OTTAWA — Two Conservative staffers have already left jobs working for cabinet ministers to lobby the federal government, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pledge to bar former ministerial staffers from lobbying for five years.
The two, Kevin Macintosh and David Salvatore, left their government jobs this month and started signing up private clients, but the Tories say they broke no rules because they worked as parliamentary aides, rather than ministerial aides, for cabinet members Rob Nicholson and Monte Solberg.
A number of staffers who served the Tories in opposition have become lobbyists.
Several of them were on Mr. Harper's staff.
Mr. Harper came to power promising to enact strict ethics rules, including a five-year cooling-off period before ministers, ministerial staffers and senior officials can start lobbying the government. Last November, he pledged that a new Accountability Act will be his government's first legislation.
"If there are Hill staffers who dream of making it rich trying to lobby a future Conservative government, if that's true of any of you, you had better make different plans, or leave," Mr. Harper said then.
Those restrictions apply only to minister's aides, however, and not to aides to backbench MPs, so those who worked for the Tories in opposition are not hampered by them.
And according to government spokesmen, the restrictions do not apply to the staff working in a minister's parliamentary office rather than at the department the minister leads.
Things start to look a lot different once your party is sitting on the other side of the House. It's easy enough to condemn the symbiotic, if not parasitical, nature of friendly lobbying firms and the government of the day, when you're not in an immediate position to take advantage of it.
While these former staffers have held to the letter of the Federal Accountability Act--an act that has not even been introduced in Parliament--they are violating its spirit.
The general public will not make or care about the fine distinctions between a staffer for a cabinet minister working in the parliamentary office and one working in a ministerial office. Professional lobbyists know otherwise, but all the electorate will see is staffers trying to get rich off their government connections, another broken election promise and business as usual.
Perhaps the five-year ban on former ministers, staffers and top official lobbying the government will prove to be too stringent, and more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It is foolish to think that these people won't find a way to trade on their expertise by lobbying under another name.
The distance between opposition and government benches is but two sword lengths, but such a short trip takes you farther than you think.
Source: Globe and Mail