A former member of the Harper cabinet has been slapped by the federal Ethics Commissioner for contravening the Conflict of Interest Act, after making calls to ministers regarding a 2011 oil industry deal.
In a report released Tuesday, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson concluded that the former government house leader Jay Hill – who retired from government in 2010 – violated post-employment guidelines when he made a call to three ministers regarding a deal on which his wife, Leah Murray, was working as a public affairs consultant.
In May 2011, Mr. Hill learned that Progress Energy Corp. of Calgary and Malaysia's state-owned Petronas planned to announce a $1-billion deal to jointly develop natural gas properties in British Columbia. Progress retained Ms. Murray as a public affairs consultant, whose duties included communicating to the federal government and key ministers.
On learning of the pending announcement, Mr. Hill called three ministers – International Trade Minister Ed Fast, Industry Minister Christian Paradis, and Indian and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, then Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development – to give them a "heads up" and to encourage Mr. Fast and Mr. Duncan to contact the Progress Energy president.
Following the 2011 deal, Petronas announced and completed a $6-billion takeover of Progress last year, but there is no allegation that Mr. Hill involved himself in that transaction.
Under federal conflict rules, former ministers are prohibited from taking improper advantage of their previous public position. Ms. Dawson said Mr. Hill violated that rule by making calls that could be seen to advance the business interests of his wife.
"He took advantage of his former status and position to facilitate access to the ministers for his spouse, her employer and its client and thereby contravened" a section of the act, she concluded.
The commissioner added, however, that there was no evidence that Mr. Hill had managed to arrange communications between the ministers and Progress Energy officials, or that he had made presentations to former colleagues to influence their actions, since only Mr. Paradis was a former colleague in cabinet and Mr. Hill had not sought to arrange a call between him and Progress.
Mr. Hill insisted Tuesday that he had done nothing wrong, but apologized to the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his former caucus colleagues for "any inconvenience" he may have caused the government.
"At no time did I or my spouse receive any credit, benefit or financial remuneration, personally or professionally, for making these calls," he said in an e-mailed statement.
"In politics, perception is reality, and in this case, the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and her colleagues have determined I was in contravention of the act by taking 'improper advantage of my previous public office.' I strongly dispute this conclusion, and the process and methods she undertook to arrive at her decision," he said.