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Senior Trudeau official helps big oil during the election campaign -- should we worry?

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UPDATE: Dan Gagnier has resigned from his post as Liberal campaign co-chair. He does not want to become a "distraction," according to a written statement.

We have learned, thanks to good work by the Canadian Press, that the Liberals’ campaign co-chair is moonlighting as an oil industry lobbyist.

His name is Dan Gagnier.

He was Chief of Staff to former Quebec Premier Jean Charest and, before that, a senior federal government official.

As of a year ago, Gagnier was President of something called EPIC, the Energy Policy Institute of Canada.

EPIC says, on its web site, that its "sole purpose" is to develop a comprehensive, "pan-Canadian"approach to energy.

Buried on the site, however, one also learns that EPIC is, in fact, "a non-profit organization formed by business organizations that are concerned about Canada’s energy future."

In other words, EPIC is, in effect, an organization that advocates for the energy industry.

In its interactions with government, EPIC expresses rhetorical concern about First Nations interests and the environment. But when push comes to shove, the organization promotes and lauds government actions that are favourable to industry’s bottom line.

To cite just one example, EPIC was enthusiastic about then Energy Minister Joe Oliver’s so-called one project/one review policy.

Under the guise of eliminating red tape, that policy completely gutted a federal role in environmental oversight and in the review of energy mega-projects.

EPIC’s view of Oliver’s initiative was: "Minister Oliver is one hundred per cent correct in saying that our regulatory system is broken and that repairing it is a matter of national interest. It is important that we optimize the regulatory system to remove unnecessary barriers to development …" 

Carson was with EPIC, faces criminal charges

Former Stephen Harper senior advisor Bruce Carson was, at one time, acting chief of EPIC. He has been charged with influence peddling and illegal lobbying for his efforts to get federal government support for the organization, shortly after he left Harper’s employ.

Earlier this week, Dan Gagnier wrote an e-mail to senior executives of TransCanada Pipelines advising them how to go about lobbying a new Canadian government in the interests of their Energy East project.

The Liberal party says Gagnier did not cross an ethical line in providing that kind of candid and helpful advice to industry while working on the Trudeau campaign.

And the Liberal spokesperson added that Gagnier does not advise the Liberal leader on energy policy.

In that case, who does advise the leader on such matters? One thing is certain: it is not David Suzuki.

Gagnier is only, for now, a political operative, not a government of Canada official.

There are no legal lobbying rules or limits for party political operatives. In the United States, it is normal for such folks to walk back and forth between the worlds of industry lobbying and partisan politics.

If the Liberals were to form government, however, and Gagnier and other folks who cut their teeth in lobbying were to become government officials, they would have to get out of the habit of using their political connections to help their industry friends and vice-versa.

It is, however, a habit that dies hard, and it is what makes some worry about a possible Liberal victory next week.

Can the Liberals ever shake off the lobbyists?

Justin Trudeau is a decent, sincere, genuinely progressive leader, and his program is the most daring and forward-looking the Liberals have ever proposed, federally.

Trudeau also has some excellent, equally progressive, candidates, such as Anita Vandenbeld, running in the Ottawa-area seat John Baird used to own for the Conservatives, and some good, serious and credible policy advisors, such as economist Mike Moffat.

It is, however, the backroom political operators one has a right to fear.

The Liberal party has a long history of cozying up to big business lobbyists, and it is not obvious that it has yet shaken off that history.

If Trudeau does become Prime Minister one has to hope that he will have the strength of character to stand up to those old-school operators, and actually deliver the program he has promised

That program includes ending the first-past-the-post voting system and other major democratic reforms, boosting CBC’s funding, and raising taxes on the top 1 per cent of incomes.

But here’s the rub.

Trudeau’s program also includes some fairly massive infrastructure spending, which is, in many respects, a good idea.

However, the sort of government spending spree the Liberals are promising will be like an open pot of sweet honey to the swarms of industry lobbyists who, without a shadow of a doubt, will be buzzing around a new Liberal government.

It will take a tough and determined leader to keep those buzzing hordes at bay. 

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