N.S. lobbyist registrar asks Chrétien about meeting with premier, minister

A Nova Scotia official has sent a letter to Jean Chrétien asking him whether he lobbied the premier regarding a container port proposal in Cape Breton — but there’s no requirement the former prime minister even reply.

Hayley Clarke, the province’s registrar of lobbyists, said in an interview Thursday she sent the letter to Chrétien’s Ottawa office at the beginning of the month, after receiving a complaint from a citizen about the meeting.

However, Clarke says she can only provide Chrétien with information about how Nova Scotia’s Lobbyists Registration Act works, and has no legal authority to push the matter much further.

“We’ve advised him we’ve received a complaint. We’ve provided some information about our act and asked him to follow up,” she said.

There’s a request he answer by the end of this month, but it’s not a binding requirement, she said.

“It’s not an investigative procedure with legislated deadlines.”

The law does stipulate a fine of not more than $25,000 for a first offence for anyone who lobbies without registering first, but — unlike Ontario — Nova Scotia’s legislation doesn’t provide the registrar with investigative powers to determine if unregistered lobbying occurred.

Ultimately, it’s up to police to investigate illegal lobbying as a criminal matter, said Clarke.

Meeting with premier, transport minister

The issue of Chrétien’s activities in the province arose on March 21, after he met with Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil and Transport Minister Geoff MacLellan.

McNeil has repeatedly denied that any lobbying took place during the hour-long meeting, held at Chrétien’s request in the premier’s office.

The day before the Halifax meeting, Chrétien had attended a conference in Sydney in his capacity as a paid international adviser to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, which has been looking for international investors for its project.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil denies that any lobbying took place during his hour-long meeting with former PM Jean Chrétien. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Asked by a Cape Breton Post reporter if he’d be meeting with the premier to discuss the project, Chrétien said he would be.

Chrétien told the reporter, “He (Premier Stephen McNeil) said he’s for the development and he wants development in Nova Scotia and he is the premier of all Nova Scotia. There’s always competition between one city and another but all the cities in Nova Scotia are in Nova Scotia.”

When he asked if the province should invest in the project, the former prime minister replied, “I hope so.”

When asked about another project along the Strait of Canso trying to develop a port, Chrétien replied, “So what? I’m working for Sydney. I’m not working for them.”

John McCracken, the retired union activist who launched the complaint, says he’ll wait to see if the lobbyist registrar takes any action before deciding whether to ask for a criminal investigation. (CBC)

Chrétien did not respond to requests for comment on his response to the letter from the registrar’s office. His secretary at the Dentons law firm said she would forward the information to Chrétien’s assistant.

John McCracken, the retired union activist who launched the complaint, said in an email that he will await the results of Chrétien’s response to the letter before deciding to ask for a criminal investigation.

“I’ll wait until the 30 days are up and see if the registrar takes any action regarding the $25,000 fine, then decide,” he wrote.

‘Nothing official, nothing formal’

MacLellan, who as minister of Service Nova Scotia is also responsible for the lobbyist registry, said in an interview at the legislature that he hopes to “modernize” the registry.

“With respect to the rules and what other jurisdictions do, it’s never a bad time to look at the registry and how we do it differently and how we do it better,” he said.

Nova Scotia Transport Minister Geoff MacLellan says there was “nothing official, nothing formal” in his conversation with former prime minister Jean Chrétien. (CBC)

MacLellan said of his conversation with Chrétien that, “there was nothing official, nothing formal.”

“It was a conversation and, again, I joined the premier as a discussion with a former prime minister. There was nothing specific. Nothing asked of me and no followup from our perspective.”

McCracken has said of the entire episode that “it’s kind of disheartening as a citizen,” that there is no formal investigation procedure by an independent commissioner.

Calls for lobbying reforms

Duff Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch, said in an interview that legal reforms are needed to lobbying systems to ensure a commissioner can investigate complaints, levy fines and that politicians are legally required to disclose if they’re lobbied.

In addition, he said, it’s essential that a commissioner publicly report the number of investigations and their results each year.

Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says lobbying systems should be reformed so that commissioners can investigate complaints. (Victor Modderman/CBC)

He said he’s surprised that Chrétien hasn’t simply registered for any activities in regards to the Sydney port.

The transparency advocate said Chrétien has generally shied away from involvement in Canadian politics.

“What he did was, was he worked overseas. He just stayed away from the federal government when he left office,” he said.

“That’s why I’m surprised that he’s making this an issue by failing to register (in Nova Scotia),” he said.

Nova Scotia’s lobbyist registration law says lobbying includes communicating with a public servant “in an attempt to influence” the awarding of a contribution on behalf of government.

One of the definitions of a lobbyist under the Nova Scotia law is “an individual paid to lobby on behalf of a client.”

A person who does this is required to disclose their name, address and the name of the company they’re lobbying on behalf of, and the “subject matter” of their lobbying and who they’ve contacted.

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