Asking questions is not lobbying, but asking for something tangible is.
Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall clarified that point Wednesday night as council approved creating a lobbyist registry for Barrie to ensure the public disclosure of lobbying activities and to oversee the regulation of lobbyists’ conduct.
He said members of council asking each other questions is not lobbying.
“Any councillor … can reach out to ask questions of clarification,” Nuttall said. “Those questions of clarification are not what the lobbyist registry is identifying as a need for lobbying.
“It is when the organization or the developer or the individual business that’s wanting to do business with the City of Barrie is turning that conversation into asking for something, asking for members of council to do something, that it becomes lobby," he added.
A lobbyist registry is an accessible record of people who lobby public office holders outside of public forums.
The lobbyist registry will take effect Jan. 1, 2024 and Suzanne Craig, the city’s integrity commissioner, will be appointed Barrie’s interim lobbyist registrar until the city can appoint a permanent one. The cost to retain a lobbyist registrar will be a minimum of $10,000 annually, with an approximately $200 to $250 per hour rate for review or addressing complaints, if required.
Nuttall said he’s had questions about how the registry and its rules will affect Barrie councillors.
“Conversations and communications are not the target of a lobbyist registry. The act of lobbying is,” he said. “And the individuals that need to document and clarify this lobbying are those that are doing the lobbying, not the members of council.”
Nuttall’s example was councillors asking questions about matters in other wards — such as Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson, also the Ward 5 councillor, asking questions about a matter in Ward 10, represented by Coun. Bryn Hamilton or Ward 9, represented by Coun. Sergio Morales.
Lobbying means any communication with a public office holder by an individual who is paid or who represents a business or financial interest, with the goal of trying to influence any legislative action including, but not limited, to development, introduction, passage, defeat, amendment or repeal of a bylaw, motion, resolution or the outcome of a decision on any matter before city council, a committee of council, or a ward councillor or city staff member acting under delegated authority.
Public office holders include members of council, officers or employees of the municipality, members of local boards, advisory committees, and the integrity commissioner.
Lobbying doesn’t include communications in public forums such as council and committee meetings, public open houses, neighbourhood meetings, etc.
The onus for registering lobbying activity rests with the person lobbying the public office holder, not the office holder.
The registry is required to be available for public inspection, and the city’s registry will be made available on Barrie’s website.
Lobbyists will be required to register with the municipality to report their communication/lobbying activities, no later than 10 days after the communication/lobbying has taken place with a public office holder.
Those who are registering as a lobbyist must have their profile approved by the registrar. The city will develop an online tool for the lobbyist registry submissions.
The penalty for a first breach of the regulations will ban the lobbyist from communicating with public office holders for 30 days. A second beach will ban the lobbyist from communicating with public office holders for 90 days and the penalty for a third breach will be determined by the lobbyist registrar.
The Municipal Act authorizes a municipality to establish lobbyist registries and appoint a lobbyist registrar. Toronto is the only municipality required by provincial legislation to have a registry; it is optional for other municipalities.