Records show which lobbyists have the prime minister’s ear
NationalPost.com – News
Postmedia News · Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. Andrew Mayeda and Mark Kennedy
OTTAWA — Lobbyists for Canadian industry — particularly those representing the country’s leading chief executives and the oil sector — top the list of those who got the most access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the last two years, government records reveal.
By comparison, groups lobbying on issues such as health care and the environment barely got a foot in the door — even though the state of medicare and climate change have been major public policy issues.
These findings stem from a review by Postmedia News of records kept by the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. Since July 2008, lobbyists have been required to report their “oral and arranged communications” with a public officer holder such as Harper, members of his cabinet and senior bureaucrats. Recent amendments extended that requirement for lobbyists to file reports on their communications with all MPs. The rules say these encounters with lobbyists that must be recorded include telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, and “any other communications that are arranged in advance.”
Since the requirement came into effect, Mr. Harper has been lobbied 80 times, according to communications reports filed with the lobbying commissioner. Among the highlights of the records:
• Seventy per cent of the lobbying directed toward Mr. Harper came from representatives of Canadian industry.
• The Canadian Council of Chief Executives tops the list of organizations. The council filed eight communications reports, half of them this year. The organization, currently headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, represents about 150 Canadian companies.
• Lobbyists for oil and gas companies filed seven reports. Alberta-based Suncor Energy lobbied three times, giving it the most access in the oilpatch.
Some of the lobbying occurred when the prime minister was facing key policy decisions. On the sidelines of this summer’s G20 summit in Toronto, for example, Mr. Harper took part in a summit chaired by Mr. Manley and attended by several prominent Canadian CEOs, including Suncor’s Rick George and Bombardier’s Pierre Beaudoin.
Mr. Manley, who was called on by Mr. Harper to head a review of Canada’s Afghanistan mission in 2007, chaired the so-called “B20” summit at the request of the prime minister.
Both the CEO council and Suncor filed reports that, on the day of the B20 summit, they lobbied not only the prime minister, but several senior members of his cabinet: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, then transport minister John Baird, Trade Minister Peter Van Loan and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent.
Andrew MacDougall, deputy press secretary for Mr. Harper, said there’s a clear reason why the prime minister met with industry leaders so much.
“The government’s priority for the last two and a half years has been the economy,” Mr. MacDougall said.
“Obviously we’ve been charting a course in some pretty unsteady times. With the priority being the economy, it is no surprise that the prime minister has met quite a few times, and predominantly with business and industry representatives. These are the people who are on the front lines of the economy.”
A spokesman for the CEO council said it makes sense that political leaders such as Harper turned to the heads of top Canadian firms for advice at a time of economic upheaval. “Particularly during the financial crisis and the recession, as you can imagine, governments were, and rightly so, looking for any information they could get directly from business executives,” said Ross Laver, the council’s vice president of policy and communications.
Mr. Manley gave Mr. Harper a “quick briefing” on the B20 summit as the prime minister arrived after wrapping up the G8 summit, Mr. Laver said. The G8 summit took place in Huntsville, Ont. on June 25 and 26, and the G20 summit was held in Toronto on June 26 and 27.
Mr. Laver said the council rarely does much “lobbying” in its meetings with political leaders. “I think it would be naive to think that there’s anything to be gained by getting into a room with the prime minister and twisting his arm, regardless of who that prime minister is.”
But organizations that have been refused meetings with the prime minister say Mr. Harper appears to be giving special access to corporate interests, especially oil companies.
Pierre Sadik, manager of government relations at the David Suzuki Foundation, said his organization has been refused meetings with the prime minister so many times, it doesn’t even bother asking any more. He said it’s especially troubling that the prime minister didn’t consult with environmentalists in the leadup to the UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen last December.
Only one environmental organization — the Canadian Environmental Law Association, on Nov. 11, 2008 — lobbied the prime minister during the roughly two years under review.
“The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has about 150 members. We have tens of thousands of members,” Mr. Sadik said. “And yet we can’t get one meeting with the prime minister over the course of the last 24 months? That suggests to me that meetings are being conducted by the prime minister in a manner that is not even handed and reflective of the broad spectrum of interests in Canadian society.”
The full list of lobbying cases is available online at canada.com.
Other highlights include:
• Groups advocating international development, including CARE Canada and RESULTS Canada, lobbied Mr. Harper this June as Harper prepared to host the G8 summit. At that summit, he stickhandled an international agreement on funds for improving maternal health in the developing world.
• Two of the country’s largest labour unions, such as the Canadian Labor Congress and the CAW, lobbied the prime minister a combined five times.
• Media and telecommunications companies — such as Bell Canada, Canwest Global (the former parent company of Postmedia News), Quebecor and Rogers — were two of the most persistent industries in lobbying Harper, after the energy sector.
• Two of the Big Three North American automakers — Ford and General Motors — each lobbied Harper once.
• Only one of the country’s five major banks — the Royal Bank of Canada — reported lobbying Mr. Harper.
• The Canada Family Action Coalition, a group that advocates a “Christian world view,” lobbied Mr. Harper this spring to implement tougher Internet child pornography laws.
• The Canada-Israel Committee lobbied Mr. Harper in February of 2009.
• The only lobbyists Harper met with on health care were the Canadian Dental Association, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.
• In all but three cases, the organizations lobbied the prime minister themselves, instead of hiring an outside lobbyist.
The head of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which represents the country’s doctors, offered a cautious comment on the group’s desire to meet with Mr. Harper.
“Canadians have indicated repeatedly that health care is a top priority,” said CMA president Dr. Jeff Turnbull. “Recognizing the important role of the federal government in health care, we would welcome an opportunity to discuss the health needs of our patients and communities directly with the prime minister.”
MacDougall added that the government gets input on health care and the environment through meetings by ministers and senior policy officials with advocates for those issues. “The prime minister is just one person who meets with stakeholders.”
A Suncor spokesman said in an email that the company doesn’t provide “specific details” of its lobbying activities, beyond what’s publicly disclosed in the lobbyist registry.
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