By Kenneth Jackson and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Days before the RCMP were called in by the Prime Minister’s Office to investigate, Bruce Carson planned to enlist another political heavy-weight to clear the “log-jam” in the Indian Affairs bureaucracy he believed was stymieing his efforts to land First Nations water contracts for an Ottawa-based company that had a deal with his escort fiancee.
For months, Carson had been trying to land water deals that would see Michele McPherson, 22, stand to rake in millions of dollars based on a secret contract obtained by APTN Investigates.
In a wide-ranging interview on March 6 with APTN, Carson, 65, a former senior advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said he was in the process of setting up a meeting between Environment Minister Peter Kent, Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and Patrick Hill, owner of H2O Global Group.
“Where we are going next with this, and this is nobody’s business but mine, is to sit down with Duncan, Kent, Atleo and myself and probably Patrick to try to figure out a way to break through the log-jam,” said Carson.
A spokesperson for Kent said the minister met with Carson once on Feb. 7 to talk about the environment and clean energy. Carson, at the time, was the head of the Canada School on the Environment and Energy. During the conversation the subject of First Nations water came up.
“Mr. Carson did raise general water issues on First Nations, but did not name any specific company or companies during the discussion,” said Bill Rogers, Kent’s director of communications. “The issues are the responsibility of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. As such, no follow-up was required by (Kent) and the two men have not discussed the matter since.”
For the man nicknamed “the mechanic” and known as Stephen Harper’s fixer, what he was witnessing with Indian Affairs bureaucrats was all too familiar, he said. Carson said it had been the problem from the beginning for the Conservative government. He made no secret of his allegiance to the Conservatives and called Harper one of his best friends.
While praising the work of the last three Clerks of the Privy Council, the most powerful bureaucrat in the government and essentially the deputy minister for the prime minister’s central department, Carson said it was always the mid-level bureaucrats who seemed to throw up roadblocks to getting things done.
“One of the guys told me if you read (former British prime minister) Tony Blair’s book, it’s a terrible book, there is a part there where Blair talks about trying to get the bureaucracy to think the way he thought,” said Carson. “And that is the same way here.
You have a really good idea, you are trying to put it forward, a lot of people think it’s a really good idea…but in the end it is just someone sitting somewhere saying, well we’ll just put it on ice.”
Carson and the company also planned an end-run on the department and were trying to convince bands to pass band council resolutions stating they wanted to do business.
“If we can work with the band itself and have the work with them, it will be easier having the band work with (the department) rather than ourselves,” said Carson. “Each of the communities gets a stream of money for capital projects and if we can tap into that kind of money coming through the band rather than making some huge application to (the department).”
They convinced one Manitoba band to send a letter of intent but Indian Affairs said the community could not qualify for money set aside for water projects because its water was not dirty enough.
Carson and the water company believed the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga was close to signing on the dotted line.
APTN was told by a band official involved in talks with the company that the deal seemed too good to be true.
Carson said Indian Affairs officials informed him that the department would pay directly for a project worth over $1.5 million. He also said the department would be willing to fork over training money. The company planned to train two people on each reserve to change filters. All the bands had to do was sign and all their water problems would be fixed, said Carson.
“(The department) has represented to us that they will actually pay for this out of the $330 million that the government put aside to handle this, to deal with clean drinking water,” he said.
Despite his “frustration,” Carson, through his connections to Atleo and the political levers of power in the central agencies of the federal government, had pushed the company into a place it never thought it could reach, according to Hill. Even Carson said the work he was able to do in just months was pretty good.
Hill believed the water deals would have pushed his company into the stratosphere.
“This can turn very big. This can turn Global Group into an international company,” said Hill, who created Global Group to deal with the department and First Nations on the water deals. Carson and Hill initially tried to use Hill’s other water company H2O Pros but created Global Group in October. Hill said Global Group had been around for three years.
Hill had tried to land water deals on his own but didn’t get far.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere…We expressed our frustration with Bruce. This has been very difficult,” said Hill. “I was there before in the same meetings before Bruce was there, and they were, yeah okay, that sounds great, do a couple of (trade) shows.”
If it wasn’t for Carson they’d still be a company looking in, banging on the door, said Hill.
Carson, however, seemed to sense he was on shaky ground in terms of his lobbying. At one point, Carson said he was worried the Lobbying Commissioner could start looking into his activities.
When asked if the thought he could slip through under the rule that allows someone to lobby without registering if it makes up less than 20 per cent of their work, Carson said he thought he would.
“I really don’t want the Lobbying Commissioner sort of going crazy over my involvement in this,” he said. “This would be like one-tenth of one per cent of my time so we’re all right.”
The Conservative government also brought in new rules forbidding former political staff from being registered lobbyists for five years.
Carson also said his frustration with the pace of talks with Indian Affairs bureaucrats was shared by Duncan’s staff.
“I met with John’s (Duncan) staff and they know (about the water company). They are trying to be helpful and quite frankly it’s a frustration for them too,” said Carson, in the interview. “There is a certain amount of frustration, and everybody knows this, but I haven’t made a secret about it, of trying to deal, trying to get this moving along in the department.”
Duncan’s office has admitted officials met with Carson.
Indian Affairs has also confirmed it met with Carson and company representatives at least four times.
An APTN investigation into Carson’s activities uncovered months of email correspondence between the political insider and company representatives, Indian Affairs officials and Atleo along with AFN staff.
The emails all centered on finding ways to get First Nations water contracts for the company. They also offered a glimpse of Carson’s reach into the centre of political power.
In one email, Carson said he discussed the appointment of Duncan to the Indian Affairs portfolio the day before the Aug. 6 announcement.
Carson also sat with APTN for two candid conversations where he offered a peek behind the curtains shrouding the power rooms of political Ottawa.
Then on March 13, APTN confronted Carson with the information. APTN then contacted the Prime Minister’s Office for comment.
After reviewing APTN’s documentation, the PMO asked for the RCMP to probe Carson.
Carson is also facing an investigation by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Commissioner of Lobbying over his activities around trying to land First Nations water deals for the water company.
The company also had signed a deal with McPherson, who also went by the name Leanna VIP, guaranteeing her 20 per cent of gross sales revenues from potential water contracts. Sources say a second contract was signed earlier this year. She was supposed to be the face of the company but during APTN’s investigation she was nowhere to be found.
Carson met McPherson March 15, 2010 while she was working as an escort. She continued to work full time until at least the middle of August when she wrote on an online escort site she would be only working part-time. Carson began pushing the company in July according to emails.
Carson and McPherson also own a home together. They bought it in December and when they turned the tap on for the first time in their newly purchased, nearly $400,000 home with a pool, they were disgusted by the smell of the water.
“We were a couple of amateur house buyers, because we just loved the house…We never turned the tap on…and she turned it on and it…just smelled of rotten eggs, it had sulphur and all kinds of stuff,” said Carson of the house that sits on a two acre lot, about 60 kilometres south of Ottawa.
That brought them into contact with Patrick Hill.