Back in the beginning of May, our elected representatives at Toronto City Hall got into a heated debate about tracking lobbyists. The city has a halfway decent system for tracking corporate lobbyists, it could definitely benefit from having more detail, but it’s easy to use and offers visibility into who’s trying to exert influence. That said, there’s a significant gap in reporting requirements- voters have almost zero visibility into the lobbying efforts of unions and NGOs.
Clr. Denzil Minnan-Wong introduced a motion that day calling for city staff to review implementing requirements for tracking the lobbying activities of unions and NGOs. Cllr. Paul Ainslie called the idea “ludicrous”, Cllr. Gord Perks used the word “absurd”, Clr. Mike Layton complained that “these organizations don’t have the resources” to log into a city website and spend the couple minutes it takes to make an entry. In the end, council watered down the request and removed NGOs.
Compromise is important in city governance, but in this case, city council made a trade-off that’s guaranteed to fail. Unions and NGOs have a long history of working together as a team and funding each other’s initiatives- businesses use AstroTurf NGOs this way too. Yesterday I travelled to City Hall to see a live example of the former, an NGO claiming to represent TTC riders at large. But not all is as it appears on the surface, most of their supporters represent special interests- including the union representing TTC staff.