Harper's excess zeal unfair to transition team worker

Tory stalwart is targeted by change endorsed by Harper

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The Gazette, Friday, June 9, 2006

It's not everyone who gets an amendment named for them, but in the circumstances, Elizabeth Roscoe would rather pass on the honour.

The Roscoe amendment to the Accountability Act retroactively excludes members of Stephen Harper's transition team from lobbying the government for five years, the same stiff prohibition that will apply to former ministers and their staffs. MPs on the committee studying the bill got the book of amendments Wednesday, and are expected to deal with the Roscoe amendment next week.

Roscoe was on Harper's transition team, which was chaired by Derek Burney, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney. Like all members of the transition team, she worked for several weeks free, helping to get it up and running when its existence was a closely held secret, then during the transition period itself from Jan. 23 to Feb. 6, when the new government took office.

At the time, nothing was said to her about the proposed five-year ban applying to members of the transition team.

"If there had been any intimation that this was being imposed," she said yesterday, "I would have respectfully declined and tried to be of help in some other way."

At the time, Roscoe was running the development office at Carleton University. She subsequently joined the Canadian Association of Broadcasters as senior vice-president for policy and public affairs, and registered as a lobbyist on her first day on the job.

When the NDP's Pat Martin got wind of this, he made a big stink about a member of the transition team becoming a lobbyist. Harper agreed, and personally ordered the Roscoe amendment written into the Accountability Act.

As amended, the bill will read: "Members of a transition team are persons identified by the prime minister as having had the task of providing support and advice to him or her during the transition period leading up to the swearing in of the prime minister and his or her ministry."

There is no way the legislation would refer to the prime minister identifying his transition team without Harper's personal approval.

In effect, Roscoe has been branded with a scarlet letter.

She's also going to be subject to very stiff financial penalties, "liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000."

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters doesn't seek contracts, it doesn't ask for grants and isn't looking for any kind of financial favours from government. But as an industry association, it is a lobby, and has regulatory issues with the CRTC, the heritage minister, the industry minister and, rarely but occasionally on appeal to the highest authority, the Prime Minister's Office.

Roscoe is being told if she calls the regulator or a minister's office, she faces a fine of up to $50,000. How is she supposed to do her job? "We stand 100 per cent behind her," CAB chairperson Rob Braide said yesterday after calling Roscoe to assure of her employer's support.

This is her thanks for signing up for volunteer duty, to have her good name slagged around Ottawa by an NDP member, and to be personally hunted down by the prime minister.

Most of the time, Harper has the significant talents of a rassembleur - bringing the diverse factions of the Reform-Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties together was no small achievement. But occasionally, Harper still trips over his own Cromwellian excess of zeal.

This is such a case. Roscoe is a resident in good standing of the political village of Ottawa, the one Harper threatens to burn down while in the process of cleaning it up.

In the Mulroney years, she was chief of staff to Barbara McDougall and had a reputation for running one of the best offices on Parliament Hill. Her husband, David Crapper, runs a polling shop in Ottawa. Both are longtime Tory activists, with a large network of friends in the party who are appalled that she has been singled out in this manner.

"Thirty years of volunteering for a cause I still believe in," she mused yesterday, "and to be treated like this. That's the part that hurts."

Just on the merits of the legislation, the government is proposing an amendment that is probably illegal and clearly unconstitutional. It is arguably illegal to circumscribe labour mobility and working conditions on an ex-post-facto basis.

And the entire five-year post-employment ban on lobbying is a slam dunk Charter case as an unreasonable limitation on freedom of association.

"I'm having a lawyer look at it," Roscoe said yesterday. "But it's a long way to go to take the federal government to court."

Well, someone should.

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