Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff told the Ethics Commissioner that former PMO aide Bruce Carson was being cut out of discussions that could affect his new employer, including budget talks.
Guy Giorno, then Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, sent two letters in 2009 to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson – saying he had set up a “screen” to deal with Mr. Carson’s potentially conflicting interests.
The firewall around Mr. Carson was triggered after he returned to the PMO, when his e-mail to government requesting funding on behalf of his other employer, the Canada School of Energy and the Environment, turned up at the Natural Resources Department.
That caused Mr. Giorno to establish what he called an ethics “screen.” According to the letters, it prevented Mr. Carson from taking part in discussions about his school or academic funding that might affect the institution, and stopped his involvement in preparations for the 2009 federal budget.
Mr. Carson had left the Prime Minister’s Office in August, 2008, to take a job as the executive director of the new Canada School of Energy and the Environment at the University of Calgary. But Mr. Harper asked for him to come back for a month in January, 2009, and Mr. Carson arranged an unpaid leave from the school, the letters say.
The letters, released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday night, show that Mr. Carson was heavily involved in preparing the 2009 federal budget, but indicate he was replaced in that function because of concerns that it might present a conflict of interest.
Mr. Carson showed up for work in the PMO on Jan. 5, just after the Christmas holidays. But a senior official in the Natural Resources Department received an e-mail from Mr. Carson on Jan. 6, seeking funding for an initiative backed by his other employer, the school.
“According to [Mr. Carson] the email was drafted before he had returned to the Prime Minister’s Office but apparently was mistakenly not sent until after his return to the PMO. Mr. Carson undertook to have the Canada School correct the error,” Mr. Giorno wrote to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson on Jan. 23.
The school recalled the e-mail. And Mr. Giorno wrote to Ms. Dawson that he set up a screen as of Jan. 13 so Mr. Carson would not be allowed to have any involvement in matters pertaining to the Canada School of Energy and the Environment, the University of Calgary, or Network Centres of Excellence – the program that Mr. Carson’s e-mail targeted.
Another letter, sent by hand that same day, advised Ms. Dawson that he had told the government’s top civil servant that Mr. Carson was no longer to be a PMO contact for the 2009 federal budget then in preparation. Mr. Giorno wrote that he attended the same budget meetings as Mr. Carson, and no matters related to his work at the school were raised.
In fact, the initiative Mr. Carson had promoted in the e-mail, Carbon Management Canada, later received $25-million in federal funding from the Network Centres of Excellence Program. The centre funds research into technology to reduce carbon emissions, such as carbon capture and storage.
Mr. Harper asked the RCMP to investigate allegations of improper lobbying last month after the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network revealed Mr. Carson met government officials about water-purification equipment for first nations promoted by his fiancée, a 22-year-old former escort named Michele McPherson.
Although Mr. Harper had known that his former senior aide had been convicted of fraud in the early 1980s, it later emerged that Mr. Carson had been convicted of fraud again, in 1990, and declared bankruptcy after that. Mr. Harper said he would not have hired Mr. Carson if he had been aware of the second set of convictions.