Judge asked to fine former PM adviser $50,000, but lawyer says Carson can't pay
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OTTAWA — A judge is being asked to punish former Stephen Harper confidant Bruce Carson with a $50,000 fine for illegal lobbying.
But Carson's lawyer says his client is on the verge of bankruptcy — unable to earn a living because of the controversy surrounding him — and can't afford to pay.
Carson, who once worked as a senior adviser to the former Conservative prime minister, was found guilty last month of three counts under the Lobbying Act.
He was originally charged as part of his role in developing a national energy strategy while he worked as director of the Canada School of Energy and Environment and later as the vice-chair of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada.
In her Sept. 16 ruling, Ontario Court Justice Catherine Kehoe determined that Carson had contact with ministers and deputy ministers at Industry Canada and Environment Canada, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, while he was employed at the Energy Policy Institute.
At the time, Carson was under a five-year prohibition from lobbying public office holders because he had worked in the PMO until February 2009.
At a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Crown attorney Robert Zsigo argued that the court should fine Carson $50,000, to be paid over two years or longer, as a deterrent to illegal lobbying.
But Carson’s lawyer, Patrick McCann, said the once highly paid political adviser has very limited financial resources, arguing "the bottom fell out" of Carson's ability to earn an income shortly after he came under a media spotlight over allegations involving his relationship with a former escort.
"My client is effectively destitute," McCann told the court, noting that Carson currently lives in a $700 a month basement apartment in Gatineau, Que.
The Crown countered that, even if Carson is currently broke, that doesn't mean he can't earn a good living some day.
"If he doesn't have the ability to pay at the moment, given his extensive experience, he may be in a position to do so at a future date," said Zsigo.
Court was told that, between 2009 and 2011, Carson was paid about $600,000.
There have only been two previous convictions under the Lobbying Act. Those convictions resulted in fines of $7,500 and $20,000, said Zsigo.
Last November, Carson was found not guilty of influence-peddling in connection with attempts to persuade government officials to buy water filtration systems for First Nation communities, which were being sold by a company that employed Carson's former escort girlfriend.
While the judge in that case found Carson had attempted to influence high-ranking government officials, he was acquitted, because the officials had no power to decide whether to buy the water systems.
A sentence on Carson's lobbying convictions is to be handed down Nov. 4.