Far be it for me to defend Bruce Carson (the only time I met him in person, he asked me to take down my (pre-scandal) blog tracking his work on behalf of the oil industry), but the hypocrisy coming out of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Carson-as-lobbyist is staggering.  

It’s no secret amongst environmentalists that the Harper Government basically set Carson up as the political quarterback for the joint government/industry pro-tar sands campaign.  In 2008, Carson went from handling the energy file in the Prime Minister’s Office to become the first Executive Director of the Canada School for Energy and the Environment (CSEE) – interrupted by a brief stint back in the PMO in 2009 -- precisely so that he could use his influence and connections to make things happen. 

Carson’s appointment to the CSEE coincided with a $15 million grant from the federal government and a newly politicized mandate. While there (he is now on a leave of absence) he worked hand-in-glove with the oil industry to advance their political agenda.

This included organizing a cross-country set of “dialogues” on the oil sands on behalf of CSEE and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) that was to produce a joint report. But the primary focus of his work was on building political support for a tar sands-friendly National Energy Strategy, including organizing meetings with Deputy Minister-level officials across the country in advance of federal-provincial energy discussions this July in Kananaskis.

We can get some insight into what went on behind closed doors through the minutes obtained under Access to Information by my colleagues at the Climate Action Network, and discussed in PostMedia stories here and here.  

This March 2010 meeting – where Carson was identified as both a “former senior advisor to the Prime Minister” and as “Executive Director of the Canadian School for Energy and the Environment” - was described by Natural Resources Canada staff as being about a proposal from CAPP to “up their game” on oil sands outreach and communication (i.e. push back against the campaign by environmentalists and First Nations). The meeting also included a specific request on behalf of the oil industry to the Alberta and federal governments on what the governments’ “key messages” should be to reinforce this campaign led by oil company CEOs.

If that’s not lobbying, I don’t know what is. And everyone involved knew Carson was doing it.

So the PMO’s expression of surprise and dismay that Carson was lobbying federal politicians reminds me of that that moment in Casablanca when Inspector Renault says that he is “shocked, shocked” to discover that there is gambling going on, as he collects his winnings.

Let's save the faux outrage for Question Period, and make some serious moves to separate oil and state in Canada.