Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lobbying versus unfair influence

The other day I expressed displeasure with Michael Fortier's holding up a $3.4 billion defence contract to extract more pork for Quebec. Today we read Peter McKay is lobbying hard for more benefit from that contract for Atlantic Canada, and I'm fine with that.

Am I a flip flopping Liberal? Well, maybe, but not on this one. There's a key difference between the two: Peter McKay isn't in charge of government procurement…he's not the one buying the planes.

In the earlier post some asked what was wrong with a minister lobbying hard to get maximum benefit for their region. The answer is nothing. As long, of course, as you don't rob Peter to pay Paul. In this case, there is a set amount of dollars, and any increase in Quebec's share would come from elsewhere, such as Western Canada.

But generally speaking Quebec members (or, in this case, unelected, unaccountable Senators appointed to cabinet) should lobby hard for Quebec; Atlantic members should lobby hard for the Maritimes, and so on. And the Prime Minister's job is to ensure all the regions are treated fairly.

But the difference here is that, besides being a Quebec minister, as I mentioned Fortier is also Minister of Public Works, he's in charge of procurement and tenders. That gives him a great deal of sway over all government procurement, including this $3.4 billion aircraft buy.

So, he's wearing two hats. He has a political responsibility to his region (although Lawrence Cannon is the senior Quebec minister, the lobbying could be left to him). And he has a responsibility to the crown to fairly and efficiently handle government procurement. The two hats can be difficult to wear…just ask the former Canadian ambassador to Denmark.

That's why I have no problem with McKay lobbying for his region; he can't unfairly influence the decision in his favour. Fortier, however, with his two hats has a trickier line to straddle. Nothing wrong with him making the case for Quebec investment, it seems like a strong case can be made. But where he hits trouble is when, wearing his other hat, he delays or otherwise impedes/influences the procurement process while trying to win his lobbying case. That's when he crosses the line, abdicating his government responsibility for his political responsibility.

Now the Prime Minister needs to step in, make the call, and get these aircraft to the air force sooner rather than later.

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Rhetoric said...

Jeff, Lawrence Cannon is the minister responsible for Quebec.

What role does PWGSC play in Defense Dept. contracts? I'm not asking this as a rhetorical question I just have the impression that because of the large size and unique nature of the contracts Public Works may set the rules for Defense procurement and then take a hands-off role during the actual decision process. That's just my gut sense though do you know otherwise for sure?

/dev/null said...

I guess my other concern with Fortier's situation is that he's stalling the procurement process:

"Mr. Fortier, who is also the political minister for Montreal, has warned he will not sign the contract if Quebec does not obtain the largest share of the benefits."(from the G&M article)

The government fast-tracked this contract because they said our military needed the planes ASAP. Fair enough - we probably do need strategic airlift and there are no real (flying) alternatives to the C-17. But how can they now justify stalling the purchase, or threatening to do so? Six months ago there was no time to debate the decision, but now that votes in Quebec can be bought...

A BCer in Toronto said...

Rhetoric, thanks for the Cannon note, I'd forgotten that.

On PW and DND procurement, as far as I know PW is responsible for DND procurement as it is most/all government procurement. I haven't seen it explicitly stated as such, but it would explain why Fortier is at the table taking part in the negoitations with Boeing. He's also been quoted as saying he won't "sign" the contract without the boost for Quebec (including in dev's comment), I'd think his sign-off would be irrelevant unless PW was responsible/playing a large role.

And something else, and this plays into dev's comment too, where has Gordon O'Connor been in all this? He has been eerily silent.