Federal minister’s ties to lobbyist raise ethical concerns

Randy Boissonnault, Minster of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages speaks to reporters before attending a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023
Click to play video: 'Boissonnault followed ‘very strict ethics rules’ for elected officials: MacKinnon'
Boissonnault followed ‘very strict ethics rules’ for elected officials: MacKinnon
WATCH ABOVE: Referencing a recent Global News investigation, Conservative MP Michael Barrett grilled the Liberal government on the details behind a lobbyist with business ties to Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault meeting with high-level political staff in 2021 and 2022 – May 2, 2024

A lobbyist with business ties to federal cabinet minister Randy Boissonnault met with high-level political staff in six federal departments, including one where Boissonnault was also associate minister, a Global News investigation has found.

The meetings, which took place in 2021 and 2022, helped raise $110 million in federal grants for Edmonton International Airport.

Now serving as employment minister, Boissonnault is the only Liberal cabinet member from Alberta. The Edmonton Centre MP’s riding is one of the party’s two footholds in the province.

After he won the September 2021 election and was named tourism minister and associate finance minister, Boissonault began winding down his small consulting business, Xennex Venture Catalysts, which he ran out of his home.

As is legally required of elected officials, Boissonnault handed over control and the remaining administrative duties to Kirsten Poon, his friend and business associate. Poon had worked as a lobbyist for Xennex.

The company “ceased day-to-day operations,” according to his spokeswoman, Alice Hansen.

“Minister Boissonnault always met all of his conflict of interest and ethics obligations as a public office holder,” Hansen told Global News.

Poon, who had no prior experience with federal lobbying before working for Xennex, transferred the company’s sole registered client, Edmonton Regional Airports Authority, to her own small business, Navis Group.

As Boissonnault assumed his ministerial duties, Poon resumed lobbying.

In legally-mandated public disclosures listing his possible conflicts of interest, Boissonnault posted the legal name for Poon’s consultancy, 2050877 Alberta Ltd.

He did not, however, disclose its trade name, Navis Group.

A snapshot of Minister Randy Boissonnault’s July 2023 disclosures in the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s registry. Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

The connection between the two entities would not be immediately obvious to government officials or the public. To find that Navis Group and the numbered company were one and the same, they would have to conduct a corporate records search and pay $80.


Poon lobbied high-ranking ministry staffers across federal departments, including three meetings with a policy adviser for the Prime Minister’s Office and two meetings with advisers reporting to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Poon’s meetings with Finance Canada took place in March and June 2022, when Boissonnault was attached to the same department as associate minister.

One of the topics in her meetings with Finance Canada was hydrogen fuel development. Within months, Boissonnault and other officials made an announcement at Edmonton International Airport awarding local hydrogen fuel initiatives $9.74 million in federal funds.

While Boissonnault’s office told Global News the minister has followed conflict-of-interest and lobbying rules, experts consulted by Global News expressed concerns about whether Boissonnault had met the high bar of transparency set by these regulations.

The Conflict of Interest Act requires ministers to avoid using their offices “to further his or her private interests … or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”

The Open and Accountable Government Code expands on this, stating that “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.”

And the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, a set of rules arising from the Lobbying Act, warns federal lobbyists to never pitch to officials who “could reasonably be seen to have a sense of obligation towards you.”

Ian Stedman, an assistant professor of Canadian public law and governance at York University, said that Boissonnault did not break any laws.

Nevertheless, he said, “This is an example of an arrangement with a ‘former’ business associate … that I don’t think the public would be comfortable with.”

Alice Hansen, the minister’s spokeswoman, replied to Global News’ questions, “Minister Boissonnault has not been involved with any of Ms. Poon’s lobbying activities since being elected, and all necessary steps have been taken to avoid any conflict of interest.”

For her part, Poon emphasized that her lobbying was independent of Boissonnault.

“Mr. Boissonnault was not involved in any way,” she stated in exchanges with Global News. “I take all applicable laws, rules and ethics very seriously.”

“Government officials at all levels will take meetings with my client because of who they are and their critical role in our country, not because of me or Mr. Boissonnault,” she added.

Delayed payments

Poon and Boissonnault still have business ties, Global News found. Poon is the only director of Boissonnault’s two businesses — Xennex and a numbered holding company that controls his shares in a PPE supply business. Boissonnault received payments from Xennex into 2023, and the payments from Navis Group continue today, according to his public disclosures.

Minister Randy Boissonnault’s ties to lobbyist Kirsten Poon. Global News

When asked why Poon’s business is paying Boissonnault, Hansen replied that these are long-delayed payments from Boissonnault’s consulting work in 2020 and 2021. That work “pre-dated the establishment of Navis Group from 2050877 Alberta Ltd., which is why that company was named as such,” she wrote.

Lawyers and researchers with expertise in federal lobbying and conflict of interest legislation told Global News they found these explanations insufficient.

“There is a difference between being compliant with the rules, which may be the case here, and the ethics of the relationship,” explained Robert Shepherd, a professor of public policy and program evaluation at Carleton University.

“Poon is placing departmental officials in the awkward position of at least having to take meetings with her” because of her relationship with Boissonnault, he said.

Freeland’s office and the prime minister’s office did not directly respond to Global News’ questions about whether their staff had known about Boissonnault’s business ties to Poon. Global News does not know whether any department officials whom Poon lobbied were aware of her relationship with Boissonnault.


A spokesman for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, which is the organization that advises MPs on how to avoid conflicts of interest, indicated that it was not aware that the numbered company operates as Navis Group.

However, “the requirements of the Code are met,” he confirmed, pointing out that the minister was legally required to use the business’s legal name.

The Office of the Lobbying Commissioner told Global News that it could not comment on Poon or Boissonnault’s activities.

But experts caution there is an unaddressed, underlying problem: MPs and advisors starting up lobbying firms when they are out of power.

Lobbying “loophole”

Federal legislation prohibits former MPs and their staff from lobbying federal offices for five years after leaving office, or what’s called a cooling-off period, so that they cannot profit from their information about the government’s activities.

Stedman, however, said there is “a loophole” that allows members of this group to own businesses that hire other consultants to do the lobbying.

Boissonnault served as Edmonton Centre MP from 2015 to 2019. When he lost his seat in the 2019 election, he resurrected Xennex, according to government records.

Xennex had no website and had been dormant for years, but by spring 2020, the first year of Boissonnault’s cooling-off period, it won Edmonton Regional Airports Authority’s contract away from one of Canada’s largest public relations firms.

Xennex then hired Poon, who has been a consultant for the airport since 2018 and sometimes uses the title “director of business development” or “vice president, Asia.” Poon had volunteered on Boissonnault’s 2015 campaign and altogether had donated $4,000.

A screen grab from the SXSW site, showing Kirsten Poon, a director of business development and investment for Edmonton International Airport, was featured at a panel discussion in March 2023. After Global News asked questions about Poon’s position at Edmonton International Airport, the page was removed.
A screen grab from the SXSW site for a panel discussion in March 2023. After Global News asked questions about Poon’s position at Edmonton International Airport, this web page was taken down. sxsw.com

Boissonnault’s proximity to his firm’s lobbying contract was unusually close, experts noted.

Duff Conacher, founder of the nonprofit Democracy Watch, said with Boissonnault as Xennex’s sole director and voting shareholder, hiring Poon was a “sham facade.”

“Just to have a proxy person lobbying for you, when it’s your firm,” he said, was insufficient distance between Boissonnault and the lobbying contract.

Boissonnault did not lobby, observing the cooling-off period, Hansen explained.

Boissonnault “did not participate in work activities that involved communication with a federal public office holder nor did he arrange meetings with a public office holder on behalf of Xennex or its clients. There is no failure to comply with the Lobbying Act,” she stated.

The airport did, however, hire Boissonnault as a Xennex consultant while he was out of office, Hansen told Global News.

He worked on a project “advising the Edmonton International Airport throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” she stated.

Hansen did not respond to Global News’ request for documentation of Boissonnault’s work with the airport.

With Boissonnault advising and Poon lobbying, Edmonton International Airport received $25 million in pandemic recovery funds in July 2021, one month after he was nominated for his riding and two months before the federal contest.

Back in the driver’s seat

After Boissonnault regained his seat in September and the PMO made him tourism minister and associate finance minister, his tight circle of relationships converged.

In his capacity as tourism minister, he worked on Edmonton airport’s new private partnerships involving hydrogen fuel, according to an April 2022 post in which the airport thanked him for “helping to make these agreements a reality.”

Hansen told Global News that the airport was simply thanking Boissonnault  as a speaker at a convention where the airport announced the partnerships.

A spokeswoman for the airport later clarified to Global News that the post was in recognition of “the work of both the federal and provincial governments.”

Poon, meanwhile, was both serving as a consultant for the airport, which is owned by the federal government, and lobbying the federal government on its behalf. She helped to bring in two more grants totalling $110 million.

Hansen argued that there was nothing unusual about Poon’s successes in obtaining meetings.


“As a major Canadian airport, EIA is a significant Canadian stakeholder that would meet from time to time with federal officials,” she wrote. “There are extensive records of EIA getting similar meetings in the years preceding Ms. Poon’s lobbying on their behalf.”

When Boissonnault announced the $9.74 million for hydrogen fuel projects, the minister was also receiving payments from Poon’s business Navis / 2050877 Alberta Ltd., according to federal records.

Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault, Prairies Economic Development Canada Minister Dan Vandal, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, and PrairiesCan representatives at Edmonton International Airport, announcing $9.74 million in funds for hydrogen-related projects on Jan. 17, 2023. Office of the Mayor Amarjeet Sohi

Hansen said these payments were for his work prior to his re-election.

“The Minister still has outstanding income from this completed work,” Hansen explained, adding that payments from the United Nations Development Programme, a former Xennex client, were long delayed.

Hansen pointed out that the federal funds the airport received “were not awarded by any departments reporting to Minister Boissonnault and he had no part in any of the approval processes for those grants.”

In Conacher’s view, while not required to do so, Boissonnault should have made a proactive, public declaration recusing himself from all activities connected with the airport’s lobbying effort when he took office.

“That would have again registered that (Poon) was someone who was associated with him,” he said.

Navis’ federal lobbying registration lapsed in April 2023. The airport has not received any new grants since then.