Hamilton Council has/will vote on the establishment of a policy on Lobbying, but the issue of what constitutes lobbying and who is deemed to be a lobbyist leaves some questions to be answered. The city of Hamilton’s Integrity and Transparency committee had been working for years on a policy to register lobbyists.  The issue gained new impetus when it was suggested that approaches made to councillors by citizens like Charles Juravinsky to have police Chief Glenn DeCair’s term of employment extended, amounted to lobbying. Hamilton Police Services Board Chair Lloyd Ferguson admitted he was under extreme pressure from both sides of the DeCaire issue. “In the end I came down on the side of the (crime) stats,” Ferguson said.”Robbery…murders cleared …overall crime rate…you can’t argue with the numbers Chief DeCaire has put up” He said he was also concerned about installing a rookie chief as the Pan Am Games were unfolding.

Ferguson, who also chairs the transparency and integrity committee says he is concerned about aspects of the proposed bylaw that would inhibit constituents from contacting their councillor. “I’ve had people stop me on the street and ask ‘am I going to be able to contact you in future?,’” he said. The Toronto lobbyist registry is being used as a template for Hamilton’s proposed lobbyist registry. Ferguson thinks the Toronto registry has cost a lot of money and produced little in the way of results.” It was started in the wake of the computer scandal, and since its inception has registered one conviction with a fine of $700,” he noted.

In considering its lobbyist policy Hamilton heard a presentation from Linda L. Gehrke, Toronto’s Lobbyist Registrar. The bay Observer contacted Ms. Gehrke with the following question: There is some discussion locally about putting in a lobbyist registry. My question is how do you reconcile the need for transparency around lobbying with the ability of an ordinary citizen who is not a paid lobbyist to communicate with a public office holder on a matter of public concern. The example that comes to mind here is a grass roots campaign by some citizens to have the contract of the chief of police extended by two years. It has been suggested that these citizens would have been obliged to register as lobbyists had the necessary legislation been in place. Does Toronto’s lobbying bylaw contemplate the possible clash between open communication with elected officials by the public, and commercially-driven lobbying?

Ms. Gehrke’s response:One of the guiding principles of the Lobbying By-law is that “Open and unfettered access to City government is a vital aspect of local democracy.”  Not-for-profit citizen groups are exempted from the Lobbying By-law when communicating about such issues as the one you describe.  Ward constituents are exempt from the by-law when communicating about general neighbourhood or public policy issues.

So a constituent can contact their ward councillor without registering, but what about, in the case of Lloyd Ferguson where he was being contacted in his capacity as Chair of the Police Services Board? Should only his Ancaster constituents be allowed to discuss the police matter with him? Hamilton’s proposed bylaw appears to permit city-wide contact. In its list of contacts that are allowed, the Hamilton draft bylaw says an exemption should be made for “communication for or against a policy or program…where the primary focus is a broad community benefit or detriment…where that position would have no direct, indirect or perceived benefit..to..the individual.”

Compared to the United States where lobbyists can funnel millions of dollars to support candidates through Political Action Committees (PAC’s), Hamilton is minor league when it comes to lobbying. While Lloyd Ferguson says he favours transparency, he wonders what problem is it that Hamilton’s proposed bylaw seeks to solve.

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