Reputation and the Bruce Carson scandal

Despite what the Globe and Mail politely describes as Bruce Carson’s ‘chequered past,’ Carson became a political insider, first working with Stephen Harper when Harper was leader of the opposition and then again after the Conservatives won the 2006 election as a policy advisor and ‘fixer.’  By ‘chequered past,’ the Globe is referring to, among other things, the fact that Carson was disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1981 because he twice forged clients’ signatures and misappropriated funds. 

In 2008, Carson left the PMO to head the Canada School of Energy and Environment. This was a new initiative funded by the Harper government to the tune of $ 15 million. His disbarment was no secret: it was reported in August of 2008 by the media which described his appointment as ‘controversial.’

Carson’s insider status gave him access, the currency of any good lobbyist. He shows up in photographs with then-environment minister Jim Prentice in a 2009 meeting with the U.S. energy secretary, and at the Copenhagen climate summit. The only (well, not the only problem) is that he’s not registered as a lobbyist.

Jim Prentice far left, Bruce Carson, third from the left

But Carson, it turns out, had not merely been disbarred for his thefts, he’d served time in jail. He’s been  convicted of fraud five times.

All of this came to light when the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) was tipped off by my old pal, Chief R. Donald Maracle, that there was a white guy claiming that Indian Affairs would fork over money for an expensive new water system that he wanted the Tyendinaga Mohawks to buy.

Chief R. Donald (who used to work at Indian Affairs) knows all too well that Indian Affairs never commits to big money that easily. It made him suspicious. He started making inquiries. One thing lead to another and pretty soon, Carson’s background was exposed by the APTN. (The Globe and Mail has an excellent summary of Carson’s disbarment, bankruptcies and convictions.)

Now according to APTN, Carson had been allegedly ‘lobbying’ Indian Affairs to buy those systems  through a company –H20 Global Group — that Carson’s ‘fiance’ was involved in as agent. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars  in fees: a very big score.

I put ‘lobbying’  in quotes because Carson defends himself by claiming that (a) he wasn’t being paid and (b) his lobbying activities amounted to less than 10% of his time. Both of these are legitimate exemptions under the Harper government’s legislation. And I put ‘fiance’ in quotes because the deal would have put 20% of the gross in the future Mrs. Carson’s bank account. 

The fact that the future Mrs. Carson is a 22 year old former prostitute got quite a lot of attention in the media (Carson is 66) but it’s not really germane to the story. She could have been a 91 year old cougar for all I care.

The point is, she (and therefore he) was going to make a helluva lot of money if Carson’s efforts paid off, whether that money flowed to him directly or not.

The irony of all of this coming out now is that Harper’s strongest plank, after the economy, is his stance on crime. He’s tough on crime. He wants to build more jails, so that he can jail more criminals. Which makes it hard for him to explain his close ties to this one.

Although Carson’s lawyer claims Carson disclosed it, Harper claims that if he had known about Carson’s criminal record, he would never have hired him.  Harper does admit, however, that he “knew Carson had had ‘difficulties with the law many, many years ago’ and that after that time, he had a solid employment record including various jobs on Parliament Hill and he developed a good reputation.”

In today’s press, Harper blames the security clearances  and his staff for not informing him of the full details, which seems a little inconsistent with yesterday’s admission that he knew of past legal difficulties, and didn’t care. The federal Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, says that’s  ‘not good enough.’

Harper has argued so far that it was his government that introduced lobbying legislation and that the Privy Council Office needs to examine its screening procedures.  I suggest that Harper take a closer look at his friends. And the “I didn’t know” defence doesn’t really help our Mr. Harper at all when it comes to the ‘alleged’ lobbying activity. Carson wasn’t a registered lobbyist but he was pretty clearly in the know.

Carson claimed to know that John Duncan was going to be appointed as Indian Affairs Minister the day before it happened. “In one e-mail, obtained by the APTN, he wrote two officials at H2O Pros claiming he had spoken with the Prime Minister on Aug. 5 about the pending appointment of Mr. Duncan to the Indian Affairs portfolio.” He later said he spoke not to the Prime Minister but to someone in the PMO. I don’t frankly see the difference.

What I also find ironic is that Harper rests his case on Carson’s ‘good reputation’ even though Harper thinks nothing of viciously trashing the reputations of those who disagree with him, or allowing his flunkies to do so, unchecked.

MP Navdeep Bains’s father was ‘under investigation for being a terrorist’ when Bains raised questions about Conservative election financing. Veteran Sean Buyers had a ‘history of mental illness’ when he dared challenge the Conservative treatment of vets; diplomat Richard Colvin was lying when he testified about the treatment of Afghan prisoners. Michael Ignatieff is ‘an opportunist’ who ‘didn’t come back for you.’ Paul Martin supported child pornography.  I mean the list goes on. And yet Bruce Carson, according to Harper, had a ‘good reputation.’

A five time convicted disbarred lawyer has done extremely well financially, thanks to his connection to the Prime Minister. He would have done even better, had it not been for APTN.  It really makes you wonder, doesn’t it, where exactly Harper sets the reputation bar.

Updates: Today, in Niagara, Harper said he knew of the first set of charges against Carson, which resulted in an 18-month prison sentence, but not the 1990 charges. For some reason, he thinks knowing about those would have made a difference.


 Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera  here! It’s pretty cool!

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3 Responses to Reputation and the Bruce Carson scandal

  1. David Billings says:

    The ability to delude yourself seems a pre-requisite for the delusion of others in politics. It is a sad day for Canada but praise should be gvien to the APTN. How many other stories are there like this?


    • Peggy Blair says:

      I’m really proud of them. It’s a small network that doesn’t get the attention it deserves — and good on R. Donald, too, for recognizing something was suspicious and acting on it.


  2. RP Fields says:

    Sweet jebus, I Googled the guy and found details on his “chequered past” about three screens in. Are they really trying to say that nobody from PMO does that when they hire somebody? I can’t believe they’re trying to blame the bureaucracy for bad political staff hires.

    Actually, I misspoke. Of course I can believe it.


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