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how to avoid scandal

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Guy Giorno, appears before the Commons ethics committee in Ottawa on April 13, 2010.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister's chief of staff, Guy Giorno, is teaming up with a former law partner this fall at a legal seminar devoted to lobbying, including advice on "how to ensure you're not the latest scandal in the headlines" and "ethical pitfalls."

Mr. Giorno, who practiced law with Toronto firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin before taking over Stephen Harper's office two years ago, was considered one of the country's leading experts on lobbying registration law.

It is rather curious, however, that a chief of staff to a prime minister is appearing at such an event. And his participation has not gone unnoticed in political Ottawa.

Mr. Giorno is to be the keynote speaker at the October seminar as part of the Osgoode Hall's Continuing Legal Education program.

Considered a mysterious figure on Parliament Hill, Mr. Giorno stays very much in the background, is hardly ever seen and has been described as hyper-aggressive and hyper-partisan. So his speech in October will provide a rare glimpse of one of the most powerful men on the Hill.

The Prime Minister's Office was quick to note Thursday that Mr. Giorno is not giving a seminar to paying customers and clients on how to lobby government. He is speaking in academic setting and is not being paid.

"To be clear: This is a lawyer talking about the law at a seminar run by a law school," a senior PMO official told The Globe. "Guy's presentation is not a tutorial on how to lobby. Please note that Guy is not receiving a fee and that the event is run by Osgoode Hall Law School's professional development arm, and not Fasken."

Dan Brock, former principal secretary to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Mr. Giorno's former partner at Fasken, is chairman of the event. It costs $898.35 to attend.

"In the wake of recent media coverage on questionable lobbying activities, individuals and organizations who deal with government are facing increased scrutiny for their actions," the seminar ad says.

"The issues raised have enormous potential consequences, including possible risk to your organization or client's public reputation."

Mr. Giorno, meanwhile, cleared his appearance with the Ethics Commissioner after outlining his role at the seminar to the office. The PMO provided the letter to The Globe.

"Participation in this program would not be incompatible with your public duties, and since you indicate that it would be done on a pro bono basis, it would be permissible under the Conflict of Interest Act for you to accept the invitation in question," Michel Lalonde writes.