Amid confusion over lobbying rules, commissioner goes mute for election

Karen Shepherd

The restrictions on lobbyists during this election campaign have been confusing and contentious for people who work in government relations and politics.

A story in today’s Hill Times expressed the frustration of some lobbyists not being allowed to work on a political campaign, for the first time in their professional lives, as instructed by Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd.

At the same time, my colleague Stephen Maher of Halifax Chronicle-Herald, reports that at least two former lobbyists are working in the Conservative Party war room. One of them is Ken Boessenkool, formerly Harper’s chief of staff, who left before Tories formed government. He deregistered as a lobbyist in the fall, something that  Shepherd warned does not necessarily prevent possible conflicts of interest.

So, some lobbyists past and present don’t think they can work in politics, but at the same time two former Tory lobbyists are reportedly at the very centre of the Conservative campaign. Huh?!

Some clarity on the rules is required from Shepherd, one would think, to resolve what might charitably be described as “confusion.”

I called Shepherd’s office today looking for some information. In response, I received this utterly mind-boggling response from her communications aide, Natalie Hall:

Dear Mr. McGregor:

During the election campaign, the Commissioner of Lobbying, as an independent Agent of Parliament, has decided it would not be appropriate to give presentations or media interviews.

Natalie Hall
Senior Communications Advisor | Conseillère principale en communications
Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada | Commissariat au lobbying du Canada
255 Albert Street, Ottawa ON K1A 0R5 | 255, rue Albert, Ottawa ON K1A 0R5
Telephone | Téléphone 613-952-4306
Cell | Sans-fil 613-875-2579
Facsimile | Télécopieur 613-957-3078

I have never before encountered a public servant who refuses to do her job because of an election campaign. Government doesn’t shut down in the writ period.

This refusal to speak is all the more astounding given the uproar over of the inaction of another recently-departed officer of parliament, Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet.

UPDATE: I had a question today on an unrelated matter for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. They’re still in business. The media person called me back and answered my question in detail. Over to you, Ms. Shepherd.

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