(RCMP interrogation of Bruce Carson. RCMP video)
APTN National News
When the RCMP investigator asked Bruce Carson whether he had easier access to federal power than the average person the former senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a succinct answer: “They know who I am.”
During his nearly three-hour RCMP interrogation, Carson dropped the names of several people who at various times have been at the Harper government’s centre, revealing just how close he was to the nexus of federal political power in Canada.
The names mentioned by Carson during the interrogation included Jenni Byrne, the Conservative party’s current campaign manager, Ian Brodie, former chief of staff to the prime minister, Kevin Lynch, former clerk of the Privy Council, Peter Kent, former environment minister, John Duncan, former Aboriginal affairs minister, and Jim Prentice, the former Alberta premier and federal cabinet minister.
The RCMP interrogation was released for broadcast Tuesday on the last day of Carson’s two-day Ottawa trial on a charge of influence peddling. Carson’s lawyer Patrick McCann had asked Justice Bonnie Warkentin on Monday for a one-day ban on media broadcasts of the interview. McCann said he wouldn’t fight to keep the ban partly because his client’s case had received such little coverage by the national media.
Carson’s next court date is Oct. 2 when Warkentin is expected to set the date for her verdict on Carson’s guilt or innocence. Carson has pleaded not guilty.
Carson’s charge stems from his promotion of an Ottawa-based water filtration company looking to cash-in on water woes faced by First Nation communities. The company, H2O Pros, had signed a side-deal with Carson’s fiancée, a former escort named Michele McPherson, guaranteeing her a large cut of revenues from sales of water filtration systems to First Nation communities.
It’s unclear whether the verdict will be handed down before the Oct. 19 federal election date.
The April 26, 2012, interview covered a wide range of issues including Carson’s time as part of the Harper government, his dealings with the Assembly of First Nations, his relationship with McPherson and the inner workings of the Ottawa-based water filtration company he was promoting to government officials.
Carson volunteered to be interviewed by the RCMP and the interrogation was arranged by his lawyer McCann.
During the interview, Carson painted himself as a man motivated by the desire to do good, not just for McPherson, but also for First Nation communities. He told the investigators he was now essentially unemployed.
“One of the major things I have cared about in the 35 years I spent in public life is what we could do with First Nations,” Carson told RCMP investigators Sgt. Jody Vale and Cpl. Dennis Miller.
Carson said he’d been involved on First Nation files during the Constitutional debates in the early 1980s, the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, the Indian residential school settlement process and Harper’s 2008 apology to residential school survivors.
“I have always been involved in Aboriginal issues,” said Carson.
Bruce Carson discusses meeting with AFN
Carson’s long experience in government circles took him to the pinnacle of un-elected power as acting chief of staff to the prime minister in 2009 to help work on the stimulus budget that year, he told the two RCMP investigators. Carson said he began working in the PMO in 2006 and joined Harper’s office in 2004 while in opposition.
Carson said during the interrogation he and Byrne briefed MPs selected by Harper to sit in his cabinet after they met with the prime minister.
“The way the prime minister does his cabinet selection is he meets with the people who are going to be in the cabinet and then I meet with them afterwards and talk about their jobs and talk about staff,” said Carson. “At that point Jenni Byrne, who was a staffer with us, she was with me.”
Carson was also involved in prepping candidates for upcoming federal elections, which is how he said he first met Kent.
“I didn’t know him that well…at one of the points we did a candidates school in Toronto, probably in the summer of ’05, I did debate prep and he was part of the group I did debate prep with and got to know him then,” said Carson.
Kent was one of the cabinet ministers Carson said in emails submitted as evidence during his trial that he had approached to help get H2O Pros’ water filtration systems onto First Nation communities.
Carson told the RCMP investigators he didn’t know if he discussed the filtration company with Kent.
Vale, who led the interrogation, also asked Carson about Duncan.
“I knew minister Duncan when we were in opposition and he was not re-elected in ’06…but then was elected in the ‘08 election,” said Carson. “I knew him from the period of time from the summer of ’04 to the fall of ‘05.”
Carson wrote in an email filed as evidence during his trial that Duncan was on the telephone from his riding during a meeting between Duncan’s staff and Carson to discuss the water filtration company’s product.
Carson said during the RCMP interrogation Duncan was not involved in the meeting because he was sick with a heart condition.
Carson also told the investigators he was once friends with Lynch, but that relationship deteriorated following the scandal that led to the interrogation. Carson said Prentice was “a close friend” and he still had a close relationship with Brodie.
“I can make the contact, the issue is what did I do with it? What I thought I did was try to move towards a solution for a problem that has been outstanding for years and still remains outstanding,” said Carson.
It was Michele’s idea
Not only was he trying to help First Nations, but also a young woman who had recently emerged from an “abusive” relationship and had given up working in the escort business because she was now with someone who “believed in her,” Carson said.
Carson said the idea of selling water filtration systems to First Nation communities came from McPherson—who he claimed was still his girlfriend at the time of the interrogation—in a moment of spontaneous altruism that hit her while they were driving together in Ottawa on a June day in 2010.
“Her and I were together, and I was driving somewhere in Ottawa and she wanted to know what I was doing that day and I told her I was going to see the national chief of the AFN Shawn Atleo about a number of different issues he and I were working on,” said Carson, in the interrogation video. “She said to me, ‘don’t forget First Nations need clean water too. And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said this company I am involved in provides water purification units and it might be interesting for you to pursue that…I thought, ‘That’s an interesting thing.’ I knew from my days in government working for the prime minister, my knowledge of what the priorities were for First Nations, one of them was clean drinking water.”
And so Carson said he set out with “messianic zeal” to get it done.
He told the interrogators his attempt to do this good work was stopped by APTN National News, who he claimed ambushed him using subterfuge.
Carson claimed that in his first meeting with APTN he was told by the reporter there would be no video cameras and that it was simply an informal gathering.
“(The reporter) told us that nothing was being taped and it was just an informal get-to-know-you meeting, but it was being taped,” said Carson.
In fact, the reporter told Carson, H2O Pros’ president Patrick Hill and McPherson’s mother Christine McPherson that the meeting was being taped. A video camera was set up on a tripod during the one-hour meeting and the reporter at one point went to the camera to make sure it was on and that the shot was okay.
The first thing Carson told the reporter when he arrived was that he was there “because of a girl.”
Carson then described the March 13, 2011, interview where APTN confronted him with copies of his emails—including one where he claimed Harper told him about a cabinet shuffle before it happened—and the contract he initialed guaranteeing McPherson a cut of filtration sale profits.
“So I went over around 4 O’clock on Sunday afternoon and met with (the reporter) and a fellow by the name of (Kenneth) Jackson and they had these emails…they had no intention of asking me about Mike Holmes or anything else. They wanted to ask me about these emails,” said Carson. “It was an ambush.”
Carson also claimed APTN was wrong reporting that McPherson was his fiancée. Carson told APTN on camera they were engaged.
As the RCMP interrogation neared its end, the investigators gave Carson a chance to say whatever he wanted.
Carson apologized for all the time the RCMP, the federal Lobbying Commissioner and the Ethics Commissioner had spent investigating his case.
“There was nothing done here that was in my view untoward at all and to end up being in this situation where the time of a whole lot of people is being taken up because of this, I’m profoundly sorry, I am just sick over the whole thing,” he said. “I never thought when Michele mentioned this to me we would ever be in this kind of a situation. The whole thing completely threw me.”
Ray Novak, who was Harper’s principal secretary in 2011, asked the RCMP, along with the two federal commissioners, to investigate Carson’s activities. The decision to call the police on Carson occurred after former PMO spokesperson Dimitri Soudas met with APTN reporters at APTN’s Ottawa bureau seeking comment.
Carson’s lawyer McCann accused APTN on Tuesday of providing Carson’s emails to the PMO. APTN never sent any information to Harper’s office about Carson.