It was a strange twist of fate that led me to discover a lobbyist and recently debated Alberta Blue Party candidate named Ken Boessenkool. I had started out my morning firing up the computer and the coffee maker and wondered how best to flesh out this site. What important information was I missing, I wondered? My little editor voice whispered “you need to make the Government connection”. As always, I trusted my little editor voice (in matters pertaining to life and journalism) and began searching keywords like Canadian + Government + Merck, and Merck+Lobbyist+Canada. I discovered that one lobbyist (Ken Boessenkool) in particular had ties to both Merck and the Conservative government. As usual I found myself as Alice, peering down the rabbit hole and wondering just how deep it might go.
I found the following information from Hill and Knowlton Canada’s website:
About Ken Boessenkool
“Boessenkool joined the Calgary office of Hill & Knowlton in 2004 as vice president, business development. He was appointed as general manager of Alberta prior to his current role as national practice director for public affairs. Prior to joining Hill & Knowlton, Boessenkool was senior policy advisor and strategist to Canada’s current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and played senior strategic roles in the 2004 and 2006 Conservative election campaigns. He has served as a policy advisor on numerous provincial and national leadership races. He also served as a policy advisor to two Alberta finance ministers.
Boessenkool has been an adjunct research fellow as well as a policy analyst with the Toronto-based C.D. Howe Institute. He has taught Canadian Public Finance in the Economics Department at the University of Calgary and has published over thirty-five policy papers. His numerous opinion editorials have appeared in Time Magazine, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen and other newspapers. Boessenkool is currently a research fellow with the Canada West Foundation and was named one of Calgary’s Top 40 under 40 in 2007 by Calgary Inc. Magazine.”
Sounds like a great guy! Young, fairly good looking, family man, obviously tenacious and ambitious… what’s not to like?
Then I discovered that he was instrumental in securing from the Harper government 300 million dollars on a nationwide campaign to vaccinate schoolgirls with Gardasil while working for Hill and Knowlton. The fact that he had been Harpers strategic advisor back in ’04 and ’06 was starting to make sense. This fact was not lost on the opposition in the house at that time and there was a brief, but telling debate in the HOC.
Hill and Knowlton happens to be THE public relations firm used by all of the major pharmaceutical companies worldwide (Aventis, GlaxoSmithKlein, Roche, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi-Pasteur, among others). What’s more, it also runs PR for the World Health Organization – if that’s not a conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is.
Historically, Hill & Knowltons reputation is less than pristine, as I discovered on Wikipedia. You may remember the “cigarettes cause lung cancer” debate? Well, it was Hill & Knowlton that spun it so positively that you’d be tempted to give them to your babies at birth. In fact, H & K was responsible for several scandals whose impact was so significant that it affected the course of history. No small charge to be laid against a company that still brings in over 46 million Euro’s a year profit. WPP is the parent company to both H & K and GCI/ GCIHealth (where Ken Boessenkool now calls home). In addition to his appointment to CGI, he also appears on the boards of several other NGO’s and roundtable groups such as the Forum of Federations and is an Executive Fellow at the School of Public Relations at the University of Calgary. He also recently stepped down from helping BC’s Christy Clark run for the Liberal Leadership race as it apparently constituted a conflict of interest. (How good of Stephen Harper to point that out for him).
That’s a lot of pies to have your thumbs in.
It’s unclear what Boessenkools portfolio will include, but I can guess it would encompass both political and health matters given his experience on both sides and the focus of GCIHealth to act as spin doctor for BigPharma.
On GCIHealth’s website, they make the following ‘case study’ under the topic: Vaccines:Sustaining Positive News for a New Vaccine.GCI Health was responsible for launching a vaccine in an environment of safety concerns due to a market withdrawal of a competitive vaccine. In support of four milestones in 10 weeks, we created unique news angles to keep interest high, strong safety messaging, and prepared spokespeople to deliver consistent and colorful messages. The milestone news generated more than 144 million impressions, including multiple articles in USA Today, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Ninety-two percent of coverage was considered extremely or somewhat favorable.
Other Case Studies
Apparently, sound scientific proof of the safety of vaccines is not necessary to keep vaccines on the market, you only need “unique news angles” and “colorful messages”.
Boessenkool also hopes to unite the right-of-center Conservatives and has created the Alberta Blue Committee, but has come under fire for his prior Liberal associations. Strange that!
My best analysis of Ken Boessenkool, is that he may very well be an idiot with friends in high places. While well educated, he is not always well spoken and in verbal political debate comes off emotional and…. well, young. As for his lobbying past, I’ll be perfectly honest in saying that “once a rat and a thief, always a rat and a thief”. I can guarantee, that I will be following this man’s carreer and the actions of GCI, very closely indeed.