The crowd of "municipal consultants" who make a living twisting the arms of local politicians is nearly unanimous in support of Justice Denise Bellamy's call for the mandatory registration of each and every lobbyist prowling the corridors of City Hall. "If it's a question of the door being open or the door being closed, everyone's going to accept a registry," says Paul Christie, a former Metro councillor and long-time lobbyist for private-sector clients.
"Why would anyone object?" he asks. "Frankly, I don't see the problem."
But that doesn't mean Christie and his cohorts are head over heels in love with all Bellamy's lobbyist-related recommendations. For starters, there's the question of who is and isn't a lobbyist.
"It has to be a level playing field," says Brett Bell, who works City Hall on behalf of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP. Like almost every other private-sector lobbyist I contacted this week, Bell insists that advocacy groups pushing their public policy agendas should also be required to register and make their activities known.
"They are representing a certain ideology, and there are groups that benefit from that ideology," argues Bernie Morton, an agent of Sussex Strategy Group, probably the most active consulting firm at City Hall right now. Morton is quick to target Gord Perks and the Toronto Environmental Alliance as one group whose activities should be just as public as his firm's.
"If they're saying no to incineration or gasification but yes to composting, there are many groups, organizations and companies in the private sector that stand to gain from [their position]," Morton maintains.
Perks finds that argument preposterous. "Are we going to require anybody who talks to a politician - right down to the six people who are friends of the local park - to go on the registry?" he asks. "There's a difference between an activist and someone who takes commercial clients. I'm an environmentalist. I'm not a hired gun."
But Bruce Davis from Urban Intelligence says if advocacy groups like TEA aren't required to register, then some lobbyists "will start to create their own fronts" to get around whatever rules council eventually agrees to adopt. He argues that development lawyers should also be required to register with the city before making representations on behalf of their clients.
Justice Bellamy's report on the MFP computer leasing scandal - complete with 31 recommendations pertaining to the activities of lobbyists - is before council this week. However, a mandatory lobbyist registry cannot be implemented until the province passes the New City Of Toronto Act later this year.
According to the justice, "The city should treat lobbying as a potentially helpful practice that should be carefully controlled."
Who's bending council's ear
At least a dozen lobbyists ply their trade at City Hall. They include:
Sussex Strategy Group - Owned by Paul Pellegrini, former aide to Art Eggleton during his tenure as Toronto mayor. Bernie Morton (one-time executive assistant to former councillor John Adams) and Jamie Besner (one-time EA to councillor David Shiner) are the firm's point men at City Hall.
Their clients include Castlepoint Developments (proponent of a condo tower at the Hummingbird Centre), Refreshments Canada, Imperial Parking, Creative Outdoor Advertising (the fine folk responsible for advertising in Dundas Square) and Toronto Taxi Alliance.
Fasken Martineau - Principals include Guy Giorno, former chief of staff for premier Mike Harris. Brett Bell, a former associate of lobbyist Jeff Lyons, is the company's key player at City Hall.
FM's clients include Eucan, the company contracted to provide the city with on-street garbage and recycling containers, and the coalition of electrical contractors and private sector unions fighting the sale of city light poles to Toronto Hydro.
Urban Intelligence - Bruce Davis, who's also a school board trustee and a one-time Lastman insider, is joined by former councillor Irene Jones on the municipal front. The group's client roster includes "eight to 10" clients, but Davis says he's "too discreet to brag" - although the firm has lobbied on behalf of beer giant Labatt in the past.
M.L. Christie Consulting - In addition to being a former Metro councillor, head Paul Christie was the Tory government's appointed supervisor of the Toronto district school board when it refused to pass a budget in 2002. His main client is the Cinespace Film Studio, which is currently in negotiations with the Toronto Economic Development Corporation to relocate from its waterfont property on Booth near Lakeshore.
Civicworks Consulting Group - Headed by Bobby Walman, former aide to former budget chief David Shiner and executive assistant to Lastman at Metro Hall.
Clients include W. Ralston Canada Inc., a company producing biodegradable plastic bags, and FloodMaster, a flood mitigation outfit that will no doubt be angling for contracts as the city rolls out its flood management plans for the Don Valley.
Bridgepoint Group - Owned by Frank Carnevale, the man who blew the whistle on disgraced former lobbyist Jeff Lyons. Carnevale's connections include former councillor Dennis Fotinos, now CEO of Enwave Energy Corp and an adviser to Mayor David Miller during the last municipal election. Carnevale was Fotinos's EA. Daryl Chong, who served as EA to former councillor Gordon Chong, also works City Hall for Bridgepoint.