Labour federation asks ethics commissioner to reopen lobbying investigation

EDMONTON - Two days after an investigation declared the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers not guilty of breaking lobbying laws, Alberta's ethics commissioner said he will review newly released government documents to see if the case should be reopened.

The documents, obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour through freedom of information laws, appear to conflict with the investigation's findings.

"Based on the evidence that (the lobbyist registrar) had at the time, he came to the right conclusion," Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson said Wednesday. "However, if there is new evidence ... we will take a look at reopening the investigation."

The allegations against CAPP first made headlines in August, when leaked cabinet documents suggested the association offered to work with the government to "enhance" public relations efforts. The document also shows CAPP would be the only non-governmental organization consulted.

The AFL, which obtained the leaked documents in August, asked the lobbyist registrar to investigate.

In a report released Monday, Lobbyist Registrar Bradley Odsen ruled that "collaboration to enhance public communication" is not lobbying.

"Quite the contrary," Odsen wrote. "If anything, the communication in this case clearly amounts to an offer from CAPP to work collaboratively with the Government of Alberta ... in an effort to benefit government."

Odsen also found the provincial government sought the association's input, which does not constitute lobbying under Alberta law. In Alberta, communication is only considered "lobbying" when the lobbyist initiates the discussion.

On Wednesday, the labour federation released several pages of new internal government documents that say CAPP initiated contact with government. That would constitute lobbying and therefore conflict with Odsen's verdict.

AFL president Gil McGowan asked for a new investigation.

"The government has forgotten that their responsibility is to protect the public interest, not promote the narrow interests of corporations," McGowan said. "The government shouldn't become the public relations arm of industry, no matter how important that industry is."

CAPP spokeswoman Janet Annesley said the new documents do not conflict with the ruling. She explained that CAPP was communicating with government under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed long ago, and reiterated the registrar's finding that "once the conversation begins, whether ... a particular topic is first raised by government or a stakeholder is of no consequence."

She added the association would fully co-operate with any new investigation.

Energy Minister Ted Morton said he hadn't reviewed the new documents but that government always strives to consult knowledgeable stakeholders when developing policy.

"If we're developing an education policy, we are going to talk to teachers. If we are developing a health-care policy.

It is not known when the commissioner will decide whether to reopen the investigation or whether that decision will be made public.

Edmonton Journal, Wed Nov 30 2011
Byline: Karen Kleiss

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