The city has once again pushed back its timeline for the creation of a lobbyist registry.
In a report that’s set to go in front of the city’s accountability and transparency subcommittee on Monday, staff suggest January 26, 2015 as a target date for the implementation of the registry, which would make it mandatory for individuals or groups looking to meet with councillors or staff to advance an agenda to register with the city.
This represents another delay in the establishment of a mandatory lobbyist registry, an effort that dates back to 2007.
The accountability and transparency subcommittee last met in June, voting to give staff three months to develop a draft of a bylaw that would serve as a framework for the registry. At that point, the city said it aimed to have the program in place by the end of 2014.
'I think if you’re going implement a registry, it needs to be done right and done effectively. - Coun. Terry Whitehead
Coun. Terry Whitehead, who sits on the subcommittee, downplayed the amount of time it’s taken to develop the registry.
“I think if you’re going implement a registry, it needs to be done right and done effectively,” he said, adding that the subcommittee has to assess the design of the bylaw before it sends it to the city’s general issues committee.
“Is it going to do the job? Are we getting value for our dollar? How do we measure that?”
He said staff and members of the subcommittee, which is made up of councillors, citizens and the mayor, require time to assess the effectiveness of lobbyist registries in other jurisdictions.
“I don’t think those kinds of measurements have ever been done.”
‘Neither accountable nor transparent’
Journalist and government transparency advocate Joey Coleman scolded the city for its pace on the lobbyist registry.
“This is a committee that has had seven years and still hasn’t defined what a lobbyist is,” he said. “It is pretty clear that this committee doesn’t want to advance accountability and transparency at city hall.”
He also slammed the city for not posting the subcommittee’s agenda on the city’s website in advance of the meeting.
“Every public meeting at city hall should be public, and that includes city hall releasing agendas and documents for public review,” said Coleman.
Whitehead defended the city’s policies on how agendas are disclosed. He said staff post council agendas and those of larger committees to the city’s website. Members of the public looking to obtain agendas for smaller committees may obtain them by asking city staff, he noted.
“Anyone that has an interest in any committee has access to that information.”
The city is currently working on a plan to modernize its website, he said, and the next iteration will make it easier for staff to post documents online.
“Can we bring it to the next level? That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Potential election issue
In its Monday report, the city said it estimates the registry would cost between $114,000 and $127,000 annually, with the bulk of the price tag going toward the salary and benefits of a staff member hired to maintain the registry.
Establishing an Internet-based registry would involve a one-time bill for between $50,000 and $100,000, the city said.
Staff have set June 2014 as target date for council to take a final vote on the registry.
If the city follows that timeline, the vote would take place approximately four months before the next municipal election, rendering the lobbyist registry a possible campaign issue.
The timing, Whitehead said, presents councillors an opportunity to “ask the broader community” on how accountability and transparency should be promoted at city hall.
In 2007, the City of Toronto became the first major Canadian municipality to implement a mandatory lobbyist registry.
Ottawa’s city council adopted its own version in July 2012, and the registry went live last September.
Hamilton unveiled a voluntary lobbyist registry in 2004.
As of September 2013, it featured only three names.