By Arend Kersten
Flamborough Chamber of Commerce
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Does the creation of a “lobbyist registry” represent yet another — and perhaps final — nail in the coffin of economic development in Hamilton?
After an angry outburst from a volunteer member of the Accountability and Transparency Sub-Committee (who has been lobbying for the creation of registry for years), city council decided to take another look at the issue.
Council had earlier effectively killed the creation of a Hamilton registry by not including funding in its most recent municipal budget.
In simple terms, the creation of a lobbyist registry would require almost everyone who lobbies members of council and/or a member of the senior management team on an issue not directly related to their ward to register.
Every interaction would have to be listed on the registry (available to the public on the internet), including who they talked to and on what issues.
Only two Ontario municipalities — Toronto and Ottawa — have a lobbyist registry. At a special General Issues Committee meeting last month, the registrar of the Toronto lobbyist registry outlined the details of her department (eight full-time staff — and an annual budget of more than $1 million).
Proponents of a Hamilton lobbyist registry argue its creation would be consistent with “transparent and accountable” government. They have skilfully framed the matter as a motherhood issue — and what politician wants to vote against motherhood, especially in an election year?
On the other side of the issue are those (mostly associated with the business community including the Hamilton and Flamborough chambers of commerce and the Hamilton-Halton Homebuilders Association) who are concerned about how the creation of a lobbyist registry may impact economic development in Hamilton.
Within the context of a global economy, municipalities face fierce competition in the race for new commercial and industrial economic development, complete with additional jobs and tax revenues.
One essential component of that competitive process is absolute confidentiality.
The draft bylaw for the lobbyist registry allows for exemptions (at the sole discretion of the registrar). But many in the “real world” fear those who desire to invest will simply bypass Hamilton for a more business-friendly jurisdiction where absolute confidentiality is a sacred trust.