, which would be similar in scope to Toronto’s registry created in 2007 in the wake of the city’s MFP computer scandal. The majority of respondents urged the city to create the registry. But the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and the Hamilton Halton Homebuilders Association opposed the idea, arguing a registry would cost the city jobs.

Nando De Caria, president of the HHHA, said the registry has no clear rules or requirements for exemptions, and it would prevent businesses from having any dealings with the city. He said businesses would be wary of talking about potential investments if they knew it was revealed they were talking to politicians.

But Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark pointed outOttawa, which recently created a lobbyist registry, has seen its investment into the community continue to grow despite the specter of the new registry.

Linda Gehrke, the city of Toronto’s lobbyist registrar, said she hasn’t seen any impact toToronto’s economy because of the registry.

“I haven’t heard anything like that,” Gehrke told politicians when she appeared before the June 18 committee.

The Toronto office of the registry has eight staff, she said, which includes investigators and researchers.

Most councillors, who were more accommodating to the idea of a registry in place than they were earlier this year, were concerned a registry would hamper community groups and homeowners from speaking to their councillors about issues.

Under Toronto’s registry guidelines, organizations such as business improvement areas, neighbourhood associations, and constituents are exempt from the bylaw, an idea that Hamilton has also incorporated into its proposed bylaw.  Non- profit groups are also exempt under the proposed bylaw.

There has been one conviction under the Toronto lobbyist registry, said Gehrke, and over 50 investigations conducted. Violating the lobbyist registry guidelines, a provincial offences act offense, will net a person a fine of $25,000.

Hamilton’s registry is scheduled to cost about $200,000, which includes developing a website. If approved in September, it won’t come into effect until 2015.

Ontario became the first province inCanadato create a lobbyist registry in 1998. Over 10,000 people are registered. Of municipalities inOntario, only Ottawa and Torontohave established a registry.

Politicians are scheduled to discuss the proposed bylaw on Sept. 4.

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