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Lobbyists need 2-year ‘cooling off’

Rule would avoid potential conflicts if they switch to politics: ethics watchdog

Glen McGregor

The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lobbyists such as prominent Ottawa Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney should be required to serve “cooling off” periods when they enter politics to avoid conflicts of interest, says a public interest group that argues for ethics reform in government.

Ottawa-based Democracy Watch wants federal ethics rules tightened to require anyone who gets paid to influence public policy as a lobbyist to wait two years before moving into a job that could affect former clients.

Mr. Mahoney “shouldn’t be able to take on any position on any committee, or vote on anything in the House or take part in any discussion affecting any issue about which he was lobbying,” says the group’s co-ordinator, Duff Conacher.

“You should know that, if you’re a lobbyist and going to run for office, you’re getting in there, but you’re not going to have any power for two years.”

Mr. Conacher was responding to a report that Mr. Mahoney last week registered to lobby the federal government on behalf of Toronto-based Canadian Satellite Radio (CSR), one of three companies that won CRTC approval for the new broadcast format.

Mr. Mahoney is the nominated Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre. A friend of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s, he is expected to be offered a cabinet post should he win the seat and his party form a government in the next federal election.

The code of conduct requires public office holders to wait one year after leaving their jobs before working with anyone in government with whom they had “direct and significant official” dealings. The cooling-off period is two years for cabinet ministers.

But there is no such prohibition on former lobbyists moving into cabinet or committee posts that craft policy affecting the companies that once paid them.

“It has to go both ways,” Mr. Conacher said. “Otherwise, the principles of the code are not upheld.” He said the change should also be adopted in the ethics code for MPs.

Mr. Conacher pointed to the example of Industry Minister David Emerson, who, before running for the Liberals, was the top executive at Canfor, a major B.C. forestry company. In cabinet, Mr. Emerson now has responsibilities that directly affect his former company, including contentious issues involving the softwood lumber trade dispute, Mr. Conacher said.

Mr. Mahoney’s registration with CSR was effective Oct. 4, but according to one published report, he was lending “support” to the company well before then.

The Globe and Mail reported on Sept. 12 that CSR chairman John Bitove had the support of “well-placed Ottawa lobbyists,” including Mr. Mahoney and David Herle, another Martin adviser.

The company was working to win cabinet approval for the CRTC licence and Canadian content requirements that were set lower than those for traditional radio broadcasters.

Mr. Herle, a communications consultant, said yesterday that the Globe story mischaracterized his role, because he has never worked as a lobbyist for CSR or anyone else.

Lobbyists are required to register with Industry Canada within 10 days of taking on a client, but it is possible Mr. Mahoney was simply performing duties for CSR that did not require him to register under the lobbyist act. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Martin government is under political pressure to crack down on unregistered lobbying in the wake of the David Dingwall affair. Before he became head of the Royal Canadian Mint, Mr. Dingwall had received a $350,000 contingency fee after lobbying for an Ontario biotechnology company that landed a grant from Industry Canada’s Technology Partnerships Canada program.

Mr. Emerson this week said he wants to see the government official responsible for the lobbyist registry given greater independence and enforcement resources to stop unregistered lobbying.

John Duffy, another Martin adviser who was also registered to lobby on behalf of CSR, said yesterday he did not know Mr. Mahoney was also working on the file until he read it in the newspaper.

But Mr. Duffy said he was aware that another member of Mr. Mahoney’s firm, Fraser Milner Casgrain, was lobbying for CSR. Cyrus Reporter, a former aide to cabinet minister Allan Rock and one-time member of the Martin transition team, registered with CSR in July.

One of Mr. Mahoney’s future opponents yesterday called on him to sever his ties with the company.

“Either Richard Mahoney knows something that the rest of us don’t about the timing of the next election, or he’s showing bad political judgment,” the nominated Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre, Keith Fountain, said in a statement.

“If he wants this election to be about ideas and not lobbying scandals, he needs to cancel that lobbying contract.”

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