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Democracy Watch calls on Lobbying Commissioner to ensure independent investigation of lobbying by associates of Pierre Poilievre’s top advisor Jenni Byrne that shouldn’t fool anyone

Lobbying firm interconnected with Byrne’s firm, with lobbyists who seem to work for both firms lobbying top federal Conservatives, puts Poilievre in an appearance of a conflict of interest in violation of ethical lobbying code

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger biased as she was handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet through secretive, PMO-controlled process, and is up for reappointment by the Cabinet at end of year – she should not investigate

Ruling on complaint should come after ruling in DWatch court case about activities by lobbyists that create an apparent conflict of interest

Monday, April 1, 2024

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger requesting that she ensure an independent investigation and ruling on the activities of lobbyists registered under lobbying firm Forecheck Strategies, which has several interconnections with the lobbying firm of Jenni Byrne, who is one of the top advisors to Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre and also advised him during his party leadership campaign.

The evidence set out in the letter points to Forecheck Strategies, which was created the first business day after Pierre Poilievre became Conservative Party leader, as being a façade or front for Jenni Byrne and Associates, created solely to allow Jenni Byrne’s associates to lobby the associates of the politician she is advising (and possibly, an investigation may show, also to lobby Mr. Poilievre directly).

As section 2 of the letter details, as revealed recently in a Globe and Mail article and a article and in the federal Registry of Lobbyists and LinkedIn, Forecheck Strategies and Jenni Byrne and Associates share senior executives and staff and an office, and have staff registered to lobby under Forecheck’s name who are listed (and identify themselves) only as staff of Ms. Byrne’s firm, and they have lobbied at least two of Mr. Poilievre’s staff, at least 13 of his Shadow Cabinet Ministers, and at least one Conservative MP, and possibly even Mr. Poilievre directly, given that loopholes in the Lobbying Act mean not all details of lobbying are disclosed in the Registry.

As section 1 of the letter details, it is a violation of the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct to create an appearance of a conflict of interest for a politician or other public official by lobbying them whenever they have a sense of obligation to you or your clients (Rule 4.3) or when they have close relationship with you or your clients (Rule 4.2), or by lobbying them at the same time or after doing favours or assisting them in some way that makes them feel a sense of obligation to protect your or your clients’ interests (Rule 4.1).  It is a violation of the Lobbying Act to fail to register paid lobbying accurately.

The Commissioner of Lobbying is required by the Act to investigate and issue a public ruling when a situation raises enough questions that an investigation is needed to ensure compliance with the Act or the Code, which is a low threshold.

Any reasonable person, knowing the above facts (which are all the facts that can be known as an outside observer), would conclude that Ms. Byrne’s work for Mr. Poilievre, combined with her direct connections with Forecheck’s founders and many interconnections between Forecheck and her firm, creates an appearance of a conflict for Mr. Poilievre and other Conservatives when someone from Forecheck lobbies them between their duty as MPs to uphold the public interest and their sense of obligation to do something to help the private interests the lobbyist represents.

If the Commissioner of Lobbying fails to enforce Rules 4.1 to 4.3 of the Lobbyists’ Code in this way, it will create another huge loophole in the Code (adding to the loopholes put into the new version of the Code last year by the Commissioner and House Ethics Committee).  Any lobby firm would be able to have its partners or lobbyists fundraise or campaign for or do other favours for party leaders, parties, MPs and senators and their staff, and then use a partner lobbying firm as  a facade or front to lobby those party leaders, MPs and senators and their staff.

“If Commissioner Bélanger handles this complaint, and does not interpret the lobbying code rules in a way that prohibits the sham scheme that associates of Jenni Byrne concocted to make money through unethical lobbying of federal Conservative politicians, then the Commissioner will not only add to the evidence that she is a dedicated lapdog who will do almost anything to encourage and allow unethical lobbying, but also that the new lobbyists’ code that she drafted and has claimed is aimed at ensuring transparent and ethical lobbying actually has a huge loophole that allows for clearly unethical lobbying,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Section 3 of Democracy Watch’s letter also requests that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the investigations and rulings to a provincial ethics or lobbying commissioner who has no ties to any political party.  Commissioner Bélanger was handpicked by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and has also made several public statements that she believes lobbyists are good and that public officials should be trusted, and she is also possibly up for re-appointment for a second seven-year term by the Trudeau Cabinet at the end of 2024.

For these reasons, Democracy Watch’s position is that Commissioner Bélanger is biased against enforcing the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code effectively, especially in situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet.

“Given that she was handpicked by Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and is up for reappointment by the Trudeau Cabinet at the end of this year, the Lobbying Commissioner is in a conflict of interest in dealing with this situation and so must delegate the investigation to a person who is independent of her and all political parties,” said Conacher.

Finally, section 4 of Democracy Watch’s letter requests that a ruling not be issued on the situation described in this letter until the FCA and Supreme Court of Canada have issued final rulings in DWatch ongoing court case challenging two rulings by the Commissioner concerning lobbying by people who co-chaired Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign and whether that created a sense of obligation/appearance of a conflict of interest on the part of Ms. Freeland.

The Lobbying Act was required to be reviewed by the House Ethics Committee 2017 and 2022, and the Committee will hopefully finally undertake the review in the next couple of months.  Click here to see details about the changes needed to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement and penalties for the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret Unethical Lobbying Campaign page and Government Ethics Campaign page