Monday, June 4, 2012
Please enjoy our interview with Ontario's Integrity Commissioner, Lynn Morrison
1. Ontario has an Ontario Lobbyist Registration system. Why is it important for Ontario to have such a system. What does it accomplish from a public interest perspective and would you recommend such a system to other levels of government?
It is important, first, to make it clear that lobbying is a legal activity, an integral part of our democratic system. All groups have the right to share their views with public office holders and in fact public officer holders need to hear from the public. I am a firm believer in robust lobbyists registration systems because they help members of the public understand who is lobbying whom in government, and about what. A registry brings transparency to the system, ensuring that all parties are accountable to the public for their actions.
Ontario’s registry was created through the enactment of the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, and has been
in place since 1999. It is an online system that allows people to search information about paid lobbyists who meet specific requirements under the Act. This covers those who work as consultants, and those who are paid by their employers to lobby as part of their work. This latter group is split in two: In-House Organizations and In-House Persons and Partnerships.
To register, lobbyists must complete a form that outlines basic identifying information, the issue of concern, and whom they are lobbying – for example an MPP, agency or the Premier’s Office. It also requires detailed information about the proposal, policy, legislation or regulation, and additional specifics such as whether the client or employer receives government funding.
I have been vigilant over the years in ensuring that lobbyists provide as much information as possible about their activities. My view is that by encouraging greater detail we create a more useful and informative registry.
2. For municipalities who wish to either create a lobbyist registration system, or strengthen its current system, what advice might you have. What are the must haves and what are some of the pitfalls to avoid?
I’m not in the business of advising other jurisdictions on how to build the best system for their own communities. They know their issues and their stakeholders better than I could.
However in general terms, I believe that a successful lobbyists registration system needs to have three key features:
1. Clear goals. What is the point of having the registry? If it is to capture paid lobbyists, then care should be taken that the rules do not inadvertently capture citizens who bring their concerns directly to public officials. What are the expectations of the registration process itself, the information required, and how quickly would this information be made available to the public?
2. Accessibility. Make the system easily accessible for lobbyists to submit their registrations, and for members of the public to search.
3. Independence. The registry must be designed to serve all interests – elected officials, lobbyists and members of the public.
3. Some believe that the practice of regular unadvertised meetings with between municipal councillors and developer stakeholders is improper and amounts to a closed door meeting that ought not to occur. Can you comment on the risks of having such meetings.
I am unable to comment on meetings that councillors may hold with members of the community.
4. Is there anything else you would like Hamiltonians to know about Ontario’s Lobbyist Registry, or your work as Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner?
The Office of the Integrity Commissioner was established in 1988 as an independent ethics leader. We work to serve the public interest by encouraging and supporting high ethical standards that strengthen trust and confidence in the government.
My Office has six mandates under five pieces of legislation:
- Members’ Integrity. We provide conflict of interest advice to Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament;
- public service disclosure of wrongdoing (whistle-blowing);
- expenses review for Cabinet Ministers, Opposition Leaders, their staffs and 21 of Ontario’s largest agencies;
- Ministers’ staff ethical conduct; and
- lobbyists registration
Accountability underpins each of the five mandates I have as Integrity Commissioner. In this work, my staff and I are not only following the rules, but we always ask: What is the right thing to do?
Thank-you Lynn for your work, leadership and your participation on The Hamiltonian.
If you would like to learn more about the Office of Ontario's Integrity Commissioner, click here.