The head of the company that stood to profit from a multi-million-dollar water purification deal with the Assembly of First Nations says the role of a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the affair has been overstated.
Last week, the Prime Minister’s Office asked the RCMP to investigate Bruce Carson, a former top political aide to Harper, over allegations Carson may have breached the Conflict of Interest Act.
The investigation is the result of a report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which suggested the 66-year-old Carson allegedly used his political connections to help negotiate a deal between First Nations officials and H2O Global Group, a water filter company owned by Ottawa businessman Patrick Hill.
In an interview with CBC News, Hill denied Carson lobbied on his behalf.
"Carson advised me on a few things, how to deal with INAC [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada] and stuff like that," Hill said, adding there was no written contract between the two men.
Though he met with Carson, Hill says he was already talking to First Nations' officials.
"But straight up, Mr. Carson, I never paid him a nickel. I’m actually glad that the RCMP is involved, because he never took a nickel, I never gave him a penny or anything else like that," said Hill.
The plan was to supply water purifiers to several native bands, including the Mohawks of Quinte Bay, just west of Kingston, by tapping into $330 million in federal money aimed at improving drinking water on reserves across Canada.
The APTN report said that Carson’s fiancée, Michelle McPherson, who has acknowledged she once worked as an escort when she was younger, would receive 20 per cent of the gross sales. More recent news reports have said that commission is no longer in effect.
McPherson and Carson bought a house together last fall, and Hill says she still works for H20 Global Group.
As for Carson’s relationship with McPherson, Hill said, "His personal life is his own thing. That’s not my business. But other than that, he’s a great person, great guy. But he never, ever lobbied for me or anything else like that."
Hill also owns H2O Pros, formerly a distributor for Simple H2O, a company dogged by its own controversy.
Based in Woodbridge, Ont., Simple H2O was the subject of a recent Marketplace investigation over its use of scare tactics and misinformation to sell its expensive reverse osmosis filters systems. Ontario’s Better Business Bureau has given several Simple H2O distributors an "F" rating.
Hill told CBC he had a falling out with his former supplier. The deal Carson is alleged to have been lobbying for "has nothing to do with Simple H2O. Zero. That’s why I wanted nothing to do with Simple H2O, because their product wasn’t going to go anywhere near the First Nations," he said.
But in his first meetings with Hill and his associates last fall, Mohawk chief Don Maracle says three company names came up in discussion: H20 Pros, H20 Global Group and Simple H20.
The letter that Hill sent to the chief in mid-October — and was obtained by Marketplace — had an H20 Pros logo on it, and in the letter Hill told Maracle, "The project would be completely funded by INAC."
Maracle said Hill was trying to start a pilot project.
"I was basically concerned, because we basically had not had any information from Indian Affairs that there was a pilot study that First Nations could be a part of, and there is no pilot study. And there’s no funding to do one," he added.
"Apart from them doing a sales pitch here, we never agreed to do it," Maracle said. "I found it suspicious and that’s why I called the [Indian Affairs] department, and that’s when the story with the department didn’t reconcile with what H2O Pros was saying."
After the Marketplace report, Maracle said Hill assured him that his company was not associated with Simple H2O. In fact, six weeks after the report first aired, Maracle said Hill went to see him. "He denied there was any connection between Simple H2o and H2o Pros," Maracle said.
Maracle said Hill told him his H2O Global Group was partnering with Water Group Inc. based in Cambridge, Ontario and that the reverse osmosis systems that would be installed are manufactured in Regina.