The Liberals have asked the federal Lobbying Commissioner to investigate whether Stephen Harper's aide Bruce Carson illegally lobbied the government when he was moving in and out of the Prime Minister's Office in late 2008 and 2009.
Letters released this week by the PMO showed that Mr. Carson sent an e-mail in January, 2009, to the deputy minister of Natural Resources on behalf of his new employer, the Canada School of Energy and the Environment, seeking help on a proposal for $25-million in federal funding for an initiative backed by the school.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter said he has sent a letter to Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd asking her to investigate whether Mr. Carson violated lobbying laws because he was not registered as a lobbyist and was barred from lobbying the government for a "cooling-off" period of one year after he first left the PMO in November, 2008.
"I am also concerned that rather than report this incident to your office for the proper independent review, senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) may have assisted in covering up the matter and preventing it from receiving the proper scrutiny," Mr. Easter wrote in the letter.
An ethics watchdog organization, Democracy Watch, also issued a statement saying Mr. Carson was "likely in violation of the Act."
Mr. Carson, a senior aide in Mr. Harper's PMO from 2006 to 2009, has been under scrutiny since it was reported he met last year with Harper government officials about water-purification equipment that his fiancée, a former escort named Michele McPherson, was trying to sell to first nations. Mr. Harper referred the allegations of unregistered lobbying to the RCMP. He has since said that if he had known of the extent of Mr. Carson's five convictions for fraud, he would never have hired him.
But the PMO letters released this week appear to indicate the PMO knew about Mr. Carson's lobbying on another matter, said Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher.
The letters, penned by Mr. Harper's then-chief-of-staff Guy Giorno to federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, describe measures taken to deal with potential conflicts of interests between his two posts.
Mr. Carson took the job at the Canada School of Energy and Environment - created with a $15-million federal grant - effective Aug. 15, 2008. But he stayed with Mr. Harper through that year's federal election and returned to the PMO for a brief period, until November. And a few months later, in January, 2009, with the government facing potential defeat by an opposition coalition on its upcoming budget, Mr. Carson returned to the PMO for a month, taking an unpaid leave from the school.
But although he had returned to the PMO on Jan. 5, 2009, an e-mail from Mr. Carson, as Canada School's executive director, was sent Jan. 6 to the then-deputy minister of natural resources, Cassie Doyle, seeking $25-million in funding. The money was for an initiative backed by the school - a centre to develop carbon-emission technology, called Carbon Management Canada. (Carbon Management Canada was launched with the $25-million in federal funding in December of that year.)
On Jan. 23, four days before the 2009 budget, Mr. Giorno wrote to Ms. Dawson that Mr. Carson had been removed on Jan. 12 from any discussions about the school, or the program from which Mr. Carson was seeking funding, the Network Centres of Excellence - and was taken out of budget discussions on Jan. 17.
Mr. Giorno's letter said that Mr. Carson had explained that the e-mail was drafted while he was at the school, but mistakenly sent after he returned to the PMO.
"This whole issue around Bruce Carson on this particular file doesn't really pass the smell test," Mr. Easter said in an interview.
Chris Day, a spokesman for Mr. Harper's current Conservative election campaign, said he did not know if Mr. Giorno, now the campaign chair, referred the 2009 matter to the Lobbying Commissioner. Mr. Giorno is a lawyer who is considered a top expert on Canada's lobbying laws.
Those laws say anyone who communicates with a public officeholder about a grant, contribution or financial benefit is lobbying. Mr. Easter and Mr. Conacher of Democracy Watch said the e-mail Mr. Carson sent to Ms. Doyle appears to be lobbying.
At the time, Mr. Carson was under a "cooling-off" period in federal rules which barred him from lobbying the federal government for a period of a year after he left the PMO. Both Ms. Dawson, the ethics commissioner, and the office of Ms. Shepherd, the Lobbying Commissioner's Office, said they could not comment because of confidentiality rules.
Mr. Carson was not listed as one of the lobbyists for the University of Calgary, where the Canada School of Energy and the Environment is housed. A university spokesman, James Stevenson, said the school is a separate corporation, not part of the university. However, Mr. Giorno's letter includes a copy of an e-mail in which Mr. Giorno asked University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten to authorize Mr. Carson's "leave of absence from the University of Calgary." Mr. Weingarten said yes.
The Canada School would only be required to register lobbyists if those activities took up a significant part of one employee's work. The school's interim executive director, Richard Hyndman, declined to comment.