A reader’s guide to the Boissonnault inquiry | Globalnews.ca

The parliamentary ethics committee will examine Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault’s business affairs on Tuesday, June 4, at 11 a.m. ET.


The Edmonton Centre MP and entrepreneur won the 2021 election by a thin margin and is the sole federal cabinet minister representing Alberta.

Committee members will ask him about his business ties to a lobbying firm and a medical supply company. Global News revealed these connections in reports published in late April and early May.

The hearings will likely involve tracing payments across a network of businesses connected with the minister and questions about whether the payments comply with the Conflict of Interest Act, the Lobbying Act, the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct and the Open and Accountable Government code.

Here’s a guide to the questions ahead, with an expanded map of the connections between the key players.

Story continues below advertisement

The questions will likely look at whether the minister and his business associates benefitted from his position in cabinet.

The ethics committee launched its inquiry on May 7 after Global News revealed that Poon, a rookie federal lobbyist who had taken control of Boissonnault’s two dormant small businesses after his election, had solicited high-level political staff across the federal government as part of her work for her consultancy, Navis Group. As she helped her client land $110 million in federal grants, she lobbied ministerial advisors at Finance Canada, when Boissonnault was associate minister.

Global Health Imports Corporation (GHI), a medical supply startup Boissonnault co-owns with former hockey coach Stephen Anderson, also successfully competed with national and multinational firms. GHI won at least $8.2 million in provincial and municipal contracts between 2020 and 2022, Global News revealed.

Beset by legal troubles, GHI has faced six lawsuits, with courts awarding $7.8 million in alleged debts and damages to plaintiffs. GHI settled one lawsuit and lost five others by default because it did not file defences. One of GHI’s buyers has also filed a complaint alleging that Anderson and two other GHI employees engaged in fraud.

Story continues below advertisement

Boissonnault is not named in any of the lawsuits and says he had no improper dealings with the lobbying firm Navis Group or GHI.

“Minister Boissonnault always met all of his conflict of interest and ethics obligations as a public office holder,” his director of communications, Alice Hansen, told Global News.

“Minister Boissonnault has not been involved with any of Ms. Poon’s lobbying activities,” said Hansen. “All necessary steps have been taken to avoid any conflict of interest.”

Regarding Global Health Imports, Hansen said Boissonnault “had no part in those operations” after his election in September 2021. She explained that Boissonnault resigned as director of the company before he took office, as the law requires.

For her part, Navis Group’s Poon told Global News, “There was nothing improper about the work I have done. I take all applicable laws, rules and ethics very seriously.”

Anderson declined to comment due to ongoing legal proceedings.

According to some of the lawyers and other experts in political law whom Global News consulted, the documents did not indicate that Boissonnault had violated any law or code. Nevertheless, several called for the ethics commissioner and the lobbying commissioner to investigate further.

In response to a letter from Ontario MP Michael Barrett, the ethics commissioner has declined to investigate.

Story continues below advertisement

What questions will the committee ask about lobbying?

Ethics committee members may examine whether the ministerial advisers whom Poon lobbied felt a sense of obligation because of her ties to Boissonnault. When she was contacting officials in late 2021 and 2022, he was minister of tourism and associate finance minister.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world
sent to your email, as it happens.

The Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, a set of rules arising from the Lobbying Act, warns federal lobbyists never to pitch to officials who “could reasonably be seen to have a sense of obligation towards you.”

Poon first started lobbying for her client, Edmonton Regional Airports Authority, when she was a lobbyist at Boissonnault’s small consulting business, Xennex Venture Catalysts.

Xennex had landed the contract after Boissonnault lost his seat in the September 2019 election. Former MPs are barred from lobbying for five years after leaving office, so Boissonnault hired Poon, who was working as a consultant for Edmonton International Airport (EIA) at the time.

Story continues below advertisement

When Boissonnault won back his seat in the fall of 2021, Poon took control of Xennex and a numbered holding company he owns. Xennex shut down daily operations again, Hansen says. Poon resumed lobbying for the Edmonton airport under the public-facing name of her own enterprise, Navis Group.

Federal grants and contributions to Edmonton International Airport since 2006.Navis Group helped to land $110 million in grants, earmarked in large part to increase EIA’s cargo and logistics capacity. According to a database of federal grants and contributions, previous years’ efforts by EIA’s CEOs and lobbyists from some prominent firms produced few results.

An EIA spokeswoman explained that federal grants are based on need.

Hansen added that the recent grants to EIA reflect “the reality of changing funding approaches to Canada’s airports during the COVID pandemic and under the Liberal government,” with “virtually every major airport in Canada” receiving support during the pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

Pointing out that EIA is one of Canada’s largest airports, Hansen stated, “The contrast you are trying to draw would be better drawn between the Harper Conservatives and our government.”

Poon did not respond to Global News’ questions about the funding.

“Mr. Boissonnault was not involved in any way,” she stated in earlier exchanges with Global News.

“Government officials at all levels will take meetings with my client because of who they are and their critical role in our country, not because of me or Mr. Boissonnault,” she explained.

What questions will the committee ask Boissonnault about his connections to lobbying?

During the hearing, members may focus on whether the minister’s duties collided with Poon’s lobbying.

The laws and codes in question arise from the Conflict of Interest Act, which requires public officeholders to recuse themselves “from any discussion, decision, debate or vote” on any matter in which they would be in a conflict of interest.

Story continues below advertisement

Legal scholars and experts whom Global News consulted were divided on whether Boissonnault had a duty to declare his connection to Poon clearly and publicly — beyond the brief mention currently listed in the ethics commissioner’s registry — and recuse himself from all matters concerning Poon’s lobbying.

Guy Giorno, a former chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told Global News that the minister may have missed a step.

“If a minister were to inform the commissioner that a friend or business associate of the minister is lobbying the minister’s department … then the Commissioner would insist on a compliance measure,” explained Giorno, who leads Fasken’s political law practice.

If that had been done, he added, then the ethics commissioner’s office would have posted this additional recusal on the registry. It is not.

By contrast, a spokesperson for the ethics commissioner’s office stated that, in theory, posting such information “would not necessarily be required or useful” if a lobbyist only contacted other officials.

Boissonnault echoed this argument when he took questions from reporters on May 3.

“I never had any responsibility or decision-making authority” over grants awarded to EIA, he said.

Federal documents like this one illustrate the complexities involved.

Story continues below advertisement

When Poon lobbied Finance Canada in March 2022, she pitched EIA’s hydrogen fuel development projects, a ministry spokesperson told Global News.

The airport is a leader in this area, with a hydrogen fuel “campus” on site.

At the same time, Boissonnault, in his capacity as tourism minister, was helping develop a program included in the 2023 budget, which also contained a significant increase in funding for hydrogen fuel projects.

Boissonnault could be in a conflict of interest if he worked on anything connected with EIA since he had directly consulted for the airport in 2020 and 2021 when he was a private citizen. He and EIA declined to answer Global News’ questions about the project.

In January 2023, Boissonnault and others announced at Edmonton airport a $9.74-million grant for hydrogen fuel projects from PrairiesCan, the federal government’s regional development office.

The funding did not go directly to EIA, but to the Alberta Motor Transport Association, an industry not-for-profit organization that uses EIA’s campus for research purposes.

What questions will the committee ask Boissonnault, Anderson and Poon about their companies’ business dealings?

The outcome of the committee’s examination of Boissonnault’s finances is less predictable.

Story continues below advertisement

In declarations of his conflicts of interest, which were posted publicly after the minister took office, Boissonnault listed “outstanding” payments from Poon’s firm Navis Group. (Read more in this Global News article.)

Poon and Hansen stated that the payments were long-delayed transactions, mainly from Xennex’s contracts with the United Nations Development Programme in 2020 and 2021 when Boissonnault did not hold public office.

As of June 3, Boissonnault has refused to answer questions about how much money he received from Navis Group, telling Opposition MPs the work was done when he was a private citizen.

Boissonnault can expect questions tracing payments across the companies associated with Navis Group and GHI.

Map of Minister Boissonnault’s business ties between 2024 and 2024.

Global News

According to registry documents, Boissonnault currently owns a 50 per cent stake in GHI. He has stated that he received no income from the business during his time as minister.

Story continues below advertisement

Anderson sometimes routed payments to GHI through another enterprise, Global Healthcare Solutions Corporation (GHS), wire transaction receipts obtained by Global News show.

Anderson set GHS up in October 2020 while he and Boissonnault were running GHI.

Anderson did not respond to questions about why money for GHI sometimes went to accounts held by GHS.

Hansen told Global News that Boissonnault had no stake in GHS, “and as such has no insights into their practices. Any questions about GHS should be directed to Mr. Anderson.”

Another issue that may come up during the hearings involves GHI’s paperwork. There was a 16-month delay in removing Boissonnault’s name from business registries as GHI’s director as is required of ministers. Procurement professionals and industry leaders have stated that on paper, at least, the company’s connection to a federal cabinet minister may have helped GHI obtain contracts.

Boissonnault’s office said the minister informed Anderson after his election in September 2021 that he was resigning as director, believing that Anderson would update the business registries.

“After lengthy inaction by the current sole director, [Boissonnault] initiated the process himself,” explained Hansen.

When Global News asked Hansen for Boissonnault’s resignation letter, she did not respond.

— With files from Krista Hessey.

Source link