“Show up and do something!”
Buried in Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s damning report showing Justin Trudeau’s third conflict-of-interest breach was yet another layer of murky dealings – this time, with the Lobbying commission.
Now, there are calls from Charlie Angus, Peter Kent – party critics for ethics and Duff Conacher from Democracy Watch for Lobbying commissioner Nancy Bélanger and her office to open up an investigation into SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying activities.
“Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s damning report on the prime minister documented previously undisclosed interactions between SNC-Lavalin and the government during the embattled company’s pursuit of a deferred prosecution agreement, raising questions from critics about whether it was operating in full compliance with federal lobbying regulations or whether disclosure rules should change.
SNC Lavalin is registered to lobby the government on a federal level and, according to the report, “filed 194 communications reports when it first started pushing for a DPA between early 2016 and Feb. 7.”
Dion’s report revealed “the close relationship and frequent interaction between government officials and the company, including 23 reported communications with the Prime Minister’s Office” of which Jody Wilson-Raybould expressed “surprise” to learn about “the extent of the relationship and engagement and the lobbying” of SNC-Lavalin, taking it further and saying this: “I was not aware of that and, to be honest, I find it curious.”
At least two of the interactions Mr. Dion cited in a detailed timeline were said to be initiated by SNC, according to the report, but weren’t logged in the federal registry.
A further two interactions between the company and government officials in which the remediation agreement was discussed, according to the report, were also not publicly disclosed. However, the Dion report does not make clear who initiated those discussions. Only communications that are initiated by lobbyists—not by government officials—and fit criteria laid out under the Lobbying Act must be reported. Those criteria include communications about existing or proposed legislation or resolutions, and the awarding of a grant or other financial benefit.
Among the interactions revealed in the report was a meeting between then-CEO Neil Bruce and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) and his director of policy, Justin To, in Davos, Switzerland – in 2016, during the World Economic Forum.
On Jan. 23, 2018, a month after the government wrapped up its consultation on the proposed remediation-agreement regime, SNC requested the meeting, in which Mr. Bruce updated Mr. Morneau and Mr.To “on the company’s challenges, opportunities and strategies for growth.”
That 2016 meeting in Davos was not disclosed until Dion’s report was released and according to Ottawa lobbyist Scott Thurlow – who appeared at the emergency meeting of the Ethics Committee, “the Davos meeting doesn’t fit the legal definition of lobbying” because “companies are in contact with the government of Canada all the time about issues that do not qualify as lobbying under the act. I think there is a great deal of confusion about what is, and is not, reportable activity under the act. If they’re not looking for a change in policy, they’re not lobbying.”
Both Peter Kent and Charlie Angus disagreed with Mr. Thurlow’s comments – noting that there are “too many unanswered questions surrounding the lobbying activities of SNC-Lavalin.
The waters muddy even more and the cast of characters in LAVSCAM grew when in December 2018, before Gerald Butts and Jody Wilson-Raybould had a dinner meeting, SNC’s legal representatives, Robert Prichard—also BMO board chairman—and Frank Iacobucci, a former Supreme Court justice, “requested a telephone conversation” with Mr. Trudeau’s senior advisers “to obtain an update in preparation for the company’s board of directors meeting the following day.” Neither are registered to lobby and considering their participation in discussions, would have been required to register as lobbyists.
Both Mr. Prichard and Justice Iacobucci claimed that their “work for SNC was strictly limited to discussions related to the “interpretation or application” of the Criminal Code’s provisions around remediation agreements and In that role, we have complied with all relevant rules, including the Lobbying Act and applicable professional obligations.”
Former Treasury Board Chairman and now coincidentally, vice-chair of BMO’s investing arm – Scott Brison played a role in LAVSCAM as he was approached by Robert Prichard – BMO Board chairman and former Clerk of the Privy Council and now, SNC-Lavalin Chairman Kevin Lynch – on an “unrelated matter.” The conversation conveniently turned to the remediation agreement SNC Lavalin was looking for. But, according to the Hill Times story, “Since the Trudeau Liberals won power in 2015, only one lobbying record had been logged with Mr. Brison, now a BMO executive, for a meeting on Jan. 18, 2017.”
There were further interactions between Brison and Mr. Prichard who emailed Brison “a legal opinion from fellow Torys lawyer Frank Iacobucci, a former Supreme Court Justice, that stated Ms. Wilson-Raybould would be justified in overturning the decision to criminally charge SNC-Lavalin.”
Mr. Prichard told Mr. Brison: “We are also considering other ways to make it easier for the Minister to engage and reverse the [Director of Public Prosecutions] decision. In the end, however, it will take a deliberate decision from the center.”
Brison forwarded this email to members of the Prime Minister’s office and had further conversations with Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Kevin Lynch at a Bejing conference in November 2018 and both kept the pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould to grant SNC-Lavalin the deferred prosecution agreement they were looking for.
A lawyer who specializes in government ethics feels that these discussions are all a part of doing business “and using technicalities” but if the discussions were about the Deferred Prosecution, they should be considered lobbying efforts and should have been registered with the Lobbying Commission.
“I’ll be supplementing my request to investigate all of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying,” Mr. Conacher said. “The second interaction [involving Mr. Prichard and Mr. Iacobucci] raises the issue of whether they should have been registered as consultant lobbyists. They’re not employees of SNC-Lavalin and if they were paid for their services, then they were acting as consultant lobbyists.”
- The president of the Public Affairs Association of Canada, another advocacy group for the lobbying industry, said “in the interest of transparency, SNC’s Davos meeting and the Dec. 5 conversation should have been disclosed.”
- NDP Ethics critic Charlie Angus summed up this latest ethics mess, saying this: “I’m hoping the lobbying commissioner will show up and do something on this because we haven’t heard from her.”
- The Lobbying Commissioner “Nancy Bélanger’s office said “the commissioner may open an investigation at any time she has cause to believe that an investigation is necessary to ensure compliance.” A complaint from a third party isn’t necessary to initiate one. The office did not say whether an investigation had been launched, and has said in the past it won’t confirm investigations.
You can bet that with the election writ ready to be dropped, all parties who stand to be exposed further will go to ground to protect themselves.
The bought and paid for Liberal media and their pollsters want you to believe that LAVSCAM is not a factor in the upcoming election; that issues like “climate change” are what Canadians care about.
What these pollsters don’t get is that Canadians do care about ethics in government – a recent poll bore that out, as a good majority of Canadians “view ethics in government as paramount issue in fall election.”
Canadians are worried about the economy, jobs and the high tax burden that the Trudeau government has laden us with.
As much as the Liberals want to bury LAVSCAM, we won’t let the Trudeau government do that.
“Different Liberals, same ethics.”