Another two months have gone by and city council still hasn’t voted on a lobbyist registry. But one proponent says it won’t be long now.

After seven years of committee meetings, 45 days of public input and countless hours of staff time at city hall, the registry allowing the public to see who lobbies their politicians will come back on Sept. 4.

And council, says Coun. Brian McHattie, will vote on it then. For real this time.

'I don’t want to be a cynic, but I’m concerned that the bylaw has been so complicated that it may not get passed.' - Coun. Brad Clark

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” said the Ward 1 councillor of yet another delay.

“Just remember, this was going to die a silent death during the budget process. We finished the budget process and this thing would be done with no discussion whatsoever.”

“I’m pretty happy.”

Pushing the decision back to September was decided Wednesday after councillors heard from delegates for and against the registry and once more debated the issue.

The lobbyist registry has been a long and complicated process dating back seven years. In 2007, the city formed an accountability and transparency subcommittee to implement both a registry and an integrity commissioner office. The integrity commissioner office started in 2010.  

The subcommittee wrapped up its work on the registry — which will cost $50,000 to $100,000 to build, then about $114,000 to run — in the fall. It passed on a draft bylaw to city councillors, who let it fade by not including it in the budget process. David Broom, a former subcommittee member, said councillors were deliberately trying to bury it.

McHattie urged councillors to bring it back, and was poised to introduce a motion at a special meeting Wednesday night to implement the registry. While McHattie, also a mayoral candidate in the October election, would have voted to implement it, his fellow councillors still had questions, he said.

Among the questions staff will try to answer in September:

  • Should the registry have a code of conduct for lobbyists like the Toronto registry does?
  • Should the registry have “guiding principals” like Toronto’s does?
  • Which public bodies with ties to city hall are included in the registry? Should it include police? The library board? Public housing?
  • Should Hamilton’s include a one-meeting grace period where lobbyists can meet with councillors once for information purposes without it being on the registry?

The process has gone on so long that the bylaw is unnecessarily complicated, said Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9 in Stoney Creek. And he wonders if that’s on purpose.

“I don’t want to be a cynic, but I’m concerned that the bylaw has been so complicated that it may not get passed,” said Clark, who’s also running for mayor. “And that may have been an end game by some councillors.”

Clark says when he was an MPP, the provincial registry required who was lobbying, for what reason and when they met with politicians.

“It’s really simple,” he said. “This is getting incredibly complicated.”

Only two cities in Ontario — Toronto and Ottawa — have a lobbyist registry. Linda Gehrke, Toronto’s lobbyist registrar, presented to councillors on Wednesday.

Here are some highlights:

  • Toronto implemented its registry in 2007. Since then, there has been one $700 fine laid for non-compliance under the Provincial Offences Act.
  • At any given time, the city has about 1,279 active lobbyists registered.
  • The lobbying is evenly divided between councillors and city staff.
  • The registry has an annual budget of about $1 million. Gehrke has a staff of eight.
  • The registry stipulates the lobbyists must not use “gifts, entertainment, meals, trips or favours of any kind.”
  • Lobbyists must not put councillors in a conflict of interest.

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and Hamilton-Halton Homebuilders Association warn that a registry will chase away investment in Hamilton.

It will force investors considering Hamilton into the public eye and give other cities a chance to peruse Hamilton’s registry and chase investors themselves, said Nando De Caria, president of the homebuilders association.

If residents feel their politicians are making secret deals with lobbyists, they can vote them out, De Caria said.

“If they want to make a significant noise, they can vote with their pen or on election day.”

But Gehrke said she hasn’t heard complaints about a registry warding off investment. And Clark called it “a red herring.”

“In Ontario, think of the investments that have occurred while the lobbyist registry has existed in Ontario.”

It still concerns Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster, who chaired the subcommittee. So does the fact that Toronto spends $1 million per year on the registry and has issued one fine.

“What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” he said. 

Below you can view Samantha Craggs tweets from the Wednesday meeting: