Premier's chief of staff admits late filing, appears to break lobbying rules

It appears the premier's chief of staff, Greg Mercer, violated lobbying rules before working for Dwight Ball by not filing required documents on time.

Mercer was a lobbyist for several companies before being tapped to run the premier's office, including Tata Steel, which owns an iron ore mine on the border between Labrador and Quebec.

According to the registry of lobbyists, he finished up work for them Aug. 31, 2015, but didn't file that information until March 10, 2016, more than six months later.

The Lobbyist Registration Act requires lobbyists to file that information "no later than 30 days after the completion or termination of the undertaking."

Mercer admits he didn't meet the deadline for his work with Tata and three other companies he was lobbying for.

"It does appear that I was late in notifying the registrar of lobbyists of my terminations/completions," Mercer told CBC News.

"I take full responsibility for these late termination/completion notifications and regret the confusion it has caused."

Mercer emphasized that he registered his lobbying in advance.

"There was never any point in time where I engaged in lobbying activity that was not registered on time," he said.

'He followed every single rule'

Mercer's admission contradicts what the premier said a month ago when asked about Mercer's lobbying.

"He followed every single rule," Ball told reporters Nov. 7.

"The activity was reported, the activity was registered … when it was terminated, that was registered as well."

Ball encouraged reporters to talk to the registrar about Mercer's lobbying.

It was registrar Dean Doyle who confirmed for CBC News that Mercer's filings were late.

Mercer is also taking responsibility for Ball's comments, saying they were based on his assurances that everything was done in an "appropriate manner".

Under the penalties spelled out by the act, a first offence can be punishable by a fine of up to $25,000.

Generally it takes a complaint from the public to start an investigation by LeeAnn Montgomery, the commissioner of lobbying, and it doesn't appear an investigation is underway.

Montgomery didn't respond to questions from CBC News by deadline.

PC leadership candidate Ches Crosbie first raised concerns about having a former lobbyist working in the premier's office.

He says the appearance that Mercer violated the act adds to the problem.

"Whenever that happens it's of concern."

Crosbie says there should be rules preventing lobbyists from joining the civil service within one year.

The premier has dismissed that idea, saying it would prevent good people from being able to serve the province.