OTTAWA (Reuters) - A former aide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper went on trial for influence-peddling on Monday, adding to the scandal that has helped undermine the ruling Conservatives ahead of an October election.
Bruce Carson, who worked as a policy advisor from 2006 to 2008, is charged with improperly lobbying the federal Indian Affairs ministry in 2010 and 2011 over the proposed sale of a water filtration system to an aboriginal group.
Former officials are not allowed to lobby Ottawa for five years after leaving government. Carson had not registered as a lobbyist.
Prosecutor Jason Nicol told an Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa that Carson assured the firm trying to sell the equipment that he could get the deal done.
In e-mails, Carson talked about setting up meetings with two former aboriginal affairs ministers as well as senior officials.
“There is no question: if Mr Carson did not have actual influence he certainly pretended he did so,” Nicol said.
Carson is the latest in a string of Harper appointees to end up in legal trouble, a fact that opposition politicians are eager to exploit.
“The trial of Bruce Carson will serve to underscore yet again that Mr Harper has had very poor judgment about the people he gathers around him. He has opened the doors of the prime minister’s office to a tremendous number of somewhat less than scrupulous characters,” said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
Carson, who pleaded not guilty, says he was not acting for any one company in particular but was interested in improving the poor conditions that many aboriginals have to endure.
“There is a far clearer motive ... Mr Carson was clearly advocating and lobbying on behalf” of the firm, said Nicol.
The two-day trial will address one of the four charges Carson faces in connection to the alleged offenses.
Last month the fraud and bribery trial of Senator Mike Duffy, a Harper appointee, heard the prime minister’s office had concocted a false story in a bid to cover up a scandal over Duffy’s expenses.
In an radio interview broadcast on Monday, Harper said although the opposition were citing a “list of names of people who have done something wrong”, he had acted quickly to oust anyone suspected of offenses.
The Duffy affair has cut into the popularity of the Conservatives, who are trying to win a rare fourth consecutive term in power.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Andrew Hay