Transcript: The Case for Lobbyist Registries | Nov 13, 2020

Jeyan sits in the studio. He's is in his thirties, with short black hair and a trimmed beard. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and striped blue tie.

A caption on screen reads "The case for lobbyist registries? Jeyan Jeganathan. @JeyanTVO. @theagenda."

A wall screen behind him reads "Ontario Hubs."

Jeyan says LAST WEEK, THE TOWN OF COLLINGWOOD, ON THE SOUTHERN SHORES OF GEORGIAN BAY, RELEASED THE REPORT FROM ITS JUDICIAL INQUIRY INTO SOME PROBLEMATIC MUNICIPAL DEALINGS. IT DELIVERED SOME 306 RECOMMENDATIONS, INCLUDING THE CREATION OF A LOBBYIST REGISTRY. MARY BAXTER COVERS THE SOUTHWESTERN PART OF THE PROVINCE FOR OUR ONTARIO HUBS. SHE'S WITH US FROM LONDON TO FILL US IN ON THAT STORY.

Mary is in her forties, with chin-length wavy brown hair. She's wearing a black blazer.

Jeyan continues WELCOME TO THE SHOW.

Mary says THANKS, JEYAN. IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE.

Jeyan says SO, MARY, THERE'S BEEN SOME INTRIGUE IN COLLINGWOOD. A FORMER POLITICIAN WHO HAS TURNED INTO A LOBBYIST THERE HAS MADE HEADLINES. WHAT HAPPENED THERE?

A screenshot from the TVO website pops up showing an article. It reads "tvo.org/OntarioHubs. Southwestern. 'A cautionary tale': What this Ontario town can teach us about lobbyists. By Mary Baxter."

The caption changes to "Mary Baxter, @MaryBWord."
Then, it changes again to "The Collingwood example."

Mary says WELL, IT HAPPENED IN THE 2010 TO 2014 TERM OF COUNCIL, THE MUNICIPAL COUNCIL THERE, AND BONWICK WAS THE BROTHER OF THE THEN MAYOR AND NEW KEY TOWN OFFICIALS, AND IT HAD TO DO WITH A COUPLE OF TOWN TRANSACTIONS. ONE WAS A 50 percent SALE OF... 50 percent SHARE OF THE TOWN'S ELECTRICAL UTILITY. THE OTHER ONE HAD TO DO WITH SOME EXPANSION AND IMPROVEMENTS TO RECREATIONAL FACILITIES. AND IN BOTH OF THOSE CASES, BONWICK, WHO WAS A VETERAN LOBBYIST, HE REPRESENTED COMPANIES THAT WERE INVOLVED, BUT NOT EVERYONE ON COUNCIL KNEW ABOUT THIS. SO WHEN THEY VOTED FOR THE COMPANIES TO ACTUALLY BE AWARDED THESE CONTRACTS OR TO BE ABLE TO BUY THE ELECTRICAL UTILITY, THERE WAS A GOOD PROPORTION OF COUNCIL THAT DID NOT KNOW THAT HE, THE BROTHER OF THE MAYOR, WHO ALSO ADVISED THE MAYOR, WAS ACTUALLY THE LOBBYIST FOR THESE COMPANIES.

Jeyan says OKAY. SO YOU SAY COUNCIL DIDN'T KNOW. SO HOW DID THIS ALL COME TO LIGHT?

The caption changes to "Mary Baxter. Southwestern Ontario Hub Journalist."

Mary says SO IT SLOWLY CAME TO LIGHT. THERE WERE MANY QUESTIONS AROUND BOTH OF THESE TRANSACTIONS, AND BEYOND BONWICK'S INVOLVEMENT IN THEM. AND EVENTUALLY WHAT HAPPENED WAS ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO, THE TOWN COUNCIL ASKED FOR A JUDICIAL INQUIRY. NOW, LAST WEEK, AS YOU MENTIONED, THE FINDINGS OF THE INQUIRY WERE HANDED DOWN, AND IT DETAILED A LOT OF THIS INFORMATION. NOW, I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO NOTE HERE THAT THE FINDINGS IN THE INQUIRY ARE NOT OF A CRIMINAL OR THEY DON'T HAVE CRIMINAL OR CIVIL LIABILITY, BUT THEY CERTAINLY DETAIL A LOT OF THE ACTIVITIES AND, AS YOU MENTIONED, MAKE A LOT OF RECOMMENDATIONS, OF WHICH ABOUT A TENTH OF WHICH, 29 RECOMMENDATIONS, ARE TO DO WITH THE TOWN ESTABLISHING A LOBBYIST REGISTRY.

Jeyan says I'M CURIOUS, OUR VIEWERS MIGHT BE WONDERING, WHY SHOULD THEY AND OTHER ORDINARY CITIZENS BE WORRIED ABOUT THIS?

The caption changes to "Why it matters to municipalities."

Mary says WELL, I THINK A REALLY GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS KIND OF SITUATION, THERE'S A COUPLE OF REALLY GOOD EXAMPLES. I MEAN, FOR THE TOWN OF COLLINGWOOD, THE DECISIONS THAT WERE MADE WERE ACTUALLY FAIRLY PROBLEMATIC, AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE ACCESS TO ALL OF THE INFORMATION THAT THEY NEEDED TO MAKE SOUND DECISIONS, AND THERE'S CONCERN THAT THE TOWN IS OUT NOT ONLY THE 7.1 MILLION dollars THAT THE JUDICIAL INQUIRY COST, BUT ALSO THE MORE THAN A MILLION THAT BONWICK EARNED OUT OF THESE TWO TRANSACTIONS, AND THEN, ON TOP OF THAT, THERE IS THE LEGACY OF THESE. SO, FOR INSTANCE, THE IMPROVEMENTS TO THE RECREATIONAL FACILITIES INVOLVED PUTTING FABRIC STRUCTURES AROUND THEM TO PRESERVE THEM, BUT THE CHALLENGE WAS THAT THE STRUCTURES THEMSELVES ONLY LAST ABOUT 15 YEARS, WHEREAS BRICKS AND MORTAR WOULD HAVE LASTED, YOU KNOW, 50 YEARS. SO YOU'VE GOT A BIG DIFFERENCE RIGHT THERE. THEY'VE HAD OTHER CHALLENGES WITH THE WAY THAT THOSE PROJECTS WERE HANDLED AS WELL. SO THERE'S A LOT OF CONCERN. BUT WE'VE ALSO SEEN IT FEDERALLY WITH THE "WE" CHARITY CASE, WHERE WE SAW THE "WE" CHARITY RECEIVE A FEDERAL CONTRACT TO ADMINISTER, YOU KNOW, MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN STUDENT FUNDING FOR THE COVID-19 RELIEF EFFORT, BUT THEY WERE, AGAIN, AWARDED IT WITHOUT... IN VERY CONFUSING INSTANCES. AND THEY HADN'T REGISTERED ON THE LOBBYIST REGISTRY, THE FEDERAL ONE. WHEN THEY DID, IT WAS REVEALED THAT, YOU KNOW, THEY HAD LIKE MORE THAN... I THINK IT WAS 65 COMMUNICATIONS REPORTS OVER A PERIOD OF SIX MONTHS, AND THEY APPROACHED ACTUALLY 19 DIFFERENT FEDERAL REGISTRIES... OR ENTITIES. SO IT'S REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE THIS KIND OF TRANSPARENCY IN DEALINGS WITH OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS. AND, AGAIN, I JUST WANT TO EMPHASIZE WHAT WAS EMPHASIZED TO ME BY MANY PEOPLE IN THIS STORY. THE ACTIVITY OF LOBBYING IS NOT... THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. THAT'S PART OF GOVERNMENT DOING BUSINESS. BUT IT'S WHEN IT'S NOT TRANSPARENT IS WHEN THE ISSUE ARISES.

Jeyan says I'M CURIOUS, YOU KNOW, SOME PEOPLE MAY BE WONDERING, YOU KNOW, WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A LOBBYIST, WHO PAYS THEM, WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT LOOK LIKE WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WHETHER IT'S TOWN COUNCIL HERE IN TORONTO OR AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL? WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A LOBBYIST?

Mary says WELL, A LOBBYIST, PARTICULARLY A LOBBYIST IS SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BE ATTACHED TO A COMPANY THAT IS ASKING THE GOVERNMENT FOR A FAVOURABLE DECISION IN TERMS OF THEIR GOVERNMENT BUSINESS, WHATEVER THAT MIGHT BE. THEY CAN BE PAID PROFESSIONALS THAT MIGHT REPRESENT A BUSINESS OR A WHOLE INDUSTRY. SO THAT'S WHAT A LOBBYIST IS. A LOBBYIST REGISTRY IS WHERE THEY REGISTER ALL OF THEIR ACTIVITY. AND THESE TYPES OF REGISTRIES ARE MANDATORY AT BOTH THE FEDERAL AND PROVINCIAL LEVELS, SO THAT MEANS THAT ALL LOBBYISTS THAT FALL UNDER THE SPECIFIC DEFINITIONS HELD BY THE REGISTRY HAVE TO REGISTER WITH THEM. BUT AT THE MUNICIPAL LEVEL, HERE IN ONTARIO, MUNICIPALITIES DON'T HAVE TO HAVE THEM, AND IN FACT EARLIER THIS YEAR, COLLINGWOOD BECAME ONLY THE SEVENTH MUNICIPALITY IN ONTARIO TO HAVE A LOBBYIST REGISTRY. NOW, THERE IS ONE MUNICIPALITY THAT MUST HAVE A LOBBYIST REGISTRY, AND THAT IS TORONTO.

Jeyan says WHY DON'T THE OTHER MUNICIPALITIES HAVE REGISTRIES SET UP?

Mary says BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE TO. THERE'S NOTHING IN PROVINCIAL LEGISLATION THAT COMPELS THEM TO DO THIS. HOWEVER, THE CURRENT MAYOR OF COLLINGWOOD, BRIAN SAUNDERSON, SAID TO ME HE FEELS MUNICIPALITIES SHUT LOOK VERY CLOSELY AT THESE. ONE OF THE CHALLENGES IS... HE SAID LOOK AT COLLINGWOOD'S STORY AND WHAT HAPPENED THERE AND THEY'RE LOOKING AT NOW, YOU KNOW, SOMETHING THAT IS ONGOING IN TERMS OF TOWN ADMINISTRATION, SO MUCH MONEY THAT THEY'VE HAD TO SPEND. IT'S A CHALLENGE FOR SOME ONTARIO MUNICIPALITIES, THOUGH, I'M TOLD, BECAUSE THERE'S CONCERNS ABOUT HOW MUCH IT COSTS. AND WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING AT A MUNICIPALITY, LIKE HALF OF THE 444 MUNICIPALITIES IN ONTARIO ACTUALLY HAVE FEWER THAN TEN STAFF. AND SO IT BECOMES... YOU KNOW, IT'S SOMETHING THAT IS FAIRLY HARD FOR THEM TO ADMINISTER AND PAY FOR.

The caption changes to "Producer: Carla Lucchetta, @carrletta."

Jeyan says MARY BAXTER, I WANT TO THANK YOU VERY MUCH. AGAIN, ANOTHER IMPORTANT STORY, THIS TIME FROM THE SOUTHERN SHORES OF GEORGIAN BAY. THANK YOU SO MUCH. MARY BAXTER JOINING US FROM LONDON, ONTARIO.

Mary says THANKS, JEYAN.

An animated slate reads "Ontario Hubs. Ontario Hubs are made possible by The Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman."

Watch: The Case for Lobbyist Registries