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Who's Lobbying the NDP?

Party insiders jockey to attract clients well ahead of provincial vote.

By Andrew MacLeod 19 Oct 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

With nearly seven months until British Columbians are scheduled to vote in the next provincial election and the New Democratic Party consistently leading in opinion polls, business is picking up for lobbyists with strong NDP connections.

Two, Jim Rutkowski at Hill + Knowlton Strategies and Marcella Munro with Earnscliffe Strategy Group, stand out as early frontrunners in the race to attract clients wanting to talk with the government-in-waiting about everything from drug policy to energy development.

Munro featured prominently in an Oct. 16 article in Canadian Business magazine that described her as "just one of a growing stable of consultants with NDP connections who have seen their market value skyrocket in recent months."

Her clients have included, according to the province's registry of lobbyists, drug makers Eli Lilly, Glaxo Smith Kline and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc., as well as LifeLabs, McDonald's restaurants and the company that owns the Tim Horton's doughnut shop brand.

But it's Rutkowski who has the better claim to the inside track.

From James to Topp

Rutkowski joined the Victoria office of Hill & Knowlton in May.

Some of the high profile companies he's registered to lobby on behalf of are the China National Offshore Oil Company, the German drug company Bayer Inc. and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Inc.

His clients have also included the accounting firm Deloitte, the Vancouver International Airport Authority, Port Metro Vancouver, Loblaw Companies Ltd. and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.

Between May 1, 1996 and April 1, 2000, years when the NDP formed the government, Rutkowski's lobbying filings note he was "Special Assistant to the Minister of Health, Ministerial Assistant to the Minister of Small Business Tourism and Culture, and Ministerial Assistant to the Minister of Finance and Attorney General."

He was also one of the few NDP staffers left in the legislature when the party was reduced to two seats in the 2001 election and was central to the party with Carole James as leader, serving as communications director and chief of staff.

James, despite being pushed out as leader in 2010, has said she will stay and run for the party in 2013, effectively endorsing Dix's leadership and helping the party move on.

Rutkowski was also key to Brian Topp's federal NDP leadership campaign where he handled media relations. While Topp came second behind Thomas Mulcair in that race, he has since taken on a job as campaign manager for the B.C. NDP where he is one of a small circle of Dix's most trusted advisors.

Farnworth's strategist

Munro's biography page at Earnscliffe, which she joined in 2009, says she "served as a communications strategist in federal and provincial NDP war rooms, and municipally as communications chair for Mayor Gregor Roberston and Vision Vancouver's successful 2008 campaign."

Her provincial role freshest in people's minds, however, was as chief strategist and the main media contact for Mike Farnworth's leadership bid. Farnworth came second to Dix in a race that, while publicly civil, did little to endear Munro to the Dix camp.

After the race, Dix appointed Farnworth as health critic, a capacity that's seen him as one of the targets of Munro's lobbying.

Here's how the registry entry summarizes Munro's work for drug maker Eli Lilly: "To raise the profile of Eli Lilly with the Official Opposition, and to provide input as to various policies relating to pharmacare, investment, and research and development issues."

Besides contacting Farnworth, according to the filing, Munro in September contacted former leader Carole James, finance critic Bruce Ralston and a couple other NDP MLAs. Leader Adrian Dix, a previous health critic who has a strong interest in drug policy issues, is not listed, but she appears to have met instead with two aides in his office.

Nor is Dix among the MLAs she contacted for Glaxo Smith Kline regarding HPV vaccination programs, or Novartis "Providing ongoing support and input regarding BC pharmaceutical policies and priorities."

Munro has arranged meetings with Dix for other companies, including LifeLabs, Spectra Energy and McDonald's.

Contacted by phone, Munro asked for questions to be sent by email. She responded to the email saying she was in Calgary meeting with clients and would respond when she could.

Door open to CNOOC

On Sept. 27, 2012, Rutkowski added the names of five MLAs he'd contacted on behalf of Bayer to "Raise awareness about client issues with government, monitor for policy changes which may impact access to medicines, assist with drug submissions."

The MLAs contacted included Dix, Farnworth, James and two others.

In August Rutkowski began work for CNOOC, "China's largest producer of offshore crude oil and one of the largest independent oil and gas exploration and production companies in the world."

He arranged meetings with Dix, as well as Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman and the NDP critic on the file, John Horgan. The goal, the filing said, was to "Inform government of business transaction."

The Chinese government owned CNOOC has been in headlines this fall for its controversial attempt to purchase Calgary-based oil and gas company Nexen Inc., a deal that requires approval from the federal government.

Rutkowski did not return The Tyee's call by publication time.

Keep it consistent, says advocate

Major lobbying firms tend to hire people who are associated with the various parties, said Dermod Travis, the executive director of the advocacy group Integrity BC. "I don't foresee a change in the names of the firms, just who's front and centre with those firms if the government changes."

It's natural that businesses are turning attention to the NDP and want to make sure they have good relationships with all the parties likely to form the government, even if it's disturbing that's what it takes to open doors, he said. "Regrettably it's become part of the way government works today," he said. "That in itself is nefarious."

The registrar's office takes a different tack, by the way, arguing in its most recent annual report that "Lobbying is a valuable component of modern democratic processes, but its value is not always recognized... It can be misunderstood and subject to excessive and unwarranted criticism."

Lobbyists make an important contribution by helping decision makers understand the possible effects of their decisions, it said, arguing the role has become more necessary as government has become more complicated.

Travis said that while he'd like to see lobbying eventually become a thing of the past, meanwhile there's a need for improved legislation and greater transparency.

"There are too many grey areas," he said. "What really counts in terms of disclosed lobbying maybe has not been adequately defined."

The onus should shift so that the MLAs who we elect, rather than the lobbyists, are responsible for saying who has been lobbying them, he said. Also, the penalties for violating the act should be more than a slap on the wrist, he said.

If the government changes, hopefully the new government will take steps to fix the legislation, he said.

Until then the NDP should disclose who is lobbying them, what the lobbyists are seeking, and what they've been told in response, Travis said. "I think all political parties... have to be cautious that what gets said behind closed doors is identical to what gets said in front of the microphones."  [Tyee]

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