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NDP Insiders Prepare to Lobby Victoria on Behalf of Corporate Clients

‘There are organizations and businesses that want to engage this government as there were folks who wanted to engage the last one.’

Andrew MacLeod 7 Sep

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The self-described “architect” of Premier John Horgan’s winning bid to lead the British Columbia NDP has registered as a consultant lobbyist for seven clients since the start of August.

An Alberta oil and natural gas company, a San Francisco ride-hailing company, a large medical test provider and groups promoting health and technology research are among those hiring Michael Gardiner, the former provincial director of the NDP, to help make their case to the NDP government that was sworn in July 18.

Gardiner, working as part of Ascent Public Affairs, is one of two NDP insiders to register several lobbying clients in recent weeks, searches of the province’s lobbyists registry show.

The other, Brad Lavigne, is a senior New Democrat from B.C. now based in Toronto who has registered as a consultant lobbyist for seven clients, including a major drug company, a medical marijuana supplier, and a real estate subsidiary of the B.C. Investment Management Corporation, a provincial government Crown corporation.

According to Gardiner’s filings, he was in public service for just six months. From April 6, 2000 until Oct. 6, 2000 he was “Ministerial Assistant, Advanced Education, Training and Technology and Minister Responsible for Youth,” it said.

His LinkedIn page provides more relevant detail: “Michael was recently the architect and director of John Horgan’s successful leadership bid, after which he took on the role of Executive Director for the BC NDP. There he laid the groundwork and began building the team that led the BC NDP’s 2017 election campaign, during which he acted as a senior adviser.”

Oil, gas, ride hailing and lab tests

On Aug. 1, two weeks after Horgan became premier, Gardiner registered as a consultant lobbyist for Tourmaline Oil Corp. based in Calgary. According to the filing, “Tourmaline is a Canadian oil and natural gas exploration and production company focused on long-term growth through an exploration, development, production and acquisition program in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin.

“Tourmaline Oil is an owner and producer of natural gas in British Columbia that seeks to make the government of British Columbia aware of Tourmaline Oil’s role and safe practices in generating jobs and economic activity in British Columbia, and to be included in public policy discussions affecting the oil and gas industry in British Columbia.”

Another Gardiner client is Lyft Inc., a California company that describes itself as a “transportation network company.” It hopes, the filing says, “To have discussions with relevant MLAs, Cabinet Ministers and staff to discuss what an appropriate transportation regulatory regime needs to be to effectively manage, encourage and monitor ride-sharing within the broader sharing economy.”

The NDP has said that ride hailing is coming to the province, but that it has to be regulated in a way that is fair to taxi drivers and companies. The Green Party, whose support the NDP needed to form the government, have been pushing for the service to be legalized.

The Canadian medical testing company LifeLabs has enlisted Gardiner to help the company “to engage with elected and unelected officials with respect to the Government’s ongoing reform of laboratory services in the province.” It also wants “approval to offer new testing services to support the province’s healthcare objectives.”

Providing laboratory tests to the health care system is big business. LifeLabs does more than 100 million lab tests a year, its filing says.

British Columbia’s Medical Services Commission paid LifeLabs $229 million in the year that ended March 31, 2016, according to the MSC’s most recent financial statement.

Helping companies tell their story, says lobbyist

Another Gardiner client is Wavefront Accelerator, the filing for which says it is seeking “Sustainability of the Tech Sector in BC.”

In the filing, the company is ungrammatically described as “Canada’s centre for commercialization of mobile and [internet of things] technologies our vision is to build a globally relevant, nationally connected ecosystem that delivers digital capacity, competitiveness and prosperity for Canadians.”

Gardiner has also registered as a consultant lobbyist for Genome BC, the British Columbia Technology Association, and the Rick Hansen Institute.

In a phone interview, Gardiner said he would not talk about specific clients or reveal what he charges. “I think there’s an important role for public affairs in good government,” he said. “That’s what I'm set up to do here.”

Government relations work fills a need, Gardiner said. “Companies that contribute to the economy or want to contribute to the economy, it’s important they tell their story and be heard.”

B.C. has good lobbyist regulations and the government has promised to review them, he said, adding that he supports that review.

From Orange Wave to drug lobby

Lavigne’s LinkedIn page says he has been a principal at Counsel Public Affairs Inc — with business in Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa — since July.

He has worked in government relations since 2013, including with his own firm which Counsel bought, he said in a phone interview.

Previously Lavigne was a senior campaign adviser for the federal NDP during the 2015 election and the national campaign director in 2011. He was national director of the federal NDP for over two years between 2009 and 2011 and for three years he was Jack Layton's director of strategic communications while Layton led the party. He wrote the book Building the Orange Wave about his time working with Layton.

Lavigne was born and grew up in Coquitlam, B.C. and attended St. Thomas More Collegiate in Burnaby. He has a political science degree from Simon Fraser University, where he studied before earning his master's in public policy and public administration from Concordia University in Montreal.

With Lavigne’s services, GlaxoSmithKline Inc., the pharmaceutical giant headquartered in England, “seeks to keep government decision makers informed as its new candidate shingles vaccine progresses through Health Canada’s approval process and its National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) review, to provide government decision makers with information to consider when fulfilling its mandate to implement an essential drugs program and to improve better health care services for seniors.”

Another Lavigne client, the British Columbia Real Estate Association, wants to “Educate and increase awareness of the British Columbia Real Estate Association’s important role within the province’s housing sector.”

Crown corporation subsidiary

Parkbridge Lifestyle Communities Inc. “is Canada’s leading owner, operator and developer of residential land lease communities, recreational resorts and marinas.” A land lease community is one where the home owner doesn't own the land on which their house sits, but instead leases it, an arrangement that provides ongoing income to the land owner.

Here’s how the Parkbridge filing describes its lobbying goal: “To educate government about the benefits and implications of land lease housing in British Columbia and determine development and business opportunities for Parkbridge Lifestyle Communities Inc. with regards to land lease housing within the framework of British Columbia’s current housing policy and program context, as well as the homeownership affordability strategy currently being developed including any possible policy impacts that may affect land lease communities.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Parkbridge, however, is its ownership. According to its filing with the lobbyist registry, the parent business is the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation. But the BCIMC, whose core business is managing pension investments for public sector employees, is a Crown corporation, meaning that it is itself owned by the B.C. government.

Put another way, an entity of the B.C. government has hired a lobbyist out of Toronto to represent its interests to the B.C. government.

“Parkbridge’s interests are quite distinct from the management corporation,” Lavigne said on the phone. “Their day to day operations are completely separate and distinct from the investor.”

Lavigne has also registered to help Eden Medicinal Society, a Vancouver based provider of medicinal marijuana, in its efforts “to work with the government to establish a regulatory framework for provincial licensing and taxation of privately-owned adult-use cannabis retail businesses.”

And the Toronto makers of a healthy living app that received $2.5 million from the B.C. government in the past, as well as money from the federal government and Ontario, are using Lavigne to look for more public money. “Carrot Insights is seeking additional funding from the government of British Columbia to enhance and expand the use of its change behaviour App in every corner of the province. The funding would be for promotion of the App and user acquisition activity.”

Car maker wants input on climate strategy

Toyota Canada Inc., with Lavigne’s help, “seeks to provide input and recommendations to the government regarding its climate change strategy as it pertains to the automotive sector in British Columbia, specifically to provide input and recommendations to the government regarding policies, programs and decisions that impact the demand, supply and adoption of advanced technology vehicles (hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles).”

Lavigne has registered to help Totem Capital Corporation “Seeking to arrange meetings with government decision makers to secure government funding to attract high tech jobs to British Columbia.” Totem is an investment management firm, its filing says.

Lavigne, who worked in the B.C. provincial government from 1998 to 2001, said that the focus of his business shifted in July when the NDP formed government in the province.

“Whenever there's a change of government there is a demand from organizations, businesses and unions to have public affairs specialists who understand the perspective of the governing party,” he said. “Public affairs is part of a strong democracy. It’s practised in every jurisdiction regardless of which party’s in power... There are organizations and businesses that want to engage this government as there were folks who wanted to engage the last one.”

Governments have a mandate from the people who voted for them to fulfill their commitments, and they need to listen as they develop policy. “The feedback is essential,” Lavigne said. “To shut off all those entities would hurt any government tremendously, regardless of its stripe.”

He said it’s important that government relations work be transparent to the public and he welcomed B.C.’s review of its lobbying rules. “That’s always healthy to do that.”

Government needs to listen, says watchdog

Dermod Travis, the executive director of the watchdog group Integrity B.C., said it’s common that when governments change, or are expected to change, new lobbyists connected to the party in power pick up business.

“The big question is not who’s representing whom, but how that representation gets regulated with new rules and new laws. There’s a lot they can do in that regard,” Travis said. The government should require reports of who was actually lobbied, not just who people intend to lobby, he said. They should also require politicians to disclose who is lobbying them, rather than leaving the onus to report solely on the lobbyists, he said.

More broadly, the government will also need to make clear that there are ways for people and organizations to contact the government and be heard without having to pay for a lobbyist or to donate to a political party, Travis said.

The B.C. lobbyist’s registry shows no entries for Gardiner before the NDP formed government. Lavigne had registered once previously in 2012 for work he was doing with the Toronto non-profit advocacy group Environmental Defence that sought to take part in discussions “concerning current energy, natural resources and environmental policy within British Columbia and Canada.”

One other NDP insider registered two new clients in August. Bill Tieleman, the director of communications when Glen Clark was premier in the 1990s and a Tyee columnist, registered as a consultant lobbyist for the British Columbia Naturopathic Association and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115.

The naturopaths hope to “Promote and advance the important role of BC naturopathic physicians in providing health care” and the union wants to “Improve labour relations, health and safety, apprenticeships and training, create and protect jobs.”  [Tyee]

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