N.S. premier not considering changes to lobbying law after Chretien meeting

Former prime minister Jean Chretien participates in an interview, Tuesday, March 7, 2017 in Ottawa. The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

Nova Scotia’s premier appears unworried by Jean Chretien’s decision to simply ignore queries from provincial officials asking if the former prime minister was lobbying for a Cape Breton port proposal.

Stephen McNeil said Thursday he’s not planning to consider changes that would give the lobbyists’ registrar the power to investigate complaints about alleged abuse, as happens in other provinces.

“Mr. Chretien did not respond. That is up to Mr. Chretien and the registrar. But … it’s not on my radar to actually change the rules around the registrar,” the premier said after a cabinet meeting.

READ: N.S. registrar of lobbyists asking whether Chretien lobbied premier for Cape Breton proposal

The registrar of lobbyists, Hayley Clarke, wrote Chretien after receiving a complaint about a March 21 meeting in Halifax between Chretien, McNeil and Transport Minister Geoff MacLellan.

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Chretien is an international adviser to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, which has been seeking investor support for the container port project. He has continued to be unavailable for comment, though emails have been sent to an associate who normally handles his media requests.

Both McNeil and MacLellan have denied being lobbied at the March 21 meeting in the premier’s office.

McNeil told reporters Thursday that if a citizen feels the province’s lobbying rules may have been broken, they can go to the police with a complaint.

“The system has teeth. The legislation allows you or any other Nova Scotian to go to the appropriate law enforcement agency if they believe there’s an issue,” he said.

READ MORE: Former unionist files complaint about Chretien meeting with Nova Scotia premier

John McCracken, the retired union activist who laid the complaint, says he will do just that, though he believes there should be legal changes to allow the registrar to investigate as well.

“I will be contacting the police about Jean Chretien’s meeting with him,” he tweeted in the afternoon.

“Regarding McNeil’s remarks, it’s clear to me that he likes the status quo because it means zero accountability for him, the minister responsible and the Act itself,” McCracken said in an earlier direct message.

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The day before he met McNeil, Chretien described to reporters why he thought the premier should support the idea and said he “worked for” the Sydney project.

When a Cape Breton Post reporter asked Chretien on March 20 how he’d market the Sydney container port to the premier, the former prime minister said he felt McNeil would be in favour of a provincewide approach to container ports.

Asked if he thought the province should invest money in the container port proposal, the former prime minister replied: “I hope so.”

McNeil repeated Thursday that no lobbying took place during their meeting.

Gary Burrill, leader of the New Democrats, said the premier is taking a loose approach to what lobbying is, and needs to consider reforms to the lobbying legislation.

“He wasn’t there just to play 45s,” said Burrill, referring to a popular East Coast card game.

Tim Hallman, a Tory member of the legislature, said “these lobbying laws need to have teeth,” and that referring all such matters to the police isn’t adequate.

“That’s fine but there should be another layer to that as well in terms of oversight,” said Hallman.

Clarke has previously made clear there was little she could do to probe what had occurred.

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A number of other provincial jurisdictions, including Ontario, and the federal commissioner of lobbying can probe citizen complaints and recommend police investigations.

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