OTTAWA – The federal Liberals have confirmed that they’ve poached a senior adviser from the Privy Council Office to work for party leader Michael Ignatieff.
And the move is setting off loud alarm bells in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Liberal employment of Kevin Chan is extremely sensitive for the government because the Privy Council advises Harper on policy, administrative and political matters.
“(Chan) has as much access to information as the prime minister himself,” a senior government official told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
That includes cabinet confidences, agendas and highly confidential information on the federal budget to be delivered Jan. 27, said the official.
Until this week, Chan was the executive assistant and director to top federal bureaucrat Kevin Lynch. He also stood in as Lynch’s chief of staff for several months during an illness.
Chan will assume an undefined “senior role” in the office of the leader of the Opposition starting April 1, Ignatieff’s spokeswoman Jill Fairbrother said Wednesday.
“The Privy Council Office proposed this start date to allow a cooling off period between roles,” Fairbrother said in an email to The Canadian Press. “We were pleased to agree.”
But the three-month time-out appears to leave the Harper government less than reassured.
“Are we to also assume that for the next three months he will have zero contact – even a fireside chat – with the leader of the Opposition where he shares information that he’s not at liberty to share?” asked the official.
“We can presume, but we cannot be 100 per cent (certain).”
As Lynch’s right-hand man, Chan had top-secret clearance, the government official confirmed on condition of anonymity.
While civil service confidentiality agreements prohibit Chan from sharing such knowledge with the Liberal leader, he will take to Ignatieff’s office an insider’s perspective on how the Harper government approaches issues and develops policy.
“If he had fundamental disagreements with the government’s direction, he should have asked to be transferred somewhere else (long ago),” fumed the official.
Reached by The Canadian Press on Wednesday, Chan would not discuss his career change: “I’m sorry, I can’t comment,” he said.
Chan earned a Masters degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he would have crossed paths with Ignatieff – a high-profile professor at the school until 2004 when he returned to Canada to run for the Liberals.
In 2004-05, Chan was chosen as a fellow of Action Canada, a joint federal-private network of young Canadians deemed to have shown exceptional talent and leadership abilities.
A biography posted on Action Canada’s website says Chan was executive assistant to the clerk of the Privy Council. It lists his responsibilities as managing the day-to-day operations of Lynch’s office, including “providing operational and policy support to the clerk in his interactions with the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister’s Office and federal departments.”
According to the biography, Chan was awarded the Public Service Award of Excellence for recruiting policy leaders into the federal government.