Tony Clark, the chief of staff for Alberta’s NDP minister of human services, is a registered lobbyist for the Alberta Federation of Labour. Not was. He is.
Clark is registered to lobby the very ministry that he now runs, including pushing for an increase in the minimum wage. And – no surprise – he is in fact pushing for an increase in the minimum wage.
Who is he really working for?
Clark is also registered to lobby other government ministries on a range of issues, from raising taxes to opposing oil pipelines.
Here's the document that shows this:
It’s incredible that Clark is still a registered lobbyist. But even if he had resigned the day before he took over the ministry, how would that be any better?
How can he now make objective decisions on issues – like the minimum wage – about which he was paid to lobby so forcefully? How can his judgment be trusted to be independent and open-minded – rather than an expression of loyalty to those who paid him to hold those opinions?
And how can any civil servant, knowing about Clark’s lobbying, speak candidly about those issues, either to him or to the minister? Would disagreeing with Clark’s bosses at the Alberta Federation of Labour get a civil servant fired?
The question is fairly put to the minister Clark supposedly serves, Irfan Sabir. Sabir is an accidental cabinet minister – a political neophyte who won in a riding where the NDP received just 2% of the vote last time. He has no experience in government. He has even less of an ability to stand up to a hard-boiled lobbyist than a career civil servant who at least knows his files.
Clark isn’t the only lobbyist to take over a ministry he once targeted.
Graham Mitchell, the chief of staff for the energy minister, was a registered federal anti-oil lobbyist who only quit being a registered lobbyist on June 12th after the scandal was publicized.
The conflict of interest isn’t just the days that Mitchell had two masters. It’s that Mitchell is not impartial – he’s like a judge who pronounced someone guilty before a trial begins. Mitchell led a team of 14 lobbyists against oil pipelines and oil by rail. He oversaw the broadcast of anti-oil attack ads. He ran an anti-oil campaign school. How can he suddenly pretend he’s open to hearing from the same oil companies he demonized for a living? How can anyone else pretend that, either? And like Sabir, Mitchell’s minister, Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, is weak, a former teacher with no knowledge or experience about oil and gas. And Mitchell is in charge of her briefings.
One ministry’s chief of staff registered as a lobbyist is unlucky. Two registered lobbyists starts to look like carelessness. But it all makes sense when you know the man who hired both Clark and Mitchell:
Brian Topp, chief of staff to Rachel Notley herself.
Topp isn’t a lobbyist, but he was the registered co-owner of a government relations firm that bore his name – Kool Topp & Guy. And Topp remained a registered director and 1/3 owner of that firm long after he became Notley’s chief of staff. Only when Topp was asked about that conflict of interest did he urgently file a change at Alberta’s corporate registry, and back-date his resignation by nearly a month.
How can Rachel Notley stand for this? Registered lobbyists being hired to run ministries they had been lobbying? Her own chief of staff remaining as a registered co-owner of a government relations firm?
Notley’s platform made “honesty and ethics in government” a key part of her campaign, second only to her plan to raise taxes.
Notley promised to “strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests of that of political friends.” She also promised to “strength cooling-off periods for former political staff”, before they could become lobbyists.
How does that square with allowing actual lobbyists to work in the heart of her government?
Notley’s own conflicts of interest help answer the question. Her husband, Lou Arab, is an active lobbyist for another Alberta union, CUPE. Arab isn’t a registered lobbyist. But he does it anyway.
Earlier this month, the Airdrie News quoted Notley proposing to hike the minimum wage. And then, for another point of view, they quoted Arab – pushing for the same thing. But he was identified as a CUPE spokesman, not Notley’s husband.
Arab is not well known outside of Edmonton or labour union circles. Not knowing his personal connection to the premier was surely an error by the Airdrie News – that Arab and CUPE strategically chose not to correct. But the collaboration between Arab, CUPE and Notley reached new heights last week when the CBC called Arab asking for CUPE’s views, and their phone message was returned by Cheryl Oates, of the premier’s office.
CUPE union bosses don’t just have a direct line into Notley’s ear each night. CUPE actually has taxpayers footing the bill to have government spin doctors return their phone calls to the media.
Notley told the CBC she was getting legal advice from the conflict of interest commissioner “day by day” on how she was handling her husband’s lobbying. That kind of alarm bell is where a new premier typically would get help from an experienced hand – a seasoned chief of staff who would tell her that the integrity of the government was more important than Arab getting special access for his CUPE brethren.
But when that seasoned chief of staff himself sees no problem hiring lobbyists, and himself remains the registered owner of a government relations firm long after taking over the premier’s office, what do you expect?
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Toronto anti-oil industry lobbyist Graham Mitchell has no business working in Alberta's Ministry of Energy.
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