BY: MITCHELL THOMPSON
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird accepting a job at Barrick Gold—the world’s largest gold mining company that lobbied him several times while he was in office—raises questions as to whether this is a part of a larger narrative of corruption in the Canadian government.
Jennifer Moore, Latin American Program Co-ordinator at MiningWatch Canada says that “Canada has failed to implement mandatory rules to hold mining companies accountable, while aggressively promoting the industry and working to shore up its interests.”
Moore says this is the result of “the revolving door in Canada between government and industry and the usefulness of well-connected lobbyists.” Moore says this is why former Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird is currently working for mining giant, Barrick Gold.
Barrick Gold Corporation is the largest gold mining company in the world, producing 7.2 million ounces of gold and 539 million pounds of copper in 2013.
Konrad Yakabuski says in his column in The Globe and Mail that this “suggests that Mr. Baird is cashing in on many of his own policies.” Moore points to the fact that Will Stewart, who served as Baird’s chief of staff from 2000-2003, lobbied Baird’s department on behalf of Barrick Gold as an indication of this.
MiningWatch says Stewart’s ties to Baird “places him in an advantageous position to deeply influence the Harper administration on issues abroad.”
Moore says that “Stewart prides himself on his intimate relationship with government to provide lobbying services to his clients. I think his past role in Baird’s office is definitely a leg-up in his line of business.”
In short, Barrick Gold hired Stewart to lobby Baird’s department, knowing that Stewart had served as chief of staff for Baird. Stewart and others lobbied Baird to support policies that favoured the interests of the mining industry. Baird supported these sorts of policies throughout his political career, but it is unknown if his support came as a result of his relationship with the lobbyists. However, the fact that Baird took a job at a mining company after supporting these policies is politically poor form.
Moore says that while “I doubt that Baird needed Stewart to get a job at Barrick,” as “Barrick looks for well-connected politicians to bolster its board,” she still thinks that Stewart’s ties to the business community and government aided his lobbying activities.
Moore says Baird working for Barrick Gold is a part of the “revolving door practice and cozy relationship between government and industry in Canada…They are happy to scratch each other’s backs through jobs for these former officials once out of office and through the myriad of ways that Canadian foreign policy promotes and protects their interests.”
Barrick is currently among many controversies. In Tanzania, there have been repeated killings by security in proximity to Barrack’s North Mara Mine. In Papua New Guinea, communities next to its Porgera mine are demanding the company pay for their resettlement after run-off polluted their village and made it unliveable.
Photo by AllanLissner.net
There is currently no evidence that a discussion took place regarding a direct exchange of Baird’s support, for a job at Barrick Gold post-politics. However, as Moore notes, the events do fit the commonly-accepted definition of the revolving door, where politicians conduct themselves in a way that support industries that suit their post-politics career interests, rather than supporting the interests of the public.
Stewart denies this, telling The Post “I don’t lobby Baird, period, full stop…I don’t need anybody suggesting he’s done anything wrong or I’ve done anything wrong based on our past relationship.”
When Baird announced that he was accepting Barrick Gold’s appointment to their advisory board on international affairs in late March, some questions were raised about his ethical standing.
Yakabuski writes that “the haste with which Mr. Baird has made the leap to making money adds weight to the criticism that the traditional objectives of Canada’s foreign policy—poverty reduction, peacekeeping—were jettisoned under him in favour of advancing our business interests abroad.” However, Baird maintains that the federal ethics commissioner told him that it is not a conflict of interest.
The Conflict of Interest Act defines it as follows,“an official power, duty or function that provides (the public office holder) an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”
However, the Ottawa Citizen reported that “As Foreign Affairs minister, Baird was personally lobbied by a representative for Barrick, less than two years before he announced he was joining the company.”
While the federal ethics commissioner told The Star that she did approve Baird taking the Barrick job, The Star notes that this approval was “under conflict-of-interest rules, which Baird helped guide into law, former cabinet ministers cannot take employment with a company with which they have had ‘significant’ dealings during the year before they left office.”
Baird’s claim that the ethics commissioner gave him the green light, seems to be less important, given that he had a hand in the creation of the law under which he was being evaluated.
The Ottawa Citizen notes that these new conflict of interest rules were a reform to the 2006 Federal Accountability Act, which “prohibits former cabinet ministers from taking a job with any firm with which they had ‘direct and significant’ dealings within a one-year period before they left office.”
Stacey-Lee Kong writes in ThisMagazine that these changes mean that elected officials are still allowed to be involved in political decisions that affect their financial and career interests “due to the removal of five rules from the conflict of interest code, including one that requires those in public office to avoid “real, potential or apparent conflicts of interest.” The resulting law legislated only against “direct and significant” conflicts of interest.
Baird’s dealings with Barrick might qualify as significant, as he was lobbied by Barrick. However, because he met with the lobbyists from Barrick more than one year before he left office, it is not viewed as a conflict of interest. Baird’s current employment is therefore legal only because of a weak law that he helped to shepherd in.