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Port Moody looking at registering lobbyists

Port Moody council tasked staff to report back on the logistics and requirements for a lobbyist registry after a councillors raised concerns about a tour with a developer.
Port Moody councillors will consider a report outlining requirements to establish a lobbyist registry during a meeting of their governance and legislation committee tonight (May 21).

Registering meetings between lobbyists and Port Moody councillors, as well as city staff, could increase public confidence in council decisions.

But first, any regulations will have to define whether to include both paid and unpaid lobbyists, who is being lobbied and how the lobbying is occurring, says a report to be presented to council’s governance and legislation committee tonight, May 21.

Philip Lo, Port Moody’s legislative services advisor, said any lobbying rules should also consider the subject matter and types of decisions lobbyists could be trying to influence as well as identify any individuals, organizations or activities that might be exempted from a registry.

Lo said while there’s currently no provincial legislation regulating the lobbying of local governments, nor is there specific legislation that authorizes municipal councils to establish and enforce lobbyist registries, some communities have implemented one at their own initiative. He said Surrey set up a registry in 2008 that has 200 to 300 entries annually. Kelowna has registered five lobbyists since its registry started in September 2023.

Lo said in both communities, lobbyists must register with the city within a specified period after their approach to a council member — 10 days in Surrey and five in Kelowna. He said the city clerk or other persons authorized by the city clerk administer the lobbyist registry, including the date of registration and the topic of lobbying. They also determine how the registry is made available for public inspection.

In Surrey, a lobbyist’s registration never expires, while in Kelowna each registration for a topic is considered active for six months.

Lo said because lobbyist registries in B.C. are voluntary, compliance could be enforced through a bylaw or by city policy. He said a clear definition of parameters “is critical for both council and lobbyists to understand their obligations, and for the city to be able to identify when there is non-compliance.”

Lo said Surrey currently has no provisions for penalties if a lobbyist fails to register while in Kelowna, council can choose not to communicate with a lobbyist who hasn’t registered or even decline consideration of a development application a lobbyist may be representing.

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki pitched the idea of establishing a lobbyist registry last November, just weeks after she’d decried a private tour of Wesgroup Properties’ River District project in Vancouver in 2022 attended by several of her council colleagues. She said the event was as an attempt by the Vancouver-based developer to curry their favour for zoning amendments that would allow its massive Inlet District project in Port Moody’s old Coronation Park neighbourhood to proceed.

Lurbiecki characterized the gathering as a private meeting “to discuss specific business that will be considered at the council table.”

In a memo presented to council Nov. 28, 2023, she said, “Given the immense public interest in land-use decisions made by council any lobbying activities towards members of council/participated in by members of council should be disclosed to the public.”

But Coun. Diana Dilworth, who attended the tour, said it “was strictly an opportunity to see some of the best case scenarios” for Wesgroup’s Port Moody proposal.

Mayor Meghan Lahti, who didn’t attend the tour, said it was nothing more than a chance for councillors to gather more information.

Bras Jones, Wesgroup’s senior vice-president of development, said the tour was conducted to “initiate conversation and some community building,” including providing background information on the company and some of the opportunities and challenges presented by masterplan developments. He said invitations to attend the event were extended to all Port Moody councillors.

Wesgroup’s proposal received final approval for the zoning amendments last October and the company secured development permits for construction of its first of five phases in January.

The project will see the 14.8-acre site at the corner of Ioco Road and the Barnet Highway transformed from an enclave of 59 aging single-family homes to a dense mixed-use neighbourhood with homes for more than 5,500 new residents, along with office and retail spaces, a central park, community amenity space, daycare and a new pedestrian bridge connected to the Inlet Centre SkyTrain station.

Construction is expected to begin by next spring.