Seeking favour from an Edmonton councillor will soon make you a lobbyist

Special interest groups, businesses and individuals looking to curry favour from Edmonton city councillors will soon be asked to make their pitches public by registering as lobbyists.

Businesses, individuals trying to influence elected officials asked to register

The City of Edmonton is working toward finalizing a lobbyist registry bylaw expected this spring. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Special interest groups, businesses and individuals looking to curry favour from Edmonton city councillors will soon be asked to make their pitches public by registering as lobbyists.

The city is preparing a lobbyist registry as part of council's code of conduct, a new body of rules Alberta municipalities are required to adhere to under provincial law.

At a code of conduct subcommittee meeting on Monday councillors pondered the definition of a lobbyist.

Coun. Scott McKeen said he wants to make sure the city is differentiating between private gain and public interest.

"Organizations — financial, businesses, corporations — one of their employees comes to us to let us know their position on an issue, that's lobbying," he said. "If someone with a community league comes to us and expresses concern about something, that to me is just part of democracy."

But the guidelines presented by city administration at the meeting weren't clear to everyone, as the list suggested that private meetings may have to be recorded.

Coun. Ben Henderson questioned the impact the rules would have at public meetings and open houses, where he often talks to constituents.

"Those are all private conversations, they're not public in the sense that anybody hears them," he said. "And what's the point of going to a meeting if you can't have those conversations?"

The city administration said constituents who want to talk in general about programs and services aren't lobbying.

Henderson said those conversations are never general.

"It's always specific, it's something they want us to do differently about a specific item. That's not general in nature." 

Coun. Scott McKeen, right, and Ben Henderson, middle, try to pin down requirements for lobbyist registry. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The city has been drafting the lobbyist registry for about a year, with feedback from councillors during committee meetings last May and September and input from the new ethics advisor, Brent Rathgeber. 

"Lobbying of local government by honest and appropriate means is a legitimate and permissible activity" the city report said. "Accessing local government is an essential element of democratic governance."

The city's proposed guidelines say anyone who tries to influence a bylaw, policy, program, permits, contracts, grants, or garnering anything of financial benefit would be considered to be lobbying.

The mayor has had a lobbyist registry since 2017.

Mayor Don Iveson said anyone advocating for something of a financial benefit "above a constituency level" would have to register as a lobbyist.

"We tried to keep it very simple and err on the side of disclosure, with a big caveat that if you're just a constituent with a regular, everyday issue, that you're exempt, you're not a lobbyist."

City councillors agreed to model their lobbyist registry on the mayor's. 

City administration is expected to report back to a council services committee meeting on Apr. 29 with a bylaw outlining a lobbyist registry.



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