Le Blogue Broadbent

Canada's spywatcher calls the ethics czar A LOT

This is getting interesting.

First, the Vancouver Observer broke the news that former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, chair of the Security Information Review Committee (SIRC) since June 2012, is Enbridge's newest pipeline lobbyist in British Columbia.

SIRC is Canada's spy watchdog overseeing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), so Strahl has access to the country's classified security files.

That's why it may have been old news to him when the paper reported last November that CSIS spies on environment groups for Big Oil.

Now we know Strahl has been calling the federal Ethics Commissioner a lot in the past year.

As a federal cabinet minister up until May 2011, Strahl was required to abide by rules that restricted his activities in Ottawa during a two-year "cooling off" period under the Conflict of Interest Act.

Various requirements of him continue, but there "are no reporting obligations associated with the Act’s post-employment provisions," Jocelyne Brisebois, spokeswoman for the Office of federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, wrote Tuesday to PressProgress.

It gets a bit trickier for Strahl, though. As a former cabinet minister, he's considered a former reporting public office holder. But as chair of the spy watchdog SIRC, he's also considered a current public office holder under the Conflict of Interest Act. There's a catch that works in Strahl's favour, though.

While the Executive Director and employees of the Security Information Review Committee (SIRC) are not subject to the Act, its Chair and members are Governor-in-Council appointees (GICs) and are considered public office holders under the Conflict of Interest Act but are not reporting public office holders, Brisebois wrote (her emphasis).

The rules for reporting public office holders are much stricter, including reporting and public disclosure provisions, as well as prohibitions against outside activities. There are no such requirements for public office holders, a distinction that works for part-timers like Strahl.

Here's the kicker, though:

We can confirm that Mr. Strahl contacted our Office within the past twelve months and can confirm that he has done so on a number of occasions, but will not be more specific with regard to dates or time periods, added Brisebois (our emphasis).

Ok, then.

By Tuesday evening, APTN National News filled in some of the blanks. Turns out Strahl is also registered as a lobbyist in Alberta for the Frog Lake Energy Resources Corp., a First Nations firm that has partnered with a Chinese-company to drill for oil. China comes up a lot in CSIS's world.

No wonder the Opposition and Canada's ethics watchdog aren't satisfied with the federal Ethics Commissioner's position that all is good with the triple (or more) duties taken on by Strahl (who vowed when he took on the spywatcher job that he wouldn't lobby governments as part of his "double make-sure" effort to shield himself and the public from conflicts of interest.)

"It should be common sense that someone on the federal payroll, like Mr. Strahl, shouldn’t lobby for a pipeline seeking federal government approval," NDP MP Nathan Cullen said Tuesday.

Calling the office of the federal Ethics Commissioner and the Commissioner of Lobbying "useless entities," Democracy Watch board member Duff Conacher added that he want a "full examination by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson into whether [Strahl] used any information gained as a member of the Privy Council.

"There is a definite conflict. The fact that Strahl is on a federal committee and he is interacting with cabinet, all intertwined with a federal government agenda on pipelines, is wrong," Conacher told the Vancouver Courier, referring to the Enbridge contract.

The Ethics Commissioner's office said Tuesday that no investigation into Strahl's private-sector work has been launched.