A leading Canadian political watchdog organization is continuing to question former Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day’s decision to go into business as a government relations consultant.
Duff Conacher, of Democracy Watch, says the federal Conflict of Interest Act prohibits former MPs from acting in a manner as to take improper advantage of his or her previous public office, acting on behalf of any person or organization in connection with anything to do with their previous office and giving advice using information obtained as a holder of public office that is not available to the public.
“As you can see, it is illegal to take improper advantage of your former office, especially by giving advice on matters you dealt with, and especially by giving advice using secret, privileged information you obtained while in office,” Conacher told the Capital News in an e-mail.
In a letter distributed to the media late last week, Conacher noted Day says in his new role as a government relations consultant, he will not deal in any confidential information and will only provide advice.
But Conacher is concerned by what he calls “loopholes” in the current federal laws governing lobbyists because neither the federal Commissioner of Lobbyists, nor the federal ethics commissioner audit or inspect the activities of former ministers, staff or senior officials to see if they are following the rules after leaving office.
Day was a cabinet minister in two successive Conservative governments led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He opted not to run in the 2011 election.
During his time in the federal government he served as public safety and international trade minister as well as president of the federal treasury board.
Day’s new company is called Stockwell Day Connnex. Its web site could not be connected to late last week but has since reappeared and not only includes a disclaimer saying the company is not a lobbying firm, it also says after consultation with Canada’s Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and subject to the Canada Accountability Act and Conflict of Interest Act, neither Day nor his company will provide inside information on any matters related to cabinet discussions, files or decisions past or pending.
The web site says Stockwell Day Connex will work with organizations to create a “clear and concise government relations strategy, as well as provide insightful analysis on Canadian political developments.”
It goes on to say the company will assist clients in identifying “implications and opportunities” resulting from developments in Canadian public policy, as well as provide political environmental assessments, offer consultation on communications strategies and provide what it calls strategic council for the governing body of the client’s organization.
But Conacher said the five-year ban on lobbying is only for registered lobbyists. If someone is not a registered lobbyist and is not being paid to lobby, but simply to advise, he or she could skirt the law. While not directly accusing Day of any wrongdoing, the Democracy Watch official said he is concerned about the loopholes in the law.
“Until the loopholes in these laws are closed, and these laws are effectively enforced, they will just be empty words on paper,” said Conacher.