Defection from Harper Office to Air Canada is Latest Evidence of Revolving Door at Top of Government
The media is understandably perturbed that Stephen Harper’s deputy chief of staff, Derek Vanstone, has been hired as a new executive and lobbyist by Air Canada. Vanstone and Air Canada will be using a loophole in the current lobbying regulations to get around a legal requirement that senior political staffers wait five years before becoming lobbyists. There are many such loopholes in the legislation, but the one they will use, I expect, is the one that says that anyone who spends less than 20% of their paid time meeting with government isn’t a “real” lobbyist and therefore doesn’t have to wait five years.
However, what you may not take away from reading about the Vanstone affair in the news media is that this is precisely the way this government works. Why would we expect an apology, or an ethics inquiry, or anything of that sort, when this is standard operating procedure for the Harper regime?
To show you what I mean, let’s run through the list of senior executives in the Prime Minister’s Office over the past few years. We’ll start with the Chief of Staff. In theory the Chief of Staff is just the man in charge of the Prime Minister’s personal office, but since the PMO became the most powerful institution in our government, in essence he is one of the most powerful (and unelected) people in the country. Harper’s first Chief of Staff was political scientist Ian Brodie. Shortly after leaving the PMO in 2008, Brodie became an advisor to Hill & Knowlton, one of the largest lobbying firms in the country.
Brodie was replaced by Guy Giorno, formerly Mike Harris’s chief of staff in Ontario. Giorno had spent several years working at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin. Fasken Martineau is one of the country’s most prestigious law firms, and it also does some lobbying work. Shortly after leaving the PMO in 2010, Giorno went back to Fasken Martineau, where he is now practicing in the areas of corporate governance, accountability, and ethics.
Giorno was replaced, arguably most disturbing of all, with Nigel Wright. Wright is his own personal revolving door. He was the managing director of Onex, a massive investment firm with wide-ranging holdings from healthcare to military procurement. And the kicker is, Wright hasn’t even truly left Onex. He’s on a two-year leave of absence to help run the government. Once he’s done with that, he’ll be returning to Onex. Wright is a competent businessman and I’m sure he’ll be very good at keeping out of conflicts of interest in both these roles, no?
The deputy chief of staff level, where Vanstone was serving until he was cherry-picked by Air Canada, isn’t any better. That’s the same level that Bruce Carson worked at. Carson is a convicted felon who, after departing the PMO, was accused of illegal lobbying on behalf of a water contractor.
Another former deputy chief of staff is Keith Beardsley, who occasionally dabbles in punditry for the National Post now. After Beardsley left the PMO he took an advisory job at the True North Public Affairs lobbying, leading Sixth Estate to speculate about what he was up to. In June, the Lobbying Commissioner found Beardsley guilty of illegal lobbying. According to the Commissioner, Beardsley will not be charged with this offence by the police.
And those are just the most senior levels of the political service.
Before coming to power, Stephen Harper once rightly promised that “politics will no longer be a stepping stone to a lucrative career lobbying government.” Oh really, Stephen?Tweet