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Former prime minister Jean Chretien is pictured in Ottawa on March 7, 2017.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Jean Chretien has ignored a letter from Nova Scotia’s lobbyist registrar asking if he lobbied the premier about a port proposal during a recent closed-door session that drew a citizen complaint.

The registrar of lobbyists, Hayley Clarke, asked the former prime minister about a March 21 meeting in Halifax with Premier Stephen McNeil and Transport Minister Geoff MacLellan.

Chretien is an international adviser to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, which has been seeking investor support for the Cape Breton container port project. Chretien is not a registered lobbyist in Nova Scotia, and both McNeil and MacLellan denied he lobbied them or discussed the port project.

Following a complaint from a retired union activist, Clarke sent Chretien a letter providing information about the province’s lobbying act, and asked for a response by the end of April.

“We ask they (Chretien) review their activities to ensure compliance and provide a response advising as to the results of their review within 30 days,” says a March 29 letter to the complainant, John McCracken.

No response came, Clarke’s spokesperson told The Canadian Press.

“There has been no response to the Nova Scotia’s Registrar of Lobbyists inquiry of the Hon. Jean Chretien following a complaint received from a member of the public,” Marla MacInnis said.

The Canadian Press sent written requests to Chretien and to an associate who often arranges media interviews but received no response.

Duff Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch, said Chretien needs to clear up the issue before he resumes conversations with politicians in the province.

“He should be showing and documenting that he has not crossed the line that the law establishes that requires registration. If he’s not going to show the registrar, then the police should give him a call,” said Conacher.

McCracken said Chretien’s lack of response demonstrates that Nova Scotia’s lobbying law is “toothless.”

He said his only option now would be to take his complaint about Chretien to the police, a move that he’s contemplating.

“It confirms everything I predicted at the time when I got my response from the registrar, which was that they (the registrar) were going to contact him and he (Chretien) was going to laugh in their face,” he said in an interview.

The day before the meeting, Chretien had attended a conference in Sydney and told reporters about his role as an international adviser to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners.

When a Cape Breton Post reporter asked Chretien how he’d market the Sydney container port to the premier, the former prime minister said he felt the premier would be in favour of a provincewide approach to container ports.

“He (McNeil) said, ‘He’s for the development and he wants development in Nova Scotia,’ and he’s the premier of all Nova Scotia. And there always competition between one city and another. But all the cities in Nova Scotia are in Nova Scotia, but he is the premier of Nova Scotia.”

The provincial Liberal government has been cautious about the Sydney proposal, as a 2016 study prepared for the province and the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency recommended against public money for a terminal that would compete against the Halifax port.

As the interview continued, Chretien was asked if the province should invest money in the container port proposal, and he replied: “I hope so.”

When asked about another project along the Strait of Canso trying to develop a port, Chretien replied, “So what? I’m working for Sydney. I’m not working for them.”

Clarke has previously made clear there was little she could do to probe what had occurred.

“The role of the Registrar of Lobbyists is to administer the Registry of Lobbyists. The Registrar is not an enforcement agent,” MacInnis confirmed in an email to The Canadian Press.

A number of other provincial jurisdictions, including Ontario, and the federal commissioner of lobbying can probe citizen complaints and recommend police investigations.

Conacher said in an interview that he’d encourage McCracken to bring the media reports regarding Chretien’s actions to the attention of police.

“He can say ‘There’s this story, and there’s this law, can you please check into what the (former) prime minister’s been doing,“’ he said.

Conacher said in most jurisdictions, commissioners do an investigation and bring the matter to police if it’s considered a crime was potentially committed. He said Nova Scotia should set up a similar system.

“They often do the front-line investigation that police don’t have time to do,” he said.

Nova Scotia legislation provides for a fine of not more than $25,000 for anyone who lobbies without registering first.

McCracken said he would have been content had Chretien registered as a lobbyist after his complaint, and agreed to follow the rules of lobbyists going forward.

These include requirements such as documenting if he has lobbied provincial politicians or government agencies on behalf of his client.

Nova Scotia’s lobbyist registration law says lobbying includes communicating with a public servant “in an attempt to influence” the awarding of a contribution on behalf of government.

One of the definitions of a lobbyist under the Nova Scotia law is “an individual paid to lobby on behalf of a client.”

A person who does this is required to disclose their name, address and the name of the company they’re lobbying on behalf of, and the “subject matter” of their lobbying and who they’ve contacted.

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