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Jenni Byrne waits to appear before the Procedure and House Affairs committee meeting on May 11, 2023, in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The New Democrats are asking the federal Lobbying Commissioner to investigate the relationship between Pierre Poilievre’s top adviser and a federal lobby firm that operates out of Jenni Byrne’s provincial lobbying office.

Ms. Byrne is one of the most prominent Conservatives in Canada and was a key strategist in Mr. Poilievre’s leadership campaign that garnered him a landslide victory in 2022. Since then she has remained a central player in his senior team, participating in Conservative caucus meetings and having a direct hand in strategy and election planning.

Ms. Byrne stopped lobbying federally in 2021 but staff working in her company, Jenni Byrne + Associates, continued to lobby federally until shortly before Mr. Poilievre’s leadership win.

On Thursday, The Globe and Mail reported that two days after that victory, Ms. Byrne’s senior staff incorporated a new lobbying firm out of the same office and with many of the same staff to continue federal lobbying work. Forecheck Strategies bills itself as “Canada’s fastest-growing Government and Public Affairs firm.”

Ms. Byrne and Forecheck Strategies told The Globe there was no connection between the two firms and she does not receive any compensation from the firm that operates out of her office. Until The Globe inquired about the connection between the two firms, clients booking a meeting on Forecheck’s website were redirected to Ms. Byrne’s firm. That function has since been removed.

In a letter sent to Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger, NDP MP and ethics critic Charlie Angus said details in The Globe’s report were concerning.

“This raises serious questions about Ms. Byrne’s potentially inappropriate involvement in federal lobbying activities, how the two firms lobbying activities are kept separate, and whether Forecheck Strategies and their federal lobbying activities have been properly registered and reported under the Lobbying Act,” Mr. Angus wrote in the letter sent to Ms. Bélanger.

“Canadians must be assured that the advisors of elected officials are acting in their best interests, not the interests of huge corporations.”

In a brief statement, Mr. Poilievre’s office reiterated the comments from Ms. Byrne and Forecheck.

“Ms. Byrne is not a lobbyist and her firm is not engaged in federal lobbying,” spokesperson Sebastian Skamski said. “You also seem to miss that Conservatives are not in government, nor do they control the balance of power in Parliament.”

Mr. Poilievre has recently increased his attacks on lobbyists. In a speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade two weeks ago, he said corporate lobbyists in Ottawa “have been utterly useless in advancing any common-sense interests for the people on the ground.”

On Parliament Hill Thursday, Liberal and NDP MPs said the overlap between the two firms raised questions, given Ms. Byrne’s central role in the Conservative Party.

NDP MP Laurel Collins said that ultimately as CEO of Jenni Byrne + Associates, Ms. Byrne is in charge of the staff who are doing the federal lobbying through the second firm they also work for.

However, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he is unconcerned. “I have no incontrovertible indication that the rules were broken,” he told reporters.

Most of the lobbying lawyers who spoke with The Globe about the case said they believe Forecheck Strategies operates within the Lobbying Code of Conduct.

Based on his understanding of the relationship between the two firms, Scott Thurlow, a lawyer who specializes in lobbying and conflict-of-interest laws, said “there is nothing to suggest that the team at Forecheck are doing anything that would trigger any Code of Conduct issues.”

However, Duff Conacher with Democracy Watch disagreed. Pointing to the section of the lobbying code that prohibits lobbying where an official can “reasonably be seen to have a sense of obligation towards you,” he said the code should be interpreted to prohibit lobbying such as that done by staff at Forecheck.

If it doesn’t, he said it shows a “huge loophole that allows for unethical lobbying.”

The Liberals have previously been the subject of controversy over the overlap between political advisory work and private work.

Mr. Trudeau’s current chief of staff Katie Telford quit the lobbying firm she was working at in March, 2014 – more than a year and a half before the 2015 election. She was formally appointed Liberal campaign director and co-chair in May, 2014.

However, her co-chair Dan Gagnier continued his private work advising clients while undertaking his role. Amid a firestorm of controversy over that advisory work with TransCanada late in the 2015 campaign, he was forced to resign as co-chair.

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