Friday, May 23, 2008

Can anyone fix a revolving door?

If you have expertise in revolving door repair, the Conservative Party has a job for you. Their door is broken, you see, and all these dastardly lobbyists are making their way through it in and out of their government and party. And they’re totally against that sort of thing:

On November 4, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper unveiled his Federal Accountability Act before a room filled with journalists, MPs and staffers on Parliament Hill.

At the time, his party was issuing a daily barrage of accusations in the House of Commons about Liberal lobbyists and a culture of ent
itlement prevailing in the nation's capital.

The Conservatives had been pinning the government down in question period on a daily basis on what appears to be a revolving door that sees people go into government and then leaving, using their contacts to launch lucrative careers lobbying the government they once worked for.

In that speech, Harper made a very strong statement about what things would be like in a Conservative government that sent shockwaves through Ottawa.

"Politics will no longer be a steppingstone for a lucrative career lo
bbying government," Harper told the room. "Make no mistake. If there are MPs in this room who want to use public office for their own benefit or if there are Hill staffers who dream of making it rich by trying to lobby a future Conservative government, if that's true of you then you better make different plans or leave."
Sadly though, with the door broken there’s just nothing they can do:
*A little more than three weeks after Harper warned those looking to cash in to make other plans, four Ottawa lobbyists deregistered from lobbying for their impressive list of clients to take a seat in the Conservative war room.

*But critics point at lobbyists Yaroslav Baran, of Tactix Government Consulting Inc., and Ken Boessenkool, of Hill and Knowlton Canada, who
were an integral part of the Conservative's war room during the winter election before registering to lobby the new government this spring.

Opps, wait, not so quick on Yaroslav:

*Baran, who has been a high-powered lobbyist at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, is expected to once again take up his post running communications in the Conservatives' war room when an election is called, as he has done in the previous two campaigns. The fact that the Conservatives have declared a ban on lobbyists in their war room this time around won't affect him.

That's because Baran is no longer a lobbyist - he deregistered just last week. He is leaving Earnscliffe and will join Conservative House leader Jay Hill's office next week as his new chief of staff, clearing the way for his key organizational involvement in the campaign that could be launched as early as next month.

Darned revolving door, someone fix it quick! Anyone!

*A Tory election strategist and former adviser to both the prime minister and public safety minister became a lobbyist for Taser International soon after use of its stun guns came under intense scrutiny.

Consultant Ken Boessenkool registered the Arizona-based Taser maker as a client on Nov. 28, two weeks after the videotaped death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski unleashed international outrage.

*The head of an industry lobby group that is airing third-party ads praising Prime Minister Stephen Harper has quit the organization to work for the federal Conservatives.

Kory Teneycke, the former executive director of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, was hired this fall to lead the Conservative research b
ureau, which prepares talking points for Tory MPs and digs up dirt on the opposition.

*Mike Van Soelen, Baird’s communications director when the former Treasury Board minister was shepherding the accountability act through Parliament, quit this August to set up Playbook Communications. The Ottawa public relations company promotes itself by stating that its “government expertise can help clients achieve their objectives, from raising an organization’s profile to securing specific regulatory changes.”

*Darcy Walsh, who served as Fortier’s director of parliamentary affairs at Public Works, quit last month to join Hill and Knowlton Canada. A news release from the lobbying giant said Walsh will “implement the marketing and sales plans for the Public Relations and Public Affairs divisions of the Ottawa office.”

*Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor is facing new questions about his life as an Ottawa lobbyist after awarding a $30 million contract to a firm he once did work for.

O'Connor, who once lobbied for General Dynamics Canada, yesterday announced that the military company was getting a two-year contract to supply the Canadian Forces with new gear to detect biological threats.

Records show that O'Connor lobbied Industry Canada, Department of National Defence and Public Works and Government Services in the late 1990s, all departments that were involved in the contract announced yesterday.

*Former Conservative MP John Reynolds, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's closest political confidantes, defended Monday his decision to register as an unpaid lobbyist for three B.C. groups seeking federal funds.

Reynolds, who promised after retiring last year to never approach Harper on behalf of any client, registered this month on behalf of three groups -- the Rick Hansen Foundation into spinal cord injury research, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan's initiative to fight drug addiction, and Vancouver's Science World, run by a not-for-profit society.

Reynolds will arrange meetings on behalf of Sullivan, make presentations and telephone calls, and submit written communications to Justice Canada, Health Canada, members of Parliament, and the Prime Minister's Office, the filing said.

*Two former aides to Conservative ministers, Kevin Macintosh and David Salvatore, have already left their jobs to lobby the federal government on behalf of private clients…A third staffer, Tara Baran, worked as a legislative assistant to MP Vic Toews until he became Justice Minister in February, but has since registered to lobby several government departments, including Justice Canada.

*Prime Minister Stephen Harper has replaced his director of communications with former lobbyist Sandra Buckler…Buckler represented the Conservatives on a number of television panels during the recent election campaign. She has also been a lobbyist for Coca-Cola, De Beers Canada, Rogers Wireless and Power Corporation.

So, as you can see this revolving door has really become a problem for the Conservatives. If you do have experience in door repair they’d love your help. I think this guy is accepting the applications:

The man poised to become Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top aide is a whip-smart workaholic who helped implement former Ontario premier Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution" and has recently pushed for tougher lobbying regulations.

As chief of staff to Harris until 2002, Guy Giorno became known as the "intellectual heart" of the premier's office.

Now, Conservative insiders hope his Ontario connections, political savvy and experience in battle will help Harper gain ground in Canada's most populous province, which remains a Liberal stronghold.

Until IT sets up his PMO e-mail though, you can still reach him here:


Guy Giorno is widely recognized as Canada's leading expert on lobbying legislation and lobbyist registration law. He is co-author of the book Lobbying in Canada and routinely speaks, writes and advises clients on this emerging, complex field of law.

Formerly Chief of Staff and counsel to Ontario's 22nd premier, Guy joined Fasken Martineau as a partner in June 2002 and founded our Government Relations and Ethics group, serving as its first national director. In addition to his focus on lobbying law, Guy has significant experience in public sector ethics, accountability legislation (including freedom of information), election and election finance law, strategic communication, crisis communication and issue management and stakeholder relations. During the 1990s he routinely represented public-sector institutions (respondents) in freedom of information appeals, but Guy now acts exclusively for requesters, helping them to exercise their rights to obtain government records under freedom of information/access to information legislation.

He’s sort of a revolving door expert himself actually, having come to Harper via the lobbying industry

…and from Mike Harris, with love I’m sure. From government, to lobbyist, back to government. If Guy Giorno can't stop the revolving door, no one can.

UPDATE: I was going to comment but it became long so I decided to update instead.

My issue so much with this isn't really the revolving door, as the Liberals (as the Cons would always complain) did the same sort of thing. My issue is that the Cons piously campaigned against the revolving door, promised piously to close it, and instead have it spinning faster than ever before.

I support the registry, because it provides transparency and makes it clear who is doing what with whom. I support rules governing how lobbying can be done, rules on reporting, and rules on what can be accepted as gifts.

However, I actually don't support a an outright ban on the lobbyist/back and forth. Certainly not a 5-year rule. Maybe six months. But I don't think it's fair to restrict people's ability to make a living by saying an ex MP or staffer can't lobby for five years. Is it slightly distasteful that they're trading on their government contacts and experience? Yes. But that's life.

If I as a tech journalist "crossed to the darkside" as they say and went into PR, pitching or "lobbying" my former colleagues in the tech media for coverage, I'd be trading on my media and industry experience to get the job. That's little different from a staffer becoming a lobbyist. It's part of their qualifications for the job.

The key, again, is transparency. The back and forth in and of itself isn't wrong. Watch it through tools like the registry. Analyze it. If it becomes clear unusual decisions made in government, for example, were made to the benefit of future clients then that should be investigated and punished as appropriate. Even if no laws were broken, the public can be informed and a decision rendered at the ballot box. The back and forth doesn't become wrong unless they're abusing their positions.

Again, with my post though my issue was the flagrantly broken Conservative promise. Because even if I don't think the back and forth is wrong, they sure did. Or at least they said so.

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Ti-Guy said...

How can you follow all that without throwing up? I mean, lobbying government in relation to the theoretic underpinnings of lobbying?

...Where's my Dramamine?

Anyway, given what the rest of us know and remember about the "common sense revolution," describing anyone involved in shaping that period of political theatre as "whip smart" is a little rich, although I admit that can be interpreted in many enfant terrible, a literal interpretation might be more candid.

unbelievable said...

Don't forget Michele Austin who used to be Bernier's Chief-of-Staff and is now VP at the Public Policy Forum:

How about this Nicole Hurtubise who works for Summa Strategies Canada Inc.? (Although I don't know which PM she worked for...)

How about...

I suspect that if you look at all the people who left their jobs (or even got fired) working for this CPC government, you might even find more people who are now "lobbying" or providing "communication strategies" at amazing salaries...

Mike514 said...

I share your disgust at lobbyists' relations with the government, but the question on my mind is: What's the line between (say) an exec or VP of a company, and a lobbyist?

Let's pretend you're an exec at some large corporation, and almost by default you have easy access to the government. One day you decide to retire, and run (or work) for a political party. Were you a lobbyist? Should we deny you the right to work for a political party because of this?

Just because someone was (for example) the head of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, should we consider his former job title as lobbyist when he decides to help the Tories?

burlivespipe said...

..."considered the intellectual heart of the (Ontario) premier (Mike Harris)" office?
Considering that hilarious double-point oxymoron, I'd say dramamine all around!
Just don't drink the water they'll be pitching...