AFN’s H20-Indian Act Corruption Scandal
“Days before Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo announced in Winnipeg he would be pushing to abolish the Indian Act, he received a telephone call from Bruce Carson, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former aide and friend.
In the phone call, Carson said he knew of a water company with a plan to clean dirty water on First Nations reserves and he wanted to meet with Atleo at the end of July.”
Carson’s Valentine’s Day meal with Atleo and the Pitch to Mike Holmes
APTN National news, March 18, 2011
Days before Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo announced in Winnipeg he would be pushing to abolish the Indian Act, he received a telephone call from Bruce Carson, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former aide and friend.
In the phone call, Carson said he knew of a water company with a plan to clean dirty water on First Nations reserves and he wanted to meet with Atleo at the end of July.
“This is the clean water proposal i (sic) spoke to (sic) about on the phone last week. I think it has real merit, especially as a pilot project,” Carson wrote in a July 19 email, obtained by APTN.
Later that evening, Atleo responded, “Yes, this looks promising, and we should meet to discuss, asap (sic).”
The next day, Atleo made a surprise announcement at the AFN’s annual general assembly that he would work to abolish the Indian Act within five years.
Correspondence uncovered by APTN appears to show Carson and Atleo were in the process of hatching a deal.
Sources within the water company said Carson told them he had a deal with Atleo.
Based on emails written by Carson, the former Harper advisor said he planned to help Atleo scrap the Indian Act in exchange for his support in promoting an Ottawa-based water company named H2O Pros, which later created an entity called H2O Global Group to deal with Indian Affairs.
“The AFN need my help getting rid of the Indian Act – so all of this will work together,” wrote Carson, in a July 26 email to company officials.
The email was written the same day Carson and the company’s owners met with Atleo’s staff to show off the firm’s wares.
“Thought we did as well as we could today – I told Michele (McPherson) and I will tell you because it means so much to her and I that we get this done … I think 6 months from now we will be well on our way,” he said, in the email.
Three days later, Carson, 65, and company officials met with Atleo.
Michele McPherson, 22, was an Ottawa escort known as Leanna VIP. Carson toldÂ APTN McPherson was his fiance.
McPherson was also working for H2O Pros and had signed a deal with the company’s president guaranteeing her 20 per cent of gross profits of all First Nations water deals landed by the company. Carson initialled the deal. Sources say a second contract was signed earlier this year.
McPherson was working as an escort when she met Carson last March. She continued until August when a posting online indicated she would only be escorting part-time.
The Prime Minister’s Office has asked the RCMP, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner along with the Commissioner of Lobbying to investigate Carson’s activities in relation to H2O Global Group.
The PMO requested the three-pronged probe following a meeting withÂ APTNÂ reporters.
In an on-camera interview withÂ APTN which aired Friday, Atleo admitted that he had discussed the Indian Act issue with Carson. Atleo, however, said he did not need Carson to access the prime minister. Atleo said he is able to pick up the phone and talk to Harper.
A number emails obtained byÂ APTN, however, appear to show Atleo and Carson working behind the scenes to push the company to Indian Affairs bureaucrats and First Nations chiefs.
“I thought this mornings (sic) meeting with Atleo and Richard Jacques (Richard Jock, Atleo’s chief of staff) was good and gave us a clear field to pursue our goals with support of the National Chief and his Chief of Staff,” wrote Carson hours after the first meeting with Atleo.
A later email shows Atleo directing two of his top officials to identify companies it could target in the Ottawa area.
“Can either of you touch base with bruce (sic) tomorrow to begin sourcing potential first nation pilot site around the Ottawa area?” Atleo said Sept. 6.
In reply to Atleo’s email Carson wrote the company’s owners: “This came as a result of a call to me from the National Chief yesterday.”
With Atleo in tow, Carson then proceeded to approach Indian Affairs. In an Aug. 19 email Carson, using his University of Calgary address, wrote Gail Mitchell, the department’s director general of community and infrastructure and another official.
“I have been working with National Chief Atleo and his staff on water quality solutions on reserves – and have been directed to both of you as the folks at INAC to deal with on this issue,” he said. “I was wondering if the representatives of this company and myself could meet with you to explain the system and find out how best to get involved in the government initiative of providing clean drinking water on reserves.”
That day, Mitchell asked her officials to set up a meeting in September.
“I would be delighted to chat about some of the work we are doing on FN infrastructure and program development (sic),” Mitchell wrote Carson, on Sept 14.
A flurry of emails ensued later that month.
Carson to Irving “Bing” Leblanc, the AFN’s director of housing and infrastructure: “Do you have time for our meeting on Monday – Gail Mitchell as you know is ready to send someone – thxs for doing this-bc (sic).”
Leblanc: “Haven’t heard from INAC Toronto if they got any direction from Gail or Â Garry Best’s office regarding participating in this meeting.”
Carson to Mitchell: “Do you have a contact that Irving could deal with.”
Mitchell: “Garry Best is the contact. Irving Leblanc knows Garry quite well. He should have Garry’s contact info but just in case please let Irving know he can contact me. Cheers. Gail.”
Carson to AFN officials: “$Gary is the guy (sic).”
Garry Best is director of infrastructure operations for the department.
In October, AFN provided provided Carson with a list of First Nations communities the company could target in late fall.
The communities included: Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community near Belleville, Ont., and the remote northern Ontario communities of Slate Falls First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation and Marten Falls.
But the AFN told Carson they don’t endorse any product sold by H20 Pros.
“I want to make it clear that AFN does not endorse any product nor accept liability on the performance of the product marketed by H20 Pros,” said Leblanc to Carson.
It was around that time H20 Pros changed their name to H2O Global Group, despite owner Patrick Hill tellingÂ APTN Global Group had been around for three years.
With the list from AFN the company went to work.
The first plan of action was to get in on the Mike Holmes pilot project the TV celebrity contractor is doing with a First Nation near Sudbury, Ont., and unveiled Friday.
Carson said that Holmes’ people had recently asked H20 Global Group to forward some information and they were on the cusp of getting into the project.
Carson said he met with Seth Atkins, a representative of Holmes, in Calgary last week.
“We discussed a number of things. The Holmes Group and AFN have sent Global Group a letter or email requesting a lot of further information which will be responded to over the next day or so. I think that puts them into the mix of what could be providers to the Holmes Group,” Carson toldÂ APTNÂ this past Sunday.
Holmes partnered with AFN on a multi-million dollar renovation of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation. The project aims to turn the community into a showcase of cutting-edge green technology construction.
Hill toldÂ APTN the company had secured a letter of intent from a Manitoba First Nation to use H2O Global Group product late last year. Hill said Indian Affairs refused to fund the project because the community’s water wasn’t dirty enough, so the deal fell through.
Hill and Carson also said they were weeks away from securing a major deal with Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont.
APTN learned last week the band had more questions because the deal “appeared too good to be true.”
Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan’s office has admitted staff met with Carson during the process.
The department has also confirmed Indian Affairs officials met with Carson and company representatives several times. A departmental statement referred to them as “stakeholders.”
Carson said Atleo was on board as was Duncan’s office.
While Atleo said he cut all ties with Carson in October, the company had a booth at the special chiefs assembly in December, where they also co-sponsored a table with Carson’s Canada School of Energy and Environment.
On Valentine’s Day of this year Atleo and his wife joined Carson and McPherson.
Bank records show Hill was there too and paid a nearly $600 tab but didn’t sit with the two couples.
Atleo said he paid for his meal and that of his wife.
A well connected First Nation source toldÂ APTN Atleo believed Carson was his bridge to the PMO.
Atleo has repeatedly denied that, saying he already has a direct relationship with the prime minister.
An Important Message from the AFN Regarding a March 18 APTN News Story
The Assembly of First Nations is appalled at the attempt to smear the national First Nations organization and its National Chief by the television network whose mission is to present a fairer and more accurate picture of our peoples. In an effort to make headlines, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has forgotten its mission statement and vision and initiated an attack that one might have expected from a less serious or principled organization.
Simply put, it is outrageous for APTN to have insinuated as it did in its national news broadcast tonight that National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, or officials at the AFN, offered anything other than the normal courtesies to Mr. Bruce Carson or H2O Pros, a commercial enterprise with which Carson claimed to have no financial relationship. After referring the company to our internal experts on water issues, as has been the practice of this organization where dozens of Canadian businesses offering services to First Nation governments are concerned, neither the AFN, nor the National Chief, nor its officials, did anything to promote H2O Pros.
Indeed, when it was reported that officials of that company were making claims of AFN support, an immediate and sharp rebuke was sent to them, which was acknowledged in writing. That documentation has been released by the AFN, as the APTN news organization knows well.
The suggestion that AFN or its National Chief needs an intermediary to government, including the Prime Minister, is laughable by anyone who knows the role played by the AFN at that level over many years. Equally absurd is the suggestion that the National Chief would have called on a former official of the PMO for assistance in promoting any policy objective – including the resolve of First Nations to advance an agenda based on our rights and Treaties to move away from the outdated and objectionable Indian Act relationship. Face to face debate on these issues between the National Chief and the Canadian Prime Minister have been the norm for two decades.
AFN officials and National Chief Atleo cooperated fully with APTN with the clear expectation that information provided would be treated honestly and fairly. We are gravely disappointed that APTN has chosen to apply false analysis and to grossly misrepresent timing of events and conjecture as to when meetings and discussions may or may not have occurred. Responsible journalism and the law requires the pursuit of truthful reporting and broadcasting. APTN has a special role and responsibility to our peoples to inform, and to do so with honesty and integrity.
This week it has failed in that responsibility and caused unearned injury to the people it is mandated to serve and to its national leadership.
An apology and retraction is a minimum that First Nations expect of their national television network.
|APTN ‘shocked’ by PMO’s swift response to Carson story|
|Written by Administrator|
|Saturday, 19 March 2011 12:26|
|Former PMO adviser Bruce Carson, has been accused of alleged influence peddling. The PMO has called in the RCMP, and the ethics and lobbying commissioners.
By JESSICA BRUNO, JAN NITOSLAWSKI
Published March 21, 2011
The Prime Minister’s Office caught APTN off guard when it took their allegations in a story of illegal lobbying by Bruce Carson, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper straight to the RCMP on March 16, says APTN executive producer Paul Barnsley.
“The PMO shocked us with the move yesterday to call in the RCMP,” Mr. Beardsley said in an email to The Hill Times on March 17, a day after the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network broke the sensational story on their website, and in response to a request for an interview on how the network broke the story.
The two journalists, freelancer Kenneth Jackson and APTN’s Jorge Barrera, had invited PMO representatives to examine and comment on a document hat alleged Mr. Carson promised First Nations bands and companies access to Prime Minister Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) in exchange for money. The report alleged that Mr. Carson lobbied the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan (Vancouver Island North, B.C.) for an Ottawa based water company to get contracts for water purification systems through Indian Affairs.
The PMO denied the allegations and responded swiftly to the story. It called in the RCMP and it asked the commissioners of ethics and lobbying to investigate.
“These materials contain troubling details about recent action and claims made by Mr. Bruce Carson, a former employee of the Prime Minister’s Office,” Raymond Novak, principal secretary to the prime minister, wrote in a statement released to the APTN.
The PMO’s move forced the APTN to tip its hand more than a week ahead of its scheduled March 25 air date, Mr. Barnsley said.
“We knew instantly that would start a media feeding frenzy, so we rushed our very first general story on the PMO move to air,” Mr. Barnsley said.
Mr. Duncan’s office told The Canadian Press that Mr. Duncan had not met with Mr. Duncan, but the he had met a staff member once.
“Mr. Carson briefed the staff on the proposed water project,” Michelle Yao said in an email to The Canadian Press. “Staff provided publicly available information to Bruce Carson and recommended he work directly with First Nations.”
The PMO distanced itself from Mr. Carson.
“As I’ve said, the Prime Minister has never met with, been spoken to or been lobbied by Bruce Carson on any of these matters. Our government strengthened Canadian laws with the toughest anti-corruption legislation, the Federal Accountability Act, including a ban on lobbying for five years by former political staff,” said PMO press secretary Sara MacIntyre in an email to The Hill Times.
“The laws are clear and they must be respected. Those who do not respect them must and should face the full force of the law as well as the consequences that come with it,” Ms. MacIntrye continued. “Upon being informed of these allegations by APTN, we have referred them to the RCMP commissioner, the ethics commissioner and the lobbying commissioner. Given what we’ve learned about Bruce Carson, our government will not be in communication with him on any matter. Furthermore, the ethics commissioner was fully consulted at the time of his departure from the Prime Minister’s office and signed off on his employment at the Canada School of Energy and Environment.”
The team’s first report aired on APTN National News March 17 and alleged that Mr. Carson promised executives from Ottawa-based filtration company H20 Pros that he would use his influence with the PM and Cabinet ministers to help secure contracts for on-reserve water-filtration systems with Indian Affairs.
Mr. Carson’s fiancée Michele McPhail, a 22-year old former escort, signed a contract with H20 Pros dated Aug. 31, 2010, that named her the “exclusive agent” of an H20 Pros “to develop a continuing relationship with First Nations in order to set up a pilot project to showcase water purification products and sell water purification products to First Nations.”
Mr. Carson told APTN reporters that he was a witness to the contract’s signing.
Experienced in both federal and provincial politics, Mr. Carson has been involved in politics since the days of prime minister Joe Clark. When Mr. Harper was opposition leader he served as his director of research. When the Conservatives moved into government he was in the PMO until after the 2008 federal election.
Mr. Carson then left the government briefly to work on the mandate of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment, where he is currently the executive director. The government gave the school, which is a collaboration between the universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge, a $15-million grant in the 2007 budget. It has a funding agreement with Industry Canada that lasts until 2014.
In January 2009, Mr. Carson returned to politics on a leave of absence from the school to work as the director of policy and research at the PMO.
In an email to H20 principal Patrick Hill obtained by the APTN, dated Aug. 6, 2010, Mr. Carson also states that the then-forthcoming Cabinet shuffle—scheduled for later that day—would see Conservative MP John Duncan (Vancouver Island North, B.C.) replace Chuck Strahl (Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, B.C.).
“I spoke with the PM last [night] and with [Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn] Atleo—the movement of John Duncan to INAC does not slow anything down,” wrote Mr. Carson.
In an interview with the APTN, Mr. Carson said his original email “wasn’t the truth,” but rather he spoke to “someone else” about the shuffle. He also said that he did not register as a lobbyist because he doesn’t lobby.
The APTN obtained documents showing that Mr. Carson had met with Indian Affairs bureaucrats about First Nations water quality, but whether that may have been in his capacity as the executive director of the school is unclear.
Calls to Mr. Carson for comment were not returned last week.
“This is one of the top five people around Harper, and has been one of his confidants for the last decade. It speaks volumes about this man’s judgment, and people will draw their own judgment about the company that Mr. Harper keeps,” said House Opposition Leader David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.).
In 1982, Mr. Carson pled guilty to defrauding his legal clients. He was disbarred and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Mr. Carson’s past legal history was public knowledge when he worked on the Hill.
As for the recent allegations of lobbying, the Prime Minister’s response was the most politically expedient one, according to NDP Whip Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst, N.B.).
“All of a sudden, when they realized that this was coming to light, they called the RCMP,” said Mr. Godin.
Referring the matter to the RCMP was the appropriate next step is an example of the Prime Minister “adhering” to the principles of the Federal Accountability Act, said Tory MP Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Sask.) the Parliamentary Secretary to Government House Leader John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.).
“There is a certain ban on lobbying for five years from certain staffers, of which Mr. Carson was one. If he has violated that rule, then we can take the appropriate action,” he added.
Mr. Lukiwski said he first met Mr. Carson in 2004. Over the years, he did not have much contact with Mr. Carson, but generally found him to be “professional and helpful.”
The Assembly of First Nations estimates that 75,000 aboriginal people in Canada do not have access to clean drinking water.
bNational Chief Shawn Atleo, who was mentioned in one of Mr. Carson’s emails, has said that while Mr. Carson approached him about H20 Pro’s water filtration system, he was one of many water companies to do so, and he never agreed to promote the company to First Nations communities.
According to the Forum for Leadership on Water, which is made up of independent Canadian water experts, there are 49 drinking water systems with a high risk of failure in First Nations Communities.
H20 Pros planned to sell more than 40,000 water filtration units to 50 aboriginal communities in need, according to the APTN report.
Mr. Carson told the APTN that the units cost from $3,500 to $6,000 each, though the reporters now estimate the cost of the units to be closer to $10,000.
Ms. McPhail stood to make 20 per cent of the gross revenues from the sale of the water filtration systems, according to the agreement obtained by the APTN.
Mr. Lukiwski said he would not comment on whether Mr. Carson’s alleged actions could have helped leverage the challenges First Nations communities face with respect to water quality to H20 Pro’s—and ultimately his own—advantage.
“I’m not going to comment on allegations because that’s all they are at this point in time,” he said.
The Canadian government spent nearly $4-billion between 1995 and 2008 on First Nations drinking water and waste water systems, according to a report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
“The people of northern communities and aboriginal peoples have enough of a hard time. People should not make money on them. We should be able as a country to help those people, and help them be a part of Canada,” said Mr. Godin.
The Hill Times