Lobbyists for defence industries certainly now have a person who supports increased military spending and in effect wants to further their cause. Harper too wants to increase military spending. As the earlier Dobbin article pointed out the whole attitude toward the military is being changed in Canada. No longer will we be just peacekeepers but we will be willing junior adjuncts to the US imperial project whether training Iraq police in Jordan, or working in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan with ISAF.
New defence minister a former industry lobbyist
Updated Wed. Feb. 8 2006 8:48 AM ET
OTTAWA -- The new defence minister is a retired general who once lobbied government on behalf of some big military contractors, a background which some find troubling.
Gordon O'Connor says he's beholden to no one, but others say it looks odd to have a one-time lobbyist sitting in the minister's office.
"It's a bad message to be sending,'' says Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.
O'Connor, 66, is the first defence minister in 20 years to have actually served in the Forces. But it's his post-service lobbying that has raised eyebrows.
O'Connor left the army after a 30-year military career. He was a brigadier-general and director of military requirements when he retired.
He went into business and in the 1990s became a senior associate at Hill and Knowlton, one of the world's largest public affairs firms.
Up until February 2004 -- when he left the firm to run in the June election -- he was a registered lobbyist. He represented defence contractors such as Airbus Military, United Defense, General Dynamics Canada and BAE Systems as well as a variety of other, non-military clients.
His work mainly consisted of setting up meetings and contacts between clients and government officials.
Conacher said O'Connor can't help but make ministerial decisions that affect former clients.
"Policy decisions overall help those companies or hurt them'' Conacher said.
O'Connor says he has no remaining ties to a job he left two years ago.
"I have no shares in any company, I get no remuneration from any company, I don't have any loyalty to any company, so no there was no concern at all,'' he says.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he won't discourage people from private industry coming to government.
"Having worked in an industry in the past does not constitute a conflict of interest in the present.''
Still, Steven Staples of the Polaris Institute says O'Connor's lobbying activities look bad.
"I think there could be a problem of optics,'' Staples said.
"If you look at the list of companies he's represented, it's as long as your arm.
"It does play to the optics of him being very closely aligned with some very big players in the international arms industry. With billions of dollars coming through the pike for new acquisition of equipment, is there a conflict of interest perception here?''
Doug Bland, chairman of defence management studies at Queen's University, said it makes no sense to set the bar impossibly high.
"If every person of experience is precluded from cabinet, the pickings would be slim,'' he said.
David Rudd of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies says he sees nothing amiss with O'Connor's appointment.
"If you've severed all ties two years ago, I think that should be fine.''
However, Rudd says politics could produce an artificial tempest over the minister's lobbying background if it arose during a particularly touchy acquisition program.
"I can't think why it would be an issue, but that doesn't prevent the Opposition from raising the issue and the media love nothing more than a good fight.''
That could make the military's procurement process -- already long and Byzantine -- even more difficult.
"It could become so politicized that nothing is done.''
Bland said military procurement has long been a political tangle.
"I would not be surprised if (O'Connor) made getting the politics out of defence procurement a major issue.''
Brian MacDonald, a retired colonel now a defence analyst, said there was a time when it was an advantage to have a minister come out of industry because he or she was then familiar with the issues.
"The fact that we've had O'Connor spending some time as a paid lobbyist; it's out in the open, everybody knows about it, so what's the problem?''