An SNC-Lavalin lobbyist attended Liberal donor events, critics say it was cash-for-access
|National Post 13 Mar 2019 at 17:12|
OTTAWA ‚ÄĒ A lobbyist for SNC-Lavalin and former Liberal adviser attended two exclusive donor events hosted by the party at the same time the Quebec engineering giant was lobbying Ottawa for a negotiated settlement to avoid a criminal trial, despite certain steps the Liberal Party has taken to end the controversial practice of cash-for-access fundraising.
Bruce Hartley, who has been registered as a lobbyist for SNC-Lavalin since April 2017, attended two events for deep-pocketed donors in December 2017 and June 2018, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the featured guest.
Also in attendance at both events were Finance Minister Bill Morneau, former principal secretary Gerald Butts, Trudeau‚Äôs chief of staff Katie Telford, and Mathieu Bouchard, Trudeau‚Äôs adviser on Quebec issues, all key players in the controversy over allegations of political interference that has consumed the Trudeau government over the last month.
Hartley‚Äôs attendance did not explicitly break Liberal Party fundraising rules, but critics say it shows that cash-for-access is still on offer for those donors who can afford it.
Hartley, a former top aide to prime minister Jean Chr√©tien who now works for lobbying firm Prospectus, said he did not discuss SNC-Lavalin at the events, and said he attended as a Liberal Party member. He is registered to lobby on behalf of SNC-Lavalin, but is not listed in the public lobbying registry as having conducted any official meetings with the government on behalf of the company. The firm has also hired two other outside consultants in Ottawa, including William Pristanski at Prospectus and John Duffy, founder of StrategyCorp.
Hartley has met with public officials on behalf of other firms like telecoms company Ericsson Canada, electronics provider CAE, and Resolute Forest Products, among others.
In 2017, the Liberals put in place new rules for their fundraising events meant to increase transparency, following revelations that the party had been raising millions of dollars through private fundraisers that gave wealthy donors access to Trudeau and his cabinet ministers behind closed doors.
Since then, Liberal fundraisers have been advertised in advance and conducted in publicly accessible spaces, and media can attend. The party also publishes reports on fundraisers after the fact, including guest lists.
No other party has yet adopted the same level of transparency
Further, the party says it vets guest lists in advance to ensure that anyone registered to lobby the featured guest at fundraisers does not attend. However, that rule only applies to certain types of fundraisers ‚ÄĒ not to the donor-appreciation events Hartley attended in 2017 and 2018.
‚ÄúFor two years now, the Liberal Party has been the first and only party to move forward with the strongest standards in federal politics for open and transparent political fundraising events,‚ÄĚ Liberal Party spokesperson Braeden Caley told the Post in an email. ‚ÄúNo other party has yet adopted the same level of transparency.‚ÄĚ
SNC-Lavalin launched a multi-year lobbying campaign after the company was charged in 2015 with paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011. If convicted, it would face a 10-year ban on federal contracts. The company, which holds about 9,000 jobs in Canada, has sought to avoid criminal prosecution in the case, and has pushed instead for a deferred prosecution agreement, which would require it to pay fines and prove that it has taken action to prevent future crimes, but would avoid a criminal trial.
The company has lobbied extensively on the issue, including meetings with Morneau, Butts, Bouchard, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, and even Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Last year, the Liberals introduced deferred prosecution agreements as a provision in their omnibus budget bill. SNC-Lavalin‚Äôs case was the first where one might have been used, but in September, the director of public prosecutions decided that such an agreement would not be appropriate in this case.
That decision set in motion a chain of events that led to the February resignation from cabinet of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who has claimed that Trudeau and officials in his office inappropriately pressured her for months to overrule the public prosecutor and negotiate an agreement with the engineering firm.
The two fundraising events Hartley attended in December 2017 and June 2018 were donor-appreciation events for Laurier Club members ‚ÄĒ donors who give at least $1,500 annually to the party. According to Elections Canada, Hartley has donated $10,678 to the federal party since 2006, and another $2,028 to riding associations and a leadership campaign. The Liberals have exempted such events from their rules about lobbyists because there‚Äôs no ticket-price donation required to attend donor-appreciation events ‚ÄĒ other than the $1,500 annual contribution.
Caley said such events ‚Äúin most cases consist of long-time volunteers and supporters of the party who are not making a specific contribution for an event with one particular special guest.‚ÄĚ
Trudeau was listed as the featured guest for both events, and Hartley is registered to lobby the Prime Minister‚Äôs Office on behalf of SNC-Lavalin, which would bar him from attending other, ticketed fundraisers featuring the prime minister.
Hartley told the Post that he signed an affirmation required by the party stating he would not lobby at the event. ‚ÄúI attended to support the Liberal Party of Canada as I have consistently done over the past several decades,‚ÄĚ he said in an email.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said the SNC-Lavalin controversy is revealing ‚Äúthe really tawdry little backroom world of influence that exists in the Trudeau government.‚ÄĚ He suggested that despite the Liberals‚Äô commitment to end controversial cash-for-access fundraisers, the practice continues.
‚ÄúThey got called out for shamelessly peddling access to the prime minister. They came up with what looked like some rules, but in reality if you give an enormous amount of money to the Liberal party you get access because you‚Äôre special,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the kind of insider access that got this government into trouble.‚ÄĚ
However, Caley argued the Conservatives and NDP haven‚Äôt willingly put in place the same transparency measures the Liberals have adopted. The government passed new political fundraising legislation last year that came into effect in December, which requires the opposition parties to disclose details about fundraising events where a donation of more than $200 is required to attend. But the legislation does not require all parties to allow media to attend their events, as the Liberals have done. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs time that both Mr. Scheer and Mr. Singh did the right thing and stopped barring journalists from their parties‚Äô behind-closed-doors fundraising events,‚ÄĚ Caley said.
Last fall, the Globe and Mail published since the party made changes in 2017, and found that nearly half of their 72 fundraisers had been Laurier Club donor-appreciation events, where the restrictions on lobbyists do not apply.
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Whether or not any laws were broken is not the issue. The standard expected of public officials is not that they should merely avoid committing crimes