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Watchdog to probe Charest bid for PMO meeting with pipeline firm

Jean Charest watches during a ceremony where Lafontaine MLA Marc Tanguay is sworn in at the legislature in Quebec City on Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Lobbying Commissioner is looking into former Quebec premier Jean Charest's activities in favour of the Energy East pipeline, including an offer to the Prime Minister's Office to organize a meeting with officials from TransCanada Corp.

Karen Shepherd instigated the review after a story in Thursday's Globe and Mail revealed the offer.

"I take all allegations seriously," Ms. Shepherd said in a statement, adding she would not make any other comments on the matter. "The Lobbying Act requires me to conduct all reviews and investigations in private."

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The PMO said this week that it refused to accept the offer of a meeting with TransCanada officials that was made by Mr. Charest, who is not registered to lobby the federal government or arrange meetings on behalf of clients. The final word on whether Mr. Charest needed to register will come from Ms. Shepherd's review of the matter.

Mr. Charest's law firm, McCarthy Tétrault, and TransCanada both refused this week to explain in what capacity the former politician offered to arrange the meeting. However, TransCanada partly broke its silence on Thursday, revealing that Mr. Charest had been acting as a "part-time" adviser for the firm up until late last year.

"Our agreement ended in the fall of 2015 so Mr. Charest has not worked for nor has been paid by TransCanada since October of last year," TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said in an e-mail.

Mr. Duboyce refused to answer follow-up questions, including whether the firm where Mr. Charest is a partner is currently working for TransCanada. McCarthy Tétrault had told The Globe that it has a "firm policy" not to comment on its clients.

The rules and regulations governing lobbying in Canada are designed to bring transparency to the process, with the stated objective of "enhancing public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of government decision-making."

Speaking at a federal-provincial conference in Vancouver, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has vowed to lead a government that "follows all of the rules."

"That is what we have done and will continue to do, and expect from everyone who engages with the government," Mr. Trudeau told reporters.

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NDP MP Guy Caron said there are still a number of unanswered questions about the conversation this year between Mr. Charest and PMO principal secretary Gerald Butts. Mr. Caron said he hopes the investigation by the Lobbying Commissioner will "shine a light on this matter."

"It's always good to have clarity and transparency, even when there is only the appearance that rules governing access were broken," Mr. Caron said.

Steven Guilbeault, senior director of environmental group Équiterre, said that as a former premier, Mr. Charest should make it clear when he is paid by a client to promote a project such as the controversial Energy East pipeline.

"Jean Charest has every right to work for anyone that he wishes," Mr. Guilbeault said. "However, things have to be done in a transparent manner."

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.

In a statement this week, the PMO confirmed that Mr. Charest raised the possibility of organizing a meeting with officials from Alberta-based TransCanada this year.

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"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 on Tuesday.

"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," Ms. Purchase added.

In her most recent annual report, Ms. Shepherd said her office "routinely monitors media reports" as part of its enforcement of the Lobbying Act.

"When an alleged breach of the Act or the [Lobbyists' Code of Conduct] is brought to my attention, the first step is to initiate an informal fact-finding exercise, referred to as an administrative review," Ms. Shepherd said. "I conduct a formal investigation under the Lobbying Act if I have reason to believe that is the course of action necessary to ensure compliance with the Act or the Code."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More


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