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Federal Politics
Election 2015

Trudeau's Co-Chair Once Pushed Oil Plan with Harper Insider Now Facing Charges

How Dan Gagnier and Bruce Carson teamed at industry group EPIC.

Andrew Nikiforuk 16 Oct

Andrew Nikiforuk's new book is Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider's Stand Against the World's Most Powerful Industry.

Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

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Dan Gagnier, the former co-chair of Justin Trudeau's national campaign, played an active role in a controversial energy industry-funded group that employed Bruce Carson, a disbarred lawyer who was one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's longest serving aides and is facing trial.

Carson is charged with three counts of lobbying and one count of influence peddling by the RCMP in a national political scandal involving call girls, Big Oil and millions of taxpayer dollars.

Those four charges are related to Carson's work at a federally funded think tank at the University of Calgary or for the Calgary-based Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC).

The charges have yet to be proved in court and Carson denies that he took part in illegal lobbying.

Gagnier served as vice chair or president of the non-partisan EPIC between 2010 until the time of its closure in 2014.  

Gagnier is not charged with any crime.

According to RCMP court documents, the industry group employed the paid services of Bruce Carson, who illegally lobbied public officials at Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, the Prime Minister's Office and Privy Council.

The same court documents include emails from Carson to Gagnier as Carson jockeyed for meetings with provincial officials to push EPIC's largely industry-written national energy plan.

A September 2010 monthly EPIC report saluted the work of Carson and two other vice chairs including Gerard Protti, a former Encana executive, and Gagnier.

"I would like to acknowledge our three vice chairs that presented our work to the energy ministers: Bruce Carson, Gerry Protti and Daniel Gagnier," wrote Doug Black, a Harper-appointed senator and EPIC member.

Carson former Harper PMO insider

Previous to joining EPIC, Carson served as a senior policy advisor to Harper, overseeing the government's most difficult and contentious files, including climate change and the oilsands. 

According to EPIC's critics, the industry group sought to gain political support for an energy strategy favourable to the nation's largest energy extractors and transporters with little input from ordinary Canadians or climate change scientists. 

In 2014, Gagnier defended EPIC's work in a magazine article by explaining the group advocated for a carbon pricing system as well as "using best standards for the safe and environmentally acceptable extraction, transportation and distribution of both fossil fuels and electricity."

Carson made no secret of his support for the oilsands and belief their mining could be part of a clean energy strategy. "One of the things that really upset me," he once said in an interview with the University of Calgary newspaper, "is the slag on the oilsands that it's the production of dirty oil."

However, many of the country's top climate and energy scientists say oilsands expansion and effective action on greenhouse gas emissions are not compatible policies.

Gagnier's leaked advice to TransCanada

Gagnier, who also served as an advisor to former premier Jean Charest, abruptly resigned from the directorship of the Liberal Party after the Canadian Press obtained a "leaked" email in which Gagnier advised five TransCanada Corp officials how to target the appropriate people in a new government to help speed up the approval of the Energy East pipeline.

According to Maclean's magazine, Gagnier has served as an active consultant to TransCanada, a former EPIC member, for more than a year.

A lobbying effort would be needed to guarantee the schedule for projects like Energy East, a highly contentious proposed bitumen export pipeline, aren't put at risk, the email said.

"An energy strategy for Canada is on the radar and we need a spear carrier for those in the industry who are part of the solution going forward rather than refusing to grasp the implications of a changing global reality," reads the email obtained by Canadian Press.

Advocating for a national energy strategy largely written by corporate representatives is nothing new for Gagnier.

As president of EPIC, a group that included TransCanada as a member, Gagnier performed much the same role.

More than two dozen of the nation's most powerful oil and gas companies formed EPIC in 2009 to thwart growing resistance to bitumen pipelines by lobbying for an "Energy Strategy for Canada" that clearly favoured pipelines, oilsands expansion and business as usual with fossil fuels.

EPIC actively lobbied both federal and provincial politicians and energy ministers.

Members of the now defunct group included the nation's strongest pipeline advocates: TransCanada, Enbridge, Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources, Shell Oil, Encana, Imperial Oil, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Company CEOs paid $50,000 each for a two-year membership to the group.

The Tyee's attempts to contact Gagnier for an interview, including emailed questions, were met with no response by time of publication. 

EPIC endeavours

A 2013 RCMP information order requesting access to Carson's bank records details the intensity of Carson's communication with public office holders while working on EPIC's agenda and that of the Canada School of Energy and Environment.

To promote EPIC's national energy plan, the Ottawa insider contacted Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters; deputy minister of Natural Resources, Cassie Doyle; Marc Vallieres, chief of staff to then NRCAN minister Christian Paradis; and many other public office holders.

In one email to Murray Edwards, the Calgary billionaire and founder of oilsands miner Canadian Natural Resources, Carson explained how the Canada School of Energy and Environment and EPIC were working together to advocate for a national energy plan.

"My view is that all these pieces can be pulled together and working with deputy ministers and eventually with ministers develop the elements of a National Clean Energy Strategy for Canada."

Keith Stewart, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace said EPIC was less about pursuing clean energy, and far more about asking: "How do we get the bitumen out of the ground faster?"  [Tyee]

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