Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Key player in Canada's oil sands PR push accused of influence peddling

A former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper - now at the center of a major political scandal - worked closely with Canada's biggest energy companies in recent years to improve the public image of Alberta's oil sands.

That advisor, Bruce Carson, 66, did this while leading an academic think tank funded with $15 million in Canadian federal money. He is accused of using his influence to land a lucrative contract for his 22-year-old fiancé, a former prostitute.

What this suggests, say environmental advocates, is that the line dividing Harper's Conservative government from Canada's oil industry is very blurry, if it exists at all.

"Carson is the spider at the center of the web ... directing the whole pro-tar sands effort," Greenpeace Canada's Keith Stewart told The Tyee. "He's been moving between the political and business worlds to make that happen."

The close relationship between Canadian government officials and major oil companies has existed since at least 2008, when a lobbying coalition formed to battle clean energy laws in the United States.

Carson's oil sands connections are less well known than the lobbying which has landed him in the middle of an RCMP investigation.

Allegations of Harper's criminal influence-peddling have created a national scandal for his Conservative government.

Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff jumped on the Carson case to gain political ammunition for what many observers expect to be an imminent federal election.

Greenpeace's Stewart said that significant in the long-term are Carson's close connections to Alberta's oil sands industry.

Until Carson left the Prime Minister's Office in 2008, he was considered one of Harper's top political advisors a "grey-haired sage," according to one insider.

Carson left to become executive director for the Canada School of Energy and Environment, a think-tank started with $15 million in federal government money the year before.

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