Friday, January 4, 2008

Harper Buddy now Taser Lobbyist!

This is from the Harper Index. Articles such as this that reveal close connections among industry and political actors are always interesting if rather infrequent. Perhaps we need a TV show such as that Hollywood insider crap that passes for mass entertainment these days but we should have it in the political sphere and less titillation and more food for thought.

Boessenkool re-emerges as a Taser lobbyist

Long-time friend and advisor to PM also lobbied for cancer drug plan in budget

December 31, 2007: Earlier this month news emerged that longtime Stephen Harper ally Ken Boessenkool became a registered lobbyist of Taser International after the Taser shooting death of a passenger at Vancouver's international airport. Opposition members accuse him of having stage-managed the government's response to the event. Boessenkool has always been one of Harper's most influential and least known colleagues. The following article originally was posted in June following Boessenkool's prominent role in federal budget allocations and the follow- up debate last spring.

OTTAWA, June 22, 2007 — The Globe and Mail published an op-ed piece yesterday written by Ken Boessenkool defending the Harper government's policy and actions on equalization. The Globe failed, however, to note Boessenkool is one of Stephen Harper's closest associates. Nor did it reveal he is a registered lobbyist working for a drug company benefitting from the surprise inclusion in the federal budget, passed last night, of $300 million for cervical cancer vaccine for girls.

Boessenkool has been Stephen Harper's close friend for years and a trusted advisor and confidant in almost all of Harper's leadership and political campaigns. He is a long-time Reform-Alliance-Conservative operative and is registered to lobby the federal government.

The Ottawa Citizen reported in February that Boessenkool registered to lobby the federal government on immunization policy on behalf of Merck Frosst Canada.

In his filings with the Registrar of Lobbyists, Boessenkool listed as his potential points of contact, the Prime Minister's Office, Health Canada, Industry Canada, Privy Council Office and MPs. The Globe merely describes Boessenkool as vice-president and general manager of Hill and Knowlton Alberta and a research fellow at the Canada West Foundation.

Boessenkool has been linked, as a lobbyist, to the unexpected and controversial move to fund cervical cancer immunization. Paradoxically, this is opposed by many evangelical Christian groups who support Harper.

Gwen Landolt of the right-wing organization REAL Women, has charged that funding for the program "is due to lobbying of the Conservatives by Ken Boessenkool, a senior policy advisor to the Harper Conservatives until he left in 2006 to join the Calgary office of the public relations and lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton," according to the anti-choice website LifeSite.

On equalization, it would appear Boessenkool is coming to his old friend's assistance at a time of need, possibly as political payback. The controversy has been a debacle for Harper, tarnishing the Conservative brand in Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan and putting incumbent Conservative MPs at risk in the next federal election. Boessenkool's article is somewhat dry, as it is likely intended to be. For example, it describes the "data-in, data-out formula for determining [equalization] payments." But there are partisan politics embedded as well. The provinces are accused (three times) of "hankering for special deals." Boessenkool accuses a "previous federal government" (that would be Paul Martin's Liberals) of an "egregious departure" from the customary equalization formula and accuses them of making "ad hoc side agreements with some provinces but not others." Boessenkool fails to add, however, that as opposition leader Stephen Harper publicly supported those same agreements. He has changed the rules but adamantly denies having done so and that has created a firestorm.

Those who read his article deserve at the least to know of Boessenkool's long and close association with Harper and the Right. The two men became friends in 1993 when Harper became the MP for Calgary West and Boessenkool began to work for Reform MP Ray Speaker. Boessenkool later studied economics at the University of Toronto and worked for the business-friendly C D Howe Institute. Stockwell Day, then Alberta Treasurer, offered him a job as his policy advisor and Boessenkool accepted - on the condition that Day introduce a flat tax (a personal single rate, no matter what your income).

When Harper chose to sit out the leadership race for the United Alternative in 2000, Boessenkool became one of Day's key advisors. Day wrested the leadership from Manning, and he promoted Boessenkool's flat tax proposal at the national level. The public response was overwhelmingly negative, so the Alliance dropped the idea. Boessenkool briefly served as a member of Day's transition team in the 2000 election until it became obvious that there would be no victory to savour.

The Chretien Liberals easily defeated Day and the Alliance in the November 2000 election. Still smarting from their loss, Harper, Boessenkool, Tom Flanagan, Ted Morton and others wrote their infamous "firewall" letter to Premier Ralph Klein. They demanded that Alberta begin to collect its own income taxes, pull out of the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Health Act, and create its own police force.

The Alliance soon began to implode under Day's leadership, and in June 2000 Boessenkool, now in private business, was among those who met to draft Harper as a successor. Boessenkool remained a key advisor and speechwriter throughout the leadership campaign. Harper won and became opposition leader, and Boessenkool went to work for him. When Harper ran for the leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, Boessenkool quickly stepped out of the opposition offices and back onto Harper's campaign team.

He was Harper's chief policy advisor during the 2004 election, but then moved back to Calgary to join Hill and Knowlton. Boessenkool was involved in the 2006 federal campaign as a speechwriter, and on January 23 he was among the small group who gathered with Harper in his rooms at the Calgary's Hyatt Regency Hotel to watch the results.

Boessenkool's relationship with Harper goes well beyond the professional. Ottawa writer Lloyd Mackey is a freelancer in the press gallery, filing mainly to evangelical church publications. Preston Manning had hired him years earlier to edit the Reform Party's publication. Mackey has since written a highly sympathetic book about Preston and Ernest Manning, and another called The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper. In the book, Mackey describes Boessenkool as an evangelical Christian whose children are home schooled, and as "another of Harper's spiritual mentors listened to both at the economic and the faith levels."

While in opposition, Stephen Harper railed against the easy movement of insiders between the Liberals' political campaigns and the lobbying industry. But the two-way traffic continues. Numerous former staffers for the Reform, Alliance and Conservative parties have quickly made their way into lobbying firms, and certain lobbyists have become spinners for the government. In that light, it is difficult to read as objective anything written by Boessenkool regarding the government of his old friend and colleague Stephen Harper.

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