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One day after his graceless departure, former Alberta 'envoy' to Washington lands lobbying gig

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Rob Merrifield

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Rob Merrifield's parting shot at the Alberta government: tacky.

Canadian Strategy Group's decision to hire Merrifield as a lobbyist: Um, are you sure you're doing it right?

As noted in this space yesterday, the former Conservative Member of Parliament and junior cabinet member from the days when Jim Prentice, Alberta's last Progressive Conservative premier, also graced the Harper Government benches in the House of Commons, spent his final day on the job as Alberta's "trade representative" in Washington Wednesday sourly badmouthing the province's NDP government for ending his patronage appointment three years early.

Well, Merrifield said he was "concerned that this government is pulling resources and sending mixed messages at a critical time," but since the only not-so-vital resource being pulled that day was his own self, the complaints of the outgoing Alberta trade 'envoy' had a whiff of sour grapes to many observers.

Any of us can empathize a little with Merrifield in the knowledge it always smarts to be handed your walking papers, even when the dismissal is justified. But when the unthinkable happened and Alberta's permanent governing party lost the people's mandate to run the province on May 5, it should have been pretty obvious to the provincial pipeline lobbyist that the nice sinecure in the Imperial Capital Prentice gave him last year would soon disappear under an NDP government.

Despite Merrifield's interpretation of events, he was hired on the basis of his political connections to Prentice to engage in a lobbying strategy in support of a doomed pipeline. That put him significantly at odds with his new employer. For those reasons alone, he had to go.

A graceful departure would have benefitted his reputation as well as the province he had been generously paid to serve.

When he chose instead to depart in a miasma of vinegar, NDP Premier Rachel Notley's office slammed the door on his retreating backside: "The government thanks Mr. Merrifield for his service," said the government's brief and acerbic statement. "We are looking to replace Mr. Merrifield with a professional diplomat, for reasons Mr. Merrifield has just demonstrated." [Emphasis added.] "Alberta's office in Washington is very important to our government. It continues to operate and we will be announcing a new representative soon."

Yesterday, notwithstanding his undiplomatic departure the day before, things were looking up for Merrifield. A press release from the PC-connected lobbying firm Canadian Strategy Group heralded his engagement as "senior counsel," although it was not completely clear from the company's statement just whom Merrifield is supposed to be lobbying.

The firm, founded and run by Tory stalwart Hal Danchilla, has a long history of close ties to Alberta PC governments. Danchilla's own company biography lists a long list of services to the political right, including acting as chief of staff to several provincial Tory ministers, key roles in various PC government communications strategies, core involvement in the leadership campaigns of such provincial and federal conservatives as Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Jim Dinning and Stockwell Day, and central roles in at least two federal Conservative campaigns.

Four months ago, CSG made a stab at generating a little Dipper credibility by hiring Moe Sihota, a former NDP cabinet minister from British Columbia, and Ken Georgetti, a recently un-elected president of the Canadian Labour Congress from the same province by way of Ottawa, as senior counsel. Both were controversial figures in NDP circles and neither was particularly well known or esteemed among Alberta New Democrats.

More recently, CSG has gone back to hiring Tories. Last month, it engaged former PC cabinet minister and leadership candidate Rick Orman, lately an energy industry big shot, and Brian Storseth, who served three undistinguished terms as MP for the rural Alberta riding of Westlock-St. Paul for the Harper Conservatives. Storseth's big accomplishment was a "private member's bill" supported by the PMO that undermined hate speech provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Storseth will remain in the bright lights of the nation’s capital to run CSG's office there.

Now, with Merrifield, GSC has… another Conservative.

For those of you who wondered, Merrifield's departure from his Washington job, regardless of the reasons he appealed to Prentice, does not appear to require a cooling off period under the Alberta Accountability Act before he takes up work as a lobbyist because he was officially neither a political staffer nor senior enough a civil servant.

Regardless, given his remarks on Wednesday, if CSG expects Merrifield to successfully lobby the current Alberta Government, it may be in for a disappointment.

On the other hand, the company could very well have something else in mind -- or may just be helping out an old friend in his hour of need.

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

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