Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ethical tailspin time for the Harper Government

I don't think anyone can fairly minimize the relationship between the Prime Minister and his former adviser, Bruce Carson, based on all the publicly available material, more on that below. The APTN reporting that is dominating Ottawa at the moment, and is likely to for a number of days ahead, is putting that relationship squarely back in the spotlight. From APTN, here is the set of allegations, in a bit of an extended excerpt because they convey many things:
A former senior advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was lobbying Indian Affairs to land water contracts potentially worth millions of dollars for an Ottawa-based water company that employed his fiance who was an escort.

The name of Michele McPherson, 22, appears on a secret contract witnessed by Bruce Carson that guaranteed her 20 per cent of all gross revenues from sales related to water contracts on First Nations reserves, according to a copy of the contract obtained by an APTN investigative team.

APTN unearthed the contract as part of its investigation into Carson’s involvement with H2O Pros and its attempts to sell water filtration systems to First Nations with the poorest water quality.

Carson, who was one of Harper’s longest serving advisors, left the Prime Minister’s Office in 2008 to take over the newly minted Canada School of Energy and Environment that received $15 million in federal funds.

The Prime Minister’s Office asked the RCMP, the Commissioner of Lobbying and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to investigate Carson’s activities after APTN disclosed some of the information gathered in the course of the investigation.

Carson says on-camera he witnessed the contract’s signing between H2O Pro and Michelle McPherson, who also goes by the escort name Leanna VIP.

“I didn’t sign it…I witnessed it,” said Carson, when he asked by APTN about the details of the contract.

According to records, Carson and McPherson share a $400,000 house with an in-ground pool that sits on a 2-acre lot near Winchester about 60 km from Ottawa.

The home was bought in December. Carson rarely stays there. He works out of Calgary and when he does come to Ottawa he also books a room at the Chateau Laurier next to Parliament Hill.
The video at their site is worth a look too. It's amazing that Carson actually sat down and talked to them on camera. Carson hedges on his relationship with the Prime Minister when asked. He did so when questioned about his referring to the PM in an email where he described having inside knowledge of the appointment of the new incoming Indian Affairs Minister.
APTN said it obtained an email sent by Carson to company executives in which he claimed advance knowledge of John Duncan's appointment to cabinet.

"I spoke with the PM last nite and with (Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn) Atleo — the movement of John Duncan to INAC does not slow anything down (sic)," wrote Carson, in an email dated Aug. 6 and received at 7:01 a.m. "Both Shawn and I know John very well — and I will be calling the new Minister this morning — so it is still full steam ahead."

The network said Carson told them on camera that he lied in the email, but that he had spoken to "someone," although he did not elaborate. Carson does not appear in the registry of lobbyists.
Why all the weaving? Why, as in the Jaffer story, does this seem to be yet another situation where big names evoke few questions from this government about lobbying status?

Beyond the allegations above, the appointment of Carson to that Calgary School of Energy and Environment is likely to come under the microscope too. See above re funding. Look carefully at the video in the APTN report where Carson says "we're trying to hang this on the environment part of the Canada School," I think mistakenly referencing the Calgary School there. What exactly does that mean? Is that in the school's mandate?

Let's also recall that Carson was said to be one of the "grown-ups" brought in to right the ship in early 2009 when Harper had caused a constitutional crisis over his prorogation of Parliament in the wake of his partisan fall 2008 financial update. Carson was said to be instrumental in the writing of the infamous early 2009 budget:
"We have grown-ups running the budget process," a senior government official told The Globe and Mail yesterday on condition of remaining unidentified by name. "There will be no juvenile political games."

The source said the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Guy Giorno, has seen his influence over the budget superseded by two veterans with more than 70 years of combined experience; the Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, and a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, Bruce Carson.
As senior as it gets with this Prime Minister.

Paul Barnsley, the executive producer of the APTN network is saying (Power Play video at link) the story will develop over coming days with further reporting. Clearly it is something to watch in connection with the budget maneuvers and the growing ethical tailspin story line for the Harper Government™.

Update (12:25 a.m.): It is indeed the Canada school, apologies, glossed over that above.  Thanks to a trusty eagle eyed reader. Here's Carson's biography from the site:  
Bruce Carson, B.A., L.L.B, L.L.M. is the first Executive Director of the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE). He comes to the position after more than two decades in politics. Carson served as Director of Policy and Research for the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper when he was leader of the Opposition and as Senior Policy Adviser to Prime Minister Harper. He spent the last three and a half years with Harper working on policy in both the Energy and Environment portfolios and he served as co-chair of a task force developing a new method for dealing with specific claims by First Nations. In the March 2007 budget, the federal government identified CSEE as one of Canada's Centres of Research Excellence and Commercialization and, as such granted $15 million to support CSEE activities. Carson was appointed its first director in the fall of 2008.Carson has an LL.B from the University of Ottawa and an LL.M specializing in constitutional law from the University of Toronto. He looks forward to participating as a lecturer on Government Policy at University of Calgary School of Public Policy, as an Adjunct Professor. Since joining CSEE, Carson has taken on several roles at the request of Minister Prentice - Minister of the Environment, and Ministers of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt and current Minister Christian Paradis. He presently chairs the Federal-Provincial-Oil and Gas Industry Working Group on Climate Change, as well as being a member of the Thermal Electricity Task Force on Climate Change.