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Tory-linked lobbying firm hires former CLC president, B.C. NDP minister

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Ken Georgetti

The morning after the May 5 Alberta provincial election, the proprietors of a number of successful lobbying and political strategy firms awoke to the horrifying knowledge they hardly knew any New Democrats, let alone any NDPers who were likely to have any influence over Alberta's new majority government.

Now some of them are starting to take measures to try to fix that serious deficiency.

On Friday, while I was enjoying a break from the sunny Prairie weather in cold and rainy Halifax, Hal Danchilla's Canadian Strategy Group sent out a press release saying it had eased its paucity of NDP types by persuading Ken Georgetti, the former president of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Moe Sihota, a former B.C. NDP cabinet minister and party president, to swell its ranks as "strategic counsel."

To those unfamiliar with the argot of lobbying, strategic counsel are lobbyists, or slightly less politely, schmoozers with an agenda. No matter what anyone tells you, they are paid -- and often paid very well -- for their connections.

Canadian Strategy Group was one of the companies mentioned in this space a few days after the election that's done very well from its rich connections with the nearly 44-year-old Tory dynasty defeated on May 5 by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats, and which up to then not seen much need to hire a lobbyist with Dipper connections.

So as Danchilla, the principal (which in lobbyese means "the boss") and founder of Canadian Strategy Group, put it: "Ken and Moe bring to our firm a new dimension not found in other Western Canadian government relations firms" -- i.e., known New Democrats with names that actually sound familiar.

"In addition to assisting our existing clients," he went on in his news release, "they enhance our offering to social organizations, the not-for-profit sector, environmental organizations and trade unions."

I guess that means the company will be looking for what’s known as "new opportunities" in the business world. Now, unions, environmental organizations and civil society groups tend to do this stuff through boots on the ground provided by committed volunteers -- and a lot of them are pretty good at it. Indeed, their skills are a big part of why the Alberta NDP won the election on May 5. But what the heck? Maybe there'll be a new market if enough of such groups' leaders sign up to work for the political level of the Alberta government. Then again, maybe not.

Whatever happens to CSG's hopes, Georgetti and Sihota are not without supporters and detractors alike in progressive circles, or controversies in their personal histories.

Sihota stepped down as B.C. NDP party president in the fall of 2013, the day after party leader Adrian Dix voluntarily walked the plank. Both had been harshly criticized for the campaign that led to the NDP's unexpected defeat by Premier Christie Clark's Liberals on May 14, 2013. Mr. Georgetti was defeated after 15 years at the helm of the CLC by Hassan Yussuff a year later in May 2014.

Another company mentioned in this space as long relying on its PC connections for success, Navigator Ltd., has recently hired Sally Housser as Senior Consultant in Edmonton. Housser was Notley's press secretary through the election campaign.

As reported by Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer and picked up without credit by other media, Impact Consulting, run by former premier Ed Stelmach's chief of staff, hired former NDP caucus communications director Brooks Merritt to provide an orange tinge to its business.

Daveberta also reported that former NDP MLA Leo Piquette went into business with two former Wildrose MLAs, Guy Boutilier and Shayne Saskiw, in a lobbying venture called Alberta Counsel. Piquette is the father of newly elected Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette, and Saskiw is the husband of Shannon Stubbs, Conservative candidate for the Lakeland riding in the next federal election.

As noted previously in this space, one of the oddities of the PC dynasty that ran Alberta for 43 years, seven months and 25 days until Notley was elected as premier on May 5, was that it actively discouraged professional and amateur lobbyists alike from even talking to opposition parties.

Amateurs not tied into the PC Establishment could cause themselves a lot of grief by not being aware of this reality. Professionals knew better and happily ignored the Opposition, especially the New Democrats.

Canadian Strategy Group, according to Danchilla, offers among its services "strategic planning through a changing environment." So you could say the present change in Alberta offers them an opportunity to demonstrate the quality of their strategic planning through a changing environment.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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