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Ex-PMO aide Bruce Carson fined $50,000 for illegal lobbying

By Marco Vigliotti      

Carson, who served in the PMO from 2006 to 2008, and briefly in 2009, was found guilty earlier this year of three counts of lobbying while under the five-year cooling-off period for former designated public office holders. Mr. Carson's lawyer said he 'would have to appeal the verdict.'

Bruce Carson, an aide in former prime minister Stephen Harper's office, leaves court after he was fined $50,000 for illegal lobbying on Nov. 4, with his lawyer Patrick McCann, right. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

Bruce Carson, a former adviser to prime minister Stephen Harper, has been fined $50,000 for illegal lobbying.

Justice Catherine Kehoe with the Ontario Court of Justice delivered the ruling in an Ottawa courthouse Friday morning.

Mr. Carson, who served in the prime minister’s office from 2006 to 2008, and briefly in 2009, was found guilty earlier this year of three counts of lobbying while under the five-year cooling-off period for former designated public office holders.

Mr. Carson was silent and stone-faced during the sentencing. Justice Kehoe justified her ruling by saying Mr. Carson was “well aware” that he was lobbying, and sought no advice about whether he was crossing the line.

She said Mr. Carson “ruthlessly” used his contacts to advance the interests of the organizations he was lobbying for.

“His blameworthiness could not be more clear,” she said.

“It is necessary to impose a significant fine to deter Mr. Carson and others who would engage in lobbying and ignore the law, which goes to the heart of the integrity of government and public trust of government,” she wrote in her ruling.

The judge also said that Mr. Carson remained employed and “employable,” and dismissed claims from his lawyer that he’d struggle to find work after the trial.

She said it was important to levy a hefty fine because of the gravity of the offence, the impact on the integrity of government, and Mr. Carson’s culpability.

He was fined $5,000 for one charge, $10,000 for the second charge, and $35,000 for another. He was given five years to pay the fine.

Mr. Carson’s lawyer Patrick McCann said there was no chance Mr. Carson could pay the fee in any short period of time, and suggested the longest payment window possible.

He told The Hill Times in a subsequent telephone interview that “he would have to appeal” the ruling, and argued that Ms. Kehoe’s interpretation of the pertinent legislation was excessively broad and captured activities that most people wouldn’t classify as lobbying.

At a sentencing hearing last month, Crown prosecutor Rob Zsigo argued Mr. Carson should be handed a $50,000 fine for his “egregious” violation of federal lobbying legislation.

The maximum penalty for each offence is a $50,000 fine, meaning Mr. Carson could have faced paying as much as $150,000 altogether.

At the hearing last month, Mr. Zsigo argued that Mr. Carson’s activities represented the sort of backdoor manoeuvering the federal Lobbying Act attempted to curb, as he was at the “peak” of his influence and used his connections to reach out to high-ranking officials in the government.

Mr. McCann countered that that his client should only face a nominal fine because he wouldn’t be able to foot the bill for a large penalty.

He said Mr. Carson’s financial situation has deteriorated in recent years after he was accused of attempting to influence government officials to purchase water filtration units sold by a company that employed his then-girlfriend.

The “salacious” media coverage of the court case last fall, which ultimately saw Mr. Carson acquitted of influence peddling, hindered his client’s ability to secure work, and he was unable to use his high-profile political and industry connections, Mr. McCann argued.

Between 2009 and 2011, the span of the violations, Mr. Carson made roughly $600,000 for his lobbying work, according to court documents.

The charges against Mr. Carson relate to his work for the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE), a research group jointly established by the universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge; and the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), an advocacy group calling for the development of a comprehensive national energy strategy.

Mr. Zsigo successfully argued that Mr. Carson lobbied the federal government for both organizations while within the prohibited window for former public officials.

The federal Lobbying Act bars designated public office holders from lobbying the federal government for five years after their employment. The Conservative government introduced the law to prevent government insiders from cashing in on their connections upon leaving office by immediately lobbying former colleagues.

Since Mr. Carson left his position as a senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office in the winter of 2009, his five-year prohibition expired in 2014.

The charges against Mr. Carson stem from his communications with various public office holders on behalf of EPIC, his work in arranging a meeting with government officials and EPIC staff in 2010, and his efforts to arrange an extension of a $15-million grant provided by the federal Industry ministry to the CSEE.

He was appointed executive director of the CSEE shortly after leaving the PMO in 2008, and took a leave of absence to briefly return to work for Mr. Harper in 2009.

Justice Kehoe found that Mr. Carson breached the five-year ban by communicating with multiple senior ministers, deputy ministers, and senior officials at Industry Canada, Natural Resources, Environment Canada, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the clerk of the Privy Council Office.

Court documents show that Mr. Carson also used his connections with the Conservative government to advocate for EPIC, including Mr. Harper’s chief of staff at the time, Nigel Wright.

Mr. Carson is only the second person found guilty after a trial for an offence under the 2008 Lobbying Act.

Former Liberal Party national director Jamie Carroll was convicted in April for failing to file a return with the lobbying commissioner’s office.

He was fined $20,000.

Read the sentencing decision here.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information from Mr. Carson’s lawyer and a more current photo.

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