Rare glimpse into dark arts of policy making at Ontario’s legislature and courts — how the big players do it

Contrast the events described in this story to the reception that the raw milk constituency has received over the years at Queen’s Park. Interesting that it was raw milk supporting MPP Randy Hillier who blew the whistle on this bipartisan effort to help out a big corporation in their time of need through special legislation. From Martin Regg Cohen, in the Toronto Star:

“EllisDon is the blue-chip construction company that called in its chits with the governing Liberals and opposition Tories. The firm had made massive campaign donations over the years, mostly to the grateful Liberals, and some Tories concluded that helping EllisDon could increase their share of future contributions.

StrategyCorp is the well-connected lobbying and consulting firm hired by EllisDon to do its bidding. The assignment: fix a delicate political and legal problem pitting EllisDon against unionized construction workers.

EllisDon found itself boxed in by claims from some construction unions that the company had promised, back in 1958, never to hire non-union workers in Sarnia. The Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) agreed, and under subsequent rules mandating province-wide enforcement, the firm would be bound by the long-forgotten deal across Ontario.

EllisDon protested that it would be placed at a competitive disadvantage if other companies could still hire non-union labour. So the OLRB gave it a two-year waiver — time enough to lobby the legislature for a permanent exemption.

StrategyCorp swung into action, deploying two senior partners from both sides of the partisan divide to oversee the mission: John Duffy, a longtime Liberal insider, and Leslie Noble, an influential Tory tied to former premier Mike Harris. (Noble declined an on-the-record interview, and Duffy did not return calls or emails.)

How to persuade the minority legislature to craft a law tailored to EllisDon’s special situation? No amount of lobbying could make the Liberal government play ball. Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi wouldn’t bite. A lawyer with progressive leanings, he was in no mood to jeopardize his standing as a cabinet rookie by playing footsie with fast-talking lobbyists (Naqvi declined to discuss it on the record).

Instead, the Tories would be asked to carry the ball. Rookie backbencher Monte McNaughton, who represents a London-area riding where EllisDon is headquartered, agreed to propose a private member’s bill fixing the problem.

Non-government bills rarely gain traction in the legislature, but StrategyCorp had helped secure Liberal backing for the Tory MPP’s proposal — a conspicuous display of bipartisan co-operation. The two rival parties went even further by agreeing to prioritize the controversial EllisDon bill, speeding it through the legislature….”

How unlike the treatment accorded to Randy Hillier’s private members bill asking the government to study raw milk.

Amazingly, Ellis Don apparently even gets special treatment from the judiciary. Contrast this to the Ontario government appealing Michael Schmidt’s acquittal on all raw milk charges in January 2010:

“If all this behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, negotiating and triangulating seems awfully mysterious, you’re not alone. Even the province’s most distinguished judges underestimate the power of the lobbyist-industrialist nexus — as evidenced by a fascinating postscript in last month’s Divisional Court decision:

A major reason for overruling the OLRB was that the judges thought EllisDon could not possibly persuade MPPs to craft a special law on its behalf. After all, the last time labour laws were streamlined in the construction industry to placate employers was when the Mike Harris Tories were in power.

“The political climate that existed in 1999-2000 was unique,” the judges wrote this summer, dabbling in the realm of political science. “Those days are gone. There is a different government; a different environment; and no allies for EllisDon to pursue its special remedy (my emphasis).”

Oblivious to the byplay at Queen’s Park, the judges added: “There is no realistic prospect that . . . EllisDon will be able to persuade a different government, under completely different circumstances, to fix its unique problem.”

How wrong the learned judges were. Unschooled in the dark arts of politics and the stagecraft of StrategyCorp, they underestimated EllisDon’s ability to seize the opportunity. And politicians’ capacity for opportunism….”

Read more on TheStar.ca

1 Comment

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One response to “Rare glimpse into dark arts of policy making at Ontario’s legislature and courts — how the big players do it

  1. The CACL has policy against this type of lobbying as part of it Anti Corruption mandate. Canadian Anti Corruption League would protect 100% all legitimate whistleblowers and lobbying must be performed in front of a panel of knowledgeable citizens and lawmakers having a robust knowledge of the topic. Lets get behind the CACL http://www.canadiananticorruptionleague.org. Canada is too great a country to follow the present path of corruption and manipulation.

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