Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reynolds to feed at the lobbyist trough

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.

The plan:

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.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Anonymous said...

Harper hubris, or Does Harper have a tin ear?

The conventional wisdom now seems to be that Stephen Harper is a political genius, of the same ilk as Napoleon, or Churchill, or – pick your favourite. But what if Harper’s cabinet-making is not a politically astute move by at all, but simply a sign that he has a political tin ear?

After all, sometimes the past is predicator of the future: in 2004 he misread the electorate with some of his comments about the Liberals – especially Martin – and his premature triumph speeches about the West taking over. And in Parliament he has sounded a bit screechy and overly self-righteous. Then there are those stories about him being a one-man-band, who does not need a mentor because, one observer says he said, he never met anyone as smart as he is ....

So, perhaps this was just Harper being Harper, and marching to his own discordant band?

If so, wait until the second Act: gonna be a lot of fun for Libs and NDP, and a lot of buyer’s remorse by many voters in Ontario ....

And meanwhile, the Bloc will crouch in the wings, nursing its wounds, and waiting for the right time to take Harper down – when he is under a cloud of intolerance or stupidity, but before he cements himself into Quebec as Mulroney Junior. Best get rid of him soon, before he becomes a real threat to the Bloc ...

So wait for the right moment, and the ganging up by the three parties who each have good reasons for taking him out of his new digs at Sussex, and who – between them – hold the balance of power.

After all, Harper arranged a mob-lynching of Martin with all three parties deciding to put in the knife on that particular Ides of May. Having shown the way, I wonder if Harper fears that this time the other three parties will cooperate to bring him down?

Better than even chance, I think; and probably before summer ends, too.....

Maybe Harper should let those renovations take place at Sussex Drive before he moves in: might save him having to move twice, eh?

noone said...

Great post. Thanks for this.

I agree with you too. O'Connor should have declined the offer. I wonder what's up with that?

buckets said...

On Reynolds, see my Hypocrisy, thy name is Reynolds

A Canadian Publius said...

You're missing one on the entitlement trough, check out Brian Pallister's decision to use his MP's budget to travel through manitoba to guage support for his leadership bid for the provincial tories. See the entry on my blog

Scotian said...

Good post BCer, and an excellent point regarding how Mr. O’Conner should have reacted. However, don't you know it is Conservative belief that unless it is illegal it is alright, and that just because they have proposed something does not mean they should lead by example until the law compels them, in which case leading is hardly the correct term. This is what we are seeing in action, which in a minority as weak and unstable as this one is, where the governing party has shallow support for the seats it has to be this government, that the last thing they needed to be doing is demonstrating that they are exactly what their critics claimed they would be in their first days in power, hypocrites. Especially regarding things like ethics issues, which since it was the election question this time out is particularly stupid IMHO. Which is of course exactly what they have been doing, yet they claim all those critics were full of empty fear and smear deceptions. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

As for Reynolds, what a shock...not. I've always thought this man was a past master at the do as I say not as I do approach to politics and life, and here he goes confirming this again for all to see. The CPC has a credibility problem with the Canadian public, otherwise it would have done better in the election. Reynolds must have understood there was that problem or else he would not have fashioned and run the stealth campaign we saw last time out that got them this far. He better than most should understand just how much this contradicts the public face of the CPC and how damaging it is that someone with his position to do this two weeks after the end of the election. Very poor form, but consistent with the Reynolds I have come to know and detest.

Anonymous said...

Listening to O'Connor brush off the repeated questions in yesterdays scrum, one got the distinct impression that he had no idea of what 'Conflict' he could ever be impaled upon. Like you, I'm also a airforce brat (Downsview, London, Comox) and there were some in the service (but not limited there -- take the embolden heads of corps like Enron) who gave the air that they were above it all. There is a potential among the military elite to feel they are the law, not merely above it.
And Reynolds, this guy was sleaze incorporated while a Socred - a disgraced SoCred at that. His personal file reads like a arm twister who played more than the ponies. Like being a Socred wasn't a disgrace enuf?

Anonymous said...

I'm usually too surly and crabby to high-five, but excellent post. Putting that question directly to O'Connor, namely how he squares his notions of military honour with accepting this post, would provide additional context for this story...not that I expect genuine answers from elected officials.

Let's face it too; the whole notion of conflict of interest seems to be have become "quaint" among neo-conservatives.

Mark Richard Francis said...

Excellen post, and.... Bourque Newswatch linked to you for it.

Paul said...

You seem to have forgotten to point out exactly when Reynolds was a Minister. Or a senior public servant. Or a Ministerial staffer.

Oh yeah, he WASN'T.

If you're saying that the proposed Act doesn't go nearly far enough, say so. But don't pretend that it says something that it doesn't.

Jeff said...

Thanks Mark, and indeed my counter has gone crazy. Hello to the 1000+ Bourque readers gracing my humble blog.

To Paul and Peter, yes Reynolds went from a (very senior) opposition post to the lobbying world, which isn't explicitly covered by the proposed Conservative platform. Although, Harper also said you have to be elected to parliament to be a minister, but I digress.

It's the principle of the matter, and if you can't see it I probably can't help you, but I'll try to explain.

Why do you think these guys want Reynolds? Because up until Jan. 23 he was the new Prime Minister's right-hand man, and co-chair of his re-election campaign. And still a very senior man in his party, as we've seen him all over the hill on tv this week.

He can pick up a phone and get the PM, or any cabinet minister, on the phone in minutes. That's the kind of access clients will be paying for. That's the kind of thing the lobbying reforms are designed to stop.

Yes, you are technically right on the letter of the law. But clearly, the spirit of it is being stomped all over.

Anonymous said...

Neither Reynolds nor O'Connor are former ministers moving into lobbying. The Tory plans do not cover either case. I can see credibility problems with the O'Connor appointment, but it is neither unethical nor illegal. As for Reynolds; he was an opposition MP. So what?

Platty said...

Hillarious, what was your point again? Get your facts straight before you start spewing this crap.
"Yes, you are technically right"
Enough said, I guess if you can't report the truth, the next best thing will do.

Jeff said...

LOL. Like I said platty, if you don't see how bone-ass stupid this looks, or understand what principle is, than I can't help you.

Anonymous said...

Scotian has hit on an important point. "it is Conservative belief that unless it is illegal it is alright" This belief is being displayed by all of the controversial appointees in their bewilderment at how the public and the media can possibly object to their appointment. It remains to be seen whether the PM (or his advisors) get it and take steps to rectify the errors. If he acts quickly, all would be foregiven. If not, he shouldn't throw out the moving boxes.

Paul said...

"He can pick up a phone and get the PM, or any cabinet minister, on the phone in minutes. That's the kind of access clients will be paying for. That's the kind of thing the lobbying reforms are designed to stop."

Where were you in calling for even more restrictions in the Federal Accountability Act?

Get your facts straight, then comment on it.

Clearly, you believe that no MP should become a lobbyist. What about that MP's constituency office staff? Are they allowed to become lobbyists, or are they barred from any politically-related jobs, too? What about an MP's immediate family? Their distant relatives? Do we need to bar them, too?

According to the Liberals, it's perfectly fine for the Prime Minister himself to become a lobbyist. But where is your explanation of that fact?

When you figure out what it is you're complaining about, then there's room for a discussion. Until then, I can't help you.

Jeff said...

Paul, I can see we're not going to get on the same page re: the principle vs. legality point, so I'll move on.

To address your other question though, Yes, I would like to see the lobbying prohibition expanded to include all Members of Parliament (but not office staff). I think the motivation behind giving ministers and their staff a cooling-off period can apply just as well to MPs. Particularly in the case of a senior MP like Reynolds, for the reasons I outlined earlier.

Five years is too long though (for ministers as well), maybe two would be more fair.

Anonymous said...

Regarding our new Minister of DND, moving from a position of power (such as a Minister) to a position of no power (such as a lobbyist) has bad optices but not much potential for undue influence.

By contract, moving from a position of lobbyist to a position of power - lots of it, in the case of a Minister - provides much more potential for helping ones friends.

Harper should understand this. This is why judges do not sit on cases where they were involved with one of the parties before being appointed.


Paul said...

At least you finally admit that your complaint was misplaced: that in your opinion the proposed Act doesn't go far enough.

Your complaint is not with Reynolds. Your complaint is that the Conservatives, while doing much more than the Liberals ever did, should do still more.

And, I'm certain that in time they will.

What you need to understand is that progress can only happen in steps. There needs to be a consensus built around your suggestion to ban former MPs from certain industries (while oddly not banning the staffers who actually build the contacts and friendships across political departments) - a consensus that isn't there today.