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Russell Ullyatt, a former staffer for Conservative MP Kelly Block, arrives to testify before a Parliament Hill committee about his role in a budget leak on Dec.14, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Russell Ullyatt, a former staffer for Conservative MP Kelly Block, arrives to testify before a Parliament Hill committee about his role in a budget leak on Dec.14, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Conservative aide leaked budget files to 'friends' he'd tapped for jobs Add to ...

A Conservative staffer who leaked confidential finance committee documents to five lobbyists had approached all of them previously in an attempt to land a job.

Speaking for the first time since he was fired as an aid to Saskatchewan MP Kelly Block, Russell Ullyatt apologized to MPs and his family and insisted the leaks were not an attempt to improve his chances of making the jump into lobbying.

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Yet his testimony to a parliamentary committee and some e-mail exchanges made public Tuesday opened a rare window into the behind-the-scenes relationships between political staffers – working long hours to serve the political process – and well-paid former colleagues working a few blocks away as lobbyists for corporate clients.

“I understood after the fact the gravity of the error that I made,” Mr. Ullyatt told MPs. The consequence, beyond embarrassing himself and the Conservative Party, which campaigned against cozy relationships with lobbyists, is that the leak derailed the main venue for Parliamentary input into the budget.

The hearing may not be the last word from Mr. Ullyatt. It was also revealed on Tuesday that he’s under investigation by the Commons committee that oversees spending in MPs’ offices.

Mr. Ullyatt owns a private printing company that boasts of sending more than five million pieces of mail in the past two years as “Canada’s only completely political mail provider.” Mr. Ullyatt denied suggestions he was using Ms. Block’s Parliament Hill office to run a private business.

The House of Commons rules empower MPs on the finance committee to travel and hear massive amounts of testimony over a period of months on what should be in the budget. Every December, the MPs try to bridge their differences behind the scenes to issue an extensive pre-budget report outlining where they agree, and including add-ons showing where they don’t. Last year’s report was 174 pages.

But because Mr. Ullyatt leaked a draft outlining where parties stood heading into the final horse-trading, a majority of the committee opted to abandon the process, fearing a final report could be used against them politically because it would indicate where parties compromised.

As a result, a Parliament already viewed as sidelined on key issues will not express itself on a budget that moves the federal government away from stimulus spending and toward a new era of deficit fighting.

The Commons procedure committee, which is looking into the leak, heard from Mr. Ullyatt on Tuesday, then from the five lobbyists with whom he had applied to work and who received the leaked material.

To Mr. Ullyatt, they were more than just work contacts.

“The people I sent the documents to were friends,” he said, describing relationships focused on politics-heavy chats about the timing of the next federal election.

When the lobbyists testified about their relationship with Mr. Ullyatt, some accepted the term friend, but described a relationship that was far more business-like. Some of their e-mails, which were read to the committee on Tuesday, in contrast, were quite friendly.

“Thought you might want a peek at this in its infancy,” Mr. Ullyatt wrote in an e-mail as he leaked the draft document to one lobbyist. The document was listed “confidential” and “draft report,” according to descriptions read into the Parliamentary record.

“I heart you,” Lynne Hamilton, vice-president of public affairs for GCI Group, responded when she received Mr. Ullyatt’s e-mail. Ms. Hamilton, a former senior Conservative aide in the Mike Harris Ontario government, insisted she had not read the e-mail when she wrote her response.

“Does this make up for all my other shortcomings?” Mr. Ullyatt replies.

“You have no shortcomings!” Ms. Hamilton writes back.

“As God is my witness,” Ms. Hamilton told MPs on Tuesday, “I did not know that this was a confidential document when I got it... We were just chatting.”

“It’s a reaction to the report, Ms. Hamilton. Get real,” retorted NDP MP Thomas Mulcair.

The committee is scheduled to hear from Mr. Ullyatt’s former boss on Thursday.

None of the five lobbyists – who also included Andy Gibbons, Clarke Cross, Howard Mains and Timothy Egan – said they planned to hire Mr. Ullyatt.

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