As former prime minister Stephen Harper leaves Parliament Hill for good, he will face significant restrictions when it comes to his future contact with the government of Canada.
Harper confirmed on Friday that he is stepping down as MP for the riding of Calgary Heritage, making the jump to the private sector after more than two decades in politics.
In a prepared statement handed out to media and posted on his social media channels, the former Conservative leader said little about his future, aside from a brief mention of starting “the next chapter of my life.”
That chapter is expected to be dominated by consulting on international issues alongside two of his most trusted former advisers, former PMO staffers Ray Novak and Jeremy Hunt. The trio are listed as directors on a corporation first set up in December called Harper & Associates Consulting.
But according to the Lobbying Act, Harper is now subject to the same rules as any other MP (or “public office holder”) leaving office, and as such, cannot lobby the federal government for five years.
That means that unless he is granted an exemption, he cannot communicate with any public office holder as part of his business to discuss:
- The development of future legislation
- The introduction or passage or amendment of any bill or resolution
- The creation or amendment of any government regulation
- The development or amendment of any government policy or program
- The awarding of any grant, contract, contribution or other financial benefit by the government
Under the Act, Harper cannot even arrange a meeting between a public office holder and any other person as part of his business. He himself ushered in the five-year ban after winning power in 2006.
In some cases, lobbying activity can be carried out if it comprises less than 20 per cent of a former MPs new duties, but it’s unclear if that applies to Harper. Asked about Harper’s specific case, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada simply referred Global News back to the legislation.
The Conflict of Interest Act, meanwhile, adds other restrictions to the mix.
It forbids the former prime minister from providing advice to any person or organization using information he obtained while in office (that is not already available to the public), and from making paid or unpaid “representations” on behalf of his company to any federal department, organization, board, commission or tribunal with which he had direct and significant dealings during his last year in office.
For Harper, that could apply to any number of government bodies.
There is a past record of former prime ministers lobbying the federal government once they are permitted to do so. Joe Clark, who was prime minister for just nine months between 1979 and 1980, registered in 2014 to lobby on behalf of a French private equity firm (Meridiam Infrastructure S.A.R.L.) that wanted to get involved with the replacement of Montreal’s aging Champlain Bridge.
Harper may not need to liaise much with Canadian officials, however, as his consulting firm is expected to focus on international affairs.
According to a published report in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, a source close to Harper said the former prime minister will be travelling abroad a great deal in his new role.
“The company’s clients will be able to count on the perspective and strategic analysis, as well as the network, of a former G7 leader,” the source is quoted as saying.
In Saguenay for a caucus meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked specifically about Harper’s possible foray back onto the international stage, and if there were any ethical concerns surrounding it.
Trudeau said that Harper “obviously had deep convictions around the role Canada should play in the world,” and acknowledged that they didn’t always agree.
“I’m quite certain that he will be able to share his expertise as the former leader of a G7 country, and I hope he will be successful,” the prime minister added.