As conversations unfold in this country about internet privacy and the taxation of online corporations, there is a web of current and former federal Liberals in influential positions.
A review by this newspaper has highlighted several human connections between the governing party of Canada and the internet giants that are steadily lobbying it. The analysis shows no wrongdoing, but may point to the nature of lobbying for governments and industry on hot-button files across all political spectrums. The companies mentioned here stressed to this paper that they are following the rules around lobbying.
Crucial decisions are looming on the digital landscape in Canada, giving these connections added relevance. Billions of dollars are likely on the line for companies and for taxpayers.
The federal government is reviewing the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act: The two acts regulate foreign ownership of broadcasters and spell out how those companies must contribute to Canada’s cultural industries. There is growing talk about the ways multinational companies that exist primarily online are taxed by countries such as Canada. Conversations about whether Canada should be taxing Netflix — the online movie- and TV-show-streaming service — have been at the fore of that public discussion here.
At a meeting of the Group of 20 in Buenos Aires in March, the European Union announced it is considering imposing a levy on online companies. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau had steadfastly rejected the idea of such taxation prior to that meeting. He now says the idea should be studied.
Donald Lee Sheppard, an expert on government and business ethics and author of the book The Dividends of Decency, said it is common to see government employees jump to the lobbying sector. However, he said the practice is one that should prompt politicians and public servants to be even more transparent, as prior relationships with a lobbyist could be seen by those outside the process as skewing the development of public policy.
“It often is the way to go, from the government to the lobbyist firm. Because, you have contacts. None of that is unusual as long as it follows some legal path,” said Sheppard. “I see the concern. If you’re in the government, you’re serving the people. Who are you serving? Is it a company like Netflix or is it the people?”
Sheppard said Canada is actually in a better position that the United States due to the existence of overseers such as the lobbying commissioner and the office of the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, who are both responsible for watching over the interactions that government has with lobbyists.
Competitors of online multinational corporations argue that international streaming services, such as Netflix and YouTube, have as much as a 30 per cent cost advantage over traditional Canadian providers that must pay sales taxes, contribute to Canadian content and follow a host of other rules including mandatory carriage, over-the-air transmission requirements and closed captioning. The issue gets further muddied when it comes to Google and Facebook ad sales in Canada, which now account for as much as 72 per cent of Canada’s $5.5 billion annual market for advertising, are also untaxed.
With potential changes on the horizon, the technology companies have been lobbying the federal government, scheduling meetings with senior officials in recent months.
Last month, the links between Facebook’s man on the ground in Canada, Kevin Chan, and Finance Minister Morneau came under scrutiny when Chan, the company’s Canadian head of public policy, spoke in front of a parliamentary committee.
But the government ties to the internet’s key players are more numerous than just Chan.
A page in the 2013 memoir of former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s offers a starting point.
On the acknowledgements page of Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, Ignatieff states, “I got as far as I did thanks to a team who started as strangers and ended up as friends.”
He specifically mentions name such as Leslie Church, Jeremy Broadhurst, Richard Maksymetz and Chan.
All of those former Liberal players are now heavy hitters in the digital realm.
In regards to Church, Ignatieff writes that she was part of the “core of the team of lawyers and students who ran my leadership campaign.”
After leaving Igantieff’s team in May 2011, Church went on to work for Google as that company’s head of communications and public affairs in June 2012.
Church returned to the Liberal fold in December 2015, immediately following the Liberal victory in the federal election, and took the job as chief of staff at the Canadian Heritage Department. Church did not respond to a request for comment.
Church’s ties to Google were questioned by members of the Senate during a debate on Feb. 8. According to a transcript of the proceedings, Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan asked the Representative of Government, Sen. Peter Harder, about Google’s lobbying activities.
“I would like to talk about how a certain relationship exists between the current government and Google,” said Carignan. “Google lobbyists met with government representatives dozens of times in 2017. Google may be an excellent search engine, but how does the company manage to get such quick and privileged access to the government?”
“Mr. (Harder), the Google lobbyists also met with Minister Joly three times in 2017, and with her chief of staff, Leslie Church, four times. We know that Ms. Church worked at Google before she joined Minister Joly’s team.
“Did the government seek the advice of the Commissioner of Lobbying regarding what ties Ms. Church should maintain with her former employer?”
Harder responded by stating that for a company the size of Google, lobbying the government is a necessary part of its business.
“It is not surprising to me that a company of the size and import of Google would take advantage of the occasion to ensure that the issues important to them are brought to the attention of Government of Canada,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they also ensured that their interests were advanced outside of government, with legislators on all sides of the chamber.”
He added, “I want to assure the senators that compliance with the Lobbying Act and all matters of ethical compliance by ministers and their staff are vigilantly monitored.”
Long-term Liberal party member Broadhurst now sits as chief of staff for Global Affairs Canada and has been described by Parliament Hill colleagues in the past as the “PMO’s de facto No. 2.” Broadhurst was key in assembling Ignatieff’s staff. He acted as deputy chief of staff in the PMO until January 2017.
In an article published by The Hill Times newspaper in 2016, Marlene Floyd, a former director of operations and outreach for Justin Trudeau, offered glowing praise for Jeremy Broadhurst.
She said Broadhurst is “invaluable in the PMO. He helps them deliver. He is delivery-oriented: He takes policies and initiatives and ideas that are initiated by them and he helps drive them through the organization.”
A spokesperson for Global Affairs said Broadhurst had not met with former colleagues in his capacity as chief of staff.
“Mr. Broadhurst has not met with these individuals as chief of staff to the foreign minister,” the spokesperson said. “As you will know, lobbyists are responsible for declaring any meetings they take with public office holders. The commissioner of lobbying does have the authority to ask present and former designated public office holders to confirm the accuracy of monthly communication reports submitted to the Registry of Lobbyists. Mr. Broadhurst has always co-operated fully with such requests.”
Floyd, a member of the Liberal party for more than 20 years, became national director of corporate affairs for Microsoft Canada in March 2016.
She is listed as a lobbyist for Microsoft “whose lobbying activities represent 20 per cent or more of their duties,” according to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada.
Floyd is intimately tied to the party and prime minister Justin Trudeau. Back in 2014, when she was Trudeau’s director of operations and outreach, she was attempting to arrange a meeting between him and then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (The emails were leaked online by hackers who notoriously broke into the personal email of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016.)
According to records from the lobbying commissioner, Microsoft has held at least 45 meetings with federal officials, including the prime minister, since Jan. 1, 2017. It’s unknown whether Floyd attended some or any of those meetings. That’s because federal lobbying regulations do not require the names of everyone attending a meeting with government officials to be disclosed. A company only needs to 1) disclose that its representatives met with government officials 2) list one member of its delegation and 3) provide a brief synopsis of the discussions that were held. That means individuals could attend numerous meetings without having their names mentioned in lobbying records.
Floyd did not return requests seeking comment. Her employer said it strives to meet all regulatory requirements placed on lobbying.
“Both Microsoft as a company, and Ms. Floyd personally, take compliance seriously and abide by all rules and regulations set out by the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying,” reads the statement, which was sent in an email.
Chan, who recently appeared before a committee in Ottawa in his capacity for Facebook, is another longtime Liberal, who is also mentioned in Ignatieff’s memoirs.
Ignatieff wrote that Chan, “gave up a promising career in the privy council office to write policy for me.” Chan was a policy director for the former Liberal leader. Today, he is Facebook’s Canadian head of public policy.
In his fiery exchange before Parliament, Chan acknowledged that he has been taking meetings with senior government officials. He said he did not believe he was required to report them.
Chan has been tasked with helping Facebook to navigate through the Cambridge Analytic’s debacle, which has sparked an inquiry by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Chan was the representative from the social media giant who spoke in defence of the company before a parliamentary committee on April 19.
One line of questioning that members of Parliament focused on was, despite having been with Facebook since 2014, and having taken several meetings with senior Liberal staff members and members of parliament, why had Chan not registered himself with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying Canada?
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus pressed the issue, pointing out many meetings with senior cabinet members, including Morneau.
During a tense exchange, Chan insisted his meeting with Morneau strictly involved him showing the minister how to broadcast his budget speech on Facebook.
“This question does go to the heart of the company’s integrity and, quite frankly, my integrity personally — so, I appreciate the opportunity to address this head-on, if I may,” Chan said. “To be very, very, very clear: The meeting you’re referring to with minister Morneau, again, with all due respect to all parties involved, his office reached out to Facebook. He wanted some advice on how to do Facebook Live for his budget speech.”
Angus responded by arguing that Chan’s role as the company’s leading public policy person in Canada means he’s in charge of engaging with government on a wide range of business issues that affect Facebook, which has 23 million users in the country and more than two billion worldwide.
“I mean, my light bulb breaks, I don’t call the head of General Electric to come and fix it, and yet, you show up to help him figure out how to get more ‘likes,’” said Angus, who insisted Chan has “enormous access” to the Liberal government. “Isn’t that a waste of your time?”
Chan replied: “If you play it out that way, that is what I spend my time doing, sir. I’m proud of it.”
To reinforce Chan’s prominence, during a meeting in the fall, the CRTC asked the Department of Canadian Heritage to provide names and contact information for “key personnel” at various tech companies, including Facebook. The department recommended the commission contact Chan.
Chan’s comments in Ottawa sparked a formal complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada by activist group Democracy Watch, to determine whether Facebook has violated the Lobbying Act or Canada’s Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.
“The actions of Facebook’s employee and its consultant lobbyists, including favours provided to federal Cabinet ministers and politicians, raise serious questions and an investigation is needed to determine if they have violated the federal lobbying law and lobbyists’ code,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and adjunct professor of law and political studies at the University of Ottawa.
A search of the lobbying commissioner’s database, shows only three communication reports, indicating formal meetings between Facebook’s private consultants and federal officials, dating back to Jan. 1, 2014, the year Chan joined the firm.
Last week, Facebook released a statement saying it would register its officials with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying “soon.”
Chan did not respond to requests for comment.
However, speaking on background, a spokesman for Facebook said the company is committed to transparency. The spokesman said lobbying makes up less than 20 per cent of Chan’s overall duties, which falls within the allowable amount to avoid reporting meetings to the lobby commissioner’s office.
Facebook acknowledged it has taken meetings with Church, who formerly worked with Chan in Ignatieff’s offices. However, despite meeting with Finance Minister Morneau, Facebook said it had not met with Maksymetz, another former Ignatieff team member, who, until last month, was Morneau’s chief of staff. It said it has not met with Broadhurst.
Lindsay Doyle, who worked in Ignatieff’s office between December 2008 and 2009, was recently hired as manager of public policy and government relations at Google Canada. Doyle is registered as a lobbyist for Google. She is a longtime Liberal supporter who has appeared on panels as a representative of the party. Prior to the appointment at Google, Doyle worked as a consultant for well-known lobby firm Summa Strategies Canada, where she lobbied on behalf of a number of companies, including Google.
She worked as a lobbyist for Google as early as November 2016, when she worked for consulting firm Summa Strategies. She was registered as arranging or “expects to arrange” meetings with federal departments including Canadian Heritage, Finance and the PMO.
Google Canada’s head of communication’s and public affairs, Aaron Brindle, confirmed that Doyle has lobbied on behalf of Google in the past. He said Google is very careful to meet Canada’s lobbying requirements and said Doyle “has not attended meetings concerning Google business” with Church, Broadhurst or Maksymetz, the former chief of staff to Morneau.
“Google’s team in Ottawa has been careful to ensure its meetings are carefully accounted for in the lobbying registry. Technology is a huge part of the current policy discussions in Ottawa, and it will be for a long time. We think it is important to have a strong voice in the debate and help policymakers understand our business,” Brindle said.
Doyle did not provide comment.
There are no records to suggest that Doyle met with other former Ignatieff staffers on behalf of Google. However, a communication report dated Feb. 9, 2016 records a meeting between Doyle and Church on behalf of another client she was representing at Summa. Another report filed March 3, 2016, shows a meeting between Doyle and Maksymetz on behalf of a third client for whom she was also lobbying.
According to reports filed with the lobbying commissioner, while Doyle did not meet with Maksymetz directly on behalf of Google. She did hold meetings with senior staff at Finance Canada, where Maksymetz was chief of staff, on behalf of Google as late as August of last year.
Google has had a total of at least 60 meetings with senior government officials, including the Prime Minister’s Office, since August 2016.
Doyle lobbied for Google at the same time Church, who is now chief of staff at Canadian Heritage, was working for the search engine giant. It’s not clear whether any of Doyle’s duties as manager of public policy and government relations overlap with those that Church was responsible for as Google’s head of communications and public affairs, prior to her departure at the company in 2015.
Louis Charles Roy
Louis Charles Roy, meanwhile, worked in the Ignatieff office between April 2009 and September 2010.
Today a senior consultant in government relations at lobby firm Proof Strategies, he is now registered as an active lobbyist for online streaming service Netflix. According to his registration, Roy will “engage in discussions around the Telecommunications Act, Broadcasting Act. In particular, discussions will take place around new entrants in the market, applicable regulations and policies such as the Convergence Policy, the CRTC’s Net Neutrality framework and the CRTC’s New Media Exemption Order.” The registration said Roy has arranged or expects to arrange meetings with Canadian Heritage and the PMO, among other government departments.
In one meeting, which was posted to the Lobbying Commissioner’s website on May 15, 2017, Roy met with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and her chief of staff Church — also a former Ignatieff staffer.
Roy did not respond to questions about his ties with the federal Liberal party. However, Greg MacEachern, senior vice-president of government relations for Roy’s employer, Proof Strategies, and another registered lobbyist for Netflix, said, that “as required by law, all of our meetings are registered with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying and viewable to the public on that office’s website.”
Netflix has met with senior government officials, including the Prime Minister’s Office, 23 times since January 2017.