Breaking: Chief spy watchdog working for Enbridge since 2011
Canada’s top spy watchdog and former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, who registered last month as a paid lobbyist for Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P., has in fact been contracted with the company since 2011, the Vancouver Observer has found.
In an email on Saturday, Strahl said he had done "some contract work for Enbridge" before, but stressed he hasn't arranged any lobbyist meetings yet. The Vancouver Observer has since learned that Strahl has been engaged with Enbridge since before he signed on to become SIRC chair.
“I'm no longer an elected guy, I run a small consulting firm, so I only feel partly accountable to the media for my work or my business,” Strahl told the Vancouver Observer.
Strahl is currently chair of the committee that oversees Canada's spy agency, CSIS. Following his retirement from federal politics, he was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the position on June 14, 2012.
Strahl working for Enbridge since 2011
Strahl formed ‘Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc.’ and took on Enbridge as a client, providing the first public relations campaign aimed at swaying public opinion on the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline across British Columbia.
On behalf of his client, Strahl penned and signed an ‘Open Letter: A Choice For British Columbia’ along with fifteen other business and labour leaders. Signatories included former international trade minister David Emerson, Iain Black of Vancouver Board of Trade, the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, the Business Council of B.C., and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the country's largest industrial association.
Canada has talked about a “Pacific Gateway” for years: a tantalizing dream to position British Columbia as the leader of a coordinated national effort to leverage our strategic position into jobs, investment and prosperity for many decades to come.Timely completion of natural gas pipeline and liquefaction capacity, as well as pipelines such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, is essential for our economic future
-- excerpt from 'Open Letter: A Choice for British Columbia' by Chuck Strahl in 2011
Strahl declared on a December 6, 2013 lobbyist registration that he would lobby B.C.’s Minister of Natural Gas Development, Rich Coleman, to arrange a meeting with representatives from Northern Gateway Pipelines on the subject of “Energy”. He stated that he is lobbying on their behalf until June 2014.
“I'm always happy to comply with any statutory obligations, including publicly registering in case I arrange a meeting or otherwise trigger the provisions of the (Lobbyist Registration) Act,” said Strahl.
“I hope that the BC government is engaging with Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and a dozen or so LNG pipeliners regularly and often. There are many questions that they need to satisfy themselves on, and they will only get answers if they're meeting these proponents."
"Useless" oversight by ethics commissioner
Critics condemned Strahl for taking on a lobbying position for Enbridge despite heading the nation's main spy watchdog. As SIRC Chair, he has access to virtually all intelligence gathered by the agency, including the surveillance of organizations and individuals opposed to pipelines.
Due to the sensitive material that SIRC members are required to handle, they are sworn into the Queen's Privy Council, which includes Prime Minister Harper and current cabinet ministers with with whom he regularly interacts.
In an email exchange with the Vancouver Observer on Monday, Dawson's office confirmed that Strahl did contact their office within the last 12 months.
On Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 2:18 PM, Jocelyne Brisebois wrote:
Commissioner Dawson can confirm that Mr. Strahl did contact our Office. Because of confidentiality rules, she cannot comment any further.
The Commissioner is not available for an interview.
Jocelyne L. Brisebois
From: D. Matthew Millar
Sent: January 6, 2014 2:21 PM
To: Brisebois, Jocelyne
Subject: Re: MEDIA REQUEST:
As that was around 2012, please confirm if he communicated with her within the last 12 months?
Date: Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 3:56 PM
Subject: RE: MEDIA REQUEST:
We can confirm that Mr. Strahl has contacted the Office within the last twelve months. The Conflict of Interest Act prohibits our Office from divulging any information regarding specifics.
The Office will not comment further. Thank you.
But the ethics commissioner's office refused further comment on Strahl's alleged conflict of interest, saying "the Conflict of Interest Act prohibits our Office from divulging any information regarding specifics."
“Mary Dawson is negligent and does nothing to enforce the rules," Democracy Watch board member Duff Conacher said."The Commissioner of Lobbying isn’t doing a good job either. Both entities are useless.”
In November, the Vancouver Observer found that CSIS and the National Energy Board coordinated with local police and the RCMP to monitor pipeline critics during the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel hearings.
Conacher called Strahl's lobbying "problematic" given that "CSIS is investigating the people who oppose Enbridge, and that Enbridge has sponsored CSIS".
“We need a full examination by ethics commissioner Mary Dawson into whether he used any information gained as a member of the Privy Council," said Conacher.
"There is a definite conflict. The fact that Strahl is on a federal committee and he is interacting with cabinet, all intertwined with a federal government agenda on pipelines, is wrong”.
"Canadians are deeply concerned"
The Official Opposition released a press release condemning Strahl's double duties as Enbridge lobbyist and watchdog for a federal spy agency that was recently monitoring pipeline opponents.
“Canadians were already concerned about the federal government using CSIS and the Canada Revenue Agency to target environmental groups and charities. Now we learn the Chair of CSIS’ civilian oversight Committee is a paid pipeline lobbyist,” said NDP MP Nathan Cullen.
“This just further undermines people’s confidence in the fairness of the pipeline approval process.”