The two big items in today’s national news are intimately connected. In Halifax, Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s push for a “national” energy strategy that is really all about getting new tar sands pipelines is being rejected by BC Premier Christy Clark. And in Ottawa, the RCMP has announced that they are charging one of Prime Minister Harper’s former top advisors, Bruce Carson, with influence peddling.
What hasn’t received much attention, however, was the key role that Bruce Carson played in quarterbacking the push for a national energy strategy on behalf of the Canadian Asosociation of Petroleum Producers and (by extension) both the Government of Alberta and the Harper government.
At Greenpeace, we were raising flags about Carson’s role in pushing for a tar sands-led national energy strategy before and after the scandal that sidelined him. We also noted that his efforts began to bear fruit at last year’s meeting of Energy Ministers in Kananaskis, but were ultimately blocked in a way that may explain the Harper government's fury with the Tides Foundation.
Carson left the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to take up a position as Executive Director of the Canada School for Energy and Environment, which was created by a $15 million grant from the federal government that Carson had been lobbied on while at the PMO. Once there, Carson worked closely with the oil industry to influence federal and provincial energy policy shortly, in spite of the five year prohibition on lobbying under the Federal Accountability Act. Yet despite the questionable legality of these efforts, documents obtained under Access to Information legislation (links below) show that Carson's work was actively encouraged at the highest levels of the civil service and financed by federal taxpayers.
One of his more notable efforts involved setting up and co-chairing the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) as a lobbying vehicle for the oil industry, whose “sole purpose is to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian approach to energy which will provide the foundation for recommendations to federal, provincial and territorial government authorities responsible for energy and environment policy.”
Carson set up conferences, met regularly with key officials from the oil industry as well as the federal and provincial governments, authored papers for the oil industry, and even presented EPIC’s ideas directly to politicians. As The Tyee has documented, Carson subsequently imploded rather spectacularly in an influence-peddling scandal. But EPIC continued on with their quest for a national energy strategy that would provide the justification for the infrastructure required to rapidly expand the tar sands, including “building a new pipeline infrastructure to the West Coast to open up export markets around the Pacific Rim.”
The timeline below has links to some of the Access to Information documents that detail his role.
1990s: Carson serves in the Progressive Conservative research service at the Ontario legislature and for Conservative senators on Parliament Hill, according to reports by The Canadian Press.
Early 2000s: Carson serves as director of policy and research for Stephen Harper when he was the leader of the opposition.
Feb. 6, 2006: Official start date of Carson's employment with the Prime Minister’s Office. He becomes known as “the mechanic”, trusted by Harper because “he can fix anything.” Within the PMO, he had particular responsibility for the energy, environment and Aboriginal files.
2006: University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten and scientist David Keith lobby Bruce Carson for funding for the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE).
Budget 2007: Federal government announces $15 million grant for CSEE.
July 11, 2008: Dave Collyer reports a lobbying meeting with Bruce Carson. Collyer was the President of Shell at that meeting, but at the end of the month he is announced as the next president of Canadian Association Petroleum Producers (CAPP), effective September 15. It is not know if they discuss Carson’s upcoming appointment to CSEE, but the two will work very closely together over the next three years.
August 2008: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) officials begin meeting to prepare a “whole of government approach with respect to the federal government’s engagement and messaging on oil sands issues.” NRCan is the lead department, but DFAIT is also closely involved from the beginning with an “Advocacy Strategy”.
August 14, 2008: Carson is named executive director of the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE).
August 15, 2008: Pierre Alvarez, who is at this point still the President of the CAPP, defends Carson against criticisms of his appointment (including the fact that he had been disbarred as a lawyer after being convicted of fraud in the early 1980s), by saying he had known and worked Carson for 25 years.
September 2, 4, 2008: Documents filed under the Lobbying Act, and revealed later by Harper's former chief of staff Guy Giorno, indicate Carson was lobbied by the University of Calgary on these dates while he was employed at the PMO and still head of Canada School of Energy and Environment.
September – November, 2008: According to a January 8, 2009 memo, the Deputy Minister of NRCan meets with CAPP members “to discuss their strategy to engage the public on oil sands issues as part of an industry-led effort to respond to public concerns. NRCan sees this effort as an opportunity to further coordinate our Strategy with industry.”
October - November 2008: Carson stays on with the Conservatives through the 2008 election. According to CSEE’s Annual Report, he “began exercising his functions in October”, but according Giorno’s letter he was a PMO employee until November 6. He quickly moves to change the mandate of the School from being technology-focused to being policy focused. While at CSEE, he continues to give partisan speeches as Executive Director of CSEE and is seen as taking a strong pro-industry position to push back against what he calls the “dirty oil” label.
January 1, 2009: Carson takes a leave of absence from CSEE and returns to the PMO to help deal with the aftermath of the coalition crisis.
January 6, 2009: An e-mail is sent from Carson’s CSEE address to the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada, Cassie Doyle, seeking $25 million in funding for the Carbon Management Centre. Giorno, as Harper’s Chief of Staff, informs the lobbying commissioner of this inappropriate contact (as Carson is now a PMO employee) and the e-mail is retracted. The grant is made in December 2009 to the Carbon Management Centre, which is at that point chaired by Carson.
January 22, 2009: Giorno sends Kevin Lynch, the Clerk of the Privy Council, a memo on the new conflict of interest screen that has been established for Carson, following up on a phone conversation between the Prime Minister and Mr. Lynch.
February 4, 2009: Carson leaves the PMO and returns to CSEE.
April 2009: Carson accompanies Environment Minister Jim Prentice at meetings with senior U.S. officials in Washington, including U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. According to Environment Canada, he was there as an “unpaid adviser to the deputy minister of environment”. Published reports indicate that Ian Shugart, who was at that time the deputy minister of the environment, sent a letter of his own to the lobbying commissioner regarding Carson.
April 23 – 25: CAPP organizes a meeting in Washington with NRCan and the Government of Alberta to develop shared messaging and joint outreach to US government.
June 12, 2009: Carson attends a meeting in Calgary between nine senior oil industry CEOs or VPs and the Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch. The meeting is hosted by Nexen, but the invitation list is prepared by CAPP. Participants agree that they need “a concerted and on-going effort that runs for a year to 18 months. It was agreed that Doyle/NRCan and Carson/Canada School would be part of an upcoming meeting of the CEO working group on oilsands/energy…. Next steps will be for Carson/Canada School to set an agenda for a subsequent meeting with CEOs, governments and univerisites [sic].”
June 19, 2009: Staff from DFAIT’s Energy Secretariat seek clarification of how the “Carson process” is related to the federal government’s Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy. The reply is “We understand that this is intended to be an extension of the ‘alignment’ process started in Washington recently [the February 23-24 meeting] rather than a separate idea. CAPP has been in Washington this week and has been citing the [June 12] Calgary discussion as a further step in their effort to have a coordinated engagement strategy in place for the autumn. I do not believe that this would or should delay the July session. Industry is telling us that they see the Carson process as an extension of what we are already debating, but at a senior industry and academic level.” DFAIT’s Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues writes that “you guys [DFAIT’s Energy Secretariat] are doing God’s work (so to speak) on this file!”
June 25, 2009: An email from Sue Kirby (Assistant Deputy Minister at NRCan) to Cassie Doyle (Deputy Minister, NRCan) on her meeting with Dave Collyer (President of CAPP) notes that “although there had been consideration in Calgary of a coordinating role for Bruce Carson that the lead is with you (with Bruce supporting) and Bruce is aware of that change (I am meeting with Bruce tomorrow on your behalf and will send a separate note after that meeting on its outcome)… For Bruce tomorrow, I intend to focus on the role the Canada School could play in ensuring the strategic hydrocarbon R+D piece that Indira is leading strengthens the oil sands outreach work and our intention is to keep Bruce in the loop [section redacted] strengthens the overall strategy Kevin has asked you to lead.”
The “Carson process” referred to in the minutes became a CSEE-led series of discussions (including the Banff Dialogue) that sought to build support for a National Energy Strategy based on the oil industry’s Energy Framework Initiative. This subsequently evolved into two related initiatives. The first was the by-invitation-only CAPP’s Oil Sand’s Dialogue, for which Carson authored the background paper and attended as co-host with oil company CEOs. The second was the creation of an industry lobby group, the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) that was co-chaired by Carson and which claims a “singular focus on one task: to draft an energy strategy and policy recommendations.”
March 16, 2010: Carson attends a meeting between representatives from NRCan, the Government of Alberta and CAPP meet in Calgary to discuss CAPP’s proposal for “upping their game” on oil sands outreach and communications as part of a renewed strategy. The participants agree to “turn up the volume”, and NRCan agrees that they need to “up their game”, including expanding focus from U.S. and Europe to Canadians in Ontario and Quebec.
That same month, Carson gives a highly partisan speech on Managing a Conservative Agenda in a Minority Parliament at the Manning Centre’s annual conference for conservative political activists.
March 2010 – March 2011: Carson continues to work closely with key officials from the federal and provincial governments, as well as the oil industry.
March 2011: Carson’s involvement with these various initiatives formally ends after he became the subject of an RCMP investigation into illegal lobbying, but EPIC went on to present its recommendations to federal and provincial Ministers in July 2011, at a meeting that Carson had spent more than a year organizing.
July 2012: Alberta leads the discussion on a National Energy Strategy at the annual meeting of the Council of the Federation, but the debate is dominated by the conflict between Alberta and BC over proposed new tar sands pipelines.