An investigation by the federal Lobbying Commissioner reveals Rob Silver, the spouse of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Katie Telford, had several conversations with senior government officials seeking policy changes on behalf of his employer, but concludes Mr. Silver did not violate federal lobbying laws.
Commissioner Nancy Belanger said the situation is an example of an issue her office has been flagging for years. She said Parliament should update the Lobbying Act so that all lobbying contacts are disclosed to the public, rather than the current system where disclosure only occurs once a threshold of activity is reached.
The commissioner’s current interpretation of the act is that public disclosure is only required when individuals spend 20 per cent or more of their time lobbying. Ms. Belanger said that rule should be eliminated.
“This threshold allows for a substantial volume of in-house lobbying activity to go unreported,” Ms. Belanger stated in her report. “In my view, [eliminating the threshold] would enhance transparency by requiring a greater proportion of paid lobbying activities to be reported in the Registry of Lobbyists.”
Lobbyists who are employees of a company are referred to as in-house lobbyists, as opposed to consultant lobbyists who offer their services to clients on a contract basis.
The report chronicles Mr. Silver’s many interactions with officials over the past year, which included conversations with Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino; Sarah Goodman, a senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office; top political aides to former Finance Minister Bill Morneau and officials at CMHC and the Bank of Canada.
Mr. Silver joined MCAP Commercial LP, a mortgage finance company, as senior vice-president of strategy, risk and policy in mid-to-late January of last year. The report states that, before starting his new position, Mr. Silver wrote the lobbying commissioner’s office through legal counsel to confirm his understanding of the restrictions he would face as Ms. Telford’s spouse.
The letter noted that Ms. Telford created a conflict of interest screen that directed her colleagues to ensure she would not be involved in matters directly related to MCAP or mortgage-related policy decisions that would potentially impact MCAP.
The lobbying commissioner replied, confirming Mr. Silver’s understanding that he should not lobby the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s Office “in light of his relationship with Ms. Telford.”
In an email to The Globe, the commissioner’s office said its advice to Mr. Silver about not lobbying the PMO would only apply to individuals who are required to register according to the 20 per cent threshold, which Mr. Silver’s activity did not meet.
As part of the investigation, the commissioner received copies of emails as well as several sworn statements from political staff who interacted with Mr. Silver over the past year. The report said Mr. Silver sent suggestions for legislative changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) via a Twitter direct message to Tyler Meredith, a senior policy adviser to Mr. Morneau who has continued in a similar role under Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. The report says Mr. Meredith deleted his Twitter correspondence with Mr. Silver in the spring of 2020 “as he routinely does for transitory communications on his personal social media accounts.”
The report shows Ms. Silver sent Mr. Meredith an email in May expressing displeasure with the government’s ultimate position on CEWS eligibility.
“I’m really upset about the substantive decision – the logic you gave me makes even less sense the more I thought it through – but even more disappointed about the process. But life goes on. Be well,” Mr. Silver wrote.
The report says the commissioner’s office launched its investigation on Aug. 10, based on a Globe and Mail report three days prior that Mr. Silver participated in a June meeting with a communications official from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on the topic of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program for small businesses affected by COVID-19. The Globe report noted that MCAP had signed a $56-million contract to administer the CECRA program on behalf of CMHC and that the value of the contract increased to $84-million following a July extension.
According to the commissioner’s report, Mr. Silver’s outreach to government officials focused on two separate issues: The CECRA program and a concern that most MCAP employees did not qualify for the federal wage subsidy because one of its major investors, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Quebec, is a tax exempt pension fund.
In addition to discussing CECRA with Ms. Goodman in the PMO, the report says Mr. Silver also had discussions with Michael McNair in May 2020 about the wage subsidy. At the time, Mr. McNair was a former senior PMO adviser who was providing volunteer support to the government. He re-joined the PMO as an employee from June to September.
The commissioner’s report states that eliminating the 20 per cent disclosure threshold would also simplify the process for organizations that lobby the government.
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