When people at the top levels of Canada's Reform-Conservative government are criticized for controversial behaviour, their instinct seems to be to double down and increase the size of their bet.
The latest example of this phenomenon is Chuck Strahl, the former Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Conservative Member of Parliament from British Columbia's Fraser Valley who served as Deputy Speaker and held several important cabinet portfolios during his long political career.
Strahl is at once chair of the board of the overtly political Manning Centre, chair of the supposedly apolitical Security Intelligence Review Committee, and now… a registered lobbyist for Enbridge Inc.'s controversial and unpopular scheme to build a bitumen pipeline from Alberta across British Columbia's northern interior to the West Coast!
Strahl, who retired from formal electoral politics in 2011, joined the board of the misnamed Manning Centre for Building Democracy later that same year, soon thereafter becoming its chair.
The Manning Centre, founded and led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, purports to be non-partisan but is in fact brazenly works to keep the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in power, elect provincial parties with the same neoliberal philosophy and recruit and assist like-minded municipal candidates.
In 2012, Strahl was appointed by Harper to membership on the Security Intelligence Review Committee. The SIRC, according to its website, is "an independent, external review body which reports to the Parliament of Canada on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service."
Strahl was soon jumped up to become chair of that sensitive and important federal committee as well, replacing Dr. Arthur Porter, the 2008 Harper appointee who fled the country for Latin America and the Caribbean after being accused in Quebec of money laundering, taking kickbacks and conspiring to commit fraud.
In the spring of 2013, Strahl's unseemly dual role sparked criticism and calls in the blogosphere, the media and the House of Commons for him to give up either his role with SIRC or with the Manning Centre. The apparent conflict had come to the somnolent Parliamentary media's attention only when a press release from the B.C. Conservative Party complained Strahl was also campaigning for B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s (neo)Liberal Party.
However, after a couple of questions in the House, ably dodged by prime-minister-in-waiting Jason Kenney, whose hilarious non-answers should become textbook examples of the genre, the controversy died and nothing happened.
Now Strahl has emerged as a lobbyist for the "Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership" set up by Enbridge.
Just two weeks before last month's decision by the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel to approve Enbridge's proposal, Strahl and his firm, Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc., registered as lobbyists with the B.C. government and indicated the Enbridge Northern Gateway subsidiary was their only client.
Premier Clark's government, for which Strahl not so long ago was campaigning, still apparently has some concerns about the pipeline so enthusiastically supported by the Alberta and federal governments. Strahl's job, presumably, is to soothe those worries.
Strahl apparently sees no problem with these multiple roles: "I do some contract work for Enbridge," he told the Vancouver Observer. "I've registered just in case I arrange a meeting, but no meetings to report."
Actually, I have to agree that there's not much conflict between Strahl's role with the hyper-partisan Manning Centre, which enthusiastically backs the Harper Government's plans for a spider web of pipelines emanating from Alberta, and with Enbridge, which wants to cash in on the dream of such a pipeline-building orgy.
The difficulty, as before, remains Strahl's role with SIRC.
However, now it is a much more serious problem because he has taken on a role as a lobbyist for a corporation that plans a project about which there are quite legitimate national security concerns.
It's impossible to know what Strahl would do or say behind closed doors, but it is likely corporations involved in pipeline projects would be very happy to conflate legitimate protest and democratic opposition to pipeline development with national security risks and potential terrorism.
The Harper Government, we already know, is inclined to do just this.
This problem is obviously exacerbated because any pipeline across isolated and environmentally sensitive reaches of northern British Columbia will, in fact, be a potential, even likely, target for terrorists.
Strahl's dual role with the Manning Centre and SIRC was inappropriate. His dual role with Enbridge and SIRC is egregious.
It should ring alarm bells in quarters concerned about free expression, democratic dissent, privacy rights and the oversight of security agencies, not to mention among those of us who think about the real national security threats Canada faces.
Strahl's response when his clashing positions became controversial last year was quite typical of Reform Party insiders, with their philosophy of the "the rules are for the rest of you." He doubled down with an even more unseemly dual role.
Maybe it's that George W. Bush-Karl Rove thing: when in doubt, double your bet.
Strahl needs to pick one role or the other: either SIRC or Enbridge.
He cannot do both.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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