McKenna Carries Lots of Corporate Baggage

Duff Conacher, coordinator of the Ottawa-based public-interest group Democracy Watch, has claimed that the pending appointment of Frank McKenna as ambassador to the United States reflects how "corporate-driven" the federal Liberal government has become under Prime Minister Paul Martin. McKenna, a former New Brunswick premier, has sat on 15 corporate boards since leaving public office in 1997. He is also listed as a member of the Canadian advisory board of the Carlyle Group, a private investment firm linked to political and business heavyweights on both sides of the border.

"You don't appoint someone like that without sending a clear signal," Conacher told the Straight. "Even if he [McKenna] cuts his ties, the fact that Martin has chosen somebody who has tied himself so much into the U.S. and Canadian corporate interest is a clear sign that Martin has no problem with his government being corporate-driven--and with corporations having undue access and influence."

McKenna is chair of CanWest Global Communications Corp., which paid him $150,000 in cash and deferred share units last year. CanWest Global owns the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers, the Global TV network, the Vancouver Courier, the North Shore News, the Now community papers, the Delta Optimist, the Richmond News, and the National Post, as well as daily newspapers in several other Canadian cities.

Several companies with McKenna on their boards have donated to Martin's Liberal leadership campaign and to the Liberal Party of Canada. CanWest Global and its subsidiaries, for instance, contributed $100,000 to Martin's leadership coffers and another $329,008.96 to the Liberal Party of Canada and its candidates since 1999, the year McKenna became a director. McKenna joined the board of the BMO Financial Group in 1998; since then, the bank and its subsidiaries have contributed $533,255.53 to the federal Liberals. Since McKenna became a director of Shoppers Drug Mart Canada in 2002, the corporation has donated $14,306.47 to the federal Liberals and made another $1,000 "nonmonetary" contribution to one candidate.

McKenna is also on the board of United Parcel Service Canada Ltd., which gave $17,000 to Martin's Liberal leadership campaign and another $98,271.51 to the Liberal Party of Canada since 1998. Since McKenna joined the board of General Motors of Canada in 2001, that corporation has donated $23,662.77 to the federal Liberals. Another company with McKenna on the board, Marsh Canada Ltd., contributed $10,000 to Martin's leadership campaign and $14,486.87 to the federal Liberals in 2000 and 2001. Since McKenna became a director of Noranda in 1998, the corporation has donated $24,536.56 to the federal Liberals and $1,000 to Martin's leadership campaign. Zenon Environmental Inc. has given $19,033.79 to the federal Liberals since McKenna joined its board in 1998.

McKenna's colleagues on the Carlyle Canada advisory board include former U.S. secretary of state James A. Baker III, former U.S. defence secretary Frank Carlucci, and Canadian corporate chairs Laurent Beaudoin (Bombardier), Paul Desmarais (Power Corp.), Lynton Wilson (Nortel Networks), and Peter Bentley (Canfor Corp.). Former U.S. president George H. W. Bush and current president George W. Bush have both previously been members of Carlyle Group advisory boards, which also include former Democrats.

Craig Unger, author of House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (Scribner, 2004), told the Straight that the Carlyle Group has bought companies, including defence contractors, that sell products to governments around the world. "Baker and Bush [Sr.] went to Saudi Arabia several times to raise money from the Saudis," Unger said.

Unger reported in his book that relatives of Osama bin Laden were among the Saudi investors in the Carlyle Group and that one of bin Laden's many brothers was at a Carlyle Group meeting in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, when a plane crashed into the Pentagon and two others knocked down the World Trade Center. Unger said he had never heard of McKenna before being contacted by the Straight.

One of McKenna's assistants at his Moncton law office sent the Straight an e-mail saying McKenna was unavailable for an interview because he was attending the funeral of former New Brunswick premier Louis Robichaud. The aide added that McKenna will resign all of his corporate directorships.