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Inside SNC-Lavalin’s long lobbying campaign to change the sentencing rules

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Justin Trudeau’s government was just four months old when SNC-Lavalin came knocking on the door, looking for help.

The stakes for the global construction and engineering firm were enormous. In 2015, federal prosecutors charged SNC-Lavalin with offering Libyan government officials $48 million in bribes and defrauding Libyan organizations of another $130 million.

If convicted, the company would be slapped with a 10-year ban on receiving federal government contracts. SNC-Lavalin saw its very existence at stake.

So the company launched a multi-year lobbying effort to convince the Trudeau government to change the Criminal Code. Its goal was to see the Trudeau government introduce deferred prosecution agreements — DPAs, for short — which typically are sentencing agreements between prosecutors and corporations charged with white collar crimes.

For SNC-Lavalin, the DPA option would offer a lifeline — allowing the company to pay fines and restitution while escaping criminal prosecution and the threat of that 10-year ban.

SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying and the introduction of DPAs blew up into a major controversy this week when Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister, announced she was quitting the Liberal cabinet — just days after a Globe and Mail report claimed she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to help the Quebec-based multinational engineering firm avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.

The company’s lobbying push started on Feb. 2, 2016, when company officials met with Francois-Philippe Champagne. The Quebec MP, now the infrastructure minister, was at the time the parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

It’s the first meeting listed in the federal lobbyist registry which saw SNC-Lavalin press the Trudeau government on justice and law enforcement.

As the month rolled along, SNC-Lavalin lobbied its way up the Ottawa power chain. On Feb. 11, 2016, the company had its first discussion on justice and law enforcement with a member of the Prime Minister’s Office — an event that would be repeated at least 18 times over the next few years.

That initial meeting was with Cyrus Reporter, who at the time was listed as Trudeau’s senior adviser. Days later, SNC-Lavalin met with Robert Asselin, Morneau’s senior policy adviser at the Department of Finance.

Another meeting followed with the PMO — this time with Mathieu Bouchard, Trudeau’s adviser on Quebec issues. Bouchard has been SNC-Lavalin’s main point of contact in the PMO ever since.

A very broad lobbying effort

Before the month was over, SNC-Lavalin also had met with top officials at Global Affairs Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development, including Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains himself.

The company’s initial lobbying efforts were focused entirely on the PMO and top economic ministries, even though the lobbyist registry says the meetings were to discuss justice and law enforcement.

By the time 2016 was over, SNC-Lavalin had expanded its lobbying efforts to include the Privy Council Office, Export Development Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Public Safety.

In 2017, its lobbying effort widened to include Treasury Board, Natural Resources and Environment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould during a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015 in Ottawa. (CP/Adrian Wyld)

SNC-Lavalin even met with a policy adviser in the Department of Heritage. The minister at the time, Mélanie Joly, is a Quebec MP.

Twenty months and 51 meetings after SNC Lavalin’s initial meeting with Champagne, the company’s efforts appeared to be paying off.

The government launched consultations to discuss a DPA regime in Canada. The consultations even had their own customized hashtag: #LetsTalkCorporateWrongdoing.

In February 2018, Morneau would deliver the budget item that SNC Lavalin wanted. The budget implementation bill contained changes to the Criminal Code that would bring DPAs to Canada.

Lobbying the opposition

It was a justice reform provision baked into a 500-page omnibus budget bill. The measures were discussed at the House finance committee without ever appearing on the justice committee’s agenda.

In May 2018, Conservative finance critic Pierre Polievre asked Morneau why his budget bill included “a provision that would allow accused white collar criminals charged with bribery, fraud, insider trading and other offences to have all charges dropped.”

“We believe that our approach to deferred prosecution agreements will enable us to pursue an approach that is functioning and doing well in other economies,” Morneau replied. “One that will result in more effective continuation of business success by companies once they have paid their dues to society.”

Around this time, SNC Lavalin broadened its lobbying efforts again. The budget bill was tabled but it still needed to pass through the House and the Senate.

So the company secured meetings with officials in Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and top senators — including Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate. Once again, the topic listed in the lobbyist registry was ‘justice and law enforcement’.

The budget bill passed through Parliament and was given royal assent on June 21, 2018, making DPAs a viable legal option in Canada. Step one in SNC Lavalin’s efforts to save itself had been successful.

Step two would be to secure a DPA for itself. That would prove to be more difficult.

Wilson-Raybould gets involved

A few weeks after the budget passed, SNC-Lavalin had another meeting with PMO — this time with Bouchard and Elder Marques, who was a senior adviser in Trudeau’s office at the time. Prior to that he had been Bains’ chief of staff in Innovation and had been one of the first officials to meet with SNC-Lavalin when the lobbying effort began in 2016.

The next important date in this story comes not from the lobbyist registry but from the PMO itself. On Sept. 17, 2018, MPs were returning to Ottawa for the re-opening of Parliament — and Trudeau had a meeting scheduled with his justice minister, Wilson-Raybould.

In its 80 recorded meetings to lobby on justice issues, SNC-Lavalin never once spoke to Wilson-Raybould or anyone from the Department of Justice.

But given that the budget omnibus bill had gone through a full cabinet process, Wilson-Raybould would have been acutely aware of the push for DPAs — and SNC Lavalin’s desire for one. After lobbying Ottawa to change the law, the company was now asking prosecutors to cut it a deal.

Trudeau has said more than once in recent days that he reassured Wilson-Raybould at that September meeting.

“I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” Trudeau said this week in Vancouver.

The day after the PM and Wilson-Raybould spoke, SNC-Lavalin was back lobbying the government — this time meeting with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and Finance Minister Bill Morneau to, once again, discuss justice issues.

Things fall apart

None of the firm’s efforts seem to have paid off. In October, prosecutors told SNC-Lavalin it would not get a DPA. The criminal charges were going to court. SNC Lavalin’s lifeline was fraying. Events started to move fast.

The company made the news public in an October 10 statement. On Oct. 11, SNC-Lavalin met with Elder Marques, the PMO senior adviser.  A week later, the company announced that it would challenge the prosecutor’s decision.

The Globe and Mail reports that this is the period when Wilson-Raybould allegedly was pressured by unnamed officials in the PMO to intervene in the prosecution. Trudeau denies the allegations. Wilson-Raybould has refused to address them publicly, citing solicitor-client privilege.

In December, SNC-Lavalin issued a statement saying its Quebec operations were under threat as a result of “ongoing legal challenges.”

In January of this year, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio. This week, she quit cabinet entirely. Her resignation letter did not offer a specific explanation.

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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