A secret meeting between Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer and oil-industry executives is concerning because Canadians need full transparency from political parties leading up to next fall’s federal election, Minister for Democratic Institutions Karina Gould said on Thursday.
The Liberal government has passed an election law that prohibits political parties from co-ordinating their campaign strategy with third-party interest groups for a prescribed period before an election is officially called, as well as during the formal campaign. The prewrit period begins in June this year.
Mr. Scheer and two top Conservative strategists met at a private conference to discuss strategies for defeating the Liberals and silencing environmental critics who oppose pipeline projects and oil sands expansion and criticized the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The daylong strategy session on April 11 at the Azuridge Estate Hotel in the foothills of the Rockies brought together Mr. Scheer and two Conservative campaign strategists with Calgary executives who are part of a pro-oil advocacy group called the Modern Miracle Network.
“We do have very robust laws in place when it comes to transparency and when it comes to anti-collusion with third-party groups and political parties. And it is important that all of us as political parties and political leaders are abiding by these laws,” Ms. Gould said.
“I think it’s concerning that type of co-ordination would be going on, and I think it is concerning that it is happening behind closed doors in secret, and I think Canadians deserve more transparency to know what the intentions and objectives of their political leaders are," she said.
The minister said she did not have enough information to judge whether Mr. Scheer had crossed the line, and would not ask Elections Canada to look into it. She added, however, that Canadians “have the tools at their disposal” to request an inquiry by the federal elections watchdog.
Mr. Scheer’s spokesman, Brock Harrison, did not respond specifically when asked whether Mr. Scheer was co-ordinating strategy with the interest group.
“Mr. Scheer has always been up front about his support for the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas workers in Canada and will not apologize for trying to defeat a government that wants to put them out of job,” he said. “The Liberals have long associated with anti-oil sands groups intent on shutting down the industry. Conservatives are working to protect it and the people it employs.”
Industry officials who attended the event said it was non-partisan, and aimed at promoting policies favorable to the industry. They included Michael Binnion, CEO of Questerre Energy Corp., who is chair of the Modern Miracle Network; Patrick Ward, CEO of Painted Pony Energy Ltd.; Perpetual Energy Inc. CEO Susan Riddell Rose, and Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The executives are all members of CAPP’s board of governors and the board of the Modern Miracle Network, which aims to “shift the conversation” on energy, according to its website.
The meeting’s agenda shows that Mr. Scheer provided the keynote address, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Globe and Mail. His national campaign director, Hamish Marshall, and veteran Conservative organizer Mark Spiro spoke about “rallying the base” by using friendly interest groups.
The conference’s session on using litigation to silence environmental critics echoed the platform of Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney, who has promised to set up a war room to counter negative publicity about the oil sands and challenge the charitable status of any group that takes money from foreign foundations while actively working against Alberta’s leading industry.
Mr. Harrison said the Conservative Leader is committed to ending any involvement by organizations that take foreign money in regulatory hearings on pipelines or resource projects.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said on Twitter that the proposed strategy against environment groups is “straight from Harper’s playbook.”
“Andrew Scheer has been caught scheming behind closed doors with wealthy executives to gut environmental protection laws, silence critics, and make pollution free again,” she tweeted.