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Democracy Watch in court today as Trudeau government trying to stop case vs. Lobbying Commissioner’s rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials and staff

Council of Canadian Innovators Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born co-managed Freeland’s 2015 election campaign, then had senior roles in her riding association, and then lobbied Freeland’s then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office staff and senior department officials

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is in Federal Court for a hearing on the Trudeau government’s motion requesting that the court end the cases Democracy Watch filed last August challenging the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s rulings about lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI).

Democracy Watch is arguing that the cases should be allowed to continue. Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Montague-Reinholdt and Amanda Le of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

The hearing is being held online on Zoom starting at 9:30 am Eastern time through to the end of today. To register to watch/listen to the hearing on Zoom, send an email to the Federal Court Registry re: the hearing for court case file numbers T-915-20 and T-916-20, at: [email protected].

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger ruled in March 2020, a completely unjustifiable delay of almost three years after Democracy Watch filed its complaint, that Mr. Bergen and Ms. O’Born did not violate Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct rules 6, 8, 9 or 10 which prohibit assisting a politician in any significant way and then lobbying their office or officials afterwards, even though they:

  1. co-managed Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 election campaign;
  2. continued to work in senior roles with her riding association post-election, and;
  3. then were hired for the top positions at CCI and lobbied in 2017 Freeland’s then-Parliamentary Secretary David Lametti, her office staff, and senior officials in her then-International Trade department, including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and special assistants.

Democracy Watch’s case argues that Bergen and O’Born’s lobbying violated Lobbyists’ Code rules. DWatch’s initial complaint also requested that Commissioner Bélanger recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Cabinet was biased when it appointed her. As a result, DWatch’s case also alleges that she was biased when ruling on Bergen and O’Born.

The case was delayed last fall waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) to decide whether to allow DWatch to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling on its case challenging former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s decision not to investigate the Aga Khan for giving Justin Trudeau’s family and friends a trip to his private Bahamas island. Incredibly, the FCA ruled that the public had no right to have a complaint ruled on by the Commissioner, and therefore no right to challenge a decision not to investigate a complaint.

The SCC decided not to hear DWatch’s appeal, but the Bergen and O’Born cases are different because the Commissioner issued final rulings under section 10.5 of the Lobbying Act after investigating. In contrast, in the Aga Khan case, the Commissioner refused to investigate under subsection 10.4(1) of the Act.

“The federal lobbying ethics code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after helping them get elected or assisting them in a significant way, and so Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger should have found Minister Freeland’s former election campaign managers guilty of violating the code given they lobbied many senior officials in Minister Freeland’s former department,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“By letting the CCI lobbyists off the hook, and issuing other similarly weak rulings recently letting off other unethical lobbyists, Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger is continuing the negligent enforcement record of her predecessor Karen Shepherd who let off 84% of the lobbyists who violated the law during her decade as commissioner,” said Conacher.

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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 Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign