Six days after retiring as an MP, Canada’s former minister of state for finance, Ted Menzies, has a new job – a case one critic says raises questions about the effectiveness of federal lobbying laws.
Mr. Menzies was announced Tuesday as the new president and CEO of CropLife Canada, an Ottawa-based agriculture trade group. He begins in January.
The former MP faces a lobbying ban in the meantime, though his predecessor at CropLife was a registered lobbyist who met frequently with federal officials. But Mr. Menzies is pledging to leave that work to CropLife colleagues, and received approval from Canada’s Lobbying Commissioner and Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for the move.
“I’m back involved in agriculture, so for me that is exciting,” Mr. Menzies said Tuesday. “I was raised on a farm, spent many years on a farm. Agriculture is in my heart and I see this as a very positive role.”
He’ll take over from the retiring Lorne Hepworth, who was a registered federal lobbyist and met over the past year with eight MPs, one senator and five bureaucrats, according to the lobbyist registry. Mr. Menzies is still free to speak with provincial officials, but said it won’t be difficult to avoid lobbying federally while the ban is in place.
“It’s a role where I spend more time, or will spend more time, working with industry than with any government,” he said, adding: “I won’t be making any interventions or reaching out to any of my former colleagues, and that’s easy to do.”
NDP Ethics Critic Charlie Angus, however, says the move isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the Accountability Act, passed in 2006 by the Conservatives in a bid to slow the revolving door between the private sector and government.
“Ted Menzies is a really likable guy, and very respected, which is probably why he’d be perfect for being able to open doors. But I think that the spirit of the Act was that people like Mr. Menzies needed to do something else, other than be able to walk right back into the private sector to talk to their friends in Ottawa. And I certainly hope he will respect the five-year ban,” Mr. Angus said.
The Lobbying Act’s five-year ban doesn’t apply, however, if a person spends less than 20 per cent of their time lobbying. That’s a loophole, Mr. Angus said.
“They don’t need Ted Menzies spending 23 per cent of his time. A guy like Ted Menzies makes a phone call, people are going to answer it. And this, as we pointed out, was the loophole that had to be closed,” Mr. Angus said, adding: “It was supposed to clean up the revolving door, but the revolving door continues.”
Mr. Menzies was first elected in 2004, and said earlier this year he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2015. That triggered some job offers, and he ultimately received approval from two independent officers of parliament to accept the CropLife position. But each commissioner laid out different, overlapping lobbying bans.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said in an e-mail to Mr. Menzies, which he provided to The Globe, that he could take the new job because he “had no direct and official significant dealing with this organization during the period that was one year prior to your last day in public office as Minister of State (Finance).” The commissioner noted the two-year “cooling-off period” banning him from “making representations” to “any department, organization, board, commission or tribunal with which they had direct and significant official dealings during the period of one year immediately before their last day in office,” including former fellow cabinet ministers.
The Lobbying Commissioner noted a five-year general ban, but the rules allow Mr. Menzies to “lobby as an in-house lobbyist on behalf of corporations, if the lobbying activities do not exceed 20 per cent of their work on behalf of that corporation.” That suggests he’ll be able to do some lobbying after the two-year cooling off period under Ethics law. But the Lobbying Commissioner also warned that, given Mr. Menzies’ senior role, his name would likely appear on CropLife’s federal lobbyist registry reports, even if he didn’t do the lobbying. “This is perhaps an aspect you may wish to discuss with your potential new employer,” the commissioner wrote, according to a copy provided by Mr. Menzies.
He said while he may still talk to fellow MPs, they won’t talk about CropLife.
“You won’t see me running around the corner if one of my former colleagues comes. We can talk about the weather, but we won’t talk about policy,” he said.
Mr. Angus, the NDP’s critic, said the loose five-year ban amounts to a reliance on “scout’s honour” from ex-officials, and should be a firm five-year ban.
CropLife Canada is a plant science industry group representing manufacturers, developers and distributors of biotech products, largely for agriculture, including pest control. Kamel Beliazi, chair of CropLife’s board, said in a news release that Mr. Menzies’ ability to “collaborate with others in the pursuit of meaningful solutions and his extensive agricultural background” will serve him well in his new role.
He begins starts on Jan. 1, and will work out of Ottawa. He resigned as an MP last Wednesday.
Mr. Menzies is the latest MP to leave between elections. Former public safety minister Vic Toews left earlier this year to “pursue opportunities in the private sector.” Former Manitoba MP Merv Tweed resigned in August, announcing hours later he was taking a role with railway company Omnitrax Canada. Former Liberal MP and interim leader Bob Rae resigned to focus on work representing First Nations communities in development talks over Ontario’s so-called Ring of Fire mining project, while Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre resigned to run to be mayor of Montreal.
By-elections to replace Mr. Toews, Mr. Tweed, Mr. Rae and Mr. Coderre will be held Nov. 25. A by-election date for Mr. Menzies’ southern Alberta riding of Macleod hasn’t been set.