City asking lobbyists to please sign up for voluntary registry

City council has approved a municipal lobbyist registry despite complaints the voluntary registry will do little to promote transparency, will create more bureaucracy at city hall and was put together without any form of consultations.

Council voted 15-1 Wednesday to approve the registry, which the city does not have the power to enforce. Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) voted against the registry, which several councillors derided as toothless and put together without any consultation.

Mayor Brian Bowman pushed to create the registry as a means of making city hall more open and transparent.​ It's intended to capture communications between anyone who meets with the mayor, a city councillor or a public servant, outside of a public event or normal process, for some form of benefit for themselves, their employer or another business or non-profit organization with paid staff.

Government officials would be exempt from the registry. So would anybody speaking at a public meeting, simply requesting information, offering complaints or compliments or communicating with an official as part of a regular process such as filling out a permit application.

People who are considered lobbyists would be required to submit their name, their contact information and the subject matter or intended outcome of their meeting. There would be no fee to register as a lobbyist, which would be done online.

War of words

Some of the councillors who supported the registry criticized the way it was brought to council.  South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes said she was embarrassed the city failed to consult Winnipeggers about the move and annoyed she had little time to review the plan. Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt said it "came down from up on high" and compared the mayor's office to a dictatorship.

Asked to explain the dictatorship comment, Wyatt said the mayor doesn't consult with council and compared Bowman to U.S. president Donald Trump.

"Dictators like to keep people divided, Donald Trump style, and the mayor seems to do that. He tweets like Donald Trump. He acts like Donald Trump. I think he thinks he's Donald Trump here, in Winnipeg at times," Wyatt said during council's lunch break.

Bowman said that comparison isn't worthy of a response — but could not restrain himself from taking a jab at Wyatt's restaurant tab.

"I think this lobbyist registry may potentially go a long way to better explain who he's meeting with so regularly on the taxpayer dime," the mayor said. "If you look at just the meal expenses, I certainly have questions who's he meeting with [and] to what purpose?"

Could have chilling effect

Before the council vote, Christina Maes-Nino of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg appeared before council to warn that the registry will place an administrative burden on small, non-profit organizations who may have difficulty discerning what communications constitute lobbying. She said this will have a chilling effect on engagement, as some organizations may simply stop communicating with city officials and members of council.

Last week at executive policy committee, former city councillor George Fraser called the voluntary registry mere busywork, as anyone who does not wish to make their meetings public will choose not to sign the registry.

Schreyer moved a motion to change the name of the new list to "voluntary lobbying registry" for the sake of transparency. "Let's explain in plain English what we're getting into here," Schreyer said.

This amounted to a playful jab at the mayor, who took the motion in stride and agreed to change the name of the registry.

The motion approved by council calls for city integrity commissioner Sherri Walsh to ask the province about the possibility of amending legislation to grant the city the power to enforce the lobbyist registry.