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Syncrude chairman denies lobbying Harper advisors

A top Alberta oil executive denied hiring lobbyists in Ottawa last year, though federal lobbying records suggest otherwise.

Marcel Coutu was in Vancouver Thursday for an “open and honest discussion about Canada’s oil sands” with the city’s Board of Trade.

Coutu is president and chief executive officer of Canadian Oil Sands Limited. That company owns a 36.74 percent stake in Syncrude, one of oldest and biggest producers in the Alberta oil sands. (Coutu is Syncrude's chairman of the board.)

Last summer, Coutu’s Canadian Oil Sands Limited commissioned lobbyist Bryan Thomas to speak with federal government officials, lobbying records show.

The sole subject matter was: “Canada’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution as it relates to oil sands mining operations, leading up to the international meetings in Copenhagen.”

In August 2009, records indicate that Thomas communicated with two of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policy advisors – Andrea McGuigan and Paul Wilson.

In October 2009, Marcel Coutu explained to the Globe and Mail why oil sands producers should be allowed to increase their greenhouse gas emissions.

In December 2009, at international climate talks in Copenhagen, Canada was deemed “Fossil of the Year” by green groups. The groups claimed Canada was trying to sabotage global attempts to deal with climate change.

Asked this Thursday what lobbyist Bryan Thomas discussed with Stephen Harper’s policy advisors last summer, Coutu replied: “As far as I know, we have not engaged a lobbyist in Ottawa.”

When told that lobbying records indicate the opposite, he answered: “That could be, but I don’t know anything about it.”

Lobbyist Bryan Thomas was actually sitting next to Coutu as he made his remarks. Thomas leaned over to Coutu. “Just to clarify, that was probably the meeting we had with Paul Wilson, you and I,” Thomas said.

Coutu then explained his position. “From time to time we’re going to have conversations with government to provide them our perspective,” he said. “I wouldn’t read any more into it.”

Graham Saul, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said Canadian democracy is being undermined by energy profits.

“Oil companies are exercising a totally disproportionate influence over our political system,” he said. “And this comes at a time when we need to take urgent action on climate change.”

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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