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Canada’s Intelligence Watchdog Hired as Northern Gateway Lobbyist

That revolving door just keeps on turning.

As the Vancouver Observer recently reported, Canada’s spy watchdog and former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl registered in December to lobby the B.C. government on behalf of Enbridge subsidiary Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P.

B.C. lobby records show Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc. registered to lobby Rich Coleman, B.C. Minister of Natural Gas Development, arranging meetings with Northern Gateway representatives to discuss the issues of “energy.” The registration runs until June 2014.

“I do some contract work for Enbridge,” Strahl told the Vancouver Observer. “I’ve registered just in case I arrange a meeting, but no meetings to report.”

The story has gained particular traction in light of November revelations regarding CSIS involvement in spying on opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

High-level collaboration and information sharing between Enbridge, industry representatives, the RCMP, federal government departments and CSIS were discovered through documents released through Access to Information legislation.

The records, which revealed closed-door meetings sponsored by Enbridge, raised questions about freedom of conscience, government transparency, and the democratic process regarding the pending Northern Gateway pipeline, unquestionably Canada’s most contentious energy infrastructure project.

Strahl’s move from the public sector to the private has raised further concerns about the effectiveness of the federally imposed ‘cooling-off’ period meant to bar holders of public office from using former government relationships to advance private sector interests. Federal rules prevent former public officials from lobbying for five years, although the loose ban allows for minimal amounts — 20 per cent or less of the lobbyist’s time — after two years.

As a former federal office holder, Strahl is not prevented from becoming a B.C. registered lobbyist.

The revelation comes after questions have already been raised concerning Strahl’s relationship with the B.C. Liberal party and Premier Christy Clark, a conditional proponent of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Clark publicly thanked Strahl for the role he played in securing a Liberal victory in the 2013 B.C. election, although she later revoked the comment, after Strahl and the B.C. Conservatives claimed he remained non-partisan and arms-length from any party.

In June 2012 Strahl was handed the reigns of Canada’s Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the federal body overseeing the nation’s most powerful spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). As chair of SIRC Strahl has access to all intelligence handled by CSIS, excluding cabinet secrets.

The SIRC website states: “Parliament has given CSIS extraordinary powers to intrude on the privacy of individuals. SIRC ensures that these powers are used legally and appropriately, in order to protect Canadians’ rights and freedoms.”

“It has the absolute authority to examine all information concerning CSIS activities, no matter how sensitive and highly classified that information may be.”

Taking the position of disgraced former SIRC chairman Arthur Porter, who is now serving a jail sentence in Panama for unsavory business dealings including corporate conflicts of interest, the inexperienced Strahl was called an appointee of “pure patronage” at the time by reporter Brian Hutchinson.

Strahl’s position as chair of the board of the Manning Centre, a conservative political organization, led some to question his appropriateness as watchdog of an apolitical Parliamentary agency.

Strahl told Hutchinson he had a system of “double make-sure” for protecting the public from potential conflicts of interest or unethical moves. He claimed he wouldn’t lobby governments and that potential conflicts would be taken up with Canada’s ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, whom he had already spoken with, he said.

The good news, Hutchinson remarked, was that “Mr. Strahl comes free of scandal.”

Yet Strahl seems to have brusquely wandered into questionable territory as lobbyist for a corporation at the centre of Canada’s dubious oil export race.

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