APTN National News
The federal Aboriginal Affairs department is denying a Starbucks meeting arranged by the prime minister’s former spokesperson led to the awarding of contracts to a blue-chip lobbying firm.
Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is currently reviewing the case, CTV is reporting.
Lobbying firm Hill+Knowlton received two communications contracts from Aboriginal Affairs in May and June of this year following a meeting arranged by Jason MacDonald, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former spokesperson, CTV reported.
CTV reported that the firm landed the contracts after a Starbucks meeting between Hill+Knowlton vice-president David Rodier, who is currently on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign team, and the federal department’s then-director general of communications Bernard Etzinger.
The meeting was reportedly arranged and also attended by MacDonald, when he was two months out of his job as senior spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office. MacDonald was also a former spokesperson for the Aboriginal Affairs minister’s office.
Aboriginal Affairs said the contracts, worth $14,437 and $12,657, were not awarded through Etzinger but by the Lands and Economic Development sector under a standing offer with the firm dating back to September 2014.
The department said the contracts were for communications work with the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board and their roundtable on northern infrastructure held in Whitehorse on June. 26.
“The two contracts in question are under the responsibility of the Lands and Economic Development Branch and had no involvement from the (Aboriginal Affairs) director general of communications,” said the department in a statement.
MacDonald, who currently works for Hill+Knowlton, sent a statement to APTN saying he did nothing wrong.
“I am conscious of the rules governing the activities of designated public office holders once they leave government. All of my post-government activities are in compliance with those rules – including the required ‘cooling off’ period – and I will ensure that continues to be the case,” said the statement.
Etzinger now works for the Privy Council Office, which is essentially the prime minister’s department.
NDP candidate Charlie Angus said the current controversy over the MacDonald case carries shades of the Bruce Carson scandal. Both involved a former Harper aide allegedly using their contacts to get something from Aboriginal Affairs.
“There are certainly really disturbing parallels between Bruce Carson, a close Conservative insider, tied to the prime minister who used his contacts to try to wrangle contracts at Indian Affairs,” said Angus.
Carson is currently awaiting a judge to rule on his guilt or innocence after wrapping up a two-day trial this month on a charge of influence peddling. The charge stems from his attempts to promote an Ottawa water filtration company with Aboriginal Affairs and federal ministers in hopes of landing contracts with First Nation communities suffering from water woes. The water company had a side-deal with Carson’s former fiancée, a former escort, guaranteeing her a cut of revenues from sales to First Nations.
Angus said the latest MacDonald controversy also casts Aboriginal Affairs in an ugly light.
“What would bother most Canadians is that at Aboriginal Affairs we see program dollars that are underfunded…and then, to be giving out contracts to crony insiders to the prime minister, it just stinks,” he said.
Angus said the NDP is also currently considering whether to file a complaint against MacDonald with Dawson.
“We are certainly very concerned about this. Yet another ethics abuse by a Harper insider, stepping out of the PMO,” said Angus. “We are looking at an issue on a complaint on this. Mary Dawson seems to be extremely gun-shy of investigating things during elections. Her job is not to worry about this is coming up in an election, but to establish clear rules for reporting public office holders.”
Angus said another parallel exists between the MacDonald and Carson cases in that they both involved a current member of Trudeau’s campaign team.
While MacDonald set up a meeting involving Rodier, who is on Trudeau’s campaign team, Carson is facing a separate set of charges stemming from his lobbying on behalf of an energy think-tank with strong links to Trudeau’s current campaign co-chair Daniel Gagnier. Carson will face trial on those charges next year.
Gagnier was vice-chair of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) during a portion of the time that became the focus of the RCMP’s investigation into Carson, according to an affidavit filed by the Mounties. The affidavit alleges that Gagnier helped Carson land a meeting between EPIC and provincial energy ministers. The RCMP said in the document that it believes Carson’s work around the meeting constituted illegal lobbying.
Angus said Trudeau should sideline Rodier and Gagnier until after the election.
“I think if Mr. Trudeau was going to really take new politics seriously, he would say people who are involved in this kind of behaviour need to explain themselves and maybe step aside at least until the campaign is over,” said Angus. “Knowing the Liberals old-boys network I am not holding my breath that he will step up and show leadership on this.”
The Liberals offered a terse response to Angus’ charge.
“All rules were followed. We will not provide further comment,” said the statement, which applied to both Rodier and Gagnier.