By Kenneth Jackson and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
On Friday morning, two hours before the RCMP announced they had charged Bruce Carson with influence peddling, the former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a text message to his family and friends apologizing.
The text message, sent at about 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, was signed, “love dad” and said he expected police to charge him.
The RCMP issued a statement at around 11:05 a.m. announcing that Carson had been charged with “fraud on the government,” otherwise known as influence peddling.
The RCMP said Carson is alleged to have “accepted a commission for a third party in connection with a business matter relating to the government.”
The RCMP said the investigation into Carson’s activities began on a referral from the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO asked the RCMP to look into Carson’s affairs after an APTN National News investigation discovered Harper’s former confidante was lobbying for an Ottawa-based water company with financial ties to his fiancée.
Carson was helping the company, H2O Pros, land a deal with the Aboriginal Affairs department to sell water filtration systems to First Nations lacking clean drinking water. Carson witnessed and initialed a contract guaranteeing his fiancée, a former escort named Michele McPherson, 20 per cent of gross profits from the company’s sale of filtration systems to First Nations.
The PMO also asked the Ethics and Lobbying commissioners to investigate Carson. Neither of those offices have released the results of their probes.
Carson is presumed innocent. He is scheduled to appear in Ottawa court on Sept. 10.
It’s been a steep fall for Carson, 66, who once straddled the country’s two power centres, Calgary and Ottawa, and commanded a rolodex that included the most powerful men around the federal cabinet table and the titans of the oil and energy industry.
After leaving the PMO in 2008, Carson became the head of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment at the University of Calgary which received $15 million from Ottawa at its creation.
The post put him into the midst of the major players in the oil and energy industry and he worked on developing a national energy strategy.
Now, sources say Carson is struggling financially and is living on the support of a close circle of friends and family. It’s believed he has an apartment in Gatineau, Que.
Carson has also told people close to him he’s writing a book after receiving a deal from a publishing company. The book is said to be on the modern-day Conservative party.
Carson, however, has been cast aside by that party. A spokesperson for the PMO said he hoped the courts would throw “the book” at him should he be convicted.
Andrew MacDougall, a spokesperson for the PMO, said Carson’s activities probed by police happened “after he was in our office” and did not taint the image of the Conservative government.
“This stuff happened after he was in our office,” said MacDougall. “Anyone who violates the law should be punished…they should have the book thrown at them if they violate the law.”
Ottawa Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, one of the government’s staunchest defenders during the still unfolding robocalls scandal, seemed at a loss for words when approached by an APTN reporter about the RCMP’s charge against Carson.
When asked about the charges, Poilievre looked down at his BlackBerry and said, “I have to get this.”
Questions still linger as to how Carson managed to get into the PMO with five criminal convictions on his record. Carson was also disbarred in the 1980s and declared bankruptcy in 1993.
The Privy Council Office said it had tightened its security screening for staffers after it emerged Carson received secret level clearance despite his spotted record.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said the Carson matter has put a blot on the Conservative government.
“The charge of influence peddling under the criminal code is a very serious one and goes to the very heart of holding government accountable in a democracy. Preferential access and profiting from influence can never be tolerated,” said Angus. “Stephen Harper and his office only mentioned problems with Bruce Carson’s activities after the matter was made public by the media – as usual, Conservatives only acknowledge their ethical problems after they are caught.”
Patrick Hill, the president of the company, which is now bankrupt, has since come under an Ontario Provincial Police fraud investigation.