Business

The hired guns

John Geddes September 6 1999
Business

The hired guns

John Geddes September 6 1999

The hired guns

Business

Not since last year's bank-merger mania has there been such a rush to sign up Ottawa’s priciest lobbyists and political consultants. Two days before Gerald Schwartz announced his bold takeover bid, his Onex Corp. began negotiating for the services of some of the Liberal hired guns. The big names drafted by Schwartz’s team: Mike Robinson, a Paul Martin loyalist with the influential Earnscliffe Strategy Group consulting firm, and Herb Metcalfe, who once carried the satchel for Liberal fund-raiser Senator Leo Kolber and now wields influence as senior partner at The Capital Hill Group lobbying shop.

They join a squad that already boasted deep Liberal bench strength. American Airlines, which is largely bankrolling Onex, relies heavily on Global Public Affairs lobbyist Randy Pettipas, a former aide to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and to B.C. cabinet heavyweight David Anderson when he held the transport portfolio, and on David Dingwall, the former Nova Scotia Liberal cabinet minister.

Scrambling to catch up, Montrealbased Air Canada secured the services of GPC Government Policy Consul-

tants, with chief executive James Crossland overseeing its file. Although Crossland’s partisan stripes are Conservative, his reputation is for championing shareholder issues over political interests. Air Canada also has an in-house government relations director with solid Liberal credentials: Duncan Dee, a former aide to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. When it comes to their boards, both airlines can call on Liberal insiders: Canadian Airlines director Ross Fitzpatrick, a senator from British Columbia, is an old friend of the Prime Minister, while Ed Lumley, another Chrétien ally and a former Liberal cabinet minister, is an Air Canada director.

All but forgotten is the rhetoric of the Liberal campaign of 1993. Chrétiens policy book declared that the “cozy relationship between lobbyists and the Conservative regime has contributed not only to public cynicism about politics but also to the sense of the Americanization of Canadian government.” After taking power, Chrétien cancelled the privatization of Toronto’s airport over claims that high-powered lobbying had tainted the deal. But in the current airline debate, the lobbyists are again flying in clear skies.

John Geddes in Ottawa