Case of lobbyist working for Jan Harder is unheard of, expert says

An expert on lobbying rules says he has never heard of someone lobbying the government while also working for a government official, a situation that came to light in a damning report on Ottawa city councillor Jan Harder.

Coun. Jan Harder could lose pay, position as committee chair after scathing report

Coun. Jan Harder, who represents the Barrhaven ward, has spent the past seven years as chair of the planning commitee. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

An expert on lobbying rules says he has never heard of someone lobbying the government while also working for a government official, a situation that came to light in a damning report on Ottawa city councillor Jan Harder.

On Friday, Ottawa's integrity commissioner Robert Marleau released his 101-page report into Harder's relationship with the Stirling Group, including registered lobbyist Jack Stirling — whom Harder considers a friend and mentor — and his daughter Alison Clarke.

The report recommended Harder lose her seat on planning committee over a perceived conflict of interest. Marleau also called on city council to launch a review of how they hire consultants and consider preventing active lobbyists from getting work in their offices.

All recommendations go before council on Wednesday.

Marleau's report details how Harder "regularly sought [Stirling's] advice on planning matters" while under three contracts with the Stirling Group — related to her ward and her work on the planning committee.

At the same time, Stirling is registered as a lobbyist for the Kanata Lakes North development.

"I've never seen a situation where someone is both inside government and lobbying at the same time," said Guy Giorno, an Ottawa lawyer who specializes in lobbying and government accountability, and has worked as an integrity commissioner with more than 30 Ontario municipalities.

City of Ottawa lacks 'cooling off' rule

Harder also recruited Clarke to work as a councillor's assistant in 2017, but Clarke then went to work with her father's firm four months after leaving the position in Harder's office. She continued to write briefing notes on planning files for Harder while her father advised the councillor on industry and ward issues.

The problem rests in the contracts signed with the Stirling Group while Stirling worked as a lobbyist, according to Giorno, not the hiring of his daughter as a councillor's assistant.

Guy Giorno, who has worked as an integrity commissioner in several municipalities, says he has never seen one person lobby a government while working for a government official. (The Canadian Press)

Typically, there are "cooling off" periods where former employees can't lobby because it's understood people who leave government have connections and advantages, Giorno said.

The City of Ottawa does not have such rules.

Giorno declined to weigh in on the sanctions the integrity commissioner has proposed, but said he isn't surprised Marleau has recommended the city review its rules for lobbyists, and the criteria for councillors setting up contracts.

Giorno says it never occurred to him a councillor would hire someone to do work for them while that same person actively lobbied the municipality.

"Many laws and policies get amended or brought in because something happens that nobody thought would happen before, and then it happens and the happening shines a spotlight on a gap," Giorno said.

Review contracting rules, Marleau says

The city manual for a councillor's office does offer some guidelines for contracting vendors. It suggests they only be hired for non-routine work, such as graphic design. Councillors are also required to have their contractors sign non-disclosure agreements, which didn't happen with the Stirling Group, Marleau found.

Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau released his 101-page report into Coun. Jan Harder on June 18, 2021. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Clarke also had a City of Ottawa email account while at The Stirling Group. The City of Ottawa confirms Clarke had "non-city employee" status after November 2018 with access to a city-run email account, and the ability to get approval for access to a councillor's account.

Given the issues raised by his investigation of Harder, Marleau recommends a review of the codes of conduct for both members of council and lobbyists.

He suggests developing criteria councillors must consider before they begin contracts with consultants, and consider the merits of a "cooling off" period before consultants can lobby.

As for Stirling's lobbying conduct, Marleau has referred that issue to himself, as lobbying registrar, but it's not clear if a report will ever come forward.