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Watchdog rules against lobbyist Lekstrom

Former South Peace MLA, provincial cabinet minister and Dawson Creek Mayor Blair Lekstrom has been fined for failing to properly report lobbying activities last year.
Blair Lekstrom speaks on behalf of HD Mining at Dawson Creek city council last year. The former MLA, cabinet minister and Dawson Creek mayor was dinged by the Registrar of Lobbyists for failing to properly report his lobbying activities.

Former South Peace MLA, provincial cabinet minister and Dawson Creek Mayor Blair Lekstrom has been fined for failing to properly report lobbying activities last year. 

Lekstrom was fined a total of $3,000 for contravening the Lobbyists Registration Act (LRA) in three separate instances last year—lobbying for a mining company, a construction firm and a group of four local governments. 

The report, from Registrar of Lobbyists Elizabeth Denham, was tabled in the provincial legislature Thursday. 

"I respectfully disagree with their findings, but I'll also honour them," Lekstrom said.   "This came down to an interpretation issue, where I interpreted the Act one way and they interpreted it another." 

The three cases dealt with whether Lekstrom properly filed returns to notify the regulator of his lobbying activities. The law requires lobbyists to notify the office within 10 days of entering a lobbying agreement with a client, which Denham ruled did not happen. 

Lekstrom, who is now a private consultant, was hired by the City of Dawson Creek, the districts of Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd and the Village of Pouce Coupe in early 2015 during renegotiations of the Fair Share deal. 

He was barred from lobbying the government for the two years following his departure from cabinet. 

"So (I was) very careful on that, always held myself to the highest standard," he said. 

The Fair Share agreement, between the province and Peace Region municipalities, compensates local governments for industrial development outside their tax bases—much of it natural gas.  

The province deemed the existing deal "unaffordable and not sustainable" and sought to renegotiate the agreement. Lekstrom said he was approached when it "became clear the government may act unilaterally on this issue."

"A number of local governments contacted me and asked if I could help them RESPOND to this issue," Lekstrom told investigators, saying he had been involved with Fair Share negotiations since the early 1990s. "I was happy to support the local governments in their response." 

He said that the government approached the towns to renegotiate the deal—not the other way around. 

"At no point did we engage them and lobby for a change," Lekstrom said. 

"At no time do I believe I lobbied the provincial government or any of their appointees on this file. I cannot understand the findings in this investigation report as there is clearly a lack of (understanding) on behalf of the investigator as to how this file was dealt with," Lekstrom said in the report.  

Lekstrom appealed the decision of the first investigator, but it was upheld Thursday. 

There was also disagreement over whether Lekstrom qualified as an in-house lobbyist or a consulting lobbyist, who are held to stricter standards based on the amount of work done for a client.

The investigator assigned to the file noted that "in all three cases, that the lobbyist, as a former member of cabinet, should have known better." 

However, Denham did lessen the fine initially assigned by the investigator. 

"I do no question for a minute the good faith of the lobbyist," Denham wrote in her decision. "The fact that he did not intend to violate the LRA, however, is no defence." 

Lekstrom also represented Duz-Cho Construction, a company owned by the McLeod Lake Indian Band that won a contract on the Site C dam, as well as HD Mining, which is seeking to build an underground coal mine in Tumbler Ridge.