The City of Toronto Lobbyist Registrar makes quite clear that the City takes quite seriously the full disclosure of lobbying activities by those who seek to influence decision making by elected individuals.
From recent activities of the Friends of Billy Bishop (FoBB), it appears that the principals behind the organization are either woefully ignorant of their obligation or are unwilling to play by the rules. Which is it?
What is Friends of Billy Bishop?
As their website says,
“Friends of Billy Bishop is a coalition of waterfront businesses, community members and city builders who are committed to fostering a creative, vibrant and connected Toronto through innovation, forward thinking and the willpower to say yes. We firmly believe that the expansion of Billy Bishop Airport serves our goals by connecting the ideas, people and culture that define cities. Friends of Billy Bishop is a website that appeared first around the time of Porter Airline’s jet initiative unveiled in April 2013.”
An analysis of FoBB’s tweets tells an interesting story. The tweets went dead for a year. In that time, Ari Laskin replaced Joshua Strong who was the original contact person.
Who Is Friends of Billy Bishop?
For some reason, the current FoBB website gives no contact names. However, an examination of the information contained on its blog, its facebook page and tweets makes clear their advocacy and the tie to PortsToronto and Porter Airlines.
While the FoBB provides no names, FoBB sits as a member of the PortsToronto Environmental Assessment (EA) Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) and it’s this connection that leads to the current FoBB rep.
SAC comprises a number of organizations which would be affected by the EA process. Organizations were invited to join. FoBB was one of them that chose to take part. According to EA facilitator Nicole Swerhun in an email, Ari Laskin is the FoBB representative.
Who Is Ari Laskin?
Besides being the FoBB representative, Ari Laskin is also the founder and CEO of Global Strategic Consultancy Inc.(GSC). GSC, as a provider of political campaign services has seen Mr. Laskin working for Peter Kent while he was a federal Conservative candidate and Mississauga mayoral candidate Bonnie Crombie.
What Is Global Strategic Consulting?
In addition to its self-described role as a “niche-consulting firm focused on both political campaign consulting, GSI offers grassroots public affairs advocacy.” In fact, the three-prong strategy, the FoBB blog, its facebook page and tweets, is an example of their “Grassroots Campaign Services” at work.
Ari Laskin, FoBB and the City of Toronto Lobbyist Registry
While it appears that Mr. Laskin under the auspices of FoBB is conducting grassroots campaign services for either the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (BBTCA) or Porter Airlines, the two entities involved in airport expansion for jets, there is no smoking gun that joins them by the hip. It is rather curious though that the FoBB Twitter account remained silent for a year and Mr. Laskin came upon the scene with the advent of SAC.
What is clear, however, is the City’s definition of voluntary lobbyist: An individual, corporation, organization or other person, or a partnership, who or that, without payment, lobbies or causes an employee to lobby a public office holder on behalf of or for the benefit of the interests of a for profit entity or organization. Under that definition, either Mr. Laskin and/or FoBB seems to fit the bill as a lobbyist.
Friends of Billy Bishop a Lobbyist
As indicated above FoBB could be regarded as a voluntary lobbyist by virtue of its advocacy for PorterAirlines, BBTCA and airport expansion. The real test is if FoBB’s activities fall under the activities that lobbyists undertake with regards to public office holders.
One activity that requires lobbyist registration is grass roots communication. The Lobbyist Code of Conduct describes its as
“Appeals to members of the public through the mass media or by direct communication that seek to persuade members of the public to communicate directly with a public office holder in an attempt to place pressure on the public office holder to endorse a particular opinion.”
As the petition on the FoBB website makes clear, that is exactly what FoBB is doing. Remember too that grassroots public affairs advocacy is a GSC strategy.
As for lobbying public office holders, a lobbyist must register to communicate on matters regarding “Development, introduction, passage, defeat, amendment or repeal of a by-law, bill or resolution on any matter, by Council … .”
By virtue FoBB’s tweets to Councillor Cressy,
it appears FoBB is making a focused effort in their communication to persuade Councillor Cressy in the necessity of BBTCA expansion.
Friends of Billy Bishop and Registration
To paraphrase a saying, if it communicates like a lobbyist, shills like a lobbyist and persists like a lobbyist, it must be a lobbyist. FoBB’s various activities at face value requires it to register with Office of the City Registrar. However, a search on the city’s registry shows no registration for Friends of Billy Bishop, Ari Laskin or Global Strategic Consulting.
The Code of Conduct makes clear that there is fallout for conducting lobbying activities and failing to register. First, to do so is to commit an offence. Second, anyone guilty of an offence is subject to a fine of not more than $25,000.
In the case of Ari Laskin and Global Strategic Consultant the fallout also affects the individual and the brand. While it is made clear that there is no indication that either Mr. Laskin or GSC was remunerated for work with FoBB, there is a strong case that FoBB and Mr. Laskin operated as a voluntary lobbyist.
Given Mr. Laskin’s background and experience as a consultant in municipal affairs, it is inconceivable that Mr. Laskin is either woefully ignorant of his obligation under the Lobbyist Code of Conduct or is unwilling to play by the rules.