Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Toews enlisted to lobby NDP

Things could get awkward in Tory's post-political career

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Vic Toews, then public safety minister, and Premier Greg Selinger at a joint government announcement in 2010. Will Toews, as a lobbyist, be able to sway the NDP?

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Vic Toews, then public safety minister, and Premier Greg Selinger at a joint government announcement in 2010. Will Toews, as a lobbyist, be able to sway the NDP? Photo Store

When Vic Toews retired from federal politics last summer, there was a lot of speculation about what he would do to earn a living.

All Toews would say is he wanted to explore opportunities in the private sector. Since his sudden decision to leave his post as MP for Provencher and public safety minister, few details have emerged about his activities.

This week, however, we learned Toews is lobbying the Province of Manitoba on behalf of four different clients.

Toews is prohibited from lobbying the federal government for a period of two years. However, he is permitted to lobby provincial and local governments. And he can represent individuals and organizations that do business with Ottawa, as long as he is not lobbying on a specific issue of federal jurisdiction.

The ethical hairs that need to be sliced to permit Toews to take on lobbying work will no doubt frustrate the average citizen. Let it be said most of the steps politicians have taken to prevent other politicians from peddling influence with the governments they once represented are woefully, comically inadequate. As a result, Toews is legally entitled to do this work.

There is also the matter of his qualifications. Although some of his enemies may find it difficult to accept, Toews is well-qualified to function as a lobbyist in a province that, by most measurements, is virtually a lobbyist-free zone.

None of the major national lobbying firms maintain offices here and provincial government officials claim they have precious little contact from professional lobbyists.

As a former Crown attorney, provincial MLA and cabinet minister and federal MP and cabinet minister, Toews certainly knows politics. However, his years serving as minister of the Crown also give him perspective into how public administration works, a valuable commodity for anyone who wants to do business with a government.

On paper, all that makes Toews an excellent choice as a lobbyist. So much so that he already has four clients doing or trying to do business with the province.

Toews represents a Toronto company called Whitesand River Group Inc., which is trying to sell a pain-assessement tool to Manitoba Public Insurance and the Workers Compensation Board. He also is doing general consulting and lobbying for the Metis Economic Development Organization, an arm of the Manitoba Metis Federation and Norway House Cree First Nation.

The most interesting of Toews' clients is Jeffrey Rath, a lawyer who represents the Manitoba Jockey Club and Peguis First Nation in a bitter, ongoing battle with the province over redevelopment plans for Assiniboia Downs.

The MJC is suing the province over a decision to pull VLTs out of the Downs, thus starving it of much-needed operating revenue.

The province has promoted a plan that would see the Downs brought into a redevelopment plan devised by the Red River Exhibition.

The fight between the province and the MJC/Peguis has been a nasty affair. In that context, it's probably not surprising that Toews, a man who was never described as mild or meek, would be retained. It could be that the jockey club and its First Nations partner are preparing for what they expect will be a bare-knuckle brawl with the province. In that context, Toews looks more like hired muscle than strategic adviser.

The question is whether the people he is lobbying in a provincial NDP government are interested in giving him the time of day.

Toews was no friend of the NDP government here, to say the least. He sat opposite an NDP Opposition in the Manitoba legislature when he was an MLA and minister in premier Gary Filmon's government. There are still a few NDP MLAs and ministers sitting in that same legislature who felt the sting of Toews' partisan rants.

As a federal politician, he was a constant thorn in the NDP's paw. In his time as the regional minister, there were notable disputes over infrastructure funding, disaster assistance, the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board and control over immigration-settlement services. He frequently criticized the NDP government for asking for more than its fair share of federal support of all kinds.

All that makes it more than a little ironic that Toews would now, in retirement, try to sway the same people he battled all those years in politics.

Can he be effective? Possibly. But if karma counts for anything, he could find the first few meetings are more than a bit awkward.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Should there be a waiting period for politicians becoming lobbyists at all levels of government? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2014 A3

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Updated on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 6:32 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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