Inside Politics

UPDATED: Mystery of the Vanstone appointment "approval" - solved!

FINAL (?) UPDATE: At last, clarity -- or, at least, a clear answer to the question of what, exactly, the ethics commissioner told Derek Vanstone that he considered to be approval of his move to Air Canada.

According to PMO, after "lengthy discussions," Vanstone received a letter from the commissioner's office that confirmed his acceptance of the position "would not contravene Section 35(1) of the Act" -- the prohibition on contracting with an entity with whom a public office holder has had "direct and significant official dealings during the period of one year immediately before his or her last day in office."

Vanstone, not unreasonably, considered this to be approval, as he would have considered a finding that it would contravene the Act to be a prohibition (and, presumably, would have declined the offer.

UPDATE: It would appear that there is some confusion over what, exactly, Air Canada meant when it stated that the appointment "is subject to the approval of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, which has been provided." 

According to OCIE spokesperson Margot Booth, there is no requirement for the commissioner to approve job offers. The office does provide advice to both current and former public office holders on post-employment requirements and restrictions, all of which is done on a confidential basis, and cannot be released without the authorization of the public office holder in question. 

In any case, I've sent an email to Vanstone asking for more information. I'll let you know what I hear back! 

What former senior PMO staffer Derek Vanstone can't do at Air Canada (Until the cooling-off period expires, that is.) 

Hot off the presses comes word -- in the form of a corporate news release -- that the PM's deputy chief of staff, Derek Vanstone, is leaving Langevin for a new gig in the private sector:

Air Canada today announced the appointment of Derek Vanstone as Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Industry and Government Affairs effective September 10, 2012.

Mr. Vanstone, currently Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, was Chief of Staff to the federal Minister of Finance from 2007 to 2010. He previously practiced law in Toronto with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP. In addition to his role in helping shape corporate strategy and direction, Mr. Vanstone will have overall responsibility for federal, provincial, municipal and community relations as well as industry affairs. This appointment is subject to the approval of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, which has been provided. [...]

The Conflict of Interest Act prohibits Vanstone from taking "improper advantage" of his previous public office, and imposes a one year cooling-off period before he would be free to take a job with "an entity with which he or she had direct and significant official dealings" at any point during the year preceding his last day in office.  

I've asked the ethics commissioner to provide a copy of the approval referenced in the release. As soon as I hear back, I'll post the details, and if she can't release it due to confidentiality rules, I'll hit up PMO for a copy. 

NOTE: Check the update at the top of this post for the results of my query. 

Vanstone will also be subject to the infamous five-year ban on lobbying -- which, to be fair, is fairly narrowly defined as "communicating, with public office holders, for payment,  on the making, developing or amending of federal legislative proposals, bills or resolutions, regulations, policies or programs" or "the awarding of federal grants, contributions or other financial benefits."
According to the release, Vanstone will be taking on the responsibilities previously held by outgoing chief operating officer Duncan Dee -- specifically, the strategy, government and industry affairs portfolio -- which, at first glance, sounds remarkably like the sort of activity from which a former senior PMO staffer would be automatically barred. 

But in its most recent registration, Air Canada listed Dee's lobbying activities as representing less than 20 percent of his duties, which means that Vanstone should be able to do the same job without breaching the rules, at least in theory. 

In any case, it seems Vanstone's office won't stay empty for long. Within moments of the appointment hitting the wire, former  PMO chief of staff Guy Giorno sent a congratulatory tweet to his successor in waiting: Joanne McNamara, currently chief of staff to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.
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