What is a lobbyist, and what is the best way to monitor their activities?
Those are the questions Port Moody staff is being tasked to answer before council determines whether it should move forward on a motion introduced by Coun. Haven Lurbiecki last Tuesday, Nov. 28, calling for the city to create a registry of lobbyists and their meetings with elected officials.
Lurbiecki said it's important for council to be up front and open in all its dealings.
This, after she shared concerns upon learning of a tour of a Vancouver project offered to councillors last year by its developer that's also behind the proposed redevelopment of Port Moody's Coronation Park neighbourhood. She walked out of a subsequent meeting about the proposal.
"Transparency is really the bedrock of democracy," she said. "The onus should be placed on us as elected officials to proactively report to the public who we are meeting with."
Lubriecki said councils in Vancouver and Surrey have implemented registries, and with several large development projects in the works in Port Moody, council could build trust with the community by starting a similar record.
While one councillor took umbrage that Lurbiecki's motion smacked as a veiled aspersion on the integrity of her colleagues at the council table, others agreed the principle of a registry is sound, but they want it to be more refined before agreeing to it.
Couns. Samantha Agtarap and Diana Dilworth believe Lurbiecki's focus on scrutinizing council's interactions with developers is too narrow, as other groups can make efforts to sway councillors as well.
"We've seen the effects of well-organized groups can have on council," Agtrap said, adding the nature of questionable meetings should also be clearly defined.
"Would talking to a friend be considered lobbying?"
Coun. Amy Lubik said council has to be careful such a registry wouldn’t unduly restrain councillors' ability to gather information so they can make informed decisions about issues.
"I've met in the past with most developers to get more information," she said. "I'm more than happy to meeting with any community group."
Mayor Meghan Lahti said lobbying efforts can work both ways as she's seen developers alter their proposals in attempts to assuage the concerns of particular councillors after meeting with them.
"We might influence the project before it's appropriate to do so," she said, adding once staff has compiled its information, a more fulsome discussion about the issue can be conducted by councillors when they're in a committee setting.
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