Lobbyist registry for developers shot down at Port Moody council but broader policy will be considered

Port Moody council shot down a motion requesting the city develop a lobbyist registry for the development industry, but a broader policy was not outright rejected.

Coun. Haven Lurbkiecki introduced the motion on Tuesday, Nov. 29, asking staff to create a definition of lobbying activities that attempt to influence municipal land use decisions, as well as a public facing lobbyist and meeting registry.

Lurbiecki claimed the public perception in Port Moody is that developers exert too much influence on policy making.

“We should all be asking ourselves what we can do to remedy this perception – some might say this reality – and increase public trust in our decision making,” she said. “Lobbying activity should be disclosed to the public.”

This is the second transparency focused motion introduced by Lurbiecki which has referenced recent allegations that an “illegal meeting” prior to the rezoning of the Coronation Park Development in October.

Land use decisions are different from any other policy decision council makes, according to Lurbiecki, stating they have the greatest impact on residents, are the most permanent, and have the greatest financial impact on private interests.

Lobbyist registry policies used by the province and cities of Surrey and Kelowna were used as examples of how Port Moody could develop its framework.

The motion also notes two resolutions were endorsed by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) in 2017 and 2019, calling for the establishment of a municipal registry system similar to the provincial governments.

Lubriecki said that although councillors are not required to disclose private meetings with developers, that lack of disclosure can be perceived as secrecy.

Her motion calls for the city’s website to list all registered lobbyists and meetings.

“The need for this registry is urgent given the significant number of upcoming development proposals Port Moody will be considering in the immediate and longer terms,” Lurbiecki said.

Council voted 5-1 against the motion.

While other councillors did not dismiss the potential benefits to transparency, most found the wording problematic and said more discussion before pursuing such a policy.

The most common concerns regarded the definitions around lobbying activites, and singling out land-use decisions.

Coun. Samantha Agtarap said she found Kelowna’s definition too broad.

She said based on the current motion, organized groups of citizens could be considered as lobbyists, or even anyone speaking with a councillor representing their own interests.

“We need to make some boundaries on that, because where does it end?” Agtarap said. “We need to have some clear guidelines.”

She said a group of citizens who rallied in recent years to prevent a road through Bert Flinn Park could be potentially seen as influencing council’s decision making.

Agtarap added any policy must capture lobbyist activity beyond simply land use applications, arguing many issues fall under council’s jurisdiction.

Couns. Kyla Knowles, Diana Dilworth and Amy Lubik agreed.

Lubik said future lobbying efforts could affect much more than just land use activities, using energy efficiency and energy use in buildings as an example.

Agtarap also noted the 2017 UBCM resolution requested municipalities be granted greater legal power from the province to enforce participation in lobbyist registries.

She said if they don’t have the regulatory teeth to enforce participation, developers are just voluntarily agreeing to register.

“So in essence we’re relying on good faith participation,” Agtarap said said. “Council, staff and the public would have to trust that everyone is abiding by the intent of the policy, which is not so different than the current state.”

Knowles said she thought the motion was politically motivated and not grounded in any real or urgent need.

She said Couns. Dilworth, Callan Morrison and herself all have direct and indirect relationships with developers, and accused Lurbiecki of having a “thinly veiled vendetta against the construction industry” amid a housing shortage.

“This is the third instance of Coun. Lurbiecki bringing forward a motion transparently intended to cast aspersions of corruption and or unethical behavior on her colleagues in only the first year of our term,” Knowles said.

Lurbiecki’s most recent motion called on the province to establish a municipal ethics commissioner, and also alluded to the “illegal meeting” allegation.

It passed unanimously, though several councillors took issue with its framing.

Knowles added council is routinely reminded that adding new projects will hamper progress toward its strategic plan.

While she was not completely opposed to a public facing registry of Port Moody lobbyists, Knowles said she couldn’t support adding “politically motivated” project to staff’s workload.

Mayor Meghan Lahti said she thought there might be some value to a lobbyist registry, but disagreed with the motion’s approach.

As mayor, she said meets with “anybody and everybody” but is always accompanied by staff when meeting developers, and most of the discussion focuses on expectations in the official community plan.

Lahti suggested that she could reinstate a policy she introduced as acting mayor in 2019, where weekly updates would be disclosed to the public, listing every meeting she takes. “I’d be very happy to bring that policy back,” she said.

An alternative motion was brought forward by Lubik, who said although she was generally supportive of transparency principles, she agreed a different approach was needed.

She requested staff return with a list of best practices regarding lobbyist registries, along with a precise definition.

“The idea of a meeting registry, I’m fine with it, but I would need to know more about how that would actually work,” Lubik said.

Dilworth was supportive of the motion, stating it was a “less partisan approach.”

It passed unanimously, with Lahti requesting the topic be discussed at a future committee meeting.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch