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Was 'impromptu' Sunset Point meeting lobbying? Registry creates confusion at council

Collingwood's accountability officer faced a barrage of questions from councillors seeking clarity on when a resident's concern turns into a lobbying activity
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Downtown Collingwood on a cloudy morning. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

Collingwood’s lobbyist registry has reached the end of the six-month “education” period, and will now be activated in “full force.” 

The town’s accountability officer, Jocelyn McCauley, delivered an update to council during a strategic initiatives committee meeting last week. 

Since the registry was introduced in January, 37 lobbyists have registered.

She said since the six-month education period has passed, penalties might be imposed for those violating the lobbyist registry bylaw by not registering their lobbying activities with the town. 

“I will make sure every effort is made to provide appropriate training and resources before enforcing any penalties,” said McCauley. 

The penalties set out in the bylaw include bans for contraventions, meaning a lobbyist could be banned from communicating with the town on a temporary or permanent basis depending on the number of contraventions.

Following McCauley's presentation, Councillor Steve Berman asked whether community groups such as the Tree Street Coalition, Sunset Point Residents Association, or Collingwood Arts Culture Entertainment should be registering as lobbyists. 

“The registry does require these individuals or these types of groups to register,” responded McCauley. “They can register as organizations or as groups. If you receive requests like this, forward them to my office, I’ll make sure they register.” 

Berman’s question prompted a discussion about a recent meeting of residents at a private property owned by George Powell at Sunset Point. Three councillors – Tina Comi, Yvonne Hamlin, and Deb Doherty – were at the Saturday, July 4 meeting. The discussion was regarding parking and overcrowding at Sunset Point Park on the weekends. 

“The purpose of the meeting was to allow residents to air their views to Deb Doherty, chair of the development and operations standing committee,” Powell told CollingwoodToday. “Vice-chair Yvonne Hamlin and Councillor Tina Comi attended.” 

During the strategic initiatives committee meeting and following McCauley’s presentation, Coun. Hamlin said she looked at the Sunset Point gathering as a “group open to the neighbourhood for anyone to come to ask questions.” 

She called it an “impromptu" meeting. 

“That’s why we’re here, to hear from our community, and they’re not lobbying for anything beyond community affairs,” said Hamlin. 

McCauley told council that residents expressing concerns over something going on in the community is not lobbying. 

“It’s where an individual is trying to specifically influence the development of public policy for personal gain,” she told council. 

Coun. Mariane McLeod asked if it was better to ask resident groups to bring a deputation to a council or committee meeting instead. 

“We like it to be as transparent as possible,” said McCauley. “Whenever possible it is ideal to go through a public forum where individuals can go to council.” 

Coun. Comi noted there’s a budget allocated for councillors to host coffee chats and community meetings. 

“Are we saying that’s considered lobbying?” Comi asked. “Everything our residents have concerns about they want some action on.” 

McCauley noted an event hosted by a member of council would be advertised, and would be public. Therefore, it would not constitute lobbying. 

Clerk Sara Almas further added there can be lobbying at these types of events. 

“If you’re hosting something like that and someone is trying to provide pressure or influence a decision … I would still encourage them to register,” said Almas. 

Following the meeting, McCauley told CollingwoodToday in an email that a resident communicating with a member of council on a “general neighbourhood or public issue typically does not constitute lobbying.” 

The town’s lobbyist registry bylaw states lobbying is any communication with a public office holder by an individual who is paid or represents a business or financial interest and whose goal is to influence any legislative action including development, introduction, passing a motion, defeating a motion, amending a bylaw or motion, or influencing the outcome of a decision of any matter before council, committee, or staff members. 

McCauley noted lobbying is not an illegal activity, and is part of the “democratic process.” 

The registry and bylaw is about informing the public about meetings not held in public forums. 

Mayor Brian Saunderson said the lobbyist registry bylaw is “very much a paradigm shift.” 

“We have to make sure if we have concerns we address them with our accountability officer,” said Saunderson. 

To view the lobbyist registry, search it, or read the bylaw and lobbyist code of conduct, visit the town website.

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter, photographer and community editor.
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