The secret life of lobbyists

On March 12, 2008 former Deputy Minister to the Premier Ken Dobell pleaded guilty to one count of violating the BC Lobbyist Registry Act in his capacity as a lobbyist for the City of Vancouver.

Mr. Dobell avoided a federal prosecution on the same file by agreeing to write an essay about lobbying and the law.

Then, as documents I’ve received from the City of Vancouver through the FOI process reveal, Mr. Dobell appears to have gone right back to work lobbying an agency of the BC government on behalf of the City of Vancouver without the disclosure called for by the Lobbyist Registry Act.

Mr. Dobell’s legal problems began when he arranged a contract with the City of Vancouver under the Sam Sullivan Council.  The contract included lobbying both the provincial and federal governments about their participation in housing and arts infrastructure programs of interest to the City of Vancouver.

At the time his lobbying activities became public Mr. Dobell argued that he wasn’t a lobbyist but rather a “content consultant”.  In that capacity he argued that his meetings with provincial and federal government officials were, in the words of the Registrar of Lobbyists “for the purpose of gathering or sharing information, or for understanding what existing government policies or programs exist” and not for lobbying in the traditional sense.

The Registrar disagreed and issued a report finding Dobell in violation of the duty to register.  The report led to a special prosecutor recommending one charge followed by Mr. Dobell’s guilty plea in March of 2008.

The plea wasn’t the end of it.  Mr. Dobell continued to be paid as a registered lobbyist on the Cultural Precinct contract through to early 2009.

What changed was the work.  According to City of Vancouver records related to those contracts Mr. Dobell took on new, undisclosed roles under his contract, guiding the redevelopment of the BC Place lands.  The roles appear to include project and issue management as well as the role of direct liaison to the BC Pavilion Corporation.

According to the minutes of the senior staff steering committee, Dobell was responsible for “notes regarding evolving NEFC issues,” steering committee agenda items, reports on meetings with PavCo, some engineering issues and final report review as well as other items relating to PavCo’s redevelopment plans and legal agreements with the City.

Mr. Dobell, along with cultural planner Sue Harvey, also continued to have responsibility for the discussions with the Province and the Vancouver Art Gallery relating to a potential new site.

Most importantly, according to the meeting notes from one of the first Steering Committee meetings on July 4th, Mr. Dobell was specifically assigned to “meet with PAVCO re core assumptions and expected agreement rising from ODP. “

Section 4 of BC’s Lobbyist Registry Act requires a lobbyist to disclose Provincial officials lobbied and the subject matter.  I could find no record of Mr. Dobell disclosing meetings with PavCo, nor the nature of any discussions with PavCo through this period, just months after his first conviction.

But there was a great deal of activity on the file occurring during the period.  Within six weeks of the City Steering Committee instructing Mr. Dobell to met with PavCo, a ‘major casino’ rezoning was added to the draft of the committee’s report.


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