Dobell says he did not consider himself a lobbyist
Dobell, Premier Gordon Campbell’s former deputy minister and once the most powerful bureaucrat in the province, repeatedly expressed the view that he “simply did not consider” he was a lobbyist in an unusual essay he agreed to write for the federal government to avoid being charged with a violation of federal lobbyist registration laws.
The existence of the four-page report became known Wednesday when Dobell appeared in Vancouver Provincial Court charged with one count of violating the provincial Lobbyists Registration Act.
After nearly 40 years as a public servant in local, regional and provincial governments, Ken Dobell said it never occurred to him that doing paid consulting work for a municipal government might make him a lobbyist.
He pleaded guilty before Judge Joseph Galati, who reserved sentencing until today.
Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party spent a third consecutive day pushing the government to sever all ties with Dobell.
“Ken Dobell broke the law,” NDP MLA Norm Macdonald said in question period. “For the rest of society, there is a host of consequences with that.
“Those consequences should apply to a close friend of the premier as well,” Macdonald said, calling on the government to immediately remove Dobell as the chairman of Vanoc’s finance committee.
The government resisted, pointing to the ongoing judicial process.
“The judge said he will consider the arguments on both sides, and he will i mpose a sentence under the law, under the Lobbyists Registration Act,” said Attorney-General Wally Oppal. “We’ll wait for that decision.” Terrence Robertson, a special Crown prosecutor, said federal officials had also concluded that Dobell should have registered in Ottawa as a lobbyist. However, instead of charging him, they sent the case to “diversion,” meaning it was dealt with out of court. As part of the agreement, Dobell agreed to write the report, which Robertson called “an essay.”
Robertson told Galati the essay was seen as particularly valuable in helping other former public servants avoid the kind of mistake Dobell had made.
“When I left government as an employee, I simply did not consider that the work I was going to undertake made me a lobbyist and required me to register,” Dobell wrote, noting he now realizes “that I have encountered a number of individuals doing work that would likely fall under the ambit of the legislation who may not be registered.”
In a section of the essay titled lessons learned Dobell observes that even though he was acting as a consultant to the City of Vancouver, his actions were found by provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis to be de facto lobbying.
Dobell also said the cost of his transgression was significant: despite a life spent carefully avoiding political problems, he became embroiled in a political controversy that reached into the legislature. “As anyone who has spent time in government will appreciate, this was not much fun!” he wrote.
Dobell sat quietly in court as Robertson revealed that Dobell had mistakenly concluded he didn’t need to register as a lobbyist with the province while representing the City of Vancouver on two contracts, one involving a cultural precinct and the other, plans to increase social housing.
Robertson told the judge the case is complicated because Dobell, a highly respected bureaucrat, wasn’t trying to hide his role as a lobbyist and his job was clearly known to both the city and the province.
Although Dobell could face a fine of up to $25,000, the prosecutor said the offence required a fine “on the extremely low end” of perhaps $500 or $1,000. He said Dobell, who was paid $350 an hour for his work, had agreed to return nearly $7,000 in fees to the city.
Defence lawyer George Macintosh asked the judge to give Dobell an absolute discharge because what occurred was “an honest but mistaken belief” that he didn’t need to be registered.
Dobell rose through the ranks as a bureaucrat in the city, eventually becoming city manager while Campbell was mayor. He went on to work as the CEO of TransLink, and for Campbell in the provincial government as deputy minister. He resigned as deputy minister in May, 2005, and a month later was hired on a consulting contract to act as a Campbell special adviser.
In the legislature, Opposition members also continued to call for Campbell’s current deputy minister, Jessica McDonald, to be fired.
“Ken Dobell’s protégé just happened to overlook Ken Dobell’s violation of this government’s own laws. Jessica McDonald cooked up and approved a scheme that the Crown prosecutor called ‘influence peddling,’” NDP MLA Jenny Kwan said.
“Under these circumstances, how could this government possibly have confidence in Jessica McDonald?” she asked.
“I am saddened by what I hear here today,” government house leader Mike de Jong said during the exchange with Kwan.
“This opposition, in their desperate attempt to achieve some kind of political advantage or political victory, chooses to malign the character maliciously of individuals who have chosen to serve this province.”