Inside the Lobbyist Registry

Kevin O'Donnell
2013-11-14 22:19

On November 14th I met with two members of the Service Ottawa team to talk about open-data and discuss with them my experiences while developing OttWatch. The purpose of the meeting was just a high-level gab about open data and the city's SIRE system (keeper of agendas, items, files and votes, etc). I've spent a good number of hours poking around SIRE from the outside, so I was happy to discuss the challenges the system has and offer an insight or two.

I'm also a professional software developer by trade, so unsurprisingly it was easy for me to make a tangential comment along the lines of "well, if you wanted to do X that's certainly something I could provide". 

BAM - lobbyist! I pitched an idea and let it be known I would also be able to deliver the solution for said idea.

I had a hunch this would happen so earlier that morning I decided to get registered.

Besides adhering to the rules I was also curious about the user-experience from a lobbyist's perspective. Is the interface very simple and intuitive, so lapses in transparency are inexcusable? Are some parts more challenging - to the point that even whip smart lawyers and urban planners can be excused for getting confused?

Let's find out.

Below is a chronicle of my experience as a first time lobbyist. I registered as Jerboa Consulting Inc, my federal corporation, since if I'm ever going to do paid work for someone that is the vehicle it would flow through.

Before the Meeting

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug


The first step is to register as a lobbyist. This was very easy to do. 

On the front page of there is a link to the Accountability and Transparency area and it lists Lobbyist Registry as one of the topics therein. So all it takes to find the lobbyist registry is to go to the city's website and "find" the word "lobby" anywhere on the page. Alternatively, using the search box with any of lobby, lobbying or lobbyist turns up a relevant result on the first attempt.

So no excuses about not being able to find the registry.

Clicking "Log In" to the registry yields a standard username and password prompt for returning users, along with a "Register" link for first time users. What to do is pretty obvious.

Registering is straightforward as shown in the screenshots. The only field that may not be intuitive is "Type of Lobbyist". I chose Consultant. The other options are "In-house" or "Volunteer". These are defined elsewhere and while this may trip someone up it is not the end of the world.

As soon as I accepted the Terms of User and the Code of Conduct I received an email. While my account is current in the "pending" state I am already able to register lobbying activities.

The "pending" state makes sense. Otherwise the registry could easily be abused by The Unwashed Masses on the Internet. As soon as my account is approved anything I have already registered will appear.

On the Late Lobbying Report

I now realize the Late Lobbying Report could be unfair to first-time lobbyists. They are given 15 business days to register activities in the registry. But with the delay of having their account approved before activities become visible OttWatch may unfairly detect them as late if they filed before the deadline, but their time in purgatory pushed them across the line from a public perspective. I'll add a new asterisk shortly. That said, existing lobbyists have no such excuse.

Three Hours Later: Approved

Just shy of three hours after registering as a lobbyist my account was approved. My experience with City of Ottawa staff has overwhelmingly been positive so I would wager same-day, or next-day, approvals are more common than not. So perhaps the Late Lobbying Report is more accurate than I just conjectured.

New Lobbying File

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

After the meeting I logged back into the registry and had to add my first lobbying file against which I'll then log activities (meeting, emails, etc) on that topic. This will be my first file. Jeff Polowin has 41 on the go at the moment.

Title: I get to pick my own title that is a private reference to help me remember what this is about. Mine is no secret, but lobbyists might enter something like "re-zoning of 99 Something Street" here even though that's still a trade secret in their line of business. I chose "SIRE Search and View" since that's pretty much what we talked about.

Subject Matter: A breakdown of services the city provides from affordable housing, to childcare, to planning (with heritage, zoning, site plan, etc, breakouts). I chose Information Technology obviously.

Issue: A free-form area to describe the topic at hand. I went with "Discussion about SIRE agenda management system view/search features and potential for professional services to provide improvements." This is where it all goes wrong for some lobbyists. Examples like "ciruclar driveway" and "new concept" are not very helpful. Gold stars to Gregory Mignon for "Preliminary inquiries about potential development of property at 151-155 Meadowlands for retirement home. Discussions with Councillor regarding addressing community concerns."

Client Name/Company: Obvious for me to simply repeat Jerboa here. Professionals like Polowin would enter the name of their different clients. I'm guessing this is where some people are getting confused and they enter "City of Ottawa" because the City is there client (they sell them services, or road salt, etc). The registry is really asking for "name of company you are lobbying for" not "name of your client as a vendor to the city". Here's a list of everyone who put "City of Ottawa" in this field

New Activity on the File

As a lobbyist I've now declared myself as a person, and given a topic on which I'm lobbying, but I haven't said who I've lobbied or when. It's time to add an activity. Simple enough.

Enter a date then pick from all my lobbying files using the private title. Say how the lobbying occurred: meeting, email, mail, telephone or other. Then start typing the name of the person you lobbied and a short-list is presented after a few characters. 

Click add and done. Very simple.

The "Add All Council" and "Add Mayor" links are helpful. These likely explain the occasional odd filing that registers a meeting with all 24 members of council on the same day. A face-to-face with all 24 councillors, mayor included, on the same day? Nobody has that kind of pull. Simple user error. Twenty-four emails would be reasonable. A meeting though? Unlikely.

All In - Less than an hour

Registering as a lobbyist took less than 10 minutes. Adding my first file and logging the first activities took about the same. I found the interface intuitive though I might have some advantage given the amount of time I've spent observing the outputs from the registry. Nonetheless, anyone who earns money interpreting arcane planning law and navigating the complexities of City Hall can be expected to file perfectly unambiguous lobbying entries. In my humble opinion.

This has all been enjoyably meta.

comments powered by Disqus

More stories...

Development Charges Background Study, 2017 Amendment
2017-03-28 09:18:55
Ottawa Vanier by-election: live-stream November 10th, 7pm
2016-11-07 12:05:33
MFIPPA: Ottawa Police Service How-to Guide
2016-11-01 12:08:35
The market price of 60 specific park-and-ride spaces
2016-10-14 15:31:23
Part Lot Control: blocks and parcels and lots
2016-10-06 13:10:29
MFIPPA: A How-to Guide for the City of Ottawa
2016-07-15 09:05:51
Forcing the Police Board to deal with an issue
2016-05-31 11:16:34
Sparks Street Mall Authority governance review: bumpy
2016-04-18 09:49:47
Give me an ad Vasili
2016-04-01 09:00:42
Zoning inflation: the Shania Twain effect
2016-02-29 09:02:09
Information Tickle Trunk
2016-02-28 22:32:47
Public Bathroom Map for Ottawa: a howto
2016-02-19 13:17:28
Delegating to a City Committee
2016-02-03 14:09:09
Lebreton Redevelopment Story Collection
2016-01-26 09:20:44
A few of my favourite Joanne Chianello stories
2015-12-09 22:04:06
Online at last: Committee of Adjustment web presence coming in 2016
2015-11-19 10:53:01
Ottawa Centre #elxn42 Candidates Debate — Oct 1 — Livestream
2015-09-09 21:19:18
If you were a ward boundary review petition, what would you look like?
2015-07-06 09:09:09
Traffic cameras and a MFIPPA request
2015-06-18 10:38:48
City Solicitor, DCR Phoenix and over-contributions
2015-04-18 19:39:03
2014 Winners Donation Index and Audit Application Instructions
2015-04-16 15:28:58
Corporate Directory Search Crowdsourcing
2015-04-13 10:55:49
First Analysis of the 2014 Election Donation Index
2015-04-11 06:14:44
Three Thousand Two Hundred and Nineteen - Digitizing 2014 Campaign Donations
2015-04-08 09:16:04
Goodwill motions: when motions are not real motions.
2015-03-26 12:25:23
A Debate Over Five Words: and the City of Ottawa
2015-03-26 08:32:25
Reporters' Privacy and the Daily Media Call Summary
2015-03-02 14:24:27
Browse and Search the 2015 Draft Budget
2015-02-05 23:46:52
Taxi Regulation Report: Uber Late with no ETA
2015-01-24 11:00:26
Assorted By-Laws
2015-01-22 10:02:56
Postmedia's conversation with the Mayor
2014-11-07 09:25:24
Detailed #OttVote Results: 2014
2014-11-01 14:36:22
Website Screengrabs - 2014 OttVote Edition
2014-10-26 23:55:30
Ottawa Citizen #OttVote Candidate Survey - Index
2014-10-25 14:47:10
Kitchissippi All Candidates Debate Livestream
2014-10-06 13:50:32
In Support of Ottawa123 and Ranked Ballots
2014-10-03 11:53:21
OttWatch's avatar is...
2014-09-30 10:50:19
OttVote Advocacy: Find Your Ward Widget
2014-08-04 21:03:58
The Fundamentals of Municipal Finance: Seminar
2014-07-14 10:45:35
Digitizing the 2014-Q1 MFIPPA disclosure list
2014-05-05 09:41:48
Committee of Adjustment: Agendas
2014-02-03 08:54:44
Ottawa Stop Sign Requests: mapped
2014-02-02 23:16:46
Campaign Transparency: 2003 and 2006 campaign returns
2014-02-01 23:57:45
How to comment on Committee of Adjustment applications
2014-01-28 11:49:47
Donations and Maps
2014-01-23 00:40:58
Committee of Adjustment: Panel Agendas
2014-01-20 09:22:17
Minority Report
2013-12-31 09:43:29
Tiny Zoning Tour
2013-11-01 02:58:52
OttWatch Publishes Freedom of Information Requests
2013-10-29 20:38:47
Created by Kevin O'Donnell to make it easier to be part of the political conversation in Ottawa.
On Twitter? Follow @OttWatch and @ODonnell_K
Privacy Policy