After the official proceedings of last week's throne speech, the premier and all MPPs were invited to receptions in the many rooms and corridors of Queen's Park. Along with the traditional party at the Lieutenant Governor's residence, industry lobbyists threw their own soirées, offering wine and catered hors d'oeuvres in return for ear time with cabinet ministers.On any given day at Queen's Park, representatives of every sector of industry hold catered lobby parties known as "information meetings." These special interests are able to book rooms free of charge to hold parties inside the legislative building.
I've been to several of these. As an activist, I find it valuable to watch what industry is doing and to whom its reps are talking when they're at Queen's Park. It's amazing where you can go if you dress the part (a dark suit, a good watch and polished shoes). Once in, I chat with the hosts and indulge in their fine foods and Chardonnay.
If you work with industry and wish to hold a Queen's Park lobby party, it's easy to do. All you need is an MPP who is willing to sponsor you. (A letter will do.) Then make sure with the sergeant-at-arms that the room you want isn't booked by some other industry fat cat, and, presto, you have the makings of an "information meeting."
Interest groups denied sponsorship get less access to power.
The catering? Queen's Park is very happy to provide its services.
For the past three years, the Ontario Environment Industry Association, representing forestry, chemical and pulp and paper interests, has held an Environmental Industry Day in the legislative building. There, it throws a private wine-and-cheese reception for MPPs and cabinet ministers, and industry CEOs hold round table meetings with senior government bureaucrats. Ellen Greenwood, one of the event's organizers, says "every opportunity to communicate (with government) is important."
I am unaware of any event where environmental groups have had the same kind of access to government decision-makers. They can get a room if they want one, but few can afford the snacks and spirits that grease these talkfests.
Says Jim Faught, exec director of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, "We're a registered charity and the rule is we can't lobby more than 10 per cent of the time.'
NDP environment critic Marilyn Churley says she's never seen an enviro group hold a reception at the Park. "They can't afford wine and cheese.'
Of course, many successful lobby efforts are conducted over martinis in Yorkville or on golf courses. Often, industry invites legislators to events or holds fundraisers for them.
Mario Cortellucci, one of Ontario's most powerful developers, regularly hosts high-end Tory fundraisers at his Hollywood Princess Banquet Hall in Richmond Hill.
Interestingly, Cortellucci has received several government appointments -- including to virtually every advisory panel that was invited to submit recommendations to the government on Moraine development.
One reason for dinners and golf tournaments is that fundraising is prohibited and money may not change hands at Queen's Park parties.
But when I spoke with the legislature's lobbyist registrar, she admitted that backroom lobbying probably happens and that she isn't able to monitor if fundraising actually takes place.
She said lobbyists are "essentially held to an honour system."
Says a staffer, "This is just the way things work around here."