An environmental group is calling on the federal ethics watchdog to look into whether former Conservative MP and one-time junior finance minister Ted Menzies' gig at CropLife Canada violates Canada's conflict of interest regime.
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"A cabinet minister went directly to the board room of CropLife, the pesticide industry’s lobbying arm,” Sierra Club Canada Foundation president John Bennett said in a press release issued Thursday.
“We are advised that this could constitute a conflict of interest …. and should be investigated."
To that end, he's filed a formal request asking Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to conduct a full examination of Menzies' move under the Conflict of Interest Act, which governs what former public office holders can and can't do after leaving government.
'Dangerously weak' rules
Bennett first raised the red flag over Menzies' move last year.
Just days after CropLife Canada announced that the affable former minister had signed on to run the group's Ottawa operations, Bennett issued a press release bemoaning the "dangerously weak federal ethics and lobbying rules" that allowed Menzies to take over as president and chief executive officer just as the Pest Management Regulatory Agency was contemplating a ban on "bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides."
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"Is the pesticide industry attempting to influence a pending decision on the future of bee-killing pesticides or is it a coincidence?" Bennett wondered.
At the time, a spokesperson for Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson confirmed that Menzies had been in touch with the office before taking the job, but was unable to say what, if any, advice he received due to confidentiality rules.
Meanwhile, CropLife Canada chair Kamel Beliazi assured CBC News that both the association and its incoming president were well aware of his obligations under the law.
"We have not hired a lobbyist for CropLife Canada — we have very competent people to carry out that role," he added.
"We have hired a new president that will provide visionary leadership for the industry, in line with the new strategic plan laid out by the board of directors."
CropLife lobbied Finance
Judging from the complaint filed this week, Bennett was unconvinced by those assertions.
In his letter, he points out that CropLife Canada was registered to lobby the federal finance department "through the entire time" that Menzies was parliamentary secretary to then-finance minister Jim Flaherty, as well as during Menzies' tenure as minister of state. He also notes CropLife still has an active filing in the registry, listing the same subject matters.
Bennett says Menzies' role as a former member of cabinet carries with it additional restrictions on giving advice based on confidential information he learned while in government.
All of that, Bennett says, means "Croplife Canada still has ongoing interests in federal government decisions and Mr. Menzies very likely knows confidential information that affects those interests, interests that Croplife Canada lobbied Mr. Menzies’ department (and possibly his office) about through his last year in office."
CropLife Canada spokesperson Nadine Sisk said today that the association stands by its initial statement.
"We're confident the commissioner will come to the same conclusion that there's no conflict of interest. He's well aware of what he can and cannot do," she told CBC News.
According to Bennett's press release, the complaint was drafted by Democracy Watch founder Duff Conacher, who has lodged dozens of similar requests over the years, almost none of which have resulted in any determination of wrongdoing.
Dawson criticized for 'continued failure' to enforce rules
That likely explains why it also includes a page and a half of criticism directed at Dawson herself.
"Your continued failure to require disclosure by federal government departments of the departure of public office holders, and disclosure of detailed information by former public office holders about their activities, and to conduct regular, random, unannounced audits and inspections, is a negligent abdication of your clear legal duties and mandate," the complaint notes.
"You have been in office for seven years and you have a long-confirmed reputation as a lapdog – if you fail to initiate this examination you will only provide further evidence that there is, in fact, almost no enforcement of the Act."
A spokesperson for Dawson's office confirmed the letter has been received.
"As she does with all information that is brought to her attention, Commissioner Dawson will review the request," Margot Booth told CBC News.
"We cannot comment further at this time."