Last week, Brane Inc, a digital asset trust company, announced that it planned to move its headquarters to Calgary. It’s currently located in Ottawa.
Founded in 2017 by former House of Commons business analyst Patrick McLaughlin, Brane is an independent cryptocurrency custody service provider. They claim to be carbon neutral and that they help clients “unlock the opportunities of blockchain and digital assets”.
The announcement claimed that the move would create up to 100 full-time jobs over a 5-year period.
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Well, after the announcement, members of the UCP cabinet seem unable to contain their assignment for those 100 jobs, sharing all sorts of versions of the announcement on social media.
It started with this tweet from Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s minister of jobs, economy, and innovation.
Nate Glubish, the minister of Service Alberta, also retweeted this tweet, as did Ric McIver, municipal affairs minister.
Schweitzer went on to retweet the following tweets:
Glubish also retweeted the second tweet.
A few hours later, he tweeted out this Calgary Herald article about the announcement, which Demetrios Nicolaides, advanced education minister retweeted, as did Jason Copping, the health minister, and Nick Milliken, the UCP MLA for Calgary–Currie.
The next day, Jason Kenney tweeted out the Brane media release, which Schweitzer retweeted. Copping also retweeted Kenney’s tweet, as did Josephine Pon, the minister of seniors and housing, and the UCP caucus Twitter account.
A few hours later, the UCP caucus tweeted out the Calgary Herald article, which Schweitzer once again retweeted. Glubish also retweeted this one.
The following day, Nicolaides shared this tweet, which Schweitzer retweeted:
So, why did 6 UCP cabinet ministers, the premier, and another UCP MLA all share the news of this company, which may create 20 jobs by the year 2027? Surely there are other companies creating 20 jobs in a year in Alberta.
Good question, and not one that has a clear answer.
One thing we do know, however, is that the company made the announcement several months after a lobbying firm they hired had met with government officials.
According to documentation filed with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry, Brane hired Wellington Advocacy Inc on a 2-month contract in October 2020 to lobby the government. The initial return listed 4 individuals as lobbyists from Wellington:
- Nick Koolsbergen, CEO
- Brad Tennant, vice president
- Peter Csillag, public affairs director
- Matt de Jong, consultant
A notice of change filed in December 2020 showed that Brane had extended their contract with Wellington for another year, ending at the end of this month.
In both the initial return and the December 2020 notice of change, Wellington listed the following government ministries and departments as the entities they’d be lobbying:
- Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
- Alberta Treasury Board and Finance
- Executive Council
- Municipal Affairs
- Premier’s Office
- Service Alberta
A notice of change filed in May 2021 added Invest Alberta Corporation to the list. I remind you that Invest Alberta was one of the entities that tweeted about the announcement last week. Invest Alberta was also specifically listed in the Brane media release.
In a media release posted on the Invest Alberta website last week, apparently the Crown corporation “assisted Brane with exploring the trust approval process and connecting with Alberta’s banking, regulatory and investment streams”.
In all 3 documents, Wellington had indicated that their lobbying efforts would focus on “raise awareness within the Government of Alberta about recent developments in digital asset security and potential solutions” and would be through “meetings, presentations, telephone calls, and written communication”.
What’s interesting about the lobbyists with Wellington is that all of them have direct connection with the UCP.
For example, Koolsbergen, Wellington’s CEO, was chief of staff for Jason Kenney when he was the official opposition and then became campaign director for the UCP’s 2019 election campaign. He also served as Kenney’s director of communications while he was the federal minister of employment and social development.
Koolsbergen sits on Brane’s advisory panel.
Tennant was a former executive director of the UCP and a member of Kenney’s leadership election teams.
Csillag served as director of issues management to Jason Kenney when he was leader of the official opposition. He also served as a senior advisor to Kenney when he was minister at defence; employment and social development; and citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism.
De Jong was the UCP caucus legislative coordinator until October 2017.
Actually, speaking of October 2020, both Csillag and De Jong were hired by Wellington in October 2020, which just so happens to be the same month when Wellington signed their contract with Brane and filed their initial return with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry. In fact, Wellington filed the initial return just 3 days after announcing that they had hired Csillag and De Jong.
None of this is to suggest that there is anything unethical about Brane’s decision to relocate from Ottawa to Calgary.
It does seem odd, however, that the company initiated lobbying with the government prior to making that decision, and that so many UCP MLAs are celebrating the decision following all that lobbying.