Elections are no time to talk about serious issues - but lobby ministers? That all depends.

Speaking of the rumoured push to privatize – or PPP-ify, at least – the fiscally-beleagured AECL, guess what minister has been holding regular get-togethers with Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne since August, including four meetings during the five-week federal election campaign?

Not, as one might expect, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn or Environment Minister John Baird, or even Industry Minister Jim Prentice, but Diane Finley, currently Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, but more importantly, at least in this context, the MP for the riding of Haldimand-Norfolk, where the company hopes to replace the soon-to-be-mothballed Nanticoke Generating Station with a Bruce Power-branded nuclear reactor.

According to communications reports filed with the Lobbyist Registry – which, it bears noting, go back only until July 2007, when the new disclosure requirements came into effect – Hawthorne first met with Finley’s special assistant, Jim Miller on July 14th, with a second meeting exactly two weeks later on July 28th, to discuss “energy” issues. (The corporate filing for Bruce Power did not originally list Citizenship and Immigration as one of the departments with which the company intended to communicate; it was added on July 14th, the day of Hawthorne’s first meeting with Miller.)

On August 11th, Hawthorne logged his first meeting with the minister to talk about energy and “environment” issues, with a subsequent meeting on September 19th – after the writ had been dropped, as well as the following day – September 20th, September 23rd and October 4th.

Meanwhile, on September 5th – just a few days before the election call, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission announced the creation of a Joint Review Panel to review another proposal for a Bruce Power plant, which would be located just outside Kincardine, Ontario. (Among the panel members: former Progressive Conservative-turned-Liberal-turned defeated MP Andre Harvey.)

UPDATE: Whoops! Wrong Andre Harvey! As you were.

So, was Finley holding court with the local nuclearati in her capacity as minister, or Member of Parliament? It’s hard to say, really – both are entirely above board under the rules of the current lobby regime, provided that all meetings with public office holders are reported. In the August 11th entry, Finley is identified as “Minister/Member of Parliament”, which suggests that she may have been primarily acting as her constituents’ duly elected representative, but the subsequent log entries – all of which took place during the campaign – list her only as “Minister.

It’s hard to see how a new nuclear plant for her riding would fall under her official portfolio of Citizenship and Immigration, although it does give ITQ the opportunity to point out the following bit of politrivia: like Finley’s husband, Doug – who, as it happens, was the Conservative campaign director during the most recent election – Hawthorne is Scottish by birth – a Glaswegian, no less –  although he’s been in Canada for nearly a decade.

UPDATE: Just a quick political geography note: Kincardine – another potential location being scouted out by Bruce Power – may be located outside Finley’s electoral turf, as far as ridings go, but at the time that these meetings took place, she was the closest Conservative MP – and minister. As of last week, however, Huron-Bruce has a go-to Tory of its own: Ben Lobb, who took the seat from the Liberals after the retirement of longtime incumbent Paul Steckle.