Starting Sept. 1, lobbyists must register their communications with municipal public office holders. OBJ’s Elizabeth Howell explains the circumstances under which one needs to register, and how to comply.
What does it mean?
“The days of being able to talk to councillors or staffers without people knowing about it are gone,” says Guy Giorno, a former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who’s now a partner with Fasken Martineau and an expert on lobbying law.
“It’s important for anyone engaging the city (to know) your engagement will be a matter of public record. If you don’t want to do that (publicly), you shouldn’t do it.”
Lobbying is defined as communications with a public office holder with the goal of influencing procurement or legislative action. It can be done by individuals, organizations or businesses. According to the city, it applies to only “substantive activities” including meetings in person or over the phone, as well as e-mails and letters.
The city states this definition emphasizes “an individual who is paid or who represents a business or financial interest,” and does not usually apply to community organizations.
What are examples?
According to the city, it could include the CEO of a high-tech company promoting a client support system to the city’s chief information officer, or a property developer asking their councillor about a planning application already submitted to the city.
Why do we need one?
Officially, it’s all about accountability. A lobbyist registry, city staff say, will create more transparency at city hall. Mayor Jim Watson campaigned on creating a public record of anyone meeting with him, his staff, councillors and senior city staff.
Mr. Giorno says there is another reason.
He says there is a perception within the city – and among some lobbyists as well – that public disclosure is the best antidote against corruption, although Mr. Giorno says he cannot recall an instance in Ottawa where “lack of transparency or secrecy caused something to happen” at the municipal level.
Which municipal employees are covered?
Elected officials and their staff, citizen members of the transit commission, and an “officer or employee” of the city. Most city employees would be covered. City documents say the list includes, but is not limited to, general managers, the city manager and deputy managers, and employees in direct contact with council members.
How do I comply?
Most consultants who approach a public office holder must register and also disclose their lobbying activities to a yet-to-be-appointed integrity commissioner within 10 days of doing the work.
Senior officers, working on behalf of organizations that employ lobbyists of their own, have to file within two months. A city website for registration should be available in time for the registry implementation.
According to Mr. Giorno, the only three things people have to disclose include clients’ names, whether they have ever held a senior office with the city and if they’ve had any association with the city advisory committees.
It is unclear, he added, how name, address, phone number and topics of discussions will be publicly disclosed.
Of more concern is the fact that lobbyists don’t yet know how to register, he says. “The actual mechanics of registration are not in the staff report and they’re not in the draft bylaw. This is a major issue.”
It is important, he says, because matters such as whether assistants are allowed to post on behalf of their lobbyist supervisors, or if a CEO is able to post on behalf of all lobbyists within a company, have not been addressed.