Sloppy vetting for Trudeau advert exposes lobbyist, raises more questions about PM’s ethics

The prominent appearance of a lobbying firm’s senior consultant in the Liberal Party’s new election advert raises more questions about whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes conflict of interest rules seriously, or not.

Jason Unrau Montreal QC

The prominent appearance of a lobbying firm’s senior consultant in the Liberal Party’s new election advert raises more questions about whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes conflict of interest rules seriously, or not.

The story begins with a Trudeau commercial shot about two weeks ago in a Montreal park, and how David Millian – senior consultant with Navigator Limited, a Toronto-based firm of lobbyists-for-hire – ended up featured in the Liberal Party’s latest campaign advert.

The Post Millennial received a tip that Millian appeared in the minute-long spot – portrayed in serious conversation with Trudeau – so we rang him up to find out.

“Yes, yes. Actually yes,” said Millian of his six-second appearance.

Navigator Limited senior consultant David Millian.

Millian also acknowledged how the situation could be perceived as a conflict of interest given Navigator’s federal connections – most recently registered to lobby for 48North Cannabis and MBM Investments Corporation.

“Yes. I can see that.”

According to Millian, he has never lobbied the federal government, before or during his employment with Navigator: confirmed by TPM via the federal registry and backed by Navigator’s chief operating officer, Paul Ferguson, who issued the following statement.

“Mr. Millian is neither a federal lobbyist nor is he a member of or otherwise affiliated with a federal political party. As a resident in the riding of Papineau, (Millian) found himself in a public space where a political advertisement was being filmed. His participation was unplanned and solely in his personal capacity as a constituent of the Prime Minister.”

Screen capture of Navigator Limited’s staff roster, Millian second from the right.

Even before TPM contacted Ferguson, Millian also indicated the encounter’s happenstance nature. But perhaps more troubling was the reaction from a Trudeau-entourage representative after, according to Millian, “I did a full disclosure.”

“I told him, ‘just to let you know, I’m working with a public affairs firm,’” said Millian. “I didn’t say Navigator, but I said it, just to let them know.”

“He was like, ‘Yeah, ok. That’s fine.”

Millian also said he was not made aware that the footage would be used in the manner it was, and expressed some surprise of how conspicuous he is in what turned into the Liberals’ Choose Forward commercial (embedded below).

According to him, the pop-up film confab with the PM “was a group thing” and involved much interaction with his wife and child, as well as others who had joined the Millians on a stroll to the park after picking their kids up from a nearby daycare.

“(Trudeau) was like ‘hey, how are you guys?’ and he was playing with kids and so forth.”

Millian declined to elaborate on what he discussed with the prime minister.

So the next stop on this story is the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, where TPM learned that Team Trudeau’s sloppy vetting of constituents to populate an election advert, actually limits Millian’s future lobbying activities to avoid a Lobbyists Code of Conduct misstep.

According to Manon Dion, senior spokesperson for federal lobbying commissioner,  it now depends on Millian’s future interactions.

“In the situation…whether the lobbyist places a public office holder in a real or apparent conflict of interest depends primarily on whether that individual will personally lobby said party leader or others who may benefit from the political activity,” Dion writes in an email to TPM.

“Each situation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis after taking into account all the relevant factors.”

And of course, TPM reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office to explain how this could have happened, given the raft of previous scandals plaguing Trudeau’s government involving conflict of interest and ethics.

One might be forgiven for thinking previous run-ins between Trudeau and ethics rules would bolster his vigilance in future interactions.  As well, there is the question of exposing Millian and potentially limiting his future work in the federal realm.

The PMO provided a brief response and forwarded TPM’s queries, and by extension responsibility, to the party.

“It’s a Liberal Party ad, so I will refer you to the Liberal Party,” said PMO’s Matt Pascuzzo in an email.

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