As the city's public consultation for a potential lobbyist registry closes Friday, the mayor of Ottawa says the decision to create a similar database in his city has ensured officials remain transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
"It's brought greater accountability to us as politicians, and also to our staff, and the community has a better idea of who is talking to who and what they're talking about and so far it's worked extremely well," said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
Hamilton residents have until Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to submit written submissions on city council's proposal to establish a lobbyist registry. As of the end of day Thursday only 20 people had responded after having 45 days to do so.
The registry would let the public view who is lobbying Hamilton council but some have raised concerns over how it might be implemented, and who would be required to submit their interactions with council and staff to the registry.
- Hamilton politicians tried to bury the lobbyist registry, volunteer says
- Hamilton lobbyist registry put off until 2015 at the earliest
- Ottawa committee approves lobbyist registry
The earliest date for implementing the database would be sometime in 2015. Toronto and Ottawa are among the municipalities that already have a formal registry in place.
Watson, who proposed the Ottawa registry during the 2010 municipal election, introduced the database as part of a 'integrity package' of transparent initiatives, including "putting our expenses online, a gift registry, the lobbyist registry, an integrity commissioner and a council code of conduct."
"We saw quite frankly saw some of the problems that were taking place in other municipalities....and we wanted to get ahead of the curve," Watson said.
'You don't change the political talk'
A special meeting of the Hamilton's General Issues Committee will convene on June 18 to consider the proposed bylaw to create the database. The results of the public consultation will also be included in a report.
Ottawa's Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau, whose office oversees the registry, said creating it hasn't slowed the pace of business, a fear being circulated by some in Hamilton.
"You don't change the political talk you just change the political walk," he said. "Professional lobbyists are responsible professionals and they have no problem registering their activity."
Ottawa city councillors are required to notify a lobbyist that they're required to submit notice of their conversation and have business cards that can be handed out directing a person to the registry.
Unlike in Toronto where lobbyists must pre-register their meeting in the registry, Ottawa allows councillors to be approached at any time and notice of the interaction can be submitted afterwards.
Who is a lobbyist?
Hamilton will have to decide exactly what is to be considered a lobbying activity. Ottawa exempts community groups and residents except where there is a net benefit to those involved.
"Really the definition is pretty clear cut," Watson said noting that city considers it lobbying "if someone is asking for something that is going to have a benefit financial or otherwise to the organization."
Marleau noted that a business owner approaching a councillor to ask for additional parking would also be considered a lobbyist under the city's definition.
Ottawa councillors are required to monitor the registry to ensure conversations with lobbyists are being accurately recorded.
Watson said when he was campaigning on the idea of the registry there was little concern that it would simply collect too much information and violate privacy.
"My view is the more information the better and we're public officials and we're paid for by tax dollars and we should be accountable," he said.