Liberals shield MP from grilling over lobbying accusations

OTTAWA – Liberal MP Derek Lee told a House of Commons committee Thursday that he has never acted as a lobbyist for a Toronto law firm or its clients.

But Conservative MPs on that committee say there is still "suspicion" and "frustration" about how Lee’s connections to the firm were advertised after the MPs were refused the chance to question Lee about his activities.

Conservative, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs wanted to ask Lee about his connection to the law firm, Sun and Partners, at the House of Commons government operations and estimates committee, but Liberal MPs on the committee successfully prevented Lee from answering any questions by using the committee’s allotted time to wrangle over procedural issues.

"By not giving us an opportunity to respond to some of (our) questions, you leave us with the impression you have something to hide," said Conservative MP Patrick Brown.

Liberals argued that if Conservatives or any other MP believed Lee violated rules for MPs, the appropriate forum to address those issues is through a complaint to Parliament’s independent conflict-of-interest and ethics commissioner.

No MP has said they have filed such a complaint about Lee.

"This should be a caution to all members of Parliament that what goes around, comes around, that you are dealing with the reputation of a senior member of this House who has been, for 22 years, a superb member of Parliament," said Liberal MP John McKay.

McKay accused the Conservatives of excessive "political enthusiasm" to embarrass Lee after they had been on the defensive for weeks over allegations that former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer may have engaged in illegal lobbying.

Lee is the legal counsel for Sun and Partners. The law firm’s website listed Lee as a member of its legal team and said "Mr. Lee’s valuable contributions to our clients include acting for foreign and offshore organizations in obtaining operating licences, securing regulatory and governmental approvals for mergers and acquisitions . . . advising government bodies on international issues regarding cross-border tax collection, anti-dumping issues, and lobbying government on policy issues as well as facilitating inter-governmental relationships."

Earlier this month, after that website biography came up in the House of Commons, Lee asked the firm to remove that description, which it did, and said that his relationship with Sun and Partners had been disclosed to Parliament’s conflict-of-interest commissioner and that he was "in full compliance with federal laws."

Lee also apologized "for any confusion this may have caused."

On Thursday, at the committee meeting, Lee produced a letter from Sun and Partners, which said he had never accepted an assignment for the firm that involved lobbying.

"I’m a lawyer, not a lobbyist," Lee said. "I have never been paid to lobby."

MPs are permitted to hold a job or maintain a profession outside of their parliamentary responsibilities.

"What was defined on the (Sun and Partners) website was in direct violation, I believe, of the ethics of a member of Parliament," Conservative MP Chris Warkentin said. "There’s more questions at (the end) of the meeting than there were to begin this meeting.

"There is more confusion, more suspicion and more frustration."

In the Jaffer matter, the government produced dozens of pages of correspondence Jaffer had with Conservative politicians, political aides and bureaucrats as evidence that he engaged in lobbying activities. No such documentary record has been produced to suggest Lee engaged in similar activities.


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