Greenpeace Canada has asked Elections Canada to probe whether the Conservative government colluded with a pro-industry group known as Ethical Oil in contravention of the country's election laws.
Ethical Oil was founded by Conservative partisans, including Alykhan Velshi, who had worked for a Conservative cabinet minister prior to establishing the Ethical Oil blog and is now an aide in the Prime Minister's Office.
Greenpeace Canada's Keith Stewart said there is evidence that the Conservative Party and Ethical Oil worked hand-in-hand in a 2012 campaign to discredit environmentalists who oppose oil sands expansion, and to build support for pipeline construction.
The Canada Elections Act prohibits corporations from donating to political parties and sets limits for individuals. It also prohibits collusion to circumvent the limits. Greenpeace want Elections Canada to investigate whether Ethical Oil essentially colluded with the Conservatives to circumvent the limits.
Mr. Stewart said that, while Ethical Oil does not disclose its funding sources, it says it accepts donations from Canadian individuals and companies. In a news conference on Parliament Hill, Mr. Stewart said he is concerned Ethical Oil may be raising money from the oil industry that will be spent on an advertising campaign in the next election.
"Our laws still ban oil companies from directly or indirectly funding political parties, so we hope that Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party will co-operate with the commission [of elections] in an investigation to clear this up," he said.
Elections Canada said it does not comment on complaints or confirm or deny whether it has undertaken an investigation. However, it did provide Mr. Stewart with a file number, indicating it will at least consider the request.
"These allegations are ridiculous," Jason MacDonald, communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said in an e-mail. He didn't elaborate on what, if any, relationship there might have been between the Conservative government and Ethical Oil.
Mr. MacDonald added that the fact someone moves from one organization to government does not suggest wrongdoing.
A spokeswoman for Ethical Oil, Amanda Achtman, said the Greenpeace Canada is "highly paid by foreign interests" to attack the Canadian oil industry, while her group runs a social media campaign and doesn't have an office.
"EthicalOil.org does not give money to any political party, nor has Ethical Oil campaigned in any election," she said. "EthicalOil.org does not accept money from foreign sources."
However, she did not directly address the allegations regarding collusion with the Conservatives nor whether it raises money from oil companies.
Greenpeace said there is "compelling evidence of a direct relationship and a co-ordinated communications strategy" between the group and the government.
Mr. Velshi started his blog to promote the ideas of Ezra Levant, a former Reform Party staffer and journalist with Sun Media. Conservative insider Hamish Marshall's company, Go Newclear productions, created and host websites for Ethical Oil, and Conservative cabinet ministers Joe Oliver, Pierre Poilievre and Jason Kenney, Greenpeace said. Mr. Marshal's wife, Kathryn Marshall, served as spokesperson for the Ethical Oil Institute after Mr. Velshi returned to government.
The institute also launched the campaign that prompted Mr. Oliver and Mr. Harper to lash out at foreign funded environmental groups that opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline. It also ran a campaign urging Revenue Canada to clamp down on environmental charities, prior to the government's announcement that Revenue Canada was receiving additional resources to audit politically active charities.