Minister Prentice meets with U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu and U.S. Department of Energy officials. From left to right: Minister Prentice, Ambassador Michael Wilson, Canada School of Energy and Environment executive director Bruce Carson, Bill Rodgers, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu. (Photo Scott Henrichsen 2009)
OTTAWA - The federal Liberals disclosed new information Wednesday that shows the former top adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is now the subject of RCMP investigation involving influence peddling, had inappropriate insider access at top-level international environment meetings.
Bruce Carson was a senior adviser to Harper as recently as February 2009. An investigation by the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) found that after he left, Carson may have engaged in alleged illegal lobbying and influence peddling trying, in one case, unsuccessfully to set up a sweet deal to win government contracts that would have netted millions for his girlfriend, escort Michelle McPherson.
When APTN told Harper's office about its findings, Harper's office called in the RCMP, the ethics commissioner and the lobbying commissioner.
The Liberals say they've found another instance where Carson appears to have been trying to trade on his connections to the government and that, this time, he was doing it with what appears to be the blessing of then environment minister Jim Prentice.
With an election imminent, the Liberals are eager to keep the Carson affair on the front burner as they believe it is part of a pattern that shows Conservatives cannot be trusted.
In April 2009, Carson attended a meeting that Prentice, whom he sat beside, had in Washington with Steven Chu, the U.S. energy secretary.
Prentice was accompanied by the Canadian ambassador, Michael Wilson, two of his staff members and Carson - who was introduced to Chu and his team as a "special adviser to Minister Prentice."
Carson was the only individual at that meeting who was not employed by the Canadian government.
"Mr. Carson's day job was to advise the oil and gas industry on energy and climate change policy. Every Canadian knows this is a conflict of interest," Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy said in the House.
In fact, at that time Carson was executive director of the Calgary-based Canada School of the Environment and Energy, a think-tank jointly run by the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and Lethbridge University.
Carson became the school's first director after the government provided $15 million in funding for it.
Brian Heidecker, chairman of the University of Alberta's board of governors, was Carson's boss and he says that Carson attended the Washington meeting on the school's dime and, in fact, it was precisely the kind of meeting they wanted him to attend.
Prentice, who left politics last fall to join the CIBC as vice-chairman, could not be reached to explain why Carson was selected to attend this meeting or how he was introduced.
Carson was, at the time, one of a panel of volunteer advisers to Prentice - TV star Mike Holmes was also on this panel - but none were referred to as "special advisers" and none of them attended the meeting with Chu.
"He is getting privileged access to high-level, secret bilateral meetings that no one else has access to on climate change and energy at the very same time he's taken a job to advise private companies on their energy and climate change policy. There can't be a clearer conflict of interest," Kennedy said.
But Bill Rodgers, director of communications to Environment Minister Peter Kent and held the same position when Prentice was minister, called the allegations "outrageous."
"Bruce Carson was an unpaid adviser to the deputy minister of environment at the time. That was approved by the ethics commissioner. He attended a meeting as part of the official Canadian delegation on the subject of the Clean Energy Dialogue, a file that former Minister Prentice was responsible for. Mr. Carson is an expert on issues of environment and energy, which is why he heads the Canada School on Energy and Environment," Rodgers said.
"Mr. Kennedy's attempt to attach a sinister motive to Mr. Carson's attendance at such a meeting by linking it to recent events is outrageous."