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Conflict probe requested into new Menzies job

OTTAWA - An environmental group has asked the federal ethics commissioner to investigate former cabinet minister Ted Menzies over his new work with an association representing pesticide manufacturers.

The Sierra Club, in a letter to Mary Dawson, points out the former minister of state and parliamentary secretary for the Finance Department became director of Crop Life Canada almost immediately after leaving politics last November.

"This raises serious issues about the rules," said Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch, which prepared the request for the Sierra Club.

Crop Life spokeswoman Nadine Sisk said Menzies — a one-time farmer who was active in agricultural organizations — cleared his new job with the ethics commissioner before accepting it.

"We are confident the commissioner will accept the conclusion that there is no conflict of interest," she said.

In its letter, the Sierre Club points out that Crop Life was registered to lobby the Finance Department when Menzies was in politics and still is. Federal legislation says politicians are forbidden to use confidential information acquired during their time in government to advise clients or employers.

"People must be prohibited in every case from participating in discussions and decisions when they have a private interest, and must be prohibited from giving advice to others when they know inside information that could give others there an advantage," says the letter.

"This means a former public officeholder must be prohibited from being an adviser to any client, business associate or employer that has an interest in federal government operations."

Conacher said even if Menzies isn't lobbying himself, he may be advising his employer based on what he learned in cabinet.

"How does he 'unlearn' what he learned and not use the secret information he knows when he gives advice?" asked Conacher.

Menzies' employer will benefit from Menzies' insider knowledge even if he himself doesn't lobby, said Conacher.

"It's invaluable information just to learn who should be lobbied."

Dawson is not obliged to launch an investigation following a public complaint. Conacher points out she has promised to at least respond to all such requests.

He said a similar request for an investigation into former minister Chuck Strahl accepting a job with Enbridge after leaving politics was denied.

John Bennett of the Sierra Club said Crop Life was lobbying the government on important issues during Menzies' time in cabinet, including the use of types of pesticides thought to harm bee populations. Canada has since decided to keep studying the chemical, despite decisions from other countries to ban it.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton

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