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Democracy Watch’s lawsuit challenges Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling letting Clearwater Seafoods board member off the hook for fundraising event Trudeau attended

Commissioner ignored fact that, as a board member, Mickey MacDonald’s event causes the company and its CEO to violate Lobbyists’ Code

New Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger also biased as she was handpicked by Trudeau through secretive, PMO-controlled process

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the application it recently filed in Federal Court challenging the recent ruling Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger that Clearwater Seafoods board member Mickey MacDonald is not covered by the federal lobbying law or code, and so his August 2014 fundraising event that Justin Trudeau attended was legal. The application is Federal Court file number T-702-19.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, a ticket for the event cost $1,000 and 75 to 80 people attended. In a piece on CTV Halifax news on the day of the event Mr. MacDonald is quoted as saying about the event that:

“It’s a small price to pay right now for the long term benefits that we’ll receive.”

Democracy Watch filed its complaint letter about the event with the previous Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd more than two years ago, on March 1, 2017.

In her March 29, 2019 letter ruling on another Democracy Watch complaint, Commissioner Bélanger included a couple of sentences near the end about her investigation into Democracy Watch’s complaint about Mr. MacDonald’s event, one of which said:

“That matter is now closed as the individual involved was not engaged in registrable lobbying activities and was therefore not subject to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.”

Commissioner Bélanger’s full ruling on Mr. MacDonald’s event has still not been made public – Democracy Watch has requested in its lawsuit that the Commissioner make the ruling public.

“Democracy Watch is challenging the Lobbying Commissioner’s ruling in court because it lets a seafood company board member off the hook for an unethical fundraising event,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The ruling is legally incorrect, violates the spirit and purpose of federal lobbying ethics rules, and opens up a huge loophole that a Federal Court judge recently ruled must be closed because it allows big businesses and other organizations to have their unregistered board members or staff do favours for, and give gifts to, politicians and government officials they are lobbying as a way of unethically influencing their policy making decisions.”

“Democracy Watch is also challenging Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling because she was handpicked by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, dishonest process, and so is biased in favour of the PM,” said Conacher.

Among other rules, rules 6, 8 and 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code prohibit lobbyists from doing anything significant for, or giving anything significant to, anyone they are lobbying. Rule 4 requires the CEO of any company or organization to ensure that all officers and employees comply with the Code, and Principles at the beginning of the Code also require people who are registered as lobbyists to act with integrity and follow the spirit of the Code and the Lobbying Act.

The error of the Commissioner’s ruling is that, as a board member of Clearwater Seafoods who is legally required to advance the company’s interests, Mickey MacDonald’s event caused the company and the CEO to violate the Code. As a registered lobbyist, the CEO Ian D. Smith should have prevented Mr. MacDonald from ever holding the event. It is possible also that Mr. MacDonald has lobbied Mr. Trudeau.

In a recent ruling on a case Democracy Watch filed concerning a similar situation involving the Aga Khan and his foundation, a federal court judge concluded that board members of companies and organizations are covered by the Act, and that the Commissioner must examine the actions of everyone involved in such situations to ensure that no one violated the Code by allowing or giving a gift or assistance to a politician such as fundraising or campaigning.

The federal Liberals and the Commissioner are wasting taxpayers’ money and court time appealing that ruling.

Democracy Watch is also challenging Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling on Mr. MacDonald’s event because she was handpicked by Prime Minister Trudeau through a secretive, PMO-controlled process and is therefore biased. In a separate court case, Democracy Watch is challenging Trudeau’s appointment of Commissioner Bélanger, and Democracy Watch also has an ongoing campaign to make the Cabinet appointment process actually independent, open and merit-based.

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

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign page and Money in Politics Campaign page and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign page