The City of Ottawa lobbyist registry was launched Sept. 1, on schedule, and its scope touches any company that interacts with City officials.

The objective of the new law is to ensure that lobbying of City officials is both transparent (so that the public will know exactly who is trying to influence municipal decisions) and ethical. The latter goal is achieved through a Code of Conduct that regulates lobbyists’ behaviour.

Implementation of a lobbyist registry was a key campaign promise made by Jim Watson during the 2010 municipal election. Mayor Watson has not only delivered on the promise, but has led City Council to adopt a lobbying transparency law that is broader and more robust than originally proposed.

While By-law No. 2012- 309, formally “A by-law of the City of Ottawa to establish a lobbyist registry and establish the position and duties of the Lobbyist Registrar of the City of Ottawa,” was passed by City Council on Aug. 29, its key elements were approved July 11.

Civic officials made history by achieving successful implementation – including a functioning registry – within only nine weeks. Canadian governments (e.g., City of Toronto) typically take a full year to launch lobbyist registries. Of 10 broad-based lobbying laws in the country, only one was implemented more swiftly than Ottawa’s.

In another historic step, the City simultaneously appointed Robert Marleau as the Integrity Commissioner and Lobbyist Registrar who will oversee the registry and enforce its rules. Eminently qualified for the role, Mr. Marleau is a former clerk of the House of Commons and a former federal information commissioner.

Within the business community, the By-law will cover consultants, company employees, and anyone (paid or unpaid) who represents a business or financial interest with the goal of trying to influence a municipal decision.

Those lobbying must report on their communications with any elected official and any City employee (regardless of level or position), within 10 days of the communication.

Business leaders familiar with the federal and provincial lobbyist registries will note certain significant features of the Ottawa by-law:

  • Each individual employee must file his or her own reports of lobbying activity. (Under federal law a company CEO files one report covering all employees.)
  • There is no 20 per cent minimum threshold to trigger the reporting requirement. All lobbying, in any amount, must be reported on the registry.
  • Each lobbying communication, including the topic and the names of the City officials being lobbied, must be separately reported.
  • The rules cover not only lobbying of City officials and employees, but lobbying of consultants engaged by the City, if the consultants are lobbied while providing services to the City.

Those who lobby will find that Web-based registration is both simple and user-friendly. City officials have succeeded in developing a process that is intuitive, understandable and speedy. Especially welcome is the fact that no paperwork is required to use the Internet registry. (Many jurisdictions make users sign documentation the old-fashioned way before they are permitted to use online registration.) Another helpful design feature links the registry to the City's employee database, so that a lobbyist can easily identify the City officials whom he or she lobbied. The City of Ottawa registration process is probably the easiest in the country.

On the one hand, not all communications with City officials are covered by the By-law. For example, asking for information, making a complaint, and participating in a City consultation process are not considered lobbying. On the other hand, the By-law covers all representatives who try to influence a City decision, not just employees who work in the company's government relations department. Businesses should familiarize themselves with the new By-law and then review all their contacts with City of Ottawa officials in its light.