City Suspends Stirling Over Services Provided to Harder

By Charlie Senack

Well-known Ottawa developer Jack Stirling won’t be able to lobby city officials for the next month, after the city’s integrity commissioner found Stirling provided free services to Barrhaven Councillor Jan Harder.

Stirling, a consultant whose company ‘The Stirling Group’ has been at the forefront of an integrity commissioner investigation surrounding Harder, has been banned from lobbying at the City of Ottawa for 30 days starting Aug. 3.

The investigation surrounded Harder hiring Alison Stirling (now Clarke), who worked full time for the Barrhaven councillor on planning issues for nearly a year. Clarke, who is Jack Sterling’s daughter, then returned to the family business and worked as a planning consultant to Harder for multiple years. During this time, it was later found out that Jack Stirling provided free services to Harder, whom he calls a “close friend.”

Stirling acknowledged that he provided free services to Harder between November 2019 and February 2020, according to an agreement he signed alongside integrity commissioner Robert Marleau. During this roughly three and a half month period, Stirling had had three active lobbying files with the city, and was a registered lobbyist at city hall. This broke city rules because under Ottawa’s lobbyist code of conduct, a lobbyist with active files can’t offer gifts or benefits to council members or their staff.

Stirling, who has known Harder since being Nepean’s planning commissioner in the 1990s, has most recently been involved as a consultant for owners of the South Merivale Business Park. Just weeks ago, the park received approval for rezoning amendments to allow for a transport truck terminal and warehouse to be built on the site. Stirling was also recently hired to be a consultant for the Stonebridge Golf Course working group, when a successful application was brought forward to develop on a small portion of the course.  Stirling also served on the council-appointed planning advisory committee from March 2018, until he resigned in January 2021.

Marleau reached out to Stirling on July 29 to notify him he violated lobbyist rules within the city. Five days later on Tuesday, August 3, they signed the compliance agreement which put Stirling on the sidelines for 30 days.

According to the agreement, Stirling was also found to have breached the bylaw governing the lobbyist registry by putting a council member in a perceived conflict of interest, however no formal investigation will be launched.

“I understand that my acknowledgement of non-compliance does not constitute an admission of intentional wrongdoing,” part of the agreement signed by Stirling read.

Coun. Harder has long denied doing anything wrong, and has said the report was “politically driven.” She stepped down as chair of the city’s planning committee in late June — a position she chaired for roughly seven years — because she didn’t want the report to get in the way of important city planning issues, and added it was “too disruptive.”

Harder said the only findings from the integrity commissioners report is the city needs to review and revisit its hiring policies. She also apologized to her council colleagues for putting them in this difficult position. “That was never my wish, and for that I am sorry,” she said.”

However when it came to her receiving free services from ‘The Stirling Group’, Harder didn’t see how she did wrong.

“I get free service from Jack, and a few others, anytime I want,” Harder told investigators, according to the 101-page interiors commissioner report. “This is the thing; It formalizes the relationship having that contract. It’s important to me to have the quality of the briefing notes that I have from Alison, but that’s the extent that Alison’s role is. Jack, just like [name of other individual removed], I’ve called him on some pretty significant issues and he has – because we have a relationship and he’s so right about the, the size of the, the fish swimming around in the planning pool, really in the City, OK?”

After stepping down as the chair of Ottawa’s planning committee, council controversially voted in favour of having two co-chairs with councillors Scott Moffatt and Glen Gower taking the helm of the city’s biggest file. Capital ward councillor Shawn Menard also received a seat on the committee — the only downtown councillor to sit at the planning table. Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper put his name forward to become planning chair, but lost.