Canada's Lobbying Commissioner has found that former Quebec premier Jean Charest was not in breach of federal rules when he contacted the Prime Minister's Office earlier this year and discussed the Energy East pipeline project.
In a letter obtained by The Globe and Mail, Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd confirmed that her office reviewed the facts surrounding Mr. Charest's phone call to PMO principal secretary Gerald Butts earlier this year. She added that she found there was no unregistered lobbying, as Mr. Charest was not paid by TransCanada Corp. at the time of the call.
"According to the information that was gathered, I have concluded that the allegation in the media was not founded as there was no payment and there is no indication that you tried to organize a meeting. I therefore consider this file to be closed," Ms. Shepherd wrote to Mr. Charest on May 20.
The letter caps an unusual episode in which the PMO publicly stated that it had rejected Mr. Charest's entreaties on the controversial pipeline project. The PMO did not allege that Mr. Charest had breached lobbying rules, but made it clear it felt that he was bypassing official channels by speaking about TransCanada with Mr. Butts.
As part of her review of the matter, Ms. Shepherd said she consulted publicly available information and conducted interviews. She refused to provide additional information on her findings.
"As the Lobbying Act requires me to conduct all reviews and investigations in private, I have no comment," she said in a statement.
TransCanada acknowledged in March that Mr. Charest had been on its payroll until the fall of 2015, but that he was no longer acting as a consultant for the firm when the call to Mr. Butts was made earlier this year.
As The Globe first reported in March, the PMO said that it refused to accept Mr. Charest's offer of a meeting with TransCanada officials.
"Mr. Charest and Mr. Butts had a conversation about a number of things, and in the course of the conversation, Mr. Charest asked if Mr. Butts would be willing to take a meeting with TransCanada," PMO director of communications Kate Purchase said at the time. "Mr. Butts was clear with Mr. Charest that there are rules and processes for these types of meetings and if they wanted to follow that process, he would be happy to discuss a meeting with TransCanada."
Before The Globe published its first story on the conversation, Mr. Charest's law firm, McCarthy Tétrault, and TransCanada both refused to explain in what capacity the former politician offered to arrange the meeting.
Mr. Charest later said he did not need to register with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying to have the discussion with Mr. Butts, stating the purpose of his contact was a private matter.
"I had a conversation and [Energy East] was not the subject of the conversation. It was raised, but that was not the subject, and I won't go into the details because it does not concern those who were not a part of the conversation," he said.
Neither Mr. Charest nor the PMO could be reached for comment on Ms. Shepherd's letter on Wednesday.
TransCanada has been waging a long campaign to sell its Energy East pipeline to a skeptical public, especially in Quebec, and to the environmental movement at large. If approved, the $15.7-billion pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of Alberta oil sands crude across Canada to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.