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Minister Boissonnault to testify before ethics committee over ties to lobbyist, PPE company

Click to play video: 'Ethics committee questions Boissonnault over texts'
Ethics committee questions Boissonnault over texts
WATCH: Ethics Commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein is looking into the business dealings of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages Minister Randy Boissonnault. Krista Hessey reports – Jun 4, 2024

Members of the Parliamentary ethics committee have approved a motion to call Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault and ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein to testify about the minister’s ties to a lobbyist and a medical supply company revealed by Global News.

Last week, Global News published two investigations into the Edmonton Centre MP’s business activities. The first found he had ties to a lobbyist who went on to help her client win $110 million in federal grants. The other found a personal protective equipment (PPE) company Boissonnault co-founded was awarded $8.2 million in provincial and municipal contracts and has also faced serious legal challenges.

Tory MP Michael Barrett brought the motion before the ethics committee on Tuesday, which passed it by six to five.

Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs on the committee voted for the motion, while Liberal MPs voted against.

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Barrett asked the committee to examine whether Boissonnault violated conflict of interest and lobbying laws and to report its findings publicly. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.

Boissonnault’s office told Global News the minister has followed conflict of interest and lobbying rules.

“Minister Boissonnault always met all of his conflict of interest and ethics obligations as a public office holder,” stated Alice Hansen, his director of communications.

Boissonnault, the only Liberal cabinet member from Alberta, represents Edmonton Centre, one of the party’s two footholds in the province.

The motion comes after Barrett wrote to the lobbying commissioner, Nancy Bélanger, and von Finckenstein regarding Boissonnault’s business activities. Citing what he stated were possible violations of eight sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, along with the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct and the Open and Accountable Government Code, he demanded that both commissioners launch investigations.

Click to play video: '‘Will the other Randy please stand up?’: Conservative MPs question Boissonnault'
‘Will the other Randy please stand up?’: Conservative MPs question Boissonnault

Bélanger told Barrett her office cannot reveal whether it is or is not conducting an investigation, or preparing to do so.

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On Tuesday, Barrett asked the ethics committee to “undertake an immediate study” into payments Boissonnault is receiving from Navis Group, a lobbying firm, and his involvement in Global Health Imports (GHI), a medical supply company embroiled in lawsuits.

Barrett requested that Boissonnault’s business associates be asked to appear before the committee. He named Stephen Anderson, a former hockey coach who co-founded GHI with Boissonnault in early 2020.

According to business registry documents obtained by Global News, Boissonnault remained listed as director of GHI for 16 months after he was appointed to cabinet in 2021. Under the Conflict of Interest Act, ministers are prohibited from serving as directors of companies.

Boissonnault maintains that he resigned from GHI’s board after he won back his seat in 2021 and that he asked Anderson to update the business registries, which didn’t happen.

It is typically the responsibility of the corporation to change provincial and federal business registries.

In a statement to Global News, Boissonnault’s office said he has had no role in GHI since he was elected and receives no income from it.

Michael Wrobel, a spokesperson for the ethics commissioner’s office, stated Boissonnault met the requirements of the Conflict of Interest Act.

“The office is aware that even after a reporting public office holder has resigned their directorship in a company, it can take some time for corporate registries to be updated to reflect that change,” Wrobel said in a statement.

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The registries were not updated until March 2023, 507 days after Boissonnault joined cabinet.

GHI went on to win at least $8.2 million in municipal and provincial contracts. Industry professionals said a small startup securing government contracts of this size was unusual.

GHI also got into legal trouble.

The company, a pandemic-era supplier that sold items such as disinfectant and medical gowns, has lost six lawsuits by default. When the company did not put up a defence, Alberta courts ordered GHI to pay more than $7.8 million to its suppliers and buyers. Boissonnault is not named in any of the lawsuits.

Barrett also asked the committee to invite Kirsten Poon, a longtime business associate of Boissonnault’s. She is director of his two companies, Xennex Venture Catalysts and 2256956 Alberta Ltd. Both shut down daily operations after the minister took office.

Poon’s lobbying company, Navis Group, has been issuing “outstanding” payments to Boissonnault, which she and the minister say are owing from his work as a private citizen for the United Nations Development Program in 2020 and 2021.

At the standing committee on human resources earlier this week, Boissonnault refused to answer Conservative MPs’ questions about how much money he has received from Navis Group, which only raised more suspicion from the opposition.

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“The minister is having a real tough time keeping his story straight,” Barrett said to the ethics committee.

Speaking on why he asked for this probe, ethics critic Barrett said it “would give us the opportunity to provide transparency to Canadians where that seems to have failed, both in the minister’s most recent appearance at committee, but also in his disclosures to officers of Parliament.”

The minister’s links to GHI and Navis Group were not obvious in documents posted on the ethics commissioner’s registry describing his conflicts of interest.

Wrobel attributed the omission of GHI from these documents to an error that the office had made, which it soon corrected.

The ethics committee will also explore questions of whether Poon’s connection to Boissonnault aided her work for the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority.

Poon took over a lobbying contract from Xennex, Boissonnault’s second business, after the minister took office. She lobbied political staffers across the federal government, including meeting with policy advisers at Finance Canada in March and June 2022, where Boissonnault was an associate minister at the time.

“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,” Hansen said in a statement.

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The connection between the minister and the lobbyist was not easy for civil servants and the public to identify. The ethics commissioner’s registry noted Boissonnault was receiving delayed payments from 2050877 Alberta Ltd., Navis Group’s legal name.

Wrobel and Boissonnault’s spokesperson both stated that the minister was required to list the company’s legal name, which he did.

Poon’s lobbying in 2021 and 2022 helped raise $110 million in federal grants for Edmonton International Airport. She maintains her lobbying was independent of Boissonnault.

Boissonnault told the human resources committee on May 6 that he did not have “line authority” over decisions related to Poon’s work, indicating that he was not required to notify the ethics commissioner of any conflicts of interest.

According to Wrobel, this is correct. “A conflict of interest screen would not necessarily be required” in such a situation, he told Global News.

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