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The Shenzhen-based technology giant hired Joe Jordan—a former parliamentary secretary to prime minister Jean Chrétien and senior associate for lobby firm Bluesky Strategy Group—to lobby the federal government about “the location of an artificial-intelligence research centre in Canada.” (The Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: Huawei has been making its interest in Canada as a research hub known while Ottawa’s long deliberations continue over whether to allow the company to participate in its 5G networks. CEO Ren Zhengfei went so far as to offer to fund the country’s fledgling AI sector: “If they need more money, I can give them money,” he told The Globe and Mail late last year. “I’m richer than the Canadian government.” Ren also floated the idea of moving Huawei’s U.S. research centre to Canada after Washington placed restrictions on the firm and urged its allies to do the same. The recent lobbying activity suggests Ren’s public remarks may be more than hot air, and could add to the pressure on Canada as it weighs whether to heed U.S. warnings. On Thursday, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt echoed concerns that Huawei poses a national security threat: “There’s no question that information from Huawei routers has ultimately ended up in hands that would appear to be the state,” he told the BBC. “We’re sure it happened.”

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In reports issued Thursday, Nancy Bélanger said Benjamin Bergen and Dana O’Born, respectively executive director and director of strategic initiatives of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), did not contravene the conflict-of-interest or political-activity provisions of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. Both worked on Chrystia Freeland’s 2015 re-election campaign and were part of her riding’s electoral district association. The lobbying commissioner found no evidence either had lobbied her directly, or that their 2016 interactions with her then-parliamentary secretary David Lametti or his staff broke the rules. CCI also said Bélanger had informed Bergen she would not investigate a separate 2017 incident involving then-environment minister Catherine McKenna’s staff. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The lobbying commissioner’s findings have been a long time coming. Democracy Watch, a transparency watchdog, and then-NDP MP Nathan Cullen first called for investigations into CCI in July 2017. In the time since, Bélanger has replaced Karen Shepherd in the commissioner’s chair, and both Bergen and O’Born have served the majority of the five-year cool-off period for former senior campaign staff. Democracy Watch will challenge the ruling in court, co-founder Duff Conacher told The Logic, saying the commissioner had a “negligently weak record of enforcement” and relied on questioning but did not check communications. CCI, which represents domestic scale-ups, isn’t the only tech lobbyist active in Ottawa. In July 2019, The Logic reported foreign tech giants had more than tripled their government relations activity under the Liberals.

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SoftBank Corporation will raise a US$385-million bond to repay debt in its first listing since going public. The firm spent US$1.94 million on Washington, D.C. lobbying in 2019, compared with US$225,000 in 2018. (Reuters, Bloomberg)

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Talking point: It’s been a difficult few months for SoftBank. On Monday, the firm’s shares fell the most they had in seven years, amid fallout from Oyo cutting 5,000 staff, Uber slashing costs in search of profitability and WeWork trying to recover from its failed IPO. Major Silicon Valley VCs, including Founders Fund partner Keith Rabois, are publicly criticizing SoftBank’s tactics, and the firm’s CEO, Masayoshi Son, drew personal backlash Wednesday when he briefly proposed free testing for COVID-19 before backtracking. The bond, which is the first one issued since SoftBank Corp. went public in 2018, is a short-term play to repay debt. The lobbying increase, which puts SoftBank in the top four per cent of spenders, is an attempt to shape the rules on everything from self-driving rules to commercial spacecraft.

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Facebook (US$16.71 million, up 32 per cent from 2018), Amazon (US$16.1 million, up 13 per cent) and Apple (US$7.35 million, up 10 per cent) all surpassed their previous individual high-spending marks, while the expenditure of Microsoft (US$10.2 million, up seven per cent) also increased. Google’s government relations activity dropped 44 per cent, to US$11.8 million, the lowest since 2011. (Washington Post, Bloomberg, Politico)

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Talking point: The lobbying push comes as large tech firms face regulatory tightening, investigations and political pressure on several fronts, including competition, privacy, data collection, encryption and political advertising. They’re also dealing with a changeable U.S. president in Donald Trump, who sees many of their executives as partisans who oppose him, but whose administration has tried to shield the firms from other countries’ taxes and regulations. While they have so far faced fewer investigations and legislative changes in Canada, the biggest U.S. technology companies have significantly increased their Ottawa lobbying over the last four years. That’s likely to continue as the Liberals introduce promised new data and competition rules specifically aimed at such firms.

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Amazon paid government relations professionals US$12.4 million over the first nine months of 2019—a 16 per cent increase compared to the same period last year—followed closely by Facebook, at US$12.3 million (up almost 25 per cent). Google has spent US$9.8 million, Microsoft US$7.8 million and Apple US$5.5 million. Amazon, Facebook and Apple are all on track for record years of spending on lobbying. (Wall Street Journal)

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Talking point: The push comes as the U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary Committee are investigating Big Tech. But the companies are also increasing their government contacts as they bid for lucrative federal contracts. On Friday, the Pentagon picked Microsoft over Amazon for a decade-long deal worth up to US$10 billion to build a military cloud-computing system. The companies have also significantly upped their presence in Ottawa under the Liberals, with a major focus on government procurement. About a fifth of tech giants’ communications with officials over the last four years were on the subject, as the federal government increased its use of technology to deliver services to citizens.

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Kevin Burns has stepped down in favour of K.C. Crosthwaite, who was chief growth officer at Altria, the tobacco giant that is one of the company’s major investors. Altria and Philip Morris ended talks of a US$187-billion merger. Juul also said it will stop advertising its products on television, in print and digitally, and will not lobby the U.S. government on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s upcoming vaping regulations. “Juul Labs is a global company and this announcement impacts the U.S. only,” StrategyCorp’s Jeff Lang-Weir told The Logic on behalf of Juul Canada. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The three companies’ decisions reflect the challenges facing vape firms in the U.S., where the Trump administration is planning to ban all flavoured products. Juul is facing multiple investigations, including by the Federal Trade Commission, the FDA and criminal prosecutors. Altria is hedging its bet on Juul by proceeding with the launch of an FDA-approved heated tobacco device in partnership with Philip Morris. Health Canada has not announced any new investigations or policies in response to the U.S. government actions. The agency is currently considering new regulations to restrict vape advertising on social media and at the checkout in stores, as well as banning more flavours. Juul is also not changing its Canadian plans—it will continue to lobby and advertise in Canada.

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Eight publishing executives, including those from the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and News Corp, are meeting with senators and other lawmakers on Tuesday. (Axios)

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Talking point: The lobbying push comes as U.S. politicians float solutions to the hollowing-out and shuttering of newsrooms struggling to compete with Facebook and Google for ad dollars. Proposed legislation in the House and the Senate, for example, would give media companies an “antitrust exemption,” allowing them to withhold content from digital platforms and force the tech giants to negotiate terms for using their work. The U.S. executives’ move echoes demands for legislative change in Canada’s media landscape. Last week, The Logic reported that executives from the CBC, The Globe and Mail, Quebecor, Le Devoir and Magazines Canada are asking the federal government for new laws to make Facebook and Google pay more taxes in the country, help pay for the creation of their content and make it more visible on their platforms.

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Chris Froggatt and Kory Teneycke lead firms that have each signed up over two dozen influential clients since the Progressive Conservatives took power in Ontario. Froggart’s firm Loyalist Public Affairs represents Canopy Growth, Sidewalk Labs and Pfizer. Teneycke’s Rubicon Strategy has Loblaw, IBM and the Ontario Medical Association. A spokesperson for Doug Ford said the premier is not aware of any breach of ethics rules by the two men, and would not allow them if he was. (Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: The two men have direct access to the premier, and are trusted with everything from negotiating with MPs concerned with Ford’s actions to dealing with the fallout from issues like cuts to public health spending. Froggatt and Teneycke both say they provide political advice and never discuss client matters. However, their respective companies are taking away clients from other lobbying firms—which can charge monthly retainers of up to $20,000. The relative prominence of the two men has only grown in recent weeks following the departure of Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French. The three men called themselves a “three-legged stool” during the provincial election campaign.

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This is the first time the firm has used its own registered lobbyists; it had previously hired third parties. The company has built a 13-person team in the U.S. capital. Among other issues, SoftBank lobbied on autonomous vehicles, fintech, artificial intelligence, privacy and data, as well as the merger of its wireless carrier Sprint with T-Mobile. (The Information)

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Talking point: SoftBank’s lobbying is minor compared to Facebook and Amazon, which spent about US$4 million each this quarter. Its subsidiary Sprint spent more, at US$740,000. Lobbying increases by the Japanese holding company and its U.S. carrier have increased when Sprint is in major deal talks. In 2014, SoftBank’s most expensive year at over US$4.2 million, more than 70 per cent of its lobbying spend was for Sprint. The telecom had tried and failed to acquire T-Mobile that year. The impending merger is crucial for SoftBank. Sprint has US$39 billion in debt, and has said it would face “serious challenges” if the deal doesn’t go through. According to CNBC, the merger could be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice as soon as Wednesday.