By Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

Ottawa: A former top aide to Stephen Harper has been found not guilty of influence-peddling, even though the judge in the case said that Bruce Carson did try to persuade government officials to buy water treatment systems being sold by a firm that employed his former escort girlfriend.

But in the end, Carson attempted to influence the wrong people, because those officials had no direct ability to sway First Nations communities to purchase the equipment, Ontario Superior Court Justice Bonnie Warkentin ruled Tuesday.

Carson was charged in connection with his attempts in 2010 and 2011 to promote the sale of water purification systems for First Nations communities by a company known as H2O Pros and H2O Global that had hired his former girlfriend, Michele McPherson.

“It is abundantly clear that Mr. Carson was attempting to influence government officials within INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), cabinet ministers and their staff as well as high-ranking members of the AFN (Assembly of First Nations) to promote H2O’s water treatment systems,” Warkentin said in her ruling.

“Mr. Carson also admitted that he used his influence in this fashion in order to obtain a benefit for his then-girlfriend,” she added.

None of that mattered, however, since First Nations communities and not the government, held the power to decide whether to buy the systems the company was selling, Warkentin wrote in her decision.

“The evidence supports the defence position that it was the individual First Nations communities that determined whether or not to purchase the point-of-use systems being sold by H2O.”

Carson’s lawyer, Patrick McCann, acknowledged during the trial that his client tried to help H2O Pros sell the equipment to indigenous communities.

But he argued there was nothing in law that prohibited Carson from lobbying First Nations communities.

“This prosecution was effectively trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” McCann said Tuesday as he and Carson left the courthouse.

“Basically, what the judge found is, it just doesn’t fit.”

“This was business with First Nations, not business with the government.”

Carson was a senior adviser to former prime minister Harper from the time the Conservatives took office in 2006, until he left the post in 2008.

After leaving the Prime Minister’s Office, Carson was named director of the Alberta-based Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE), where he maintained ties with several high-ranking government officials, including cabinet ministers and Harper.

In February 2010, Carson met McPherson while he was in Ottawa and the two became romantically involved, court was told.

With not so much as a high school diploma to her name and no experience in marketing, McPherson was hired later that year as H2O’s exclusive agent for sales of the company’s point-of-use water systems to First Nations communities.

Carson had his own lawyers prepare a contract that would give McPherson a 20 per cent commission for all water system sales made by the company.

A second compensation contract signed in February 2011 saw the commission drop to 15 per cent.

The group Democracy Watch is urging the Crown to appeal Tuesday’s decision.

Carson still faces charges under the Lobbying Act in connection with his work for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, where one of his colleagues once dubbed him the “secret sauce” in the organization’s ability to sell its pro-business agenda to the Harper Conservatives.

The case, which is expected to go to court in January, also revolves around Carson’s role at CSEE.