Inside Politics

UPDATED - Former Tory MP's new gig raises questions for environmental group

In response to the news that affable former Alberta Tory MP Ted Menzies is taking over the top job at pest control industry association CropLife Canada, Sierra Club president John Bennett wants to know if the organization is "buying influence" in advance of a Health Canada ruling that he believes could lead to a ban on "bee-killing" pesticides.

Just as Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is considering a ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, the ag industry trade association CropLife named long time Conservative MP Ted Menzies as its new President and CEO.

"Is the pesticide industry attempting to influence a pending decision on the future of bee-killing pesticides or is it a coincidence?" asked John Bennett of Sierra Club Canada. [...]

In September, PMRA confirmed neonicotinoid pesticides (including Clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer) are killing bees and asked for public comment (deadline December 12, 2013). Thousands of Canadians and beekeepers have already strongly urged the PMRA to ban the bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides.

CropLife has been actively waging a PR campaign to confuse the public about these pesticides - ironically originally marketed at 'safer' than other pesticides. CropLife suggests there haven't been big bee losses while at the same time blaming viruses, parasites and beekeepers for their obvious declining populations.

In the release, Bennett blames "dangerously weak federal ethics and lobbying rules" for permitting Menzies, who served in cabinet as minister of state for finance until this summer, to head up CropLife, which he describes as "a federally regulated company that lobbies the federal government regularly":

Whether or not Mr. Menzies 'technically' does any lobbying, his position as President and CEO of CropLife clearly opens government doors and provides valuable insight on the internal workings of the Harper government.

"Are we supposed to believe Mr. Menzies will lock himself in his new office and not take calls or check his email," said Mr. Bennett.

Earlier this week, I put a somewhat less loaded version of Bennett's question to Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner Mary Dawson.

Here's what her office had to say on how the Conflict of Interest Act applies to former ministers of state like -- and, indeed, including -- Menzies: 

All former public office holders, including former ministers of the Crown and ministers of state, are subject, for life, to the post-employment restrictions set out in sections 33 and 34 of the Act*.  

In accordance with subsection 36(2) of the Conflict of Interest Act, they are also subject, for a period of two years for former ministers and ministers of state and one year for all other former reporting public office holders following their last day in office, to subsections 35(1) to (3). 

Subsection 35(1) prohibits former reporting public office holders from contracting with, accepting an appointment to the board of directors of, or accepting an offer of employment with an entity with which they had direct and significant official dealings during their last year in office. 

Subsection 35(2) prohibits former reporting public office holders from making representations on behalf of any other person or entity to any department, organization, board, commission or tribunal with they had direct and significant official dealings during their last year in office. 

Subsection 35(3) prohibits former ministers of the Crown and ministers of state from making representations to a current minister of the Crown or minister of state who was in Cabinet at the same time as they were. 

According to the Act, Section 33 bars public office holder from "act[ing] in such a manner as to take improper advantage of his or her previous public office, while Section 34 (1) prohibits them from "act[ing] for or on behalf of any person or organization in connection with any specific proceeding, transaction, negotiation or case to which the Crown is a party and with respect to which the former public office holder had acted for, or provided advice to, the Crown.

Meanwhile, Section 34 (2) bars them from advising "a client, business associate or employer using information that was obtained in his or her capacity as a public office holder and is not available to the public." 

A spokesperson for the commissioner also confirmed that Menzies did contact the office, but couldn't comment further due to confidentiality rules. (Seeing as he took the job, it seems safe to assume she didn't give him a categorical thumbs down.) 

As a former reporting public office holder, Menzies is also forbidden from engaging in lobbying activities that would otherwise trigger registration filing requirements -- which, in this case, would mean hitting the 20 percent or "significant part of duties" threshold for in-house lobbyists.

As president of CropLife Canada, however, Menzies may find himself legally responsible for filing registrations on behalf of the organization's small cadre of in-house lobbyists, as is the case for outgoing president Lorne Hepworth.

In fact, Hepworth is also listed as an in-house lobbyist, which indicates that his lobbying activities did, in fact, exceed the 20 percent threshold.

Of course, that doesn't mean that his successor will necessarily engage in the same level of direct lobbying-- and, in fact, in Menzies' case, he simply can't, as doing so would constitute a breach of the five-year ban.

Even so, Menzies' name may start popping up in communications reports long before his cooling-off period is scheduled to expire in 2018 -- which, according to the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner, is just fine, provided that he doesn't actually do any of that lobbying himself -- at least, not until he's free and clear of the five-year ban.

Given the Sierra Club's reaction to the news of his appointment, Menzies can likely expect that any such cameo appearances in the lobbying registry may trigger more questions about his role at CropLife.

In any case, I've asked CropLife to lay out how it intends to ensure that Menzies stays within the allowed parameters. I'll post an update as soon as I hear back.

UPDATE: Here's what CropLife Canada chair Kamel Beliazi had to say in response to my email: 

Ted Menzies has always held high ethical standards, as does CropLife Canada. We have received clear direction from the Commissioner of Lobbying and she has offered ongoing advice should we have any questions. 

Both CropLife Canada and Ted Menzies are aware of his obligations due to his previous assignment and we are planning to fully comply with them as we have in past similar situations.  

We have not hired a lobbyist for CropLife Canada - we have very competent people to carry out that role. 

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.

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