Lobbying reform was a big issue for the Conservatives in this campaign. I wouldn't go as far as they've proposed (five years is too long), but I do think reforms are needed. Candidate Stephen Harper was all about lobbying reform. PM Stephen Harper? Not so much.
To refresh your memory, here what the CPC's was campaigning on just over TWO weeks ago:
Toughen the lobbyists registration act
Under the Liberals, lobbying government – often by friends and associates of Paul Martin and other Liberal ministers – has become a multi-million dollar industry. Senior Liberals move freely back and forth between elected and non-elected government posts and the world of lobbying.
Liberal lobbyists have accepted success or contingency fee arrangements where they don’t get paid unless they deliver the policy change their clients want.
A Conservative government will:
• Extend to five years the period during which former ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public servants cannot lobby government.
• Ban success or contingency fee arrangements.
• Require ministers and senior government officials to record their contacts with lobbyists.
• Make the Registrar of Lobbyists an independent Officer of Parliament.
• Give the Registrar of Lobbyists the mandate and resources to investigate violations.
• Extend to ten years the period during which violations can be investigated and prosecuted.
Two recent occurrences illustrate to a tee the fact that all the CPC's bluster about lobbying reform and new ethical standards was just that: bluster.
Yesterday, Public Eye Online reported that John Reynolds, the veteran Conservative/Reform/Alliance/ and then Conservative again MP that did not seek re-election, chaired the recent Conservative election campaign and offered the warm mat of comfy fur to turncoat David Emerson, will be joining Vancouver law firm Clark Willson LLP as a lobbyist!
Earlier, one of our astute readers reported federal Conservative godfather John Reynolds (who is not a lawyer) would be "joining Lyall Knott" - a well-known provincial Liberal fundraiser - at Clark Wilson LLP. A senior Tory operative couldn't immediately verify that report. But he did say Mr. Reynolds has received job offers from a number of Vancouver law firms. In a brief interview with Public Eye, Mr. Knott declined to comment on whether he would be working with Mr. Reynolds, saying "Why don't you talk to John?" The company's more notable clients include Concert Properties Ltd., HMY Airlines Inc., HSBC Bank plc, Methanex Corp. and Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment Corp.
Wow, the five years flew by just like that. It seems like only a few weeks since the last election. Oh wait, it was just a few weeks ago! Yes, the law isn't in place yet, but I guess expecting Conservatives to abide by the spirit of their proposed reforms and practice what they preach is too much to ask, eh John?
I think John explained it well though today on CPAC (via Calgary Grit):
Campaigns are campaigns."
And that Culture of Entitlement moment brings me to exhibit two. Lost in the din yesterday around Harper's breaking a couple of other principles by bribing a floor crosser with a cabinet post and appointing a crony to the Senate and cabinet was the appointment of Gordon O'Connor as his Minister of National Defence.
A retired brigadier general certainly seems like a fine choice for the position, and as a former air force brat let me say I like the idea of having someone with military experience in the post. There is a big problem though. For seven years as a senior associate with lobbying and public relations giant Hill and Knowlton he lobbied the federal government on behalf of the defence industry. He was a defence industry lobbyist! This history is well known, although he does pussyfoot around it on in the biography on his Web site:
He then went on to become a Senior Associate at Hill & Knowlton Canada, one of the largest public affairs firms in the world. Acting in a consultative capacity, Gordon helped private sector firms pursue business opportunities with the federal government
Or, in other words, he lobbied the Minister of National Defence and senior generals to buy the plane, tank, jeep, or gun his client was selling. And now he IS the Minister of National Defence. Hello conflict of interest, how are you? Very good, thanks. This is exactly the kind of thing the CPC's lobbying reform package is supposedly about changing: "move(ing) freely back and forth between elected and non-elected government posts and the world of lobbying."
I have great respect for Mr. O'Connor's military service, and great respect for our military, as regular readers of my little blog know. That's why, while I'm not surprised Harper would make the appointment, I'm astounded that O'Connor would accept it.
The military teaches its officers about leadership and integrity, about doing the right thing even when it's difficult, and about leading by example. He knows this is wrong. He has to. O'Connor should have said, "I'm honoured that you would ask me to serve, Mr. Prime Minister, and I want to be of service to you in any way I can. But I really feel that in the interests of transparency and integrity I could better serve you, my party and my country in another portfolio."
Even if Harper didn't know better, Mr. O'Connor, you should have.