Yesterday, the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) examined the appointment of former ISED minister, Navdeep Bains as Rogers’ new chief corporate affairs officer.
Critics raised concerns that his appointment would give Rogers an easy route to lobby the government, especially after the closing of its C$26 billion merger deal with Shaw.
Bains headed the telecom sector on behalf of the Liberal government from 2015 to Jan. 2021.
NDP MP Brian Masse referred to Bains, in a statement to the National Post, as the “architect of Canada’s current telecom policy which allows telecom providers to charge some of the highest cell phone costs in the world.”
At the time of his appointment in April, a spokesperson told The Financial Post that Bains reportedly got clearance from the ethics and lobbying commissioners to join Rogers.
Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger, however, affirmed that it’s not her role to approve where people go to work. She said she is only responsible for ensuring that former public office holders do not communicate with federal officials for the first five years of their appointment.
However, what is “frustrating” with the Lobbying Act, Bélanger said, is the fact that because Rogers is a corporation (unlike an organization), Bains will be allowed to dedicate 20 per cent of his time to lobbying on behalf of Rogers.
“This Lobbying Act has to be amended. There are gaps, and there are loopholes and there is a lot of lobbying that can occur without people knowing, and now is the time to start fixing it. So, I feel like a broken record when I keep repeating the issues with the act,” she said.
Bélanger said that she raised this discrepancy in Feb. 2021 in her preliminary recommendations for improving the Act, but why it has not been addressed remains “a good question”.
The Lobbying Act was introduced in 2008 and has been reviewed only once, in 2012.
The spokesperson for Bains made it clear that he will not engage in any lobbying activities, but his role still covers government affairs, including stakeholder relations and lobbying with various levels of government.
Bélanger, however, maintains that the Lobbying Act remains restrictive. “There are many people that he would probably not likely be able to speak to, in light of the code of conduct. So I’m confident that with the regime – of course, with the weaknesses that exist – that we’ve got some parameters in place to try and reduce that risk of actual conflict or sense of obligation being created.”
Further, Lyne Robinson-Dalpé, director of Advisory and Compliance of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, affirmed that there has been no violation of Section 35 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which sets out restrictions for former public office holders accepting employment from companies with which they had significant official dealings.
Specifically, Bains passed a two year cooling off period before he could accept the employment that he had been offered, Robinson-Dalpé said.
This is not the first time that a former public official has joined a large corporation that is highly regulated by and dependent on the government. Earlier this year, TELUS announced the appointment of Canada’s former deputy prime minister, John Manley, as chair of the Board.