John Reynolds, the new face of elite Canadian lobbyists

Consummate Tory insider has nothing to fear from new Federal Accountability Act

 

John Reynolds arriving at Rideau Hall on Feb. 6, 2006, to be sworn in as a member of the Queen's Privy Council of Canada. The title enhances his stature in his new job with Lang Michener, one of the most prominent law firms in Canada.

Ottawa (13 April 2006) - Welcome to the new face of lobbying in Canada, an elite group of influence peddlers who will simply float above or swim around the supposedly impenetrable walls of the Conservatives' new Federal Accountability Act.

Exhibit A is John Reynolds of Vancouver, the 30-year veteran who retired from elective politics in January.

The showcase legislation, introduced with such fanfare by the Harper government this week, contains a glaring loophole that is custom made for Reynolds – the Toriest of all insiders – and for a select circle of others who will be able to influence decision-makers without meaningful restrictions of any kind.

The act does nothing to prevent former ministers, senior officials (or former MPs like Reynolds) from joining law or lobbying firms and indirectly peddling their influence by directing others in their new firms toward the most appropriate federal decision makers to contact.

Conveniently, the act also exempts individuals who spend less than 20% of their time directly lobbying the government for favours. Anyone fitting into these categories will not be required to register as a lobbyist.

'Secret lobbying' still legal

"If you're not in the registry, you don't have to follow the ethics rules for lobbyists, and you don't have to disclose your communications with ministers," notes Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.

"All a corporation has to do is set up a couple of in-house people who lobby part of their time, and nothing that they are doing will be in the registry, so secret lobbying will still be legal."

(For those who must register, another loophole exempts e-mail messages from scrutiny, thus providing a way for lobbyists to communicate in secret with those they seek to influence and remain unaccountable. The new act restricts reporting requirements to prearranged in-person meetings, or phone calls.)

Reynolds, who served as co-chair of the national Harper campaign, moved swiftly after leaving elected politics to remake himself as a man to be reckoned with in the new Conservative power world of Ottawa.

Big job with Lang Michener

First, the former MP arranged to be hired by the Vancouver office of Lang Michener, one of the most prestigious law firms in Canada. Normally law firms hire lawyers, a qualification that Reynolds happens to lack. His parliamentary biography describes him as a "businessman, manager, sales and marketing consultant."

So what could he do for Lang Michener?

Rafe Mair, the well-known West Coast broadcaster, explained it as well as anyone in a column published Feb. 20 on The Tyee website. Noting that the firm's main business is to do "high-powered work" for high-paying corporate clients seeking influence in high government circles, Mair wrote: "The clients pay those huge sums because it's worth it if they get what they want."

Reynolds denies that he is engaged in direct lobbying, but Mair dismisses his protest as essentially meaningless.

"He splits hairs," Mair says. "That's like saying that the coach isn't part of the team. It also must be stated - and this is a critical point - Lang Michener doesn't need the help of John Reynolds to know who runs what department, or who's behind a policy.

"They need someone whose name means something in government...The truth of the matter is that Mr. Reynolds is not an official lobbyist because he doesn't have to be. His name properly introduced will be all that's needed," Mair argues.

Big expectations

"Lang Michener are not fools," Mair adds. "They don't throw their money around. They have hired John Reynolds, oops, I mean the Honourable John Reynolds, because they expect to get their money back many times over. That can only happen if clients get what they want from government, thanks to Reynolds' efforts. If that isn't the hope and expectation, why hire him?"

The Lang Michener announcement of Reynolds' appointment boasted, "John’s wealth of experience and connections further adds to our ability to serve our clients.” Reynolds was also quoted in the same release as saying, " I am thrilled to be able to apply my experience in government and business ..."

Meanwhile, Mair's reference to "the Honourable John Reynolds" is worth noting. The title was extended to the former MP on the very day the Conservatives were sworn into office - Feb. 6, 2006.

That morning, Reynolds (a mere private citizen) arrived at Rideau Hall along with all of the new members of the Harper cabinet and was duly administered the Privy Council oath by the Governor General. The prized initials "P.C." are now featured prominently on his personal website.

Few Canadians have heard of the Privy Council and fewer still know anything about the arcane parliamentary body. All of its members are appointed for life and all are entitled to be called "Honourable."

As a body, the Privy Council rarely meets but its members enjoy certain privileges, apart from their title and the esteem of belonging to one of the country's most exclusive organizations.

For example, Privy Council members can be granted access to sensitive classified information that is off limits to all but a handful of the most senior people in Ottawa, including most elected MPs.

SIRC and CSIS

One notable case involves the Security Intelligence Review Committee. SIRC has authority to examine all information related the the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), no matter how sensitive or highly classified that information may be. By law, only Privy Council members can be appointed to SIRC.

It has not been suggested that Reynolds will become a member of SIRC but the way is clear should Harper decide to appoint him. The oath that Privy Council members must take at their swearing in is interesting. Here is the text:

I, (name), do solemnly and sincerely swear that I shall be a true and faithful servant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, as a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council for Canada. I will in all things to be treated, debated and resolved in Privy Council, faithfully, honestly and truly declare my mind and my opinion. I shall keep secret all matters committed and revealed to me in this capacity, or that shall be secretly treated of in Council. Generally, in all things I shall do as a faithful and true servant ought to do for Her Majesty.

Plus ca change!

Reynolds' appointment to the Privy Council was peculiar for its low profile. His name was tacked on, without advance notice or explanation, to the list of new cabinet members who took the oath on the same day. Since then even that small mention seems to have disappeared from the prime minister's web site.

Whatever the significance of his appointment, Reynolds membership in the Privy Council can only enhance the stature he commands as an unofficial lobbyist for the clients of Lang Michener. And, as of this week, it is also clear that he has nothing to fear from all the moral chest-thumping associated with the new Accountability Act.

As the old adage goes, The more things change, the more they remain the same. NUPGE

Footnote: Reynolds has since reversed his pledge not to lobby Stephen Harper and other senior policy makers in Ottawa. In March 2007, he registered as a lobbyist on behalf of three groups - the Rick Hansen Foundation into spinal cord injury research, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan's initiative to fight drug addiction, and Vancouver's Science World, run by a not-for-profit society.

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