New revelations show Harper's warm embrace of Big Oil lobby

Just when it looked like Nigel Wright could return to being just another guy who runs through city streets in the middle of the night, along come some intriguing new disclosures revealing more questionable behaviour on his part inside the PMO.

Of course, for months, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the central player in the saga of that $90,000 payment to a scandal-plagued senator.

Now, Wright figures prominently in another PMO saga that highlights something arguably much more serious -- the political influence of a multi-billion-dollar lobby whose business development plans imperil nothing less than the fate of the earth.

Yet this latest Nigel Wright saga has been largely ignored by the media -- perhaps because it's not considered news that a lobbyist for Big Oil had stunningly easy access to the PM's top adviser.

After all, did anybody think that such a lobbyist would not have that sort of access in Stephen Harper's PMO?

Under Harper, the Prime Minister's Office has dedicated itself to transforming Canada into an unabashed petro-state, making the country one of a handful of nations leading the world rapidly down a path to climate-change mayhem.

Still, these new revelations give us a rare and fascinating glimpse into just how accommodating the highest levels of the Harper government are to the entreaties of Big Oil.

The new revelations surfaced in news stories about the RCMP's decision earlier this month to lay charges against another former PMO staffer, Bruce Carson, for allegedly engaging in illegal lobbying and influence peddling.

So the media focus has been on Carson -- a shady character who's a media magnet. A convicted thief and fraudster in the 1980s and '90s, Carson glided through the screening process to become a senior aide in Harper's PMO. Oh yes, and he is also facing an unrelated influence-peddling charge involving a young woman, reportedly his fiancée and a former escort worker -- whose photograph in a skimpy bedroom outfit has been considered an important way for the media to illustrate the story.

In these new RCMP allegations, however, Carson was working for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), described in the media as a "non-profit group formed by business organizations in the energy sector."

This rather benign description fails to convey what EPIC really is: a lobbying vehicle for dozens of extremely wealthy, powerful fossil fuel companies, including Enbridge, Imperial Oil, Shell, Suncor and Irving Oil, as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers -- all hell-bent on developing Alberta's tar sands.

The important story here isn't the alleged illegal lobbying behaviour of Carson (who is banned from lobbying for five years after serving in government). The real story is the reception he receives when, now representing Big Oil, he approaches the top man in the PMO, Nigel Wright, someone he doesn't know personally, with a document laying out what Big Oil wants.

According to emails disclosed by the RCMP, Wright promises to read the document over the weekend, and urges Carson to "feel free to give me a call at any time."

Just normal etiquette? No doubt. I'm sure that pretty well anyone, including representatives from Greenpeace, could count on that sort of friendly response from the prime minister's right-hand man -- as well as the follow-up action that Carson got.

Wright allowed Carson to present his case, and apparently responded positively.

We know this because Carson reported back by email to EPIC's founding president, Doug Black, that he'd briefed Wright, who "seemed generally supportive."

"Excellent. Need Nigel on side," responded Black (who is now a Conservative senator, of all things).

Indeed, Black was so pleased by the progress Big Oil was making with the Harper government, he wrote to Carson that "we could do nothing of this without you." He added: "We are making progress and you are the secret sauce."

Any interest group getting that kind of easy access in the PMO should raise eyebrows.

But the fossil fuel industry is no ordinary interest group -- its interests run counter to the interests of humanity, if continuing to live comfortably on earth is what humans want to do.

Even as climate disasters occur with growing frequency -- including the worst flooding in Serbia in a century, killing 43 people this week -- the Harper government relentlessly promotes Big Oil's development plans, guts our environmental review processes and aggressively audits environmental groups, muzzles government scientists and undermines international UN-sponsored efforts to rein in climate change.

So here's the bottom line about the Harper government: those defending the earth are muzzled and harassed, while those willing to destroy the earth for profit are warmly invited to "call at any time."

Winner of a National Newspaper Award, Linda McQuaig has been a reporter for the Globe and Mail, a columnist for the National Post and the Toronto Star. She was the New Democrat candidate in Toronto Centre in 2013. She is the author of seven controversial best-sellers, including Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and other Canadian Myths and It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. Her most recent book (co-written with Neil Brooks) is The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World, and How We Can Take It Back.

This article is reprinted with permission from iPolitics

Photo: Peter Blanchard/flickr

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