And you thought blue bins were imbecilic

“You can get so much information you can’t tell anything”

By Frank Touby –

The city’s new lobbyist registry got me wondering how they did things in my friend Slovo’s former part of the world. As usual, I got to him while he was pounding on the sole of a shoe in his little space. “Did you have anything like lobbyists in the old country?” I enquired. He stopped hammering and looked up at me through a squinted eye. “Lobbyists? It doesn’t translate. We had no lobbyists. We had bullshit artists and salesmen.” He resumed hammering, then added, “Probably the same thing.” “Well that’s not how it’s presented to the city,” I replied. “They’re supposedly professionals with expertise in various aspects of things the city needs to have done and doesn’t realize that it needs until the lobbyists explain the intricacies.”
“We had those,” said Slovo. “ They are the bullshit artists. You call them lobbyists, we call them by all sorts of names.” “I think there’s got to be a difference,” I replied. “After all, in your country it was a dictatorship where the people were told they had the right to vote, but nothing ever changed.” “And your point is?” “My point is that corruption was a cornerstone of your old country’s power structure whereas ours is an open society and we have freedom of information so that we can find out anything we want from government,” I said. “We may have to pay a few dollars and wait a few weeks, but the law says government must answer our questions unless it breaches someone’s right to privacy.” “Whose privacy?” “I guess anybody’s privacy,” I said. “So you’re telling me that if a civil servant has done something embarrassing, he can invoke a right of privacy to keep from making it public?” “I suppose that could happen, but I’m sure it would be a rare thing,” I said. “The idea of a lobbyist registry is to make it all transparent.”
Slovo finally put down that sharpened steel automobile spring he used to trim soles for ladies’ shoes and sat on his stool. “So what is this registry bullshit?” “A lobbyists registry,” I corrected. “That’s what I said.” “The purpose is to make sure that whenever a lobbyist talks to a politician or a civil servant, there is a record of whom he’s talking to and what he’s talking about.” “You keep saying he,” Slovo reminded. “In my country there were many shes who were what you call lobbyists.” “I’m surprised you had that open a society where women could hold important positions,” I replied. “It was the positions the lobbyists could get into that made them welcome in the offices of the men in power,” he said. “Well, our lobbyists don’t work that way,” I shot back. “Remember the computer scandal?” he replied. “A rare exception.” “Of course. Things are much more civilized here, aren’t they?” “Anyhow, when anybody can go online any time and see what lobbyist is talking to what city councilor or employee and about what…well, can you get more open than that?”
Slovo snorted. “You can get so much information you can’t tell anything. They can feed you so much information that you choke on it. One client can have 50 different names, little companies all owned by the same guys. How are you going to be able to tell that kind of stuff? “It would be a problem, but at least things would be on the record in case evidence is ever needed,” I responded. “Okay,” said Slovo, “let’s pretend I’m going to try and sell the city a bunch of huge plastic bins they can resell to each homeowner so they can all collect rainwater.” “That’s a stupid example.” “You think so? You think it’s stupid to collect rainwater so that people don’t have to use expensively treated city water for their plants, for certain types of washing…” “Okay, okay Slovo. Let’s say it’s not stupid for this example.

Go on. “So I go to the guy at city hall—maybe it’s a girl—and I pitch this genius plan to use my client’s plastic shop to make all these special raincatchers. They’ve got to be big and have wheels because they’re holding lots of water and it’s heavy,” Slovo begins. “Sure,” I reply, “So this guy who may be a girl is really stupid and thinks this is a great thing for everybody in Toronto.” “No,” says Slovo. “He’s not stupid enough to fall just like that. He needs to hear that it’s a Green thing. It helps protect the Water that the Americans want to steal. He needs to hear the bullshit so he can spread it across the politicians.” “And the politicians are so stupid they’re going to buy this?” “They just hear the main words : Green…Water…Conservation. Then they let the guy go ahead and do this thing and talk about how great it’s going to be,” says Slovo as he returns to his work table. “You think they’re not going to see through this?” I ask, incredulous. “You think they’re not going to see that most homes in the city couldn’t even make room for big plastic garbage bins, much less an overgrown water bucket?” “Okay. You’re right. The garbage bins killed his chance,” said Slovo as he raised his hammer over a man’s loafer to pound a new sole in place. “But you see how it works.”