Kenneth Jackson and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Days before Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo announced in Winnipeg he would be pushing to abolish the Indian Act, he received a telephone call from Bruce Carson, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former aide and friend.
In the phone call, Carson said he knew of a water company with a plan to clean dirty water on First Nations reserves and he wanted to meet with Atleo at the end of July.
“This is the clean water proposal i (sic) spoke to (sic) about on the phone last week. I think it has real merit, especially as a pilot project,” Carson wrote in a July 19 email, obtained by APTN.
Later that evening, Atleo responded, “Yes, this looks promising, and we should meet to discuss, asap (sic).”
The next day, Atleo made a surprise announcement at the AFN’s annual general assembly that he would work to abolish the Indian Act within five years.
Correspondence uncovered by APTN appears to show Carson and Atleo were in the process of hatching a deal.
Sources within the water company said Carson told them he had a deal with Atleo.
Based on emails written by Carson, the former Harper advisor said he planned to help Atleo scrap the Indian Act in exchange for his support in promoting an Ottawa-based water company named H2O Pros, which later created an entity called H2O Global Group to deal with Indian Affairs.
“The AFN need my help getting rid of the Indian Act – so all of this will work together,” wrote Carson, in a July 26 email to company officials.
The email was written the same day Carson and the company’s owners met with Atleo’s staff to show off the firm’s wares.
“Thought we did as well as we could today – I told Michele (McPherson) and I will tell you because it means so much to her and I that we get this done … I think 6 months from now we will be well on our way,” he said, in the email.
Three days later, Carson, 65, and company officials met with Atleo.
Michele McPherson, 22, was an Ottawa escort known as Leanna VIP. Carson told APTN McPherson was his fiancee.
McPherson was also working for H2O Pros and had signed a deal with the company’s president guaranteeing her 20 per cent of gross profits of all First Nations water deals landed by the company. Carson initialled the deal. Sources say a second contract was signed earlier this year.
McPherson was working as an escort when she met Carson last March. She continued until August when a posting online indicated she would only be escorting part-time.
The Prime Minister’s Office has asked the RCMP, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner along with the Commissioner of Lobbying to investigate Carson’s activities in relation to H2O Global Group.
The PMO requested the three-pronged probe following a meeting with APTN reporters.
In an on-camera interview with APTN which aired Friday, Atleo admitted that he had discussed the Indian Act issue with Carson. Atleo, however, said he did not need Carson to access the prime minister. Atleo said he is able to pick up the phone and talk to Harper.
A number emails obtained by APTN, however, appear to show Atleo and Carson working behind the scenes to push the company to Indian Affairs bureaucrats and well First Nations chiefs.
“I thought this mornings (sic) meeting with Atleo and Richard Jacques (Richard Jock, Atleo’s chief of staff) was good and gave us a clear field to pursue our goals with support of the National Chief and his Chief of Staff,” wrote Carson hours after the first meeting with Atleo.
A later email shows Atleo directing two of his top officials to identify companies it could target in the Ottawa area.
“Can either of you touch base with bruce (sic) tomorrow to begin sourcing potential first nation pilot site around the Ottawa area?” Atleo said Sept. 6.
In reply to Atleo’s email Carson wrote the company’s owners: “This came as a result of a call to me from the National Chief yesterday.”
With Atleo in tow, Carson then proceeded to approach Indian Affairs. In an Aug. 19 email Carson, using his University of Calgary address, wrote Gail Mitchell, the department’s director general of community and infrastructure and another official.
“I have been working with National Chief Atleo and his staff on water quality solutions on reserves – and have been directed to both of you as the folks at INAC to deal with on this issue,” he said. “I was wondering if the representatives of this company and myself could meet with you to explain the system and find out how best to get involved in the government initiative of providing clean drinking water on reserves.”
That day, Mitchell asked her officials to set up a meeting in September.
“I would be delighted to chat about some of the work we are doing on FN infrastructure and program development (sic),” Mitchell wrote Carson, on Sept 14.
A flurry of emails ensued later that month.
Carson to Irving “Bing” Leblanc, the AFN’s director of housing and infrastructure: “Do you have time for our meeting on Monday – Gail Mitchell as you know is ready to send someone – thxs for doing this-bc (sic).”
Leblanc: “Haven’t heard from INAC Toronto if they got any direction from Gail or Garry Best’s office regarding participating in this meeting.”
Carson to Mitchell: “Do you have a contact that Irving could deal with.”
Mitchell: “Garry Best is the contact. Irving Leblanc knows Garry quite well. He should have Garry’s contact info but just in case please let Irving know he can contact me. Cheers. Gail.”
Carson to AFN officials: “$Gary is the guy (sic).”
Garry Best is director of infrastructure operations for the department.
In October, AFN provided provided Carson with a list of First Nations communities the company could target in late fall.
The communities included: Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community near Belleville, Ont., and the remote northern Ontario communities of Slate Falls First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation and Marten Falls.
But the AFN told Carson they don’t endorse any product sold by H20 Pros.
“I want to make it clear that AFN does not endorse any product nor accept liability on the performance of the product marketed by H20 Pros,” said Leblanc to Carson.
It was around that time H20 Pros changed their name to H2O Global Group, despite owner Patrick Hill telling APTN Global Group had been around for three years.
With the list from AFN the company went to work.
The first plan of action was to get in on the Mike Holmes pilot project the TV celebrity contractor is doing with a First Nation near Sudbury, Ont., and unveiled Friday.
Carson said that Holmes’ people had recently asked H20 Global Group to forward some information and they were on the cusp of getting into the project.
Carson said he met with Seth Atkins, a representative of Holmes, in Calgary last week.
“We discussed a number of things. The Holmes Group and AFN have sent Global Group a letter or email requesting a lot of further information which will be responded to over the next day or so. I think that puts them into the mix of what could be providers to the Holmes Group,” Carson told APTN this past Sunday.
Holmes partnered with AFN on a multi-million dollar renovation of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation. The project aims to turn the community into a showcase of cutting-edge green technology construction.
Hill told APTN the company had secured a letter of intent from a Manitoba First Nation to use H2O Global Group product late last year. Hill said Indian Affairs refused to fund the project because the community’s water wasn’t dirty enough, so the deal fell through.
Hill and Carson also said they were weeks away from securing a major deal with Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont.
APTN learned last week the band had more questions because the deal “appeared too good to be true.”
Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan’s office has admitted staff met with Carson during the process.
The department has also confirmed Indian Affairs officials met with Carson and company representatives several times. A departmental statement referred to them as “stakeholders.”
Carson said Atleo was on board as was Duncan’s office.
While Atleo said he cut all ties with Carson in October, the company had a booth at the special chiefs assembly in December, where they also co-sponsored a table with Carson’s Canada School of Energy and Environment.
On Valentine’s Day of this year Atleo and his wife joined Carson and McPherson.
Bank records show Hill was there too and paid a nearly $600 tab but didn’t sit with the two couples.
Atleo said he paid for his meal and that of his wife.
A well connected First Nation source told APTN Atleo believed Carson was his bridge to the PMO.
Atleo has repeatedly denied that, saying he already has a direct relationship with the prime minister.