“Somehow Navigator has a privileged, inside-information pipeline to the PMO and it doesn’t get much more privileged than that. It goes all the way to the top.”
OTTAWA — Opposition politicians accused officials in the Prime Minister’s Office of threatening the integrity of the independent Commissioner of Lobbying, in the wake of revelations that the watchdog was investigating a lobbyist firm with close connections to senior Ottawa Conservatives.
A national newspaper, citing an unnamed government official, reported that the lobbying commissioner was investigating Navigator Ltd. — whose chairman is a former colleague of Guy Giorno, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff — but did not say why. The chairman, Jamie Watt, did not return calls requesting comment.
By law, investigations by the lobbying commissioner are to remain secret.
Liberal MP Paul Szabo said leaking the fact that the firm is under investigation could taint that investigation.
“The prime minister has undermined the confidentiality required by the Lobbying Act, and compromised a potential investigation,” Szabo said in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister’s chief spokesman, said he “could not comment on specific situations.”
At a meeting of a Commons committee, the lobbying commissioner, Karen Shepherd, would not tell MPs if an investigation of Navigator were under way, citing secrecy requirements of the Lobbying Act. And she would not speak about any specific investigations.
“Why won’t you tell us?” Martin asked Shepherd at the meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee. “Who is the mole in your office that is telling the PMO stuff you won’t even tell members of Parliament? The fact you’re telling them and not us really irks me.”
Shepherd told MPs that, to her knowledge, no one on her staff leaked news of an investigation to a reporter. But, in response to concerns from opposition MPs, Shepherd promised to review her own office’s procedures to ensure there was no leak.
MPs, though, said disclosing the fact that the firm was being investigated could tip the firm off, and potentially make Shepherd’s job more difficult.
“This shows that the revolving door which we all criticized is still alive and well,” said NDP MP Pat Martin. “Somehow Navigator has a privileged, inside-information pipeline to the PMO and it doesn’t get much more privileged than that. It goes all the way to the top.”
Liberal MP Boris Wrzesnewskyj called the revelations of what should be a secret investigation “discouraging and unnerving.”
“You have a company that finds out they’re under investigation, there’s a revolving door between that company and the PMO and, all of a sudden, the PMO knows about it before the investigator has a chance to even speak to the officials in the PMO. They got a heads-up,” said Wrzesnewskyj.
Records filed with the Lobbyist Commissioner show Navigator met in May with Andrew Wallace, the prime minister’s economic adviser, to discuss the Canadian Wind Energy Association, one of Navigator’s clients. The most recent meeting Navigator disclosed to the Lobbying Commissioner was on Sept. 17 with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Navigator met with Flaherty and one of his aides to discuss the Interac Association, another Navigator client.