You have to wonder whether this will be yet another big, fat, juicy salacious scandal that will follow the Harper government into the next election.
Read the fascinating behind the scenes background story of how two APTN reporters stumbled upon it..
Clare L. Pieuk
Stephen Harper owes Canadians an explanation and now would be a good time to
How did a lawyer twice convicted of fraud, who went to jail for 18 months for
stealing from his own clients, who was charged with influence peddling in 2012,
and is now facing three new counts of illegal lobbying and another of influence
peddling – how did such a talented guy get to sit at the right hand of power in
the Prime Minister’s Office?
Some of these possibilities have been addressed. Carson says the government
knew about his criminal record – all of it. The PM asserts that he knew about
the initial fraud conviction from 1982, but not the second one – as if that
explains anything. So one stretch in jail is okay, but a second fraud conviction
and bankruptcy is not?
There is another matter Stephen Harper has to explain about Bruce Carson. Why
would he entrust the development of a national energy strategy for the entire
country to a disbarred lawyer? Why did he get him the top job at the new Canada
School of Energy and Environment at the University of Calgary – and $15 million
in taxpayers dollars to get the place going?
Carson has zero scientific experience and suddenly he’s got 7,000 students
and 260 researchers looking to him for leadership. What leadership? This is a
guy who thinks a clean planet is an unrealistic idea. This is a guy who thinks
the tar sands’ effluent is fit to drink.
And on what basis did the Harper government give another company chaired by
Carson — Carbon Management Canada — another $25 million in federal funding?
As a matter of fact, Carson’s email requesting a grant under the Centres of
Excellence program arrived at the Department of Natural Resources while Carson
was busy helping prepare the 2009 budget in a special, short-term return to the
PMO. Harper’s then Chief of staff Guy Giorno reportedly blew a gasket and called
in the Ethics Commissioner.
On an already underwhelming report card, the biggest F on Stephen Harper’s
record so far has been his utter failure to “clean up” Ottawa, after riding into
town like the Lone Ranger in the wake of the Ad Sponsorship Scandal.
Instead of cleaning things up, he will leave the system dirtier than he found
it. Consider the personnel choices:
Beyond poor draft choices, Harper has damaged the public service by deeply
politicizing everything – including the Privy Council Office.
Countless interviews with senior public servants, officers of parliament, and
tribunal heads who believe they were unjustly treated by the Prime Minister or
their own minister come with the same punch line. They did what they were
supposed to do under such circumstances; they appealed to their proper
protector, the Clerk of the Privy Council. None of them got help from the
country’s top civil servant, and all saw a big change in the PCO.
One very senior Head of a quasi-judicial body asked for a meeting over a very
serious matter but the Clerk of the day did not oblige. Instead, he sent
underlings, his Chief Legal Counsel, and a representative from the
side. They listened silently, nodding occasionally, and
offered the embattled public servant no help.
So how can it be that Stephen Harper’s key political operatives, even when
they no longer work for him, do not have problems reaching the most powerful
public office holders in the land? Consider the circumstances of Bruce Carson’s
On November 16, 2009, former Harper advisor Carson sent an email to the Clerk
of the Privy Council asking for a meeting the following week. “Will be in Ottawa
from Monday to Wednesday inclusive next week – you got a half hour for a visit.
bc.” Wayne Wouters, whom Harper had appointed Clerk of the Privy Council just
four and a half months earlier replied: “Sure. Set it up with my office.”
A second email from Carson to the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources,
Cassie Doyle, informed the senior public servant that he had had one of his
regular meetings with the Clerk, and spent most of his time talking about
energy. “I brought him up to speed on various initiatives I am involved in – in
this area – especially the so-called “think tank” one that I wrote to you about
a month or so ago after a meeting in Winnipeg.”
At the time, Carson headed up the Canada School of Energy and Environment and
worked with a group called the Energy Policy Institute of Canada. Since he
himself was not yet five years out from the date that his own government
employment ended, it was illegal for him to be dealing with public office
holders over the development or amendment of any government policy; the awarding
of any grant; or the arranging of a meeting between a public office holder and
any other person.
Why was he able to do that? Carson’s passport to the highest offices in the
land bears Stephen Harper’s face.
So do tell us Mr. Prime Minister, besides a criminal record, a taste for
young escorts, and an alleged yen for unregistered lobbying, how did Bruce
Carson come to sit by your side – and why did you give him so much power and so
much of the people’s money?
An explanation and an apology would be appropriate right about now.
The story of a Conservative backroom operator who allegedly used his influence to win contracts for his then-fiancee was one of the juciest stories to reach Parliament Hill in recent memory, and a story that shot a little-known television network into the big game. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network worked the story until from - from all places - the sex trade industry.
Ken Jackson's account of how he and Jorge Barrera got the story, and then how
they confronted Bruce Carson with the damning evidence, is a fascinating read,
and one that deserved a little extra space in order for his narrative to
Of course, the Carson story is far from over, and
there were many aspects of the case that the network didn't cover, as Ken
explains in the piece. Still, the network blazed a trail and caused other media
outlets, including my own (the CBC), to play catch-up.
By Kenneth Jackson
I tell the guy on the phone to meet me at the gas station across the road
from Collins Bay Institution. This will be the drop.
It’s a crisp, dark February evening in Kingston, Ontario, just after five
o’clock. As I pull in, I see the man parked where he said he’d be. I go to on the
other side. My fiancée is in the car, as we had just left the gym.
I’ve never met him before. I don’t want to take any chances.
I walk towards him. He’s talking on his mobile phone through a bluetooth
earpiece. I wave and say hello. He motions for me to come closer. “It’s in the back,” he says, opening the vehicle’s sliding door. There it is. I see it immediately, sitting on a child booster seat, a small
box taped completely in duct tape. He reaches in and hands it to me. I say thanks and don’t stick around.
When I get back to my car, I rip the box open. I reach in and quickly read a bit. “Holy shit,” I say to my soon-to-be wife. Inside, are dozens of emails, bank records - pieces of the Bruce Carson
Calling in the RCMP to Investigate a Former Harper Advisor
Fast-forward from that February 2011 meeting in the parking lot. In July, 2012, the RCMP charged the 66-year-old Carson with influence
peddling after an investigation that lasted nearly 15 months. Carson was a Senior Advisor in Prime Minister’s Office from 2006 to 2008, and
is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The matter is now before the
The Mounties began their investigation when the Prime Minister’s Office
called the police to investigate a political staffer, one of their own. Carson
may had been out of office for a couple years, but he’s a Conservative as a
summer day is long.
He’d be given a cushy job as Director of the Canadian School of Energy and
Environment in 2008, but he didn’t really sink his teeth into the Calgary, and
Conservative think-tank, until the following year. That’s because in 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called him back to help
briefly in the PMO.
Getting the Scoop from a Sextrade Source
When I got an email from an old source on February 15, 2011, saying they had
a potential story, I quickly called the person. I was a freelancer living in Kingston, separated only weeks from my former
job as the crime reporter at the Ottawa Sun
“How do the words ‘escort, pimp, senior policy advisor to Harper, native
affairs and government contracts” sound for a Kenneth Jackson headline?’” the
person writing the email asked.
The person had deep connections in Ottawa’s sex trade, something I had
exclusively covered during my time in Ottawa. During the telephone conservation, I said I needed proof, which is why I set
up the meeting with the stranger at a gas station across from murderers and
My first challenge was selling the story. Who could I trust? I wanted to, not only sell the story, but, even more importantly, I wanted to
work it. I wasn’t just going to hand it off. I had known Jorge Barrera for several years and we always wanted to work a
story together. He was working at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network; I was a free
agent with a story in a box.
The Carson story was of a well-connected man trying to use to his contacts in
the federal government to land lucrative water contracts on First Nations
reserves with long-standing and severe water-quality problems. Carson was trying to land contracts for an Ottawa company that sells water
filtration-systems. But, really, he was doing it for love.
Following the Email Trail
He was engaged to 22-year-old Michele McPherson, also known as LeannaVIP,
her working name as a popular Ottawa escort. She was friends with the owner of the water company. They all worked out a
deal where she’d receive a cut of the profits from potential contracts. The aboriginal angle was obvious, plus Barrera covered federal politics. He
was an ordinary, decent reporter, and a friend.
“I have a story but I can’t tell you about it,” I said to him sitting on his
couch. He laughed. I was only sort of joking. I knew I had something. I quickly caved and told
him a bit about it. Then I pulled out the emails.
“Holy shit,” he said when he came across one of the emails where Carson said
he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about a cabinet shuffle in August
2010, a day before it was made public.
It wasn’t long before I had a deal with APTN to work the story with my
friend. We had emails that provided a paper trail from about the beginning of July
2010 to the middle of October. It was now March 2011. We needed to fill in the gap.
Initially, we over-thought the entire story. By that I mean, we thought we needed to almost go undercover to get what we
needed. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Ultimately, we wanted to catch Carson with McPherson. Connect them. Carson spent his week in Calgary. On weekends he flew back to Ottawa for
business - and to be with McPherson. He always stayed at the Chateau Laurier,
a high-end hotel.
We called the hotel on a Saturday and asked for Carson. “I’m sorry but he’s not in yet,” replied the lady on the phone. She said he was expected to check inlater that day. We then checked arrivals
from Calgary to Ottawa. There was a direct flight. So we went to the airport.
Sure enough, a man looking like Carson appeared. He walked a bit slouched over
and was wearing jeans. He had a small, carry-on bag.
After spending about 15 minutes on his phone, he walked over to rent a car
even though he had leased or purchased two vehicles for McPherson, a black
Mercedes SUV and a Hyundai Sonata. The car he rented was a white Chevy Cobalt. It was raining, and with one car, a handful of other excuses, the
Carson evaded us.
Deflated, we headed back to APTN’s office in the World Exchange Plaza in
downtown Ottawa. Then Barrera did what he does best. He began poking around the Internet. We
had already pulled a bunch of stuff that added to the story, but somehow missed
a Facebook page made by the company, H20 Global Group, also known as H20 Water
Professionals (H2O Pros). It appeared that it was just made. In its description, the company said it was interested in providing clean
drinking water in first nations’ communities. Barrera then had the idea of just emailing the company and saying we want to
meet and talk about the work they wanted to do.
The Encounter With Carson
It was a risk. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to lose them before we even
started. We really needed to think of all the angles. But, in the end, we didn’t have much choice. About 10 minutes after sending
that fateful email, we got a response from Christine McPherson; yes, Michele’s
mother, saying they’d love to meet. Owner Patrick Hill would be there, too, as
well as Mr. Bruce Carson. We were floored. “Carson is going to come too?” I asked Barrera.
In that interview, Carson would confirm most of what we already knew, and
then some, and without us asking him. He introduced McPherson into the interview saying he was only doing it for
his girlfriend, and then he named her. He said he spoke to Harper on a regular
basis, along with his cabinet. It was bureaucracy that was holding up the company getting contracts. Federal public servants were making it difficult.
He then agreed to do another interview at the office of the company. It was then that he spoke about how he didn’t want to get in trouble for
being a lobbyist, which he said he wasn’t. We had a lot, but we didn’t have Carson and McPherson together. She was supposed to be the face of the company, according to a contract
Carson witnessed and was signed by the owners of the water company, along with
We tried one last time to get McPherson on camera. It was a Sunday. First, she was going to show, then wasn’t, then was. Finally, only Carson
showed.Up until this point, I was never really part of the interviews for fear
they’d make me. I had met McPherson years earlier, and had connections to them
through my sources in the sex-trade business. This time I sat down with Barrera. Carson seemed impatient and tired.
He was fine, though, until we brought up McPherson. He got agitated the first
Then I asked my first question about McPherson. He got up and called off the interview. That was when we told him everything we had. The camera rolled the entire time, with APTN Investigates cameraman Josh
Grummett capturing what unfolded next. We expected Carson to dart for the door, but he didn’t. He stuck around.
As we told him what he knew he began to say things like “I’m in so much
Then he walked into an office and was a silhouette of a man by the window as
he peered below to the street six floors down.We kept rolling and continued to confront him. It was our due diligence as
reporters to give the man a fair shake. He admitted to witnessing the contract and writing the email about Harper,
but said he lied when he wrote he spoke to Harper. Carson said he spoke to
someone else about the shuffle.
The interview continued for several minutes before he eventually walked out
and into the parking garage to his rented Cobalt.
Confronting the Prime Minister’s Office
Three days later we set up a meeting with Harper’s former Chief Spokesman
Dimitri Soudas. We also had an obligation to give them a head’s-up for comment.
In today’s world, it’s the proper thing to do, and legally responsible.
Still, it was tough laying our cards on the table to a trained public
relations man like Soudas. His job was deflect, not accept us as friends.
Hours later, the Prime Minister’s Office sent a letter to the RCMP asking
them to investigate Carson. Similar letters were sent to the Lobbying
Commissioner and Office of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
We had three federal investigations, all before we wrote a single word.
We had intended to do an hour-long show as part of APTN Investigates, but now
we had to roll with what we had, and quickly. That evening, we only broke the story of the PMO calling in the authorities
on Carson. We didn’t get into detail. Then all hell broke loose. Reporters were trying to get in our story. We
haven’t even had time to breathe.It happened, what felt like, a blink of an eye.
The next day we broke more of the story.
APTN’s website crashed. Our BlackBerrys were going nuts. It was only a
five-minute story of what was going to be an hour. There was much more to
tell. Then it reached Question Period and flooded the halls of the House of
Commons. The government fell, and then Harper won a majority.
The story went quiet, at least publicly.
My contract with APTN was up and Barrera was on to other stories. Looking
back, I should have written about it throughout, every day if I could. Some
weeks I could have, but I didn’t have an employer.
There’s plenty that was never published. Our published work really is just a
small portion of what we uncovered and what I continued to.
But, Carson barely made the news until Barrera and I hooked up again this
past April. We had information the RCMP was cranking up their investigation. We learned authorities had thousands of Carson’s emails while at Canada
School of Energy and the Environment, and were looking into a mystery $5,000
cheque and whether the water company paid Carson.
In addition, the Mounties were heavily interested in McPherson’s role. They also wanted to know if people believed Carson had contacts in the
government he said he had, and if they believed he could help the company with
those contacts. In other words, they were looking at influence peddling. We also reported Hill, the water company owner, was under investigation for
fraud by the Ontario Provincial Police.
In an interview, Hill said Carson and McPherson destroyed his life.
Then, while I was writing a story on real estate, because I’m still a
freelancer, I got an email from Barrera July 27 saying only “Carson’s been
charged!!” in the subject line. What separates this story from others is we didn’t report on someone else’s
investigation. We did our own. It was a reporter’s investigation.
We flew by the seat of our pants, at times, and counted on our ability to
find the truth. Nothing was published that wasn’t confirmed. If someone told us
something, it had to be backed up with documents or several other witnesses.
This story is far from over.
The lobbying reported is said to be “unprecedented” and also expected to look
at Carson’s involvement in oil, as he played a big part in the Conservative
government’s attempt to clean up the oil sands.
That report will likely come out after the influence peddling court case.
Jackson is a freelance reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or
This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of CAJ's Media magazine and has been reprinted here with permission
of editor David McKie.
Carson affair investigation, uncut