Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Return Of The Content Consultant


When last we saw him, Kenneth Dobell was headed, as our man Mr. Young once put it, "for the turnstiles".

Transit turnstiles to be precise:

The premier's former special advisor and top bureaucrat has been talking to the Campbell administration on behalf of Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., an American company that "designs, manufactures and integrates automatic fare collection systems for public transit projects throughout the world." This, according to the provincial government's lobbyist registry. Ken Dobell registered as a lobbyist for the San Diego firm on November 23 (2007), declaring an intent to contact transportation minister Kevin Falcon and Partnerships British Columbia regarding "transit system gates and smart cards."

Or course, that bit of 'registered' lobbying came hot on the heels of a bit of previous "non-registered" lobbying that led to a trip to the courthouse:

VANCOUVER (Thurs Mar 13, 2008, Canadian Press) — Former B.C. deputy minister Ken Dobell has been handed an absolute discharge by a provincial court judge for violating B.C.'s lobbying legislation.

Judge Joseph Galati called Dobell's actions a "trivial breach" of the regulations.

Dobell pleaded guilty yesterday to breaking lobbying laws by failing to register before the 10 day deadline, as required while working with the province for the city of Vancouver on a social housing project.

Outside the court, Dobell said he was pleased the judge reached the conclusion, adding he didn't want to end his career with a conviction in a related area.

Now, one may wish to argue about whether or not Mr. Dobell's failure to register as a lobbyist was or was not a trivial matter.

But it would be very hard to successfully argue that something called "influence peddling" is.

Trivial, I mean.

Why do I raise that issue here?

Well, because it was an issue that was specifically raised by the special prosecutor in Mr. Dobell's case two days before he, Mr. Dobell, pleaded guilty to the 'trivial' matter of non-registration as reported at the time by Jonathan Fowlie in the VSun:

In a statement released Monday (Mar 10, 2008), special prosecutor Terrence Robertson said Dobell plans to plead guilty to a charge of failing to register as a lobbyist, and to return nearly $7,000 he received in fees from the City of Vancouver.

Dobell could face a fine of up to $25,000 under Section 10 of the Lobbyists Registration Act.

In his report, Robertson said he believed Dobell could have been convicted of influence peddling - a Criminal Code offence. But he said it was not in the public interest to charge Dobell with influence peddling because the career civil servant "held an honest but mistaken belief throughout that this activities were lawful."

So, in the end, the apparently trivial was processed by the courts and the decidedly non-trivial was ignored.

As a result, Mr. Dobell walked away with an absolute discharge, but only after a very serious dual bout of fee renumeration and (oh, the horror!) essay writing:

He returned nearly $7,000 in fees to the city and also wrote an essay for the federal Department of Justice warning other retiring bureaucrats to make sure they don't contravene lobbyist laws.


Why did Mr. Dobell not register as a lobbyist way back when (ie. before registering to work for the turnstiles*)?

Well, when the matter was first raised publicly, months before he had his day (of pleading 'guilty') in court, Mr. Dobell insisted that he was not a 'lobbyist' but instead was, as Michael Smyth reported, a 'content consultant':

How can he (Mr. Dobell) "advise" and "lobby" (B.C. Premier Gordon) Campbell at the same time?

How can a professional lobbyist have a desk right inside the premier's office?

Isn't it all a conflict of interest?

But as the NDP screams "cover-up!" at the legislature, Dobell came to Victoria yesterday and offered a surprising explanation: He's not really a "lobbyist" at all, you see.

I'd regard myself as a content consultant," he told a news conference.

Smyth then asked an obvious question that, at the time, was much on many people's minds:

What the hell is a content consultant?

Which is a question that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been explicitly answered.

But here's the thing.

It turns out that there IS such a thing as a "consultant lobbyist".

And there is currently a whole passel of them working in British Columbia.

How do we know this?

Well, it was in a story today in the Globe and Mail under Justine Hunter's byline:

There are currently 120 consultant lobbyists registered in B.C. They do not have to register if they are employed by a lobbying firm, only if they are working for a client.

And why was Ms. Hunter writing about this strange new hybrid-breed?

Well, it turns out that Mr. Dobell has just been hired by the Lotuslandian branch plant of one of Canada's biggest lobbying firms to 'coach' a bunch of them:

VICTORIA (Sept 04, 2007) -- He's now the head of one of the top public relations firms in B.C. - but don't call Ken Dobell a lobbyist.

Mr. Dobell, formerly a top political fixer for Premier Gordon Campbell, was named yesterday as the new chair of Hill & Knowlton British Columbia, which bills itself as the province's "most senior strategic public affairs practitioners."

He said he doesn't expect to register as a lobbyist on behalf of the firm: He'll be offering strategic advice and coaching a new crop of consultants.

"You said, 'Head lobbyist for a top lobbying firm?' That would be totally inappropriate," he said in an interview.




Absolutely not.

*Just in case you my have forgotten, Mr. Dobell was also once the CEO of an outfit called 'Translink' that will be one of the major end users of any and all 'turnstiles' if and when their purchase is approved by Mr. Falcon.
Mr Holman asks, pointedly, "What content will he be consulting on?"


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