People and Places

ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 14): Bruce Carson, the gift that keeps on giving

Day 14: Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders Bruce Carson’s career path and wonders whether he has a chance at a gig in the PMO

Bruce Carson is the gift that keeps on giving.

First it was one fraud conviction and a disbarment that made some people wonder whether Carson is really the kind of guy that you want advising the Prime Minister. Carson was jailed in the early ’80s for 18 months for defrauding clients, then was relieved of his law license. The legal brotherhood will tolerate some minor malfeasance, but not that crime.

But he who has not sinned should cast the first stone, some might say. How long does a guy have to wait until time washes away the smell of a lapse in judgment? I’d say, for something like that, 20 years should be more than enough.

(Law and order types may not agree. The Conservatives are tightening up the pardon system, and border guards on both sides of the Canada-U.S. line won’t let you across if you have an old pot conviction, even if you have a pardon.)

Carson is acknowledged, by everyone who has met him, to be a pretty bright guy. He worked as a political researcher for both the Liberals and the Tories in the 1980s. In his 30s, he went back to school and earned his law ticket. Soon afterwards, he was convicted of stealing from two clients. Carson served 18 months on weekends and was disbarred.

He went back to political research and developed a reputation as a constitutional scholar. And kudos to him for that. I only know a couple of people who had anything resembling a career after they were drummed out of the profession of law — if you consider journalism to be making something of your life. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the rest of the disbarred lawyers I’ve come across became pretty unbalanced.

So, by the end of the 1980s, Carson became the kind of guy that thug-huggers and granola-crunching, soft-on-crime liberals trot out as examples of man’s ability to rehabilitate. But Carson’s wheels slipped back into the ditch and, in the early ’90s he found himself on the bad end of charges of defrauding a bank and a car rental company.

This time, he was remanded to the Royal Ottawa Hospital, where, it is supposed, miracles took place. Carson was rehabilitated to the point where he could soar with the neo-con eagles, first with Mike Harris, then with Stephen Harper, both in opposition and in government.

His strange attraction to the kind of people who are tough on crime carried over to his social life. Carson seems to have been particularly desirable to ex-hookers, women who normally tend to end up with guys who drive Harleys: bikers and cops.

First it was Barbara Lynn Khan. She was convicted of money laundering and running a common bawdy house in the States. Perhaps her domestic skills were the attraction. Not all gals can run a home or are interested in the workings of the washer-dryer.

The happy couple hooked up about six years ago and, in 2009, bought a condo in downtown Ottawa, just after Carson finished a term as a senior advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office and as chief of staff to then-environment minister Rona Ambrose. Ms. Ambrose is not often touted as Canada’s best environment minister.

Carson got a soft landing at the University of Calgary. The federal government endowed the Canada School of Energy and the Environment with $15 million and, a few months later, Carson was hired to run it. He was the best candidate the school could find, after, the CSEE claims, it scoured the world for talent.

And he continued to have an interesting and fun personal life. Ms. Khan was gone, and Carson was now hooked up with Michelle McPherson, a 22-year-old former escort who had left the profession. McPherson was now in the business of selling water filters to Native people. Since the groundwater of many of the reserves is dangerously polluted, Ms. McPherson’s filters are in demand.

Now, Carson’s role in pushing McPherson’s filters is the focus of an RCMP investigation instigated by the Prime Minister and — presumably well after the election— we’ll know if any and all filter work that Carson did was on the up and up.

In the civilized world, having a convicted fraudster at the right hand of the head of government would be a scandal that would shake a regime to the core. In the States, pols are drummed out of public life for hiring undocumented immigrant housekeepers. In England, Carson’s women would be banking fat cheques from the scandal sheets and we’d know way too much about “Mr. Fixit”.

People would be talking about it over water coolers. They’d wonder how authorities who can determine a college student’s political leanings by going through her Facebook pages could miss Carson’s interesting past. But in Canada? Nope.

Maybe that’s for the best. Perhaps Carson was completely rehabilitated back in the Royal Ottawa. Could be we’re seeing a soft side of Harper and his government. Maybe there’s hope for every young felon with a good mind and some ambition.

So I think I’ll get a bunch of Prime Minister’s Office job application forms, head down to the courthouse, and give them out to the lads waiting in the lobbies. Because, like Stephen Harper, I’m a firm believer that a hand up is better than a handout.