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Former Corporate Lobbyists Running for B.C. Liberals Part of ‘Alarming Trend’: Watchdog

Five B.C. Liberal candidates running in the current election are also former lobbyists who advocated for corporations including Chevron, Pacific Northwest LNG and ExxonMobil in the offices of Premier Christy Clark and other top ministers, according to records contained in the B.C. Lobbyist Registry.

Tweet: None of these @BCLiberals candidate profiles note prev. work as #fossilfuel corporation lobbyists http://bit.ly/2n9mbbG #bcpoli #bcelxn17None of the candidates’ profiles on the B.C. Liberal’s website note their previous work as lobbyists.

“I am alarmed at the number of lobbyists who are running in this election,” Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, told DeSmog Canada.

“It may in fact point to a worrisome trend.”

Tweet: “It’s not a generally considered a stepping stone in politics to go from being a lobbyist to an elected official.” http://bit.ly/2n9mbbG“It’s not a generally considered a stepping stone in politics to go from being a lobbyist to an elected official. Where B.C. risks not electing a government but electing a boardroom of interests — whether corporate or union, it doesn’t matter,” Travis said. "In this instance it's obviously corporate."

B.C. has no broad rules preventing all former public office holders from moving directly from the public sector into employment as a lobbyist to serve private interests.

In Ontario former politicians must wait 12 months before registering as lobbyists. Federally the 'cooling-off period' is a mandatory five years.

B.C. does impose a one-year cooling-off period for senior politicians and bureaucrats from lobbying their former colleagues in instances where they had “substantial involvement in dealings with an outside entity,” but the system is far from perfect, Travis said.

“We have a ‘defrost period,’ “ Travis said, “because it’s not a mandatory cooling off period even where it exists.”

Multiple loopholes mean former public employees are often exempt from the rules.

“We see people going back and forth sometimes in Tweet: “... the revolving door where at one moment they’re in the private sector & in the next, the public sector” http://bit.ly/2n9mbbG #bcpolithe revolving door where at one moment they’re in the private sector and in the next, the public sector,” Travis said, adding lobbyists aren’t required to disclose if and when they receive kick backs from companies they secure government funding or contracts for.

These ‘contingency clauses’ are banned at the federal level, but in B.C. are kept secret, further obscuring the power lobbying has in the political process, Travis said.

“What’s happening through that process is special interests, self interests are getting put ahead of the public good.”

So who are the candidates?

Gabe Garfinkel, Christy Clark’s former top aide turned lobbyist, is running for the B.C. Liberal party in the riding of Vancouver-Fairview.

Garfinkel made headlines in 2013 after leaving his position of executive assistant to Christy Clark to work with prominent public relations firm FleishmanHillard which lobbies on behalf of high profile corporate clients like Kinder Morgan.

According to provincial lobbying records, Garfinkel registered to lobby on behalf of Chevron Canada, Fortune Minerals and Port Metro Vancouver among others and frequently listed the Premier as a “target contact” for these meetings.

In his work as a lobbyist representing mining and oil and gas interests, Garfinkel lobbied the office of the premier as well as Environment Minister Mary Polak and Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett.

Jas Johal, candidate for Richmond-Queensborough, was the former director of communications for the BC LNG Alliance and registered to lobby on the behalf of BG Canada, ExxonMobil, Kitimat LNG, LNG Canada, Pacific Northwest LNG, Triton LNG and Woodfibre LNG between 2014 and 2015.

Brenda Locke, candidate for Surrey-Green Timbers, was an MLA between 2001 and 2005 and served as Minister for Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Locke left that position to lobby on behalf of the Massage Therapists’ Association of B.C. as recently as December 2016.

Kim Chan Logan, registered to lobby on behalf of TELUS from 2011 to as recently as March 20, 2017, was previously a ministerial assistant and chief of staff to the Minister of Health Services from 2001 to 2004.

Andrew Wilkinson, the B.C. Liberal Vancouver-Quilchena candidate was former Deputy Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, Deputy Minister of Competition, Science and Enterprise, and Deputy Minister for Economic Development between 2001 and 2006.

Wilkinson was a registered lobbyist for McCarthy Tetrault on behalf of Covanta Energy Corp., Energy companies Vattenfall AB and Kronos Project Management and mining company Thompson Creek Metals.

Between 2010 and 2012 Wilkinson registered to lobby the Premier and Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman among others. He previously registered in 2009 to lobby on behalf of Simon Fraser University.

Wilkinson is now the subject of lobbying in his positions as both Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services and Minister of Advanced Education for the B.C. Liberals.

Two additional former B.C. Liberals also left politics to take up lobbying work in the private sector.

Don Fast, former Deputy Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development from 2011 to 2013 left to start his own lobby firm, D. Fast Consulting.*

Dimitri Pantazopoulos, former campaign staffer for the B.C. Liberals, principle secretary to Christy Clark between 2011 and 2012 and former Assistant Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Relations and Trade between 2012 and 2013, left for a career in lobbying.

Between 2013 and 2017 Pantazopoulos lobbied on behalf of Consumer Health Products Canada, Adobe, production company Cavalia, farm fish company Cermaq, Comcast, Johnson&Johnson, Pacific Newspaper Group, Black Press, Uber and Woodside Energy among others.

The back and forth movement between lobby firms and the public sector is a practice Travis considers “an incredible threat to how our system works.”

“It creates too many suspicions as to whose interests are being served.”

* This article has been updated to correctly indicate Fast was the former Deputy Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and not Minister as previously stated.

Image: Premier Christy Clark at a Woodfibre LNG announcement. Photo: Province of B.C. via Flickr

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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