Council of Canadian Innovators execs found not to have violated federal lobbying rules

Canada’s Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Belanger has found that Benjamin Bergen and Dana O’Born, executives with the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), did not violate Canadian lobbying rules following complaints that were filed against the two in 2017.

In 2017, an investigation commenced against the two, who work and are in-house lobbyists for the CCI, a lobby group for the Canadian innovation and tech sector. In reports filed last Thursday, Belanger concluded that neither Bergen nor O’Born had violated the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.

The Lobbying Commissioner’s reports found no evidence that O’Born or Bergen ever lobbied Freeland specifically.

The code states that lobbyists shall not lobby a public-office holder with whom they have a relationship that could reasonably be seen to create a sense of obligation; and must refrain for five years from lobbying people for whom they have engaged in political activities that could create a sense of obligation.

The Thursday reports related specifically to concerns that Bergen and O’Born had lobbied current Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (then Foreign Affairs Minister) or members of her ministerial staff after undertaking political activities on her behalf. Bergen and O’Born were both previously part of Freeland’s election campaigns, including co-campaign managing her re-election in 2015.

The Lobbying Commissioner’s reports found no evidence that O’Born or Bergen ever lobbied Freeland specifically.

Other concerns that had been raised in 2017 led to calls for the federal ethics and lobbying commissioners to investigate whether the CCI had also broken lobbying rules after offering access to federal government staff in exchange for a $10,000 yearly fee.

At the time, the reports found that the CCI had promised monthly meetings with then-environment minister Catherine McKenna’s chief of staff, Marlo Raynolds.

A December 2019 letter from the Commissioner of Lobbying shared recently by the CCI, stated that based on evidence collected the office would no longer be pursuing the investigation concerning McKenna’s office.

“The information collected to date undercuts the basis for investigating whether a reasonable observer…could reasonably conclude…that Mr. Raynolds could been seen to have extended preferential treatment to CCI member companies as comprised to other organizations,” the report stated.

RELATED: CCI’s Ben Bergen explains what Canadian tech leaders want on the election agenda

The CCI was formed in November 2015, shortly after the Liberal government took office and promised heavy spending on innovation and growth in the technology sector. Including Bergen and O’Born, at least three of CCI’s full-time staff are former Liberal aides at federal or provincial levels. Patrick Searle, CCI’s director of communications, was a spokesman for Ontario Liberal cabinet ministers between 2012 and January 2017.

Today, the council is composed of more than 100 CEOs of Canadian tech companies in areas that include health and clean technology, fintech, cybersecurity, and information and communication technology. The CCl is chaired by Jim Balsillie, former chairman and co-CEO of BlackBerry, and John Ruffolo, founder of OMERS Ventures.

In a release from the CCI regarding the Lobbying Commissioner’s recent reports, both O’Born and Bergen made statements on the decision.

“CCI always has and always will abide by all federal and provincial lobbying rules and codes of conduct.”

“CCI always has and always will abide by all federal and provincial lobbying rules and codes of conduct when engaging in its advocacy work on behalf of Canadian innovators,” said Bergen. “I would like to thank the Commissioner for her thorough investigation and welcome her findings that found we acted in complete compliance with the Lobbyist Code of Conduct.”

“I am happy the Commissioner’s office did a thorough and professional investigation and found no grounds for the maligning allegations lodged against myself and our advocacy efforts at CCI,” added O’Born. “I have always worked with great integrity to support the growth of Canada’s innovation sector, and now with these allegations behind us, I am squarely focused on the work ahead of us to support all innovators in their pursuits to scale-up globally.”

While Belanger cleared the two CCI executives of any wrongdoing concerning Freeland, the commissioner noted in her report the need to update Rule 6 (Conflict of Interest) and Rule 9 (Political Activities) of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, which Bergen and O’Born had been investigated for.

“Although I determined that Rule 6 had not been contravened in the factual circumstances at issue in this investigation, I observed that the analysis required by Rule 6 raises concerns about the manner in which this provision is currently drafted,” Belanger wrote.

She also noted that Rule 9 did not sufficiently cover the term “staff” in a minister’s office. In interacting with Freeland’s office, the CCI executives had worked with David Lametti, in his former capacity as parliamentary secretary for the minister. Bergen noted in her report that Rule 9 does not qualify parliamentary secretaries as staff, “however, parliamentary secretaries share the same political commitments as the minister they are appointed to assist.”

The federal lobbyist registry shows the CCI has had 364 meetings with federal officials since it was formed, including 89 with Global Affairs Canada, which Freeland was a part of until she became deputy prime minister following the most recent election. The CCI is currently registered to lobby a number of federal agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), where Freeland is currently serving.

The CCI has been instrumental in working for the interests of its tech CEO members, successfully lobbying the federal government on projects including Global Talent Stream. CCI chair Balsillie has also worked with the Government of Ontario leading its efforts on intellectual property.

Image source Pixabay

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.