By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Hamilton needs to speed up the creation of a lobbyist registry so residents know who politicians have met with in the past, says Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark.
“The importance of the lobby registry is in the names,” he said. “It’s not about charges. It’s simply the people want to know who councillors are talking to.”
Hamilton resident Christine Gibson urged politicians at their Dec. 5 general issues committee meeting to adopt a lobbyist registry, especially in light of the fact that some councillors recently met with representatives of Enbridge Inc. to talk about their plans to change the flow and tariff of its pipeline that runs through Flamborough
“It’s in your best interests,” said Gibson.
The city’s accountability and transparency committee, chaired by Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, met with Ontario Integrity Commissioner Lynn Morrison and Toronto’s lobbyist registrar Linda Gehrke last May to talk about their experiences in setting up a registry.
Ontario became the first province to create a lobbyist registry in 1998. Today, more than 10,000 people are registered as lobbyists. Other communities, including Ottawa and Vaughan, are looking at establishing a registry.
Two people have registered as lobbyists in Hamilton.
Former mayor Fred Eisenberger urged the creation of a lobbyist registry, but it quickly evaporated. And Clark doesn't know why it died. “We were moving ahead," said Clark. "I’m surprised we haven’t moved more quickly.”
Ferguson said his subcommittee will be meeting Jan. 29 to discuss the issue. It has not met since the spring.
“We want to clear the definition (of a lobbyist) up,” said Ferguson. “We have not been sitting on our hands all year.”
He added that there will be a cost to creating a new registry department, something that needs to be considered.
The provincial register has no investigative or enforcement powers. While no charges have been laid by the province or by the Toronto lobbyist registrar, violating the provincial act results in a fine of $25,000.
Mayor Bob Bratina said a proper definition of who is a lobbyist must be created. He has held meetings with people, but when they start lobbying him, the meeting is halted.
Clark found it disconcerting the mayor held such a view of a lobbyist.
“It’s just striking those comments coming from someone in our situation,” he said.
Clark said he doesn’t meet with lobbyists or developers. Instead, he urges them to meet with staff.
Stoney Creek councillor Brenda Johnson said she has received gifts, which have then been forwarded to local food banks.
“I have no problem telling people who I’ve met with,” said Johnson.
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead, who supports the creation of a lobbyist registry, said it will make sure residents know the people their representatives are talking to. He said councillors should meet with all people, including developers for information purposes.
“We should tell people who we are meeting with,” said Whitehead. “Lobbyist isn’t a bad word. We have an obligation to meet and find the necessary information.”