As development pressures mount in the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM), staff and council have begun considering the possibility of establishing a lobbyist registry.
“Lobbying can be abused by developers or other entities that do business with the town. As much as possible there should be an assurance that contracts or permits from the town have been fairly awarded,” stated TBM resident Roland Gosselin in a letter to council.
Gosselin had contacted council members earlier this year suggesting a lobbyist registry would be a step in the right direction to protect town staff and provide transparency to the public.
Lobbying is considered to be any communication with a public office holder by an individual who represents a business or financial interest with the goal of trying to influence legislative action.
A registry is an online tool that works to provide accountability and transparency, as well as giving the public access to know who is communicating with elected officials.
“I do believe that we're at a point where I think a lobbyist registration would be very good for us to provide transparency,” said TBM CAO Shawn Everitt during a committee of the whole meeting held last week.
If established, lobbyists would be required to disclose lobbying activities by identifying themselves, the client for which they are lobbying, the subject matter, the individual they lobbied, the method used for communication and the dates the communications occurred.
“This was something that I had in my campaign materials and I think it's a great idea,” said TBM Mayor, Alar Soever. “The municipality and the public should know who is coming in trying to influence us.”
Everitt added that town staff plan to work with staff from the Town of Collingwood to develop the required policies, procedures and bylaw.
“The town of Collingwood, I think, is a really good example,” Everitt said.
Collingwood council passed a lobbyist registry bylaw in late-January 2020, which requires anyone participating in lobbyist activity to register within 10 days of their communication.
Collingwood is the seventh municipality in Ontario to adopt a lobbyist registry and is the first of its size. The concept was recommended and brought forward through the town’s Judicial Inquiry.
In 2020, Collingwood recorded 76 occurrences of lobbying.
The related bylaw notes that lobbying does not include communication at a council, committee, or public meeting; communication limited to requests for information, and communication about applications for grants, service, planning approval, permits, or other licence programs.
“My recommendation is staff come back with a draft and we look at implementation in 2022,” Everitt added.
TBM staff are expected to further flesh out the concept of implementing a registry through the 2022 budget process.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca