From spywatcher to pipeline lobbyist: the many hats of Chuck Strahl

Former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl has been very busy since leaving electoral politics in 2011.

First, he was appointed as a director and chairman of the Manning Centre, an organization devoted to strengthening the conservative movement in Canada. The group helps the Conservative Party by training organizers and proposing right-wing policies.

Then, his former boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, tapped him in June 2012 to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the watchdog of Canada's spy agency.

Described as "an independent, external review body" that reports to the Parliament on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Strahl's appointment raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest.

At the time, Strahl acknowledged the potential for conflicts of interest, given he was growing his consulting business.

He told the National Post that "he’s got a system of 'double make-sure' to protect himself and the public from conflicts of interest and questions around ethics. He’ll continue to build his consultancy, helping companies create and execute business strategies, but he 'won’t lobby' governments," Strahl told the Post.

That was then, this is now.

The Vancouver Observer discovered that Strahl and his consultancy company, Chuck Strahl Consulting Inc., registered last month as Enbridge's newest lobbyist in B.C to lobby the provincial government on behalf of its subsidiary, Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P.

(Under federal rules, Strahl's two-year "cooling-off period," preventing former ministers from lobbying their old colleagues, is now over, so he's free to register as one of Enbridge's many lobbyists in Ottawa as well, despite his vow in 2012 not to lobby governments.)

This is the same Enbridge that works with Canada's spy agency (the one Strahl watches over) and other government security branches, through regular stakeholder briefings, to tackle "threats" to pipeline projects, such as the proposed Northern Gateway. This has involved spying on environmental groups.

This is also the same Strahl whose name came up during last year's provincial election, when B.C. Premier Christy Clark boasted to reporters that he was "actively helping us on this campaign."

As chair of the federal spywatcher, Strahl isn't permitted to do partisan work. Clark took her words back the following day after Strahl clarified he had stepped back from helping the BC Liberals following his SIRC appointment.

That was enough to keep Strahl out of trouble last year. But how about this new spywatcher/Enbridge lobbyist problem?

Photo: kk. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.