It’s a slow day news-wise, so I want to take a moment and return to a topic I’ve discussed recently: lobbyists. In my opinion, lobbyists are worse than think tanks. Think tanks are generally home to some true believers, however much I disagree with them, and however much they are seen as useful idiots by tobacco companies (a la the Fraser Institute) or take cash from the trash lobby to promote privatization in Toronto (a la the C.D. Howe Institute). Lobbyists, in contrast, by definition have no worthwhile values of their own. They are the most untrustworthy people on the political landscape, because they trade in the one commodity that should not never be for sale in a democracy: access. Fortunately lobbyists have one vulnerability: they must register, which I recently used to great effect in criticizing Cassels Brock lawyer Larry Herman.
Lobbying firms may specialize in public relations, political relations, or bureaucratic relations (or some combination of the three). In this post, I want to look at a firm that does the second. By the way, there is no greater proof that political party lines are a rhetorical sham than the fact that quality lobbying outfits always have some high-powered Liberal and Conservative advisers on their staff simultaneously, prepared to work with either party on behalf of their wealthy clients. That’s what Earnscliffe Strategy Group does, for instance. Or, as they put it, they improve clients’ “profile and success with decision-makers” through “outreach to key officials and political leaders, caucus and parliamentary strategies, communications vehicles, and public opinion research.”
Right now, according to the Lobbying Commissioner, Earnscliffe is in the pay of a wide range of mostly corporate clients: western cable giant Shaw, energy company Nexen (which also funds “research” at the right-wing Calgary School of Public Policy), pharmaceutical companies, Microsoft, GM, and CIBC. Currently, this work is done by nine principals in its Ottawa offices (it also has branch offices doing provincial work in B.C., Alberta, and Toronto, ON).
Several of these are former Conservative insiders. Geoff Norquay was a Mulroney-era official, Director of Research, who also penned speeches for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and was a communications director for Stephen Harper back when the latter was still the Leader of the Opposition. Yaroslav Baran was an aide for Government House Leader Jay Hill, my former MP by the way, as well as filling the impressive-sounding role of “Director of War Room Communications” for Stephen Harper during the last three elections. Harry Near was the National Campaign Director for the Progressive Conservatives during the Mulroney years, and Earnscliffe shamelessly brags that he is still “an advisor to Conservative Party candidates today.” I’m sure that dovetails very nicely with his paid work as a lobbyist.
In addition, there are four Earnscliffe Liberals, ready to jump to the forefront in the event of a change in government. Michael Robinson has worked for the Liberals since the 1970s, and helped Paul Martin during his short-lived premiership (at the time, Steve Janke characterized Earnscliffe as a mostly Liberal lobbying outfit). André Albinati, the group’s drug specialist, worked for Liberal Cabinet ministers during the Chretien era, like Pierre Pettigrew. A third, Velma McColl, worked for minister Allan Rock. Finally, Marlene Floyd was a policy advisor for David Emerson (the deceitful Con man who crossed the floor days after election day, 2006) during his initial tenure in the Liberal Cabinet.
The staff is rounded out by two people with what must be assumed to be a skill set in manipulating the media. Elly Alboim is not registered with the government as a lobbyist, has an extensive background in TV journalism, and is a professor at Carleton University, in addition to whatever work he does as a shill for Earnscliffe. The other recent addition is Miro Cernetig, whose background is in print journalism, most recently with the Vancouver Sun.
I want to emphasize that I’ve chosen to describe Earnscliffe not because they are special, but precisely because (at least at the moment) they are not particularly special. Earnscliffe did very well with Paul Martin, which means it did less well both with Jean Chretien and with the Conservatives. But other lobbying outfits hoping to capitalize on political access take very similar approaches. For instance, the GCI Group, which draws its people mostly from the industry side, has on its team two former Conservative insiders (one of them Ken Boessenkool) and one former Liberal defence minister, David Pratt. In February 2011, Pratt registered as a lobbyist for Nexter, a defence contractor.Tweet