Telecom Giants Lure Ex-Cabinet Ministers to their Boardrooms

Telecom policies, particularly Internet and wireless issues, have generated enormous public interest over the past year. Politicians have evidently taken note with all political parties expressing concern over Internet data caps, net neutrality, and the competitiveness of Canadian wireless services.

The political shift toward consumer-focused telecom concerns has unsurprisingly attracted the attention of the large incumbent telecom providers such as Bell and Telus, who have found their regulatory plans stymied by political intervention and the admission by some Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission commissioners that the current policy environment has failed to foster sufficient competition.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the incumbent telecom providers recently served notice that they are gearing up to fight back, with Bell adding former Industry Minister Jim Prentice to its board of directors and Telus doing the same with former Public Safety Minister and Treasury Board President Stockwell Day. The addition of two prominent, recently departed Conservative cabinet ministers makes it clear that Bell and Telus recognize the increasing politicization of telecom policy.

The addition of former politicians to telecom boards is nothing new. As Carleton professor Dwayne Winseck recently chronicled, the path between politics and telecom boardrooms is well trodden, with the likes of Brian Mulroney (Quebecor), former Liberal cabinet minister Ed Lumley (Bell), former BC Finance Minister Carole Taylor (Bell), and former Ontario premier David Peterson (Rogers) all making the jump. Moreover, former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord heads the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

The mix between politics and telecom policy is nothing new either. Since its very beginnings as an industry, telecom and competition regulators have played a crucial role in establishing the limits of companies that have frequently enjoyed near-monopolistic market power.

While politics and telecom have been frequent bedfellows, this round of appointments signals an important shift. The companies were at pains to emphasize that the addition of Prentice and Day is not about lobbying per se since both face five year “cooling off” periods under the Lobbying Act before they can formally lobby their former colleagues.

Yet there is no need for Prentice or Day to engage in formal lobbying. Bell alone has registered over 30 meetings with politicians and government officials since the start of 2011. Given its ability to garner weekly government meetings, access is clearly not a concern.

Rather, it is the emergence of consumer-oriented voices at the very time that government is preparing to establish the broadband and wireless rules that will govern the sector for years to come. The CRTC was long viewed as the most important regulatory channel (hence the revolving door between Commission staff and telecom companies), but the government has left little doubt it is prepared to intervene early and often if it disagrees with Commission policy.

Given the sheer number of policies on the agenda – spectrum allocation, data caps, net neutrality, foreign investment, copyright, Internet provider liability, lawful access, digital economy strategy, and the appointment of next CRTC chair among them – telecom policy has moved across the river from the CRTC’s Gatineau offices to Parliament Hill.  

This represents a big shift and garnering inside information into the backroom mechanics of the current government’s decision makers provides an enormous advantage for Bell and Telus since Prentice and Day held ministerial responsibility for all these issues during their time in government.


  1. Nothing will change untill politicians are held liable for their actions and taking on bribes. THEY work for us and just like any employee if they don’t perform they should be fired.

    Any dealings between gov officials (our employees) and big corporations should be done on record only and available to the public. Since corporations are only about making money for themselves and not for the Canadian people they should have no privacy previlages when talking to politicians.

  2. That a former politician or senior public servant takes on a roles with a business is hardly new. You can’t prevent them from earning a living after they exit public life. You can restrict what they can do, however, which is what the cooling off period does.

    In cases such as these gents what they have to offer to the business is pretty valuable, even if they aren’t lobbying. They can provide guidance as to WHO should be lobbied by the registered lobbyists, guidance as to the kinds of considerations that government uses when making decisions (allowing the business to address them early on), etc.

    All I can say is at least the “Team Canada” trips have stopped, where business leaders had direct access to some key ministers and the PM.

  3. Bill MacEachern says:

    LOL “cooling off period”
    And when they break the cooling-off period, what happens then? Nothing? Oh OK. It’s hilarious that the gov’t makes laws to appear less corrupt than they actually are, and the people the laws are subject to completely ignore them, thereby affirming the corruption.

  4. Mind the gap!
    As infuriating as cronyism can be at least there is the 5 year lobbying period. I travel the world fairly extensively and ‘corruption’ on the scale I see out there would make our problems look like a tea party.

    Having said that there should still be some public oversight of some kind to the back room dealings of government and industry, if only to balance the needs the public. As mentioned the limit on lobbying for the revolving door candidates is good but insider knowledge should also be a concern area.

    Semi-governmental bodies such as the CRTC and the Copyright board should be scrutinized for both their makeup and their movements to measure their motivations.

  5. I wouldn’t say this is anything “new” in the world of politics, but what is “new” is the visibility to the public. That’s actually a good thing as far as I am concerned.

    Perhaps what we need is an “ombudsman” type of role to counteract the political influence of business interests. In fact, such roles would be a good fit for former political figures. They would still be representing public interests, just in a more focused manner.

    I like the idea of all meetings and lobbying being recorded and open to public scrutiny, even including such meeting from such “ombudsman” types, if such were to come about.

  6. Devil's Advocate says:

    Look deeper, see the real problem…
    The real problem doesn’t begin when these people LEAVE government, and the “cooling off period” can’t address the real issue.

    The trouble already exists WHILE THEY’RE IN government, cozying up to the very corporates who are promising them their future jobs, in exchange for the “cooperation” of the office they occupy at the time.

    Such cooperation should be considered illegal, as it really is a serious breach of the public trust and an abuse of power. But, it’s just considered “business as usual” by all.

    That’s the real problem. Our interests are circumvented by each “cooperating” government representative, from the time he/she takes office, until the next one assumes it.

    The problem is also present BEFORE they take office, as most of these people are already a part of the same corporate world to begin with. Half of them already know the very corporate scumbags that will be buying them out, and look forward to the process.

    It’s the promise of future reward from the corporate world that’s keeps these people thumbing their noses at the duty they’re supposed to be performing. The damage is done long before, as they’ve already accepted these offers while they’re supposedly working for us. It is their continuing cooperation while they’re in office that seals the deal.

    That’s where the real problem is.

  7. Un-Trusted Computing says:

    Proper regulation and political will (or how learned to stop hating telcos and grew a pair)
    The problem here really isn’t that these people get hired for corporations they once were in charge of regulating, that’s nothing new and there virtually no way to stop it, cooling period or otherwise.

    The problem lies within the rules themselves with a lack of effective net neutrality regulation, and lack of a proper framework to address vertical integration. It’s all tied together in the sense that big ISPs wouldn’t be messing with traffic and forcing low caps if they didn’t own TV and video businesses.

    The rules should stipulate that ISPs can’t interfere or with the migration to online video (or whatever else gets supplanted) I don’t think legacy businesses should be put to pasture prematurely, but I also believe they should be subject to the full force of evolution without special allowances to prevent their eventual and properly timed demise

  8. No way to stop then
    throw the lot of them in jail. It’s all crooked business. I would be happy to make new criminal law that makes it illegal to lobby with regards to conflict of interest. It’s time to start send politicians to jail to. We need to make fast tracking for polical corruption.

  9. Get Real
    Most politicians are only out to line their own pokets except a few examples like Williams and McKenna. All others look to the next step when they are elected out of office. When you look at the whole cooling off period it is crap. In the industry those ministers are now called coaches to their team. Normally sales people look at coaches from the company that wants them in to provide a sevice, but now we have politicians becoming “coaches” or “roaches” for businesses that need to push forward bills or legislation that helps them. You would not believe how many in government now are just looking for that “lobying” gig that is really just coaching to introduce their former employees or co-workers to the real lobyist that try and infulence things.

    It is a sad day when you see Day, Lord and the rest of them taking up “coaching” positions to line their own poket when they got that information on the understanding it was for the benifit of the Canadian People and no corporation….sorry…think there is a smelly fish in the soup.

  10. Devil’s Advocate, it isn’t just when they are in government. ALL MPs/MPPs and their staff should be subject to the same rules. For some, this may not be immediately obvious, so let me explain why.

    As I understand the intent of the rules, it is to prevent former “Designated Public Office Holders” from directly using their knowledge of the system, and the people, to directly lobby politicians. This use to occur, one woman I know worked for a former Liberal cabinet minister who became a lobbyist immediately after he was defeated.

    1) It should be quite obvious why a government Minister who was defeated in an election should not be able to lobby if his old party is still the government. As I understand the rules, this situation, and the situation where the party is defeated as well, are covered by the current regulations.

    2) However, how about the situation where a non-minister is defeated but their party wins the election? As I understand the current rules, that person is not subject to the cooling off period. The impact is no different than what occurs with option 1). In this situation they may not know the public servant players, but they know the MPs.

  11. at arms length…
    …means they use a cell phone to call their cronies at home, instead of the office. it’s just a personal call, in a ‘hey, how you doin..oh, and by the way…’ sort of way. ;p

  12. John Franklin says:

    editorial junk
    Here you go, another professor that takes the easy track and simply likes to talk about things. Another informative, yet useless article to tell Canadians how corrupt our system is and all you can do is “teach” about it in your normal passive manner.

    Why don’t you get off of your soapbox and try to tell Canadians how they can affect change and do something about the various problems you speak of. You should be doing this with every article. If no change can happen, why are you writing about them? Another fine example of the old rule “those that cannot do, teach” or “those that cannot do, sit on a board”.

    You have this voice and the power of the press, why are you such a passive and meek writer?