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Group Calls for Formal Ethics Inquiry into Spy Watchdog Turned Enbridge Lobbyist Chuck Strahl | DeSmog Canada
Public interest group Democracy Watch released a letter (link to pdf) to ethics commissioner Mary Dawson Friday, requesting she launch an inquiry into former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl in the wake of revelations that he’s working as an Enbridge lobbyist while also serving as Canada’s top spy watchdog.
The letter points to rules in the Conflict of Interest Act that require public office holders to manage their private life to avoid conflicts of interest. Strahl’s work as a lobbyist, Democracy Watch suggests, invites conflicts of interest, rather than prevents them.
Recently the Vancouver Observer revealed Strahl had registered in B.C. as an Enbridge lobbyist. As the chair of theSecurity Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), some questioned Strahl’s suitability to judiciously oversee the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the spy agency involved in the monitoring of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline hearings.
Democracy Watch also notes that Strahl violated the waiting period meant to prevent former public office holders from using their government contacts to advance private corporate interests.
Enbridge met with Strahl in his role as a cabinet minister on April 29, 2010. Strahl left his position on May 17, 2011. Five months later, in October 2011, Strahl signed an open letter in support of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. In December of 2013, Strahl registered as a B.C. lobbyist listing Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P. as his client.
According to Duff Conacher, board member of Democracy Watch and adjunct professor with the University of Toronto faculty of law, Strahl is allowing his work with government departments and Enbridge to overlap in illegal ways.
“There’s a rule that you cannot work for any entity, or any organization, or anyone, that you had significant dealings with during your last year in office… And therefore Strahl should not have been dealing with Enbridge until May 18, 2013, which would have been two years after he left office,” he told DeSmog Canada.
“The open letter Strahl signed on to was illegal,” Conacher said. “You’re not allowed to make representations to anyone for any entity that you had significant official dealings with during your last year in office.”
Yet signing an open letter in favour of Enbridge projects is just the beginning of Strahl’s misdeeds, according to Conacher. Far more serious is Strahl’s position with the oversight committee tasked with protecting citizen rights from CSIS.
“Beyond that though there is a general rule about preventing conflicts of interest…so I don’t think he can work for Enbridge as chair of SIRC because that causes conflicts; it does not prevent them.”
In addition, Conacher worries Strahl’s cabinet position may have exposed him to government information that could be used to benefit Enbridge’s push for the Northern Gateway pipeline.
“There is another rule, that never ever in your entire life after you leave cabinet can you give advice using secret information that you’ve learned on the job,” he said.
“It’s not only that your not allowed to share the secret information; you’re not allowed to do that. But you’re not allowed to even give advice using the secret information. He can’t un-know what he knows and so his advice is based on what he knows. What he knows is secret information, therefore he’s prohibited from giving that advice.”
Canada’s ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has been politely side-stepping the issue, Conacher says. Her track record shows she tends to avoid controversy as well, with over 80 former ethics rulings made in secret. Conacher’s concern is that Dawson, a Conservative-appointed commissioner, is avoiding the hard questions — questions Democracy Watch details in its eight-page letter to her.
“It’s beyond conflict of interest. It’s also these other rules that apply and it’s not resolved by Strahl just recusing himself if a complaint comes forward about CSIS and Enbridge,” he said. “And that’s what Mary Dawson has been dodging.”
Dawson is not required to investigate ethics complaints filed by members of the public. She would be required to investigate, however, if a member of parliament made the same complaint.
Strahl’s behaviour, Conacher says, is “very dangerously undemocratic” and “unethical” because it places “the interests of a few private companies way above the public interest.”
“That’s why it’s illegal,” he says. “Thankfully, it’s illegal.”
The Conflict of Interests Act has been reviewed over the past year by the House of Commons ethics committee. A full report outlining the position of each federal party on ethics issues is due out this week or when parliament resumes.
“You don’t have democracy if these rules are not strict, strong and enforced. As everyone knows: if you allow private interests to trump public interests then you don’t have democracy,” Conacher said.
Caribou, Humpbacks May Legally Stand in Way of Northern Gateway Pipeline, According to B.C. Nature Lawsuit | DeSmog Canada
Not even a month has pass since the federally-appointed Joint Review Panel (JRP) released its official report recommending approval of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, pending the fulfillment of 209 conditions. Yet already two separate suits have been filed against the integrity of the report, with groups requesting Cabinet delay a final decision on the pipeline project until the federal court of appeals can assess the complaints.
One of the suits, filed today by the Environmental Law Centre on behalf of B.C. Nature (the Federation of British Columbia Naturalists), requested the JRP’s report be declared invalid and that Cabinet halt its decision on the pipeline project until the court challenge is heard. The second suit, filed by Ecojustice on behalf of several environmental groups claims the JRP report is based on insufficient evidence and therefore fails to constitute a full environmental assessment under the law.
Chris Tollefson, B.C. Nature’s lawyer and executive director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, says “we have asked that the federal court make an order that no further steps be taken by any federal regulator or by Cabinet until this request is adjudicated.”
“We’re confident that the federal court will make that order because we’ve raised some serious issues with the legality of the report and if the report is flawed then it can’t go to Cabinet, and it shouldn’t go to Cabinet,” he said.
B.C. Nature has identified almost a dozen legal errors that bring the legitimacy of the JRP’s recommendation into question.
“The two [errors] that we think are the most serious among those are the finding with respect to justification of serious harm to caribou and grizzly and the ruling with respect to a potential major oil spill and its consequences. We say that in both of those areas there is a glaring error that’s occurred that has to be addressed by the federal court of appeal,” Tollefson said.
A federal recovery strategy for humpack whales on the B.C. coast released in October cited potential increased oil tanker traffic as a danger to dwindling populations. The recovery strategy, released after a five-year delay, also noted the danger toxic spills posed to critical habitat.
A federal caribou recovery strategy is expected by the end of the month.
“Both those federal strategies have to be consider by the Cabinet when it ultimately rules on this [project]… For caribou this pipeline has some serious consequences and it will be interesting to see what happens when the federal strategy comes down.”
For Tollefson, the inadequacy of the official JRP report points to a failure of the Northern Gateway hearing process.
“It’s disappointing for everybody involved on the intervenor side, how this has unfolded. The report is not only legally flawed in relation to the specific issues that we’ve raised but I think there’s a more general flaw, which is that it’s failed the test of transparency, it fails test of intelligibility. It basically doesn’t grapple with the evidence,” he said.
The report reaches its conclusions “without setting out its analysis,” Tollefson says, “without discussing the evidence that forms the basis for those conclusions.”
“So we think there’s a basic rule of law issue here: does this report even conform with the basic requirements in terms of intelligibility and transparency that we expect from tribunals?”
“And we say that it doesn’t.”
Tollefson anticipates that the request will delay Cabinet’s 180 decision period, saying it would be “very difficult” for Cabinet to address and respond to B.C. Nature’s complaints within that timeframe.
For Tollefson a delay in Cabinet’s decision isn’t only foreseeable, it’s appropriate.
“Cabinet after all has to make its decision based upon the findings and the recommendations that arise out of this report.” Without a reliable report, what kind of decision can British Columbians expect?
The errors in the report could send the JRP back to the drawing board.
“If we’re upheld on any of our arguments, that report will have to be sent back to the JRP, redone, and we’ll basically be starting, potentially, back where we were in June. In those circumstances, it makes little sense for Cabinet to make a decision given that level of uncertainty around the future of the report.”