City politicians have attempted to waylay and bury a potential registry that would let the public know who lobbies them, a citizen volunteer claims. But the issue has been rescued from the ashes.

David Broom, who sat on the city’s accountability and transparency subcommittee for seven years, says he felt resistance from some of the politicians on the committee. Then earlier this year, the city quietly dropped the registry from its 2014 budget deliberations.

“It is clear that the lobbyist registry was purposely left off the list of issues to debate,” Broom told the general issues committee on Wednesday.

“I find it quite ironic that the lobbyist registry was designed to stop the backroom deals and make the whole process more transparent. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that there was any transparency in the decision making here.”

David Arbuckle, another citizen volunteer on the now-disbanded committee, appeared before councillors in February to push for the registry. Meanwhile, the registry had already been dropped off the list of budget items, and neither council nor staff told Arbuckle that, Broom said.

Public consultation coming

After hearing Broom speak, Coun. Brian McHattie introduced a motion to implement the registry in March 2015, and to combine it with the integrity commissioner role.

The city will have 45 days of public consultation before it’s debated at a special meeting in June.

“Rather than tucking this into the drawer, we need to have debate on this,” the Ward 1 councillor said.

The committee unanimously voted to debate the issue in June. But some councillors — particularly Tom Jackson, Terry Whitehead and Lloyd Ferguson, who chaired the subcommittee — echoed concerns expressed over the seven years the issue has been discussed.

Those include:

  • What is a lobbyist? Does it include non-profit groups? Taxpayers who approach councillors at the supermarket? (The draft bylaw defines a lobbyist as paid consultant, employee or volunteer, but does not include constituents of the councillor’s ward, but Ferguson argued that he doesn't always know where someone lives.)
  • Will the registry hinder economic growth if companies considering locating in Hamilton will have their names publicly known? City manager Chris Murray told Ferguson that he's concerned about that too. "I'm wrestling with it the same way you are."
  • Is the registry important enough to spend the estimated $50,000 to $100,000 to build it, or the $114,000 per year to maintain it? Will constituents feel they’re getting value for their tax dollars?

Coun. Sam Merulla also wanted social media factored into the debate. He interacts with thousands of people each day on Facebook and Twitter, and he doesn't always know their motivations, he said.

The public consultation will come in writing as well as a public meeting.

Broom can accept if there’s no will for a registry. But hours of staff time were spent on this issue, so he at least wants to see it debated.

“Can we refine it and make it workable? That’s all I’m asking,” he said. “Let’s push it forward and see where we can go with it.”