By Jorge Barrera and Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
The Lobbying Commissioner’s office is probing Bruce Carson’s claim he could use his connections with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan to land deals for an Ottawa-based water company, APTN National News has learned.
Lobbying Commissioner investigator Francois de Champlain has been asking about Duncan and whether Carson mentioned the minister as someone who could help the company land deals.
Patrick Hill, the president of the now shuttered H2O Pros, says de Champlain asked him about Duncan and other Aboriginal Affairs officials. Hill told the lobbying investigator Carson helped him meet a lot of people that were previously beyond his grasp.
“I said to (de Champlain) ‘every time I walked into a meeting, obviously it was serious government officials. He was very well connected. He helped me. At the end of the day I told (de Champlain) the truth about what happened,” said Hill. “He asked me about Duncan and (department official) Gail Mitchell and a whole bunch of different government officials.”
Carson is currently under investigation by the offices of the Lobbying Commissioner, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner along with the RCMP for alleged illegal lobbying and influence peddling.
The prime minister requested the probes on March 16, 2011, following a meeting between the PMO’s director of communications and APTN National News reporters investigating links between Carson and an Ottawa-based water company seeking to sell filtration systems to First Nations reserves hard hit by contaminated water.
The company had a financial arrangement with Carson’s fiancée, Michele McPherson, a former Ottawa escort, who was promised a share of gross profits from the sale of water filtration systems to First Nation communities. Hill signed two contracts with McPherson, one promising her 20 per cent of gross profits, and a second one reducing the cut to 15 per cent.
The Ontario Provincial Police has also recently launched an investigation into H20 Pros for allegedly defrauding clients. The company went out of business last June.
None of those investigations have reached their conclusions.
Carson was disbarred and jailed for 18 months in the 1980s for defrauding clients. He was convicted again of three counts of fraud in the 1990s. He also declared bankruptcy in 1993.
During an exclusive interview with APTN National News, Hill said he was also contacted by an investigator with the Ethics Commissioner’s Office and he received a letter from Commissioner Mary Dawson asking for information.
Dawson wrote in the July 19, 2011 letter that her office was investigating whether Carson “may have acted to take improper advantage of his previous position in the Prime Minister’s Office in connection with a proposal to install water filtration systems in First Nations communities.”
Dawson asked that Hill send all information “relevant to my examination, including, but not limited to, e-mails and electronic documents (current and archived), letters, notes, agendas and reports” related to the issue.
The Ethics Commissioner’s office was particularly interested in the water filtration project, Carson’s interactions with the water company’s officials, the contract with McPherson and dealings with the federal government along with the Assembly of First Nations.
Duncan has never fully explained his relationship with Carson and is dodging media questions on the issue. Duncan’s office went as far as cancelling a planned interview Tuesday with APTN National News about the budget when they found out the minister would also be asked about Carson.
Duncan’s spokesman, Jan O’Driscoll, however is playing down the interest by federal investigators into Carson’s claimed links to the minister.
O’Driscoll said he fully expected the minister’s name to come up in the investigations into Carson’s affairs.
O’Driscoll said it was likely that the investigators would also interview the minister.
“He was the minister at the time,” said O’Driscoll. “As soon as any kind of investigations happens, they would talk to the minister, any staff involved, the chief of staff.”
O’Driscoll said he wanted to contact the “Ethics Commissioner’s Office” to find out how much detail he could reveal about the investigation and the questioning of officials in Duncan’s office.
“I will find out if we are allowed to disclose it,” said O’Driscoll. “I’ll ask the Ethics Commissioner’s Office if we are allowed to say, ‘so and so met with so and so.’”
Carson told APTN National News last March that Duncan’s office was aware of his efforts to promote Hill’s water company and was frustrated with the slow pace of progress on the file.
“I met with John’s (Duncan) staff and they know (about the water company). They are trying to be helpful and quite frankly it’s a frustration for them too,” said Carson, during an interview. “There is a certain amount of frustration and everybody knows this, but I haven’t made a secret about it, of trying to deal, trying to get this moving along in the department.”
Officials in Duncan’s office met with Carson once on the issue, while Aboriginal Affairs department officials met at least three times with the former political operative and Hill.
In an email written on the morning Aug. 6, 2010, Carson claimed have spoken to the prime minister about the movement of Duncan to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio hours before it was announced.
“I spoke to the PM last nite…the movement of John Duncan to INAC does not slow anything down,” wrote Carson. “Both (Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo) and I know John very well…I will be calling the new minister in the morning, so it is full steam ahead.”
Carson later denied to APTN National News reporters he had spoken to Harper.
Carson also told APTN National News that he planned to get Environment Minister Peter Kent involved to help the company sell its water filtration system to reserves in deals worth potentially tens of millions of dollars.
Duncan and Kent both denied ever discussing the company with Carson.
Carson told APTN he spoke to Harper and a number of his cabinet ministers on a regular basis.
In an interview last March inside the offices of H20 Pros, Carson said he was worried his work for the company could land him in trouble.
“I guess my issue in this thing is that I don’t want to look like I’m an unregistered lobbyist in here because I’m not a lobbyist,” he said. “I really don’t want the lobbying commissioner sort of going crazy over my involvement in this.”
He then described how he was going about helping out the company.
“When I found out about this I thought the smartest thing to do was talk to Shawn (Atleo), then phone up a couple of folks at (Aboriginal Affairs) and find out what the f-ck is going on,” said Carson.
Atleo has denied helping Carson any more than he would anyone else.
Carson said he thought he may be able to slip through a loophole in lobbying laws that allow people to “lobby” if it makes up less than 20 per cent of their work
“Yeah, so this would be like one tenth of one per cent of my time so we’re all right,” he said.