The rookie Vancouver city councillor running for mayor was secretly fined $2,000 in February for breaking the Lobbyists Registration Act after failing to declare he had worked as an aide to powerful figures in the BC Liberal government.
But the fine and the ruling were both overturned July 31 on a technicality.
In a Feb. 13 report, Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists’ investigator Tim Mots cited Hector Bremner for failing to disclose he had worked as an assistant to three cabinet ministers, including Deputy Premier, Natural Gas and Housing minister Rich Coleman, when he registered in February 2015 to represent Steelhead LNG. The investigation stemmed from a complaint by Glen Chernen, who lost to Ken Sim in the race for the NPA mayoral candidacy.
But, because Bremner asked for a reconsideration within the 30-day window, the ruling was not published until the reconsideration decision was made on July 31 by Registrar Michael McEvoy.
McEvoy overturned Mots’s findings and ruled that Bremner did not need to disclose his previous job in government after all.
McEvoy’s ruling said that that, apart from administrative staff, anyone formerly employed in the office of a former member of cabinet must declare being a former public office holder.
“The meaning is clear. An individual who seeks to lobby, and who worked for a cabinet minister still in office, does not have to declare past government connections in the Lobbyists Registry,” McEvoy wrote. “An individual seeking to lobby, and who worked for a cabinet minister still in office, does not have to declare past government connections in the Lobbyists Registry.”
“This seems an odd result, given the fact that the consultant lobbyist was, at one point, registered as a lobbyist while working as an executive assistant,” McEvoy continued. “The Legislature may not have intended this result or this outcome. Perhaps the Legislature erred in using the word ‘former,’ but it is not my proper role, as a statutory decision-maker, to ignore the Legislature’s clear and unambiguous choice of language.”
McEvoy took the extraordinary step of writing an open letter to Attorney General David Eby, asking for the loophole to be closed. In the letter, he wrote that the outcome of the Bremner case was among several that “represent the very mischief the legislation was designed to eliminate; i.e. the potential for undue influence and the use of insider knowledge in lobbying.”
A statement by Eby said the Bremner decision “will have immediate and negative consequences for the regulation of lobbying activities in B.C.”
The NDP enacted a new two-year ban on lobbying for former senior government officials and staff and is planning to table more reforms in the fall session of the Legislature.
“I have instructed Ministry of Attorney General staff to include in those reforms an amendment to correct this long-standing drafting error and to conduct a comprehensive review to ensure the integrity of this important legislation,” Eby said.
Bremner was elected to city council with the NPA last October, but has remained as a vice-president at the lobbying and public relations firm Pace Group. The NPA board rejected his application to run for the party’s mayoral nomination due, in part, to his continued work for Pace. Two citizens also made formal complaints to Vancouver city hall, alleging that Bremner was in conflict of interest as a city councillor. An investigator was appointed to probe the complaints.
In July, Bremner announced his new civic party, called Yes Vancouver. He has not responded for immediate comment.
It is worth noting that McEvoy’s ruling stated, at line 23, that Bremner was “at one point, registered as a lobbyist while working as an executive assistant.”
Before last fall’s by-election, theBreaker asked Bremner about a version of his LinkedIn resume that said he had worked from June 2013 to December 2015 in the BC Liberal government and that he started at the Pace Group in February 2015. At the time, Bremner said he had left the government in January 2015 and started at Pace the next month. He said he was “shocked” by what he called a “minor mistake” on LinkedIn.
Update (Aug. 2): McEvoy contacted theBreaker to say that line 23 of his report had been removed and a new version published. He said Bremner’s order in council had not been rescinded by cabinet. His office contacted the Public Service Agency, following a query from theBreaker, and learned that Bremner’s government employment ended Jan. 31, 2015.
Bremner’s undertaking to lobby Finance Minister Mike de Jong and his staff for Steelhead LNG began Feb. 9, 2015, according to his Feb. 19, 2015 registration with the ORL.
In Mots’s report, he noted that Bremner claimed his non-disclosure as a former public office holder was a mistake made with no intention to mislead. Bremner pleaded for leniency because he claimed to be unaware of the law and believed the two-year-old matter should be considered minor or trivial by the lobbying regulator.
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