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Rob Nicholson, formerly Canada’s justice minister, became Defence Minister in the most recent federal cabinet shuffle. (ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Rob Nicholson, formerly Canada’s justice minister, became Defence Minister in the most recent federal cabinet shuffle. (ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

DND top staffer updating 'ethical wall' to avoid conflict of interest Add to ...

The chief of staff to Canada’s new Defence Minister needs to erect an “ethical wall” to deal with the fact her husband is an Ottawa lobbyist at a firm with many clients in the military industry, including a company involved in the controversial F-35 program, officials said.

Maureen Murphy had a public “conflict of interest screen” when she operated as the chief of staff to Minister Rob Nicholson at Justice Canada, given her husband, Rick Morgan, is a vice-president of Tactix Government Relations and Public Affairs. However, the department is not involved in major procurements or contracts, which limited the impact of the conflict-of-interest regulations on Ms. Murphy’s daily operations.

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Since last week’s cabinet shuffle, Ms. Murphy has been working in a much more delicate position as the top staffer in the office of Mr. Nicholson at the Department of National Defence. To comply with the government’s ethical guidelines, she will likely have to recuse herself from a number of files.

“Maureen Murphy is working with the ethics commissioner to ensure that the ethical wall that is currently in place is updated to reflect her new responsibilities,” said Julie Vaux, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office.

DND is a constant target of lobbyists with its multibillion-dollar acquisition projects that have economic repercussions across the country. Prime Minister Stephen Harper used to have an associate minister of defence to oversee military procurement files, but he abolished that position in his latest cabinet, giving Mr. Nicholson full control over the issue in his department.

Mr. Morgan and his firm have a number of clients involved in the defence industry, such as aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney and Bombardier Inc.

Mr. Morgan is currently working with Pratt & Whitney on the industrial benefits flowing from the CF-18 replacement program, which has been embroiled in controversy after the government’s decision – now on hold – to buy Lockheed-Martin F-35 fighter jets. Pratt & Whitney is providing the engines on the F-35, and stands to benefit if the government decides to proceed with the acquisition in coming months.

Tactix has developed expertise in military matters, with a number of retired DND personnel on its roster, including two retired lieutenant-generals, Ken Pennie and Bob Fischer.

Mr. Morgan could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Murphy is currently working with the office of the Ethics Commissioner to strengthen her “declaration of agreed compliance measures.” The final version will be publicly posted in coming weeks on the Commissioner’s website.

According to the agreement that was in effect at Justice, Ms. Murphy would “not to participate in any official matter, discussion and/or decision” that would involved Tactix, its clients and her husband, to “prevent any potential conflict of interest situation and any appearance of preferential treatment.”

A similar agreement could be created for her position at Defence, although it will need to be adapted to determine who will administer it inside DND and whether more guidelines are needed.

Mr. Morgan is a big player in Conservative circles and is well known for his close ties to the former minister of defence and the new minister of justice, Peter MacKay. According to his official biography, Mr. Morgan worked as an executive assistant for former prime minister Brian Mulroney and managed Mr. MacKay’s campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.

Mr. Morgan went on to play a “leading role” in the merger talks between the PC Party and the Canadian Alliance that led to the creation of the Conservative Party of Canada, according to his biography.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story listed satellite manufacturer MDA Systems Inc. as a client of Tactix Government Relations and Public Affairs. MDA Systems is no longer a client of Tactix. This version of the story has been updated.

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