The Conservatives are putting a lot of stock in Port Moody-Coquitlam candidate Tim Laidler.
Last week, B.C. Regional Minister James Moore and the prime minister’s wife Laureen Harper made a rare joint appearance in the Vancouver-area riding to bolster his campaign.
It isn’t hard to see why the party would invest such star power in Laidler — he’s an Afghanistan veteran, an advocate for victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and he holds two university degrees in political science and counselling psychology. He’s also the executive director of the Veterans Transition Network, which helps enhance quality of life for veterans of war.
In other words, he’s young, handsome, a hero, and his record is squeaky clean.
An investigation by National Observer however has uncovered some eyebrow-raising connections between the star candidate’s campaign and Texas-based oil pipeline giant Kinder Morgan.
According to records from Elections Canada, Laidler made nomination expense payments of more than $9,000 to ADDO Consulting, whose principal, Gavin Dew, has worked as a consultant for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline since 2013:
Laidler’s riding, Port Moody-Coquitlam, is on the pipeline route of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Kinder Morgan hopes to triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to carry up to 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to B.C.'s west coast.
“This could be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist for SumOfUs in an interview with National Observer this week. “How deep does Kinder Morgan’s involvement in the Canadian federal election run?” Pullman is a former researcher for Leadnow, a citizens' advocacy group involved in the election.
A quick scan of Dew’s profile on LinkedIn reveals an extensive record of stakeholder engagement and communications work for Kinder Morgan, during which he travelled across B.C. and Alberta to “build social license” for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
He participated in public events, authored articles, and met with stakeholders and concerned citizens alike.
Laidler's careful campaign language
Despite mixed reviews from the public on the pipeline expansion, Laidler’s own platform hints that he would likely support the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain project.
On his website, the candidate advocates for “stringent safety standards” that would keep the community safe through the growth of the resource economy, urges “responsible resource development,” and supports increased international trade “to support the next generation of skilled workers.”
Focused on military experience during a Kinder Morgan discussion
According to a transcript of the June 24 meeting, Laidler repeatedly brought up his Afghanistan record while asking about Trans Mountain’s job opportunities, while other attendees chose to zero in on its environmental impacts instead:
Tim Laidler: I think what we’re faced with here is weighing the risks and the benefits of the project. So my question is specifically around the economic benefits and some of the jobs numbers. I, myself, served in Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces and, since coming home have been working at a non-profit organization helping Veterans transition with things like PTSD. And what we found from the veterans is we can help them with some of the psychological issues from war, but if they don’t get back into meaningful careers, they tend to struggle quite a bit. So what would be really important to me and to my colleagues who are all transitioning back into the work force is some of those job numbers, during the construction, but also are there going to be jobs after the construction.
After Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain marine development senior director Michael Davies indicates there would be 4,500 jobs at the peak of the pipeline construction, Laidler brought up his military experience once again, rather than pose further questions about the project:
Tim Laidler: Thank you [...] That answers my questions. And I just wanted to offer something to the process here. Again, my experience in Afghanistan, we saw a lot of community type forums like this that were not nearly as civilized, so I think we all are doing a pretty good job in the process.
Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain estimates that the number of jobs created — including both direct employment generated by pipeline construction and related spin-off jobs — will total roughly 12,000 per year averaged out over a three-year period.
Pullman questioned why Laidler, whose riding is along the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline route, appeared to have no questions about the project other than jobs creation.
“[Laidler] was very positive about the project and mentioned nothing about environmental concerns — just concerns about jobs for returning veterans,” she said.
A 2014 study by Simon Fraser University (SFU) titled, Economic Costs and Benefits of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project for BC and Metro Vancouver, also counters the job creation numbers listed above, and said long-term employment prospects for the project are "minimal."
National Observer contacted both Tim Laidler and Gavin Dew, as well as Kinder Morgan, for comment on this story. Neither replied.
With files from SumOfUs Canada.
This story was updated early Friday morning.