One of Donald Trump's most influential advisers will tour Alberta's oil sands the week before the U.S. president-elect is sworn in to office, a visit serving both as a chance to pitch his administration on the province's energy industry and as a fundraiser for local conservatives.
Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump's campaign manager, is scheduled to visit Fort McMurray and "hold talks with Alberta business leaders" at a private fundraising dinner Jan. 12, according to a statement released by the Alberta Prosperity Fund.
The organization bills itself as a conservative political-action committee, an American-style vehicle that funds campaigns beyond parties' traditional apparatuses. Alberta Prosperity Fund spokesperson Randy Kerr said his group approached Ms. Conway for a 2-day visit to the province. Mr. Trump will take over the White House on Jan. 20, and the oil and gas industry expects him to be a stronger ally than outgoing President Barack Obama.
"It is a heck of an opportunity," Randy Kerr, a spokesman for Alberta Prosperity, said about Ms. Conway's visit. "We've had a president who didn't want to talk about Canadian issues, really. The ones that were most important to our economic survival. And now we do."
Mr. Trump has spoken in favour of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to ferry bitumen from the oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The Obama administration quashed the project, arguing it would exacerbate climate change. However, while Mr. Trump has said he supports the project, the Republican has said he wants a "better deal" for the United States collecting a slice of the profit.
Alberta Prosperity has not yet nailed down an itinerary for Ms. Conway, but hopes the trip will cover everything from bitumen strip mines, steam-driven oil sands operations, reclaimed tailings ponds and information about how the industry works with First Nations, Mr. Kerr said. Alberta Prosperity wants to dispel some of the "myths" around the oil sands industry, which its opponents paint as a significant contributor to climate change. The organization also wants to learn more about Mr. Trump's energy and trade philosophy.
Mr. Kerr did not know how much Alberta Prosperity is paying Ms. Conway to visit and be part of the ballroom dinner. "There's always a cost when you bring in a guest speaker. Especially a very prominent U.S. one who, potentially, is going into the administration, but coming up before she's restricted from being able say things," Mr. Kerr said. "You can actually have an open conversation."
However, her visit creates a potential conflict of interest, said James Thurber, a lobbying expert who founded the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. It is "atypical" and "questionable ethically" for someone in Ms. Conway's position to give a speech for money in the midst of the transition process, he said.
"To take advantage of your relationship with the candidate and be paid for it is questionable," he said.
The dinner with Ms. Conway will be held at Calgary's Fairmont Palliser hotel, in its Crystal Ballroom, which can hold up to 320 people for fancy dinners. Alberta Prosperity intends to sell tickets to the event, using it as a fundraiser. The ticket price is not yet public.
Ms. Conway's office directed questions about her visit to Mr. Trump's team. Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the president-elect, did not return messages seeking comment.
Alberta Prosperity is an obscure organization and political-action committees remain rare in Canada. Alberta Prosperity's 10-member board has tight ties to right-wing politicians and the oil and gas industry across the country. Heather Forsyth, a former Alberta MLA for the Progressive Conservative Party and later the Wildrose Party, serves as the board's chair. The vice-chair is a former president of the provincial PC association. One director managed four federal campaigns for former MP Jason Kenney, who is now running for the provincial PC leadership; another is a former PC MLA. Mr. Kerr, the group's spokesman, previously served as Enbridge Energy Inc.'s manager for provincial government relations on the Northern Gateway pipeline project.