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HomeBusinessExclusive: Watchdogs question loophole that allows SNC-Lavalin VP to lobby secretly in B.C.

Exclusive: Watchdogs question loophole that allows SNC-Lavalin VP to lobby secretly in B.C.


Bob Mackin

SNC-Lavalin is lobbying the B.C. NDP government without a registration, but it may be perfectly legal.

As exclusively reported, SNC-Lavalin’s vice-president of government relations, Sam Boutziouvis, arranged to meet with Claire Trevena, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, on Feb. 19 in Victoria. The meeting, however, was canceled on Feb. 14 because of a death in Boutziouvis’s family. The meeting has yet to be rescheduled.

SNC-Lavalin lobbyist Sam Boutziouvis (Twitter)

Feb. 14 was also the day that Trevena announced SNC-Lavalin and partner Acciona were among three groups shortlisted to build the new $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge after applying to bid in the fall. SNC-Lavalin is also expected to bid on the Surrey-Langley and Broadway SkyTrain extensions.

Boutziouvis’s targeting of Trevena is not visible in the lobbyist registry because he has not registered provincially. The only way found out was in email released under the freedom of information laws after SNC-Lavalin hired Whistler lobbyist Richard Prokopanko to register on its behalf in order to set-up meetings with government officials last November.

Jane Zatylny, spokeswoman for the B.C. Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, said she could not discuss specifics of the SNC-Lavalin registration.

“There are certain circumstances where registration is not required, for instance, if the lobbyist is meeting with the public office holder for general information purposes,” Zatylny said. “Secondly, when organizations lobby B.C. public office holders, the 100-hour threshold applies, which means that organizations are only required to register when they have lobbied 100 hours in the previous 12 month period.”

The 100-hour threshold is based on the honour system and came into force in April 2010 under the BC Liberal government, to replace the requirement for an employee to register if he or she spent at least 20% of his or her time lobbying. The 20% threshold is still used by the federal lobbying registry, where Boutziouvis is listed as the only SNC-Lavalin executive whose lobbying activities represent 20% or more of his duties.

Independent watchdog Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC called the rule “blatantly absurd” and said the threshold should be reduced to the bare minimum.

NDP Transport Minister Claire Trevena (BC Gov)

“Here’s a company that is actively pursuing contracts in B.C. — probably 365 days a year — it is tough to imagine that they can somehow keep that lobbying under the 100-hour ceiling,” Travis said in an interview. “The legislation has created a bureaucratic nightmare for anyone who wants to try to monitor lobbying activities of various companies in Canada, at the same time has presented an appetizing opportunity for those companies who want to hide their lobbying activities.”

A June 2018-published ORL guidance document states that if an organization employs one or more individuals who, alone or together, spend 100 hours lobbying or preparing to lobby, the organization is required to register all in-house lobbyists. 

“When calculating your organization’s lobbying activities, you do not need to track each and every activity to the minute,” reads the ORL guide. “However, you must record time spent in activities that are directly related to and necessary for lobbying as accurately as possible.”

Those activities include research, hiring and training staff to lobby, deciding which public office holders to target, and lobbying by letter, email, phone or in-person.

Duff Conacher of DemocracyWatch said both the 100-hour threshold in B.C. and the 20% of time threshold used federally are wrong.

SNC-Lavalin’s Vancouver office (Mackin)

“They’re both loopholes that allow for secret lobbying and there is no reason to allow for secret lobbying,” Conacher said. “The only people who should be exempt from disclosure is a voter who clicks send on an action alert sent to them by an interest group. The organization should be registered and the registration should show that what they’re doing is sending out action alerts, other than that, even if you’re a voluntary organization, if you’re dedicated to winning some change and doing more than just clicking send on an action alert letter you should have to register.”

Travis said the Act should contain no wiggle room, because the intent is to increase transparency.

“The idea that we can somehow allow small companies to large corporations such as SNC to hide behind this 100-hour rule is the same sewer pit that we ended up with in Ottawa related to Facebook,” Travis said.

In April 2018, Maclean’s reported that while Google had registered eight lobbyists, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan was not registered because he said he did not spend 20% of his time lobbying. The former public servant and political aide was executive assistant in the Privy Council Office (PCO) before joining the office of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in 2011.

Coincidentally, Conacher complained to the federal ethics commissioner on April 17 alleging that Chan’s former boss in PCO, SNC-Lavalin chair Kevin Lynch, received preferential treatment from retiring Clerk Michael Wernick when Wernick took Lynch’s phone call on Oct. 15, 2019.

Lynch was Wernick’s boss from 2006 to 2009, during Wernick’s tenure as Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

April 17 was also the sixth anniversary of the World Bank’s 10-year blacklisting of SNC-Lavalin over bribes related to a bridge project in Bangladesh and power project in Cambodia. Dozens of SNC-Lavalin associated companies, including several involved in B.C. infrastructure projects, were suspended from bidding on World Bank projects.

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