By Stanley Tromp, Vancouver Sun, 23 Apr. 2007
A senior adviser to Premier Gordon Campbell under scrutiny for possibly breaking lobbying rules met with the province's top politician at least seven times on unspecified topics before officially registering as a lobbyist, according to appointment calendars obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
Ken Dobell is a former deputy minister with a desk in the premier's office complex in Vancouver, where he serves as a $250-an- hour "special adviser," overseeing some of the province's biggest projects and issues.
The widely respected civil servant added lobbying to his role on April 5, 2006, when he began working for the City of Vancouver to seek money from the provincial government, records show.
But Dobell did not register as a lobbyist for six months, even though rules stipulate lobbyist consultants should file within 10 days of beginning a contract, or face fines of up to $25,000.
In an interview on Friday, Dobell said that during the review of his lobbying registration, he will explain the reason for the apparent delay.
In effect, during that six-month period, Dobell was both a paid adviser to the premier with high-level access and under contract with the city to lobby the provincial government on multimillion- dollar issues, a fact that was not disclosed officially until November.
The New Democratic Party says these dual roles represent a potential for conflict of interest.
Dobell continued to meet with Campbell on a regular basis during the six months when he was under contract as a city lobbyist, according to copies of the premier's appointment book, which were obtained under freedom of information legislation for The Sun by freelance journalist Stanley Tromp.
The diary does not specify the subject of the meetings or how long they lasted.
But the premier's appointment book, which sets out dozens of meetings each month taken by Campbell, does indicate Dobell had frequent access. In an interview, Campbell said he knew his adviser, with whom he has worked since his days as Vancouver mayor when Dobell was city manager, was doing the lobbying work.
From April 18, 2006 to Oct. 18, 2006, Dobell met with his boss seven times, according to the calendar.
At the time he registered as a lobbyist for the City of Vancouver on Nov. 23, Dobell also declared he had been lobbying on the city's behalf for cultural funds since April. At the same time, he also declared that since Sept. 1, he had been lobbying for the city on a $300,000 contract on housing matters, an area where the province is spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
After registering as a lobbyist, Dobell met with the premier twice, according to the documents.
But Campbell said that in Dobell's role as special adviser, for which he can earn a maximum of $230,000 a year, Dobell met with him many other times besides those listed in the appointment book.
Campbell said he did not know why Dobell appears to have delayed registering as a lobbyist. But he said he knew his special adviser was working on the city's behalf and saw no conflict.
He also said most of the meetings he had with Dobell from April to October were about the softwood lumber dispute, an area in which Dobell was advising.
"Ken Dobell has an unimpeachable record in terms of his service to the public," said Campbell. "Ken Dobell has been a highly regarded and respected public servant ... for three and a half decades now."
The New Democratic Party has questioned the propriety of a special adviser working inside the premier's office while being a lobbyist and is calling for changes to the province's lobbying laws. It is planning to press the matter further and question Dobell's roles today in the legislature.
Norman Ruff, a University of Victoria political scientist, said it would be a mistake to question Dobell's integrity. But he did say the controversy shows the need for more transparency to deal with the hundreds of lobbyists in the province.
"Ken Dobell is an inside insider," said Ruff. "That's why we need people to register as lobbyists and the rules to be enforced. In lobbying, it's best to recall the last words of Goethe: 'Light! More light!'
"It's part of politics but it needs to be transparent."
Campbell said he sees no reason for Dobell to give up his desk in the premier's office. He said that desk is "not exclusively" used by Dobell, adding that Dobell uses it only when he is working on provincial government business.
B.C. privacy and information commissioner David Loukidelis announced Thursday he is doing a "fact-finding review" of why Dobell waited at least six months before putting his lobbying activity on the record.
Loukidelis said he hopes his examination will prompt a debate on the rigour of British Columbia's method for registering lobbyists. That computerized system was set up by the Liberal government after it came to power in 2001.
Dobell said in an interview he welcomes the privacy commissioner's review, and will cooperate fully.
He said it would be incorrect to assume his meetings with the premier mean he was lobbying at the time. That, he says, is because as a special adviser to the premier, overseeing some of the government's major policy areas, he is charged with reporting on broad subjects such as softwood lumber issues and the province's ports.
Dobell also sits on a number of boards involving the 2010 Olympics and the Vancouver Convention Centre, and stickhandles intergovernmental relations.
Dobell said it has always been clear to everyone what his various roles are.
"The mere fact that I met with the premier doesn't mean I dealt with any of those points [regarding lobbying] you raise," he said. "Both governments have been completely clear I do stuff for them and that I'm involved with them. That's as public as can be."
The premier's daybook shows that at times Dobell was not alone in his top-level meetings.
On May 1, the premier met with Dobell and Rusty Goepel, a Liberal fundraiser and a member of the board of the 2010 Olympic Games Vancouver Organizing Committee, on which Dobell also sits.
On May 19, the premier's schedule shows a meeting with Dobell and Forest and Housing Minister Rich Coleman. The premier's appointment calendar does not say what that meeting was about, but forestry issues were at the forefront at the time.
However, Coleman is also the pointman on the province's new housing strategy, which involves a major push to develop old housing units of the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corp. with the cooperation of the City of Vancouver.
Those projects, which will be worth millions of dollars, will be pushed forward in the months and years to come by the provincial government.
They are expected to involve selling developers the right to "densify" the housing projects, a move that will require city rezoning, and create multimillion-dollar profits that the government hopes to use to create more social housing.
MEETING THE BOSS
The calendar of Premier Gordon Campbell (left) shows scheduled meetings in the premier's Vancouver office with adviser Ken Dobell (right) during the period in which Dobell worked as an unregistered lobbyist for the City of Vancouver. Some key entries in the premier's daybook.
April 4: Meet with Dobell and an unnamed cabinet minister
(April 5: Dobell later says this is when he began as a paid lobbyist for the city on cultural grants.)
April 18: Meet with Dobell
May 1: Meet with Dobell and Rusty Goepel
May 5th: Meet with Dobell
May 19: Meet with Dobell and Housing Minister Rich Coleman
June 19: Meet with Dobell
Sept. 1: Dobell later says this is when he began as a paid lobbyist for the city on housing.
Sept. 21: Meet with Dobell
Oct. 18: Meet with Dobell
Nov. 23: Dobell is registered as a paid lobbyist. He declares he began working for the city in two areas: on April 5 (cultural grants) and Sept. 1 (housing).
Dec. 9: Meet with Dobell