Someone’s Paying Attention


Red tapeI was glad to see the Connection is attending and reporting on some of the council standing committee meetings. The media need to be there to shine a light on what seems to the rest of the town as a secretive, unaccountable process. At least the Connection is paying attention.

The story that came out of the meeting is titled, “Lobbyist registry could make things complicated: Collingwood town clerk.” Apparently the EB didn’t think it was worth writing about. The EB doesn’t get it.

Clerk Sara Almas told the committee:

“Not only does it capture developers and contractors, it could include ratepayers and how they interact with council and it could get quite complicated. Municipalities our size have not opted for a lobbyist registry.”

And for good reason: it would increase operating costs and administrative overhead (thus raise taxes again!) without doing one damn thing good for the town. Except that it might perhaps fulfill a promise to the backseat political drivers who pull the strings of some at the table. But for the rest of us, it would be bad news.

Lobbyist registry is a zombie idea: it keeps coming back from the dead no matter how many times it gets killed. It stinks of the ideological rags it wears. It raises its ugly head during our municipal election campaigns – the last time promoted by Brian Saunderson, now deputy mayor. But no matter who brays about it, the idea is a bad one.

Saunderson may not be aware that there was a staff report made about lobbyist registries back in April, 2008, nor that the council of the day rejected creating one in a vote in June, 2008. (He was equally uniformed about a recent staff report on open government when he made his motion to get yet another staff report on same; his ignorance is costing taxpayers money to create such redundant reports…)

Lobbyists are easily portrayed as hobgoblins by grandstanding politicians because the public associates them with some Machiavellian schemes to subvert democracy. They see them all in monochrome, as if Big Pharma, Big Tobacco or the NRA was pumping money into every politician’s pockets as they do in the USA.

But as the staff report in 2008 and the one presented this week said, in essence: it’s baloney. A registry will do more harm than good.

Staff aren’t stupid: they are aware of the ideological and personal reasons this idea was raised in the first place, and how much that still influences it being raised again this term.

As staff wrote both times: We don’t need one, it will interfere with democracy, it will further distance residents from their elected representatives, it will add red tape and administrative costs. It will make this council even less accountable, less open and less transparent than it is now.

Lobbyist registries are, like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s comment on foolish consistencies, the hobgoblins of little minds, adored by little statesmen… besides, I’m not sure Saunderson is aware that his two supportive ex-mayor buddies would have to register because they would be considered lobbyists for their firms, and then every conversation he has with them would have to be reported in public.

It would snare a lot of other people, too, and distance the community from its council. And it could spark yet more complaints to the Integrity Commissioner.

As the clerk told the committee, aside from Toronto, only two other Ontario municipalities have such registries (Ottawa and Hamilton; both considerably larger than Collingwood), out of more than 440 municipalities in Ontario.

Let’s stick with the majority and bury this zombie in the graveyard of bad political ideas where it belongs.

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Ian Chadwick
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