Rights + Justice
BC Politics

NDP Veterans Flock to Lobbying Roles

‘They can make of it what they want.’

By Andrew MacLeod 31 Jan 2018 |

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

British Columbia’s lobbyist registry has swollen with well-connected New Democrats in the six months since the party formed government.

Recent additions include two cabinet ministers from NDP governments of the 1990s, the chief of staff to John Horgan when he was opposition leader and a former party communications director.

The shift has been noticed, said Dermod Travis, the executive director of the watchdog organization IntegrityBC. “There’s some cynicism developing out there already with regards to the new government.”

One of the lobbyists is Moe Sihota who held several cabinet portfolios in the 1990s, including environment, and was the president of the BC NDP from 2009 to 2013. He registered to lobby on behalf of Woodfibre LNG, a company licensed to build a liquefied natural gas processing and export facility on Howe Sound near Squamish.

According to the registration, Sihota is “Lobbying on behalf of Woodfibre LNG to seek clarity as to new policies, continuation of existing policies, framework of energy pricing, taxation, First Nations consultations, local government issues designed to result in a finalization of the company’s plans to construct and operate a LNG facility.”

The file has just two target contacts: Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall and Finance Minister Carole James.

Sihota didn’t return a call requesting comment.

Former chief of staff

Ian Waddell’s cabinet positions in B.C. included a stint as small business, tourism and culture minister in the Glen Clark government. He’d previously been a federal member of Parliament for 14 years.

He has registered as a lobbyist on behalf of three clients: the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of B.C. and the British Columbia Wine Institute.

John Heaney, a senior civil servant in the 1990s who was John Horgan’s chief of staff in opposition before leaving to take a job in Premier Rachel Notley’s Alberta government, has registered to lobby on behalf of two companies.

One is the recently merged Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws, which wants to communicate with the provincial government “about its key health care mandate priorities” and the company’s “health innovations and initiatives to help improve patient care and outcomes.”

The other is Nuuvera Corp. from Toronto, which describes itself as “a global cannabis and industrial hemp company.” Intended lobbying activities are to help with: “Communications with government about prospective statutes, regulations and policies related to cannabis, specifically regulations dealing with the production, distribution and sale of cannabis in British Columbia.”

Asked what people should make of the number of new lobbying registrants having NDP connections, Heaney said, “They can make of it what they want.”

As a lawyer returning to private practice, helping clients navigate government is part of what he does and is a return to work he’d done previously, he said. “I was already engaged in this kind of work under different circumstances.”

When the Alberta government announced in August that Heaney was leaving after nine months as Notley’s chief of staff, the Calgary Herald reported Heaney was quitting so he could spend more time with his wife and children in B.C. and that he planned to return to practising law.

Interested in ICBC

Another person with BC NDP roots and recent Alberta experience is Marcella Munro, who last August joined KTG Public Affairs, the firm started by the NDP’s Brian Topp, Conservative Ken Boessenkool and Liberal Don Guy.

Since joining the firm, Munro has registered to lobby in B.C. for four companies, including two taking an interest in the province’s efforts to reform the service provided by ICBC, the publicly owned auto insurer.

Aviva Canada is a subsidiary of an insurance company based in the United Kingdom with three million customers and 4,000 employees. “Aviva is seeking a greater understanding of how the Government of British Columbia will proceed to make the auto insurance system and ICBC more affordable and sustainable,” the filing said.

Another client, Makos Health Associates Corp., has a similar goal, “To provide input on B.C. auto insurance policy including recommendations on motor vehicle accident victim treatment protocol and patient service delivery.”

Munro is also registered to lobby for SmartCentres REIT, which is “continuing its work with the Government of BC and the City of Pitt Meadows to develop an approach to enable them to build the proposed North Lougheed Connector road, including the completion of the interchange at Harris Road and Lougheed Highway.”

She is also working with Matthews Holdings Southwest Inc., a company headquartered in Texas that is involved in a project in Delta that involves the Agricultural Land Commission, according to the registration. “As such, they want the minister to be aware of the project.”

The company is also involved in work towards building high-speed rail between Squamish and Vancouver. “This is a project they want to keep the minister and Premier’s Office aware of as it develops,” the registry says.

Munro has previously been an active lobbyist in B.C. with Earnscliffe Strategy Group, and in October 2012 when the NDP looked poised to form government Canadian Business magazine described her as “just one of a growing stable of consultants with NDP connections who have seen their market value skyrocket in recent months.”

Busy firms adding clients

The Tyee reported in September that Michael Gardiner and Brad Lavigne were the early leaders in signing up clients after the change in government with seven each.

Gardiner is a former BC NDP executive director who has claimed to be “the architect” of Horgan’s leadership bid. Lavigne has been a senior federal NDP official in various capacities and wrote Building the Orange Wave about his time working with late NDP leader Jack Layton.

Gardiner has now registered to lobby for 14 clients and Lavigne for eight.

Jeff Andrus, who previously held positions with the federal and Ontario NDP, is working with Gardiner to lobby on behalf of Science World, IDM Mining and Seaspan ULC.

The director of communications for the BC NDP from 2003 to 2009, David Bieber, is working with Lavigne at Counsel Public Affairs Inc. and has registered to lobby on behalf of the B.C. Real Estate Association, Toyota Canada Inc. and drug company GlaxoSmithKline.

Bill Tieleman, the director of communications when Glen Clark was premier in the 1990s and a longtime Tyee contributor, has registered to lobby for 10 clients. They include the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, the British Columbia Insulation Contractors Association, CRM of Canada Processing, the Canadian Football League Players Association, Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union Local 1611, Ironworkers Union Shop Local 712, Landcor Data Corp. and Unifor Local 2200.

Former MLA Sue Hammell has registered as a lobbyist for the First Nations Financial Management Board.

Rule changes needed

It’s normal for government relations firms to employ people connected to all the parties, but the provincial government could do more to tighten up the rules around lobbying, Travis from IntegrityBC said. “They need when they come back to this session to add the teeth the attorney general promised to this legislation.”

Travis said he and others have been proposing improvements to the province's lobbying rules for years.

“The big problem that still remains is you have no verification of what actually happened with the intent to lobby someone,” he said. While lobbyists register whom they intend to lobby, there’s no confirmation of whether or not any meeting has taken place, he said.

The rules should also require public office holders, not just lobbyists, to disclose with whom they’ve met, he said. “Both sides should have to report, not just the lobbyists.”

There should also be disclosure of the fees clients pay to lobbyists and the government should ban contingency fees where a lobbyist is paid based on the success of the lobbying, something that’s already been done federally in Canada and in the United States, he said. “It’s not something without precedent.”

Travis also wants the rule changed that allows people working for a company to spend 100 hours in a year lobbying before they are considered an “in house lobbyist” and must register. Anyone spending any time lobbying the government should have to disclose it, he said.

Also, he said, all of the lobbying rules should be extended to the municipal government level.  [Tyee]

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