NDP blame cabinet member for lobbyist scandal
TORONTO - The controversy over government lobbyists that's engulfed the Ontario legislature for days reaches all the way to Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet table, the New Democrats charged Thursday.
After uncovering that some hospitals, colleges and universities used public funds to lobby the government, the NDP revealed that Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli was also a paid lobbyist before he won an Ottawa seat last March.
According to the provincial registry, Chiarelli lobbied the government on behalf of Ottawa's Algonquin College from March 2007 until this year.
He withdrew his name on Jan. 25, just a few days after he announced he'd run in the Ottawa West-Nepean byelection but before he was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate.
But the longtime Liberal insists he did nothing wrong and severed his job ties with Algonquin "well before" he was elected.
"What I did, first of all, was done in good faith," Chiarelli said.
"It was done openly, it was done transparently, it was part of the public dynamic that was happening in my community and I was very proud of the work that I've done with Algonquin, and that's basically all I have to say at this time."
Chiarelli was reportedly paid $7,500 a month as a lobbyist for the college, which received $35 million from the McGuinty government in 2008 to create 600 more spaces for students, the NDP said.
The former Ottawa mayor, who was quickly elevated to cabinet in August, also broke ground last month on a $10-million project on the college's Perth campus that received most of its funding from the federal and provincial governments.
Chiarelli said provincial funding for those two projects was in place before he was elected. But he likely won't excuse himself from any future infrastructure decisions about his former client.
"Probably not, because I think that was a relationship that existed and it ended," Chiarelli said.
"You have teachers that get re-elected and they participate in grants to schools. You get doctors re-elected ... and they will continue to be involved in public policy issues and announcements with respect to hospitals.
"I think, first of all, that lobbying by a lot of people is considered a four-letter word. There are good lobbyists and there are bad lobbyists."
Hammered by the opposition parties all week on the issue, the governing Liberals promised Tuesday to introduce legislation that would block the broader public sector from using taxpayer dollars to lobby the government for more money.
But they have yet to identify which publicly funded institutions, other than hospitals, would be affected by the ban.
Even though he was paid to lobby for a publicly funded college, Chiarelli said he agrees that it's time to ban the practice.
"What I did was something that was ongoing for previous governments, was ongoing for this government, and I concur with the steps that are being taken by my government at this point in time," he said.
"Because there has been an acceleration of that particular type of activity and it is getting out of control... it's appropriate that the provincial government take the steps that it's planning on taking in that regard."
But the government only took action after it became a public embarrassment, said New Democrat Peter Tabuns.
"(Chiarelli) did nothing illegal, but the optics are terrible," Tabuns said.
Chiarelli's lobbying activities were well-known in Ottawa before he entered the byelection race, he pointed out.
"Suddenly when the premier is caught in question period, he says that this is unacceptable, against his principles, he's going to take action," Tabuns added.
"Well, you have to ask: were those principles always there or did they just conveniently and suddenly appear?"
According to documents obtained under freedom-of-information laws, 14 hospitals, nine colleges and universities and five municipalities hired lobbyists to influence the government, with contracts ranging from $9,400 to $271,000.