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Leading in the Polls, Liberal Campaign Tells Canadian Oil Company How to Lobby

The Liberals national campaign co-chair sent an email to TransCanada on Monday, as the centre-left party enjoyed a recent surge in the polls, with less than a week to go before the Canadian election.
October 14, 2015, 11:10pm
Photo for VICE Canada, by Anthony Tuccitto

If the pipeline company behind the Energy East and Keystone XL proposals wants to shape the next Canadian government's energy policy, they had better start lobbying them immediately after the election.

That's the advice the national campaign co-chair of the Liberals gave to TransCanada on Monday, according to an email obtained by the Canadian Press. The email was sent as the centre-left Liberal party enjoyed a recent surge in the polls, with less than a week to go before the Canadian election on October 19.

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If the Liberals get a minority, or if the NDP form government, TransCanada should try to gain an "early entry point" if either party decides to change how the National Energy Board (NEB) operates, the campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier wrote in an email, CP reported. This type of lobbying is needed to ensure projects like Energy East are completed on time, Gagnier said.

"If the premiers and the new PM want investment and jobs, they will have to provide a lead and an efficient time-frame for getting this done," Gagnier reportedly wrote.

"An energy strategy for Canada is on the radar and we need a spear carrier for those in the industry who are part of the solution going forward rather than refusing to grasp the implications of a changing global reality," he continued.

The NDP has said they would completely revamp the NEB, which advises the federal government on all pipeline projects in Canada, and the Liberals have said they want the NEB to go back to the way it was before the Conservatives came to power.

The email prompted Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to comment Thursday morning, calling it "inappropriate."

"We demonstrated within 24 hours of finding out about this level, the level of high standards of ethics and accountability that I have always expected of everyone around me," Trudeau said during a campaign visit to Montreal. "We are well aware of the challenges of perceptions in politics, and of the challenges the Liberal party has had to address in the past. That is why I have demonstrated in both my leadership and my approach a high level of ethical standards, not just for myself, but for everyone who surrounds me."

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That's an about-face from the Liberal Party's stance the day before.

The Liberals responded to reports Wednesday by saying Gagnier was a volunteer with the campaign, and he did not break any ethical guidelines by sending the email.

VICE News reached out to the Liberal Party for comment. "Mr. Gagnier has always operated within full accordance of the rules," the party wrote in a statement. "It is disappointing that the Conservatives chose to practice negative and mean-spirited politics."

Liberal spokesperson Jean-Luc Ferland also sent a statement from Dan Gagnier to VICE News. The statement, attributed to Gagnier, says "In order to avoid becoming a distraction to the campaign, I have decided to take a step back from my responsibilities to the Liberal campaign."

The Liberals said the position he held was unpaid.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who has insisted the election is in a three-way race despite his party's lag in the polls, fired hard at the Liberals over the email Thursday morning.

Mulcair said we now see the real face of the Liberal party, and his name is Dan Gagnier. They "can try to hide the same old Liberal party behind a fresh face, but it is the same old Liberal Party," Mulcair said.

The pipeline issue has flared up several times throughout the Canadian election, with tension swirling around TransCanada's controversial Energy East project. The proposed pipeline would convert a natural gas pipeline into an oil pipeline that runs through Quebec, where all three major parties must clinch seats. In that province, oil by rail is seen by some voters as too dangerous following the deadly 2013 Lac Megantic disaster, while others don't want to see pipeline expansion on their land, fearing oil spills.

Canadian environmentalists have staunchly opposed the Energy East project, saying increased tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy is too risky, and increased production in the oil sands would contribute to climate change. Meanwhile Canadian oil companies have argued that production is slated to increase, and more pipeline is needed to get Canada's oil to tidewater where it can be sold at full price to international markets.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont