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Executive Interchange and Potential Conflict

The rules are clear, if you're a federal public servant, you can't represent or lobby for private interests. That makes sense.

So exactly why are some people who are on the Interchange Canada program, working in federal departments, showing up on the lobby registry at the same time?

Are they lobbying while working as a public servant or is the lobby registry inaccurate? Either way the following story raises some issues:

The Interchange Canada Program allows people to come in from private industry to gain and share experience for 3 to 4 year terms. After the term is up, the person is expected to return to their own job in the private sector.

Take Ian Scott for example, he came from Telus on an interchange with the government in 2007.

Scott's role at Telus involved lobbying the government. He registered as an in-house lobbyist for the corporation. When he went on Interchange into the federal government, Scott didn't take himself off the lobby registry. It appeared as if he was still lobbying while working as a Chief Policy Advisor at the CRTC. But Scott says that was definitely not the case.

"I was still an employee of Telus. I would be more worried about that no longer being reflected on the registry," explains Scott. "Then I'd be accused of hiding it."

But that means the registry was not accurate and potentially in violation of the Lobby Act.

Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, says the fact the names of some people on Interchange are also found on the lobby registry, raises some serious questions about oversight.

"The system is way to wide open because the ethics commissioner, lobby commissioner, public sector commissioner are not doing regular, random audits, especially of these kinds of positions which potentially have massive conflicts."

Treasury Board oversees the Interchange Canada Program.

An official at Treasury Board told me everyone is carefully vetted by their director or deputy before they come in to government to make sure there will be no conflict of interest. Each Deputy Minister is responsible for monitoring interchange participants to his/her department.

Government literature boasts: "there is no record of any Interchange Canada assignments having been terminated due to a conflict."

David Zussman teaches public administration at the University of Ottawa. He notes, as the cadre of federal executives retire the public sector will be looking more and more to programs like Interchange to fill its ranks with experienced executives from the private sector.

The PMO is doing it's own "interchange" by bringing in Nigel Wright (Onex Corp.) for a period of time, then he'll go back to his private sector job...and after he leaves he'll be able to spend up to 20% of his time lobbying, without even having to register as a lobbyist.

Conacher: "It's a dangerous, unethical loop hole that must be closed."

Listen to Julie's documentary heard on The House Oct 23, 2010:


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