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Democracy Watch in court today vs. Lobbying Commissioner rulings letting off lobbyists who helped Chrystia Freeland win election, then lobbied her officials and staff

Lobbying Commissioner ignored clear rules that prohibit putting a politician in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, or lobbying their department or staff, for years after campaigning and/or fundraising for them

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is at the Federal Court in Ottawa for the much-delayed hearing of the case it filed in August 2020 challenging federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger’s rulings that let lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) off the hook even though they lobbied Liberal Cabinet minister Chrystia Freeland’s department and staff soon after co-managing her election campaign and serving on her riding association executive.

Democracy Watch’s two cases are being heard together given they are about the same situation, and DWatch argues that Bergen and O’Born’s lobbying violated the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct Rule 6 which, according to the Commissioner’s own website, prohibits lobbyists from putting a politician in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, and Rule 9 which prohibits lobbying a politician or their staff for four years after campaign or fundraising for them or assisting them in any other significant way.

In a related development, Commissioner Bélanger is trying to rush into force a new Lobbyists’ Code that guts Rule 6 and Rule 9 in ways that will allow lobbyists to campaign and fundraise unlimited amounts of money for politicians while lobbying them. Thankfully, the House Ethics Committee is, so far, slowing the Commissioner down, and will hopefully reject the proposed new unethical rules.

The hearing of the cases is at Federal Court Building, 90 Sparks St., 4th floor, Ottawa, and also online on Zoom (contact the Federal Court to register to watch the hearing on Zoom at: Tel: 613-992-4238; Email: <[email protected]>). The cases are Federal Court File Nos. T-915-20 and T-916-20. Democracy Watch is represented by Andrew Montague-Reinholdt and Rhian Foley of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

“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 hopefully the Federal Court will overrule the Commissioner of Lobbying and find Minister Freeland’s former election campaign and riding association managers guilty of violating the code given they lobbied many senior officials in Minister Freeland’s former department before four years had passed,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“By letting the CCI lobbyists off the hook, issuing other similarly weak rulings in recent years letting off other unethical lobbyists, and by trying to get key ethical lobbying rules, 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.

Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger finally issued two rulings 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.

The cases have been delayed multiple times. First in fall 2020 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 has 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.

Then, the Trudeau Cabinet filed a motion to have Democracy Watch’s cases thrown out, but the Federal Court rejected the motion because in the Bergen and O’Born cases DWatch is challenging the Commissioner’s final rulings under section 10.5 of the Lobbying Act after completing her investigations. In contrast, in the Aga Khan case, the Commissioner refused to investigate under subsection 10.4(1) of the Act.

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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 and Government Ethics Campaign