It’s not all that unusual to do things when you’re young that society may frown upon, even if in so doing you make yourself a pariah, scorned by friends and family alike. People get older. They become more mature and tend to grow out of their youthful indiscretions. But sometimes it can be hard to get away from your past, and you find yourself having to once more tread a familiar path, knowing, that in so doing, you may once again be opening yourself up to all the things that went with it.
And so, I’m ready to make a confession to you dear readers, back in 2006–2007 I was a lobbyist.
I remember telling my brother the news over the phone. Through the silence I could hear the pained expression on his face. It was as if I had told him that I had become a drug dealer or had taken to drowning sacks of kittens for laughs. I could picture him imagining me handing out briefcases of cash to corrupt politicians and then using my newly purchased lapdogs to subvert democracy to my own nefarious aims.
The silence was finally broken when I reminded him that I wasn’t going to work for big tobacco, but rather Ontario’s community newspapers, which put his mind at ease and helped him see me as a human once more.
While I kid about the evil of my erstwhile profession, lobbyists do serve a useful purpose within the political process. No matter how smart or dedicated a politician or a civil servant is, he or she can’t know everything, nor can they take into account all the potential unintended consequences that may result from a decision he or she has made.
That’s where lobbyists do their best work.
One of my files dealt with a Retail Sales Tax regulation that was threatening to drive several community newspapers into bankruptcy. That’s not what the government that passed the law, nor the bureaucrat who wrote the regulations, intended. All they wanted was to make sure that non-newspaper publications didn’t receive the same tax treatment as newspapers. When I pointed this out to the Ministry of Finance we sat down and hashed out a new formula and the regulation was changed. Problem solved.
In a way, what an ethical lobbyist does is no different from what an active citizen does. The difference in asking your councillor for a new stop sign on your street and a lobbyist asking for something that will benefit his or her industry is only in degree and not in kind.
I was fortunate in that I believed in what I was lobbying for, be it freedom of information, open meetings or recycling policy. Not all lobbyists have that luxury, although I’d like to think that the good ones know where to draw the line between working for a cause they aren’t passionate about and working for something they believe to be wrong.
My lobbying career came to mind as I prepared to head to Queen’s Park once again to talk to the denizens of the Pink Palace about newspaper issues. No, I’m not going back to my old ways, just joining a delegation from the community newspaper industry to let our provincial reps know that not everything they’ve been doing has been great for newspapers and to remind them of the vital role we play in the province.
While it’ll be fun to go back to lobbying for a day, I’ll leave my briefcases of cash at home.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor of Hamilton Community News.