The Conservative Party and Canada's largest oil and gas lobby group stand accused of possibly "colluding" in violation of the country's elections law, according to a complaint made to a federal commissioner.

Ethics watchdog Democracy Watch said Thursday it was calling on Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté to investigate whether the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Tories broke the Canada Elections Act.

The complaint centres on the fact the lobby group and the Conservatives have both done business with an advertising firm co-founded by Hamish Marshall, who is Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign manager.

These connections, along with revelations about three events this past spring involving Scheer and oil industry executives, “point to a relationship of collaboration and support” that would give Côté “reasonable grounds to investigate,” the complaint reads.

“Don’t just call them up and say, ‘Hey, are you guys colluding?’” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher urged the commissioner in an Oct. 10 interview.

“There’s enough there, I think, for (Côté) to go to court and try to get a subpoena.”

As part of its evidence to the commissioner, Democracy Watch cited a National Observer story that a member of the CAPP board of governors lobbied Scheer during a gala dinner event sponsored by one of CAPP’s member companies, Imperial Oil.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks with Imperial Oil CEO Rich Kruger at the Politics and the Pen dinner in Ottawa on May 15, 2019. Photo by National Observer

Oil lobby paid ad agency with Tory ties

CAPP registered with Elections Canada as a third-party advertiser this year, allowing it to run political ads. The lobby group made four payments totalling more than $15,000 to the ad agency Marshall co-founded, One Persuasion Inc., according to a financial return filed with Elections Canada.

One Persuasion also did work for the Conservatives, the company confirmed to the Globe and Mail, which first reported on the contracts Wednesday.

Recent changes to the Canada Elections Act ban third parties and political parties acting “in collusion with each other,” including through information-sharing, in order to “influence” the third party in its partisan campaign activities, ads or election surveys.

Michelle Laliberté, communications manager in Côté’s office, said her office reviews every complaint it receives to determine if they fall within the commissioner’s mandate. “The commissioner does not, however, disclose whether he will conduct an investigation into a particular matter,” she wrote in an email.

CAPP told the Globe and Mail the association is "fully compliant with the Canada Elections Act at all times.” One Persuasion partner Dan Robertson told the newspaper that Marshall took a leave of absence from the agency in June, that the ad work done for CAPP took place after his departure and that there had been “no communications” between Marshall and the firm concerning any “business activities or relationships.”

On Thursday, Scheer rejected a question from media that the ad work runs afoul of the collusion ban, claiming instead “a ruling, a decision by Elections Canada,” had said vendors can have contracts with two advertisers.

Elections Canada contradicted that claim in a response to the Globe and Mail, saying it did not, in fact, issue “any kind of official ruling or decision,” but simply provided guidance.

The Conservative Party's associate director of media relations, Simon Jefferies, told National Observer he would examine the complaint but could not provide comment before publication.

A spokesperson for CAPP's media team answered the phone but could not provide comment to National Observer before publication. CAPP did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Marshall did not return an emailed request for comment to his One Persuasion address. Robertson did not return phone and emailed requests for comment.

The Château Laurier hotel in Ottawa can be seen in the background as a couple poses for a photograph on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 1, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Three events, three hotels

Democracy Watch said three events in particular provided supporting evidence for an investigation. The events took place in April, May and June of this year, and each one occurred at a hotel.

On April 11, Scheer gave a keynote speech at a private, daylong meeting at the Azuridge Estate Hotel in Alberta, attended by oil executives and CAPP’s president. At that event, Marshall also spoke on a panel about “rallying the base." CAPP disputed that the event was related to the election.

On May 15, Imperial Oil CEO Rich Kruger had a conversation with Scheer at the annual Politics and the Pen dinner at the Château Laurier hotel in Ottawa. The company, which sponsored the dinner, later filed a lobbying report for that date related to the dinner. (Kruger, who is still listed as a member of CAPP’s board of governors, is retiring from his post at the end of December.)

On June 4, Scheer attended a fundraising event at the Westin Hotel in Calgary, organized by energy-firm executives. The Conservative party’s fundraising report for that event, where Scheer spoke, lists some industry representatives involved in the April meeting, Democracy Watch said. The party told the Globe and Mail the event was not a fundraiser and open to non-donors.

The anti-collusion requirement was included in changes the Trudeau government made to the elections law under Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, most of which took effect on June 13.

One Persuasion's advertising work for the Tories is being done during the campaign, the firm told the Globe and Mail, and some of CAPP's financial return indicates activity involving One Persuasion that occurred after the campaign had started.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer discusses his party's climate plan in Chelsea, Que. on June 19, 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Complaint comes as pollution plan under scrutiny

Scheer unveiled his plan to fight climate change on June 19. It contained an approach similar to actions recommended by CAPP, such as prioritizing investments in technology and focusing on oil and gas exports, but did not project the amount by which each proposal would lower Canada’s carbon pollution.

Over the summer Scheer also promised to scrap the government's proposed clean fuel standard that would dramatically cut pollution from transportation, something Kruger has said would cut into industry profits.

The oil and gas sector is the largest contributor to Canada's carbon pollution, according to the most recent federal estimates, contributing over a quarter of all emissions, or 27 per cent.

Globally, just 20 companies are responsible for over one-third of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane since 1965, the result of ceaseless exploitation of coal, oil and gas.

Pollution from fossil fuels in Canada continues to grow, with the oilsands sector alone responsible for more carbon pollution than all of B.C. or Quebec in 2017, the federal government told the United Nations in April this year.

If the oil lobby's wish list were fully implemented by lawmakers, according to an Environmental Defence study released on Monday, carbon emissions from the energy sector would rise by 60 per cent.

Canada is heating up at double the average rate of the planet, according to peer-reviewed research from government scientists and academics, and carbon pollution must be reduced to "near-zero" to limit the risk to Canadians of extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods and declining freshwater.

'Examine all the communications'

Democracy Watch’s position is that Côté does not need to find “proof” CAPP specifically undertook an activity or put out an ad or survey “because” of information-sharing with the Conservatives. The complaint argues that evidence showing information was shared in order to “influence” the third party would be sufficient.

The organization asked Côté to use his powers under the elections law to “examine all the communications between everyone at One Persuasion Inc. and the (Conservative party) and the CAPP.”

“You can’t really investigate unless you’ve got all the emails, and (personal ID numbers) and other communications between the ad firm and the two clients, and between CAPP and the CPC,” Conacher said.

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Once again very important reporting. Digging in deep is what is required whith Scheer and Co. This party is clearly in bed with CAPP, with Kenney, with Moe and with 'follow the leader'-My heart belongs to Irving- Higgs. Scheer and his gang of oil and gas and coal touting Premiers and CAPP are a very dangerous crew that seem to have no trouble conspiring while rubbing together their coal-oil covered hands in anticipation of more drilling, fracking, gouging and Tailpond expansion. These are not the leaders Canada needs at this late hour in the final days available to seriously curb Global Warning. All above noted Conservative leaders are no better than mercinaries proudly volunteering to do the bidding of the most dangerous corporations now on the face of the Earth. A more dangerous gang of bottom feeding bootlickers would be very hard to find.
Please keep the very good work.

If the Greens, NDP and the Conservatives follow through with their trashing of the underway Trans mountain pipeline it will Cost Canada 47 billion dollars a year in lost tax money. That is 1275.00 per year that has to be made up by every man, woman and child in Canada! So much for their BS on looking after the lower and middle incomes!

Shipping our oil has nothing at all to do with global heating! If we do not ship our oil to markets the US and 10 other countries will! The US, Not wanting us to ship off our west coast into Indonesia and China is what this resistance is all about. Most problems started with the Cons trying to do away with bills C48 and C69 which opened up the pipeline agreements.

So much for their concern for the middle and low-income people!

Clearly, your assertions require substantiation. $47B a year? What is that outrageous number based on, exactly? 400 tankers a year leaving the Port of Vancouver (the stated TMX goal) carrying unprocessed raw diluted bitumen with no value-added measures? That's not at all guaranteed. The 50 permanent jobs the project will create in BC? LOL!

One of the most common myths promulgated by CAPP and their paymasters, and faithfully regurgitated by the Alberta government, is that a diversified market and higher sales prices in Asia will be opened up like magic with the completion of TMX. So, let's look at that. Diluted bitumen is a poor quality heavy oil product laden with heavy metals. It requires addition steps in the refining process merely to bring it up to basic (synthetic) refinery feedstock crude. And China, Japan and South Korea will voluntarily pay a premium price for the raw product on top of transoceanic shipping and additional steep refining costs? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. At least they'll capture the refinery jobs that Canada so generously exports.

So, if not Asia, then where? Try California which has refineries already set up for heavy oil and a diminishing supply from sanctioned Venezuela. Will those US refineries pay a premium? Not on your life. It'll be the same old "discounted" price that Alberta pontificates about ad nauseam with great exaggeration, with no discussion how the product will prop up jobs in the US instead of at home.

Increasing the risk of major spills along the contorted 280 km route in international waters by 800% in the absence of even one professional risk assessment is not a sound business case. Wishful thinking does not qualify as analysis. If the shipping targets are realized, then 300 million barrels of diluted bitumen a year will be exported through one port, and another 300 million barrels of refined petroleum products imported on the return trip. That's potentially 600 million barrels moving over the confined passages every year. All it takes is one big spill in Vancouver Harbour or the pristine Southern Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands, two parts of the same archipelago in the Salish Sea, to generate international lawsuits in the tens of billions for damages, which will in no doubt kibosh TMX, or at least put it on hold indefinitely.

The promised clean up infrastructure and services? Don't insult us by citing the completely pathetic effort. Only 15% of major spills are ever cleaned up on average across the world. That is the historical record and it's full of bankable data, including how it dovetails so well with the tiny 2,700 litre spill of bunker fuel from the brand new MV Marathassa into Vancouver's beautiful English Bay in 2016 where it took two days to respond, with the resulting dispersion of about 80% of the oil onto the beaches of Kitsilano and onto the rocks along the shores of Stanley Park. Attempts by pro-oil groups and commenters to assuage the fears people on the south coast of BC with false narratives about how the NEB addressed the marine environment, or to continue the very old and tired technique of issuing insults to 3.3 million people who live on the coast and have concerns, is a very bad joke.

Then there is the demand side, which is international in scale. Given that all the largest car manufacturers are retooling for electrics -- Toyota alone (the biggest of them all) aims for half of all worldwide production by 2025, only five years away -- the gas tanks of the world will disappear in great numbers through the next decade. Germany, the Netherlands and a number of other EU countries as well as China (a 1.7 billion person market right there) have declared war on the internal combustion engine as part of their climate initiatives, and also to attain a modicum of energy self-sufficiency at home via renewables. Alberta needs gas tanks to allow its over-dependency on a single finite resource to survive. The much cheaper operating costs and quickly expanding charging networks, including in new and retrofitted homes, will be the progenitor of the further decline of Alberta should it continue to protect its 17th Century extractive economic model instead of fostering a 21st Century knowledge-based counter economy based on human resources.

"Shipping our oil has nothing to do with global, heating!" Oh, really? Every tanker leaving Vancouver harbour carries 319,000 tonnes of embedded lifecycle CO2, a gas with well-known heat retention attributes. That's 128 million tonnes a year, and presumably about the same on the return trip with refined products. That's 2.5+ billion tonnes a decade.

I'd sure like to know how one squares with these facts without resorting to scientific and economic illiteracy.

What about the collusion between Bell Media and their 200 newspapers with the Provincial Conservatives putting though a mass win for them by restricting comment on their articles and writing outrageous articles leaving no room for comment?

I think the idea is a political mirror. Scheer over the past 4 years has laid a complaint then, ran around the country saying Trudeau was being investigated. Now, since all the Conservative premiers spent 2 days complaining about bill c69 and c48 and how they were killing the Canadian oil and the truth is they protect Candian oil and made the trans mountain expansion possible. It demonstrates how the Conservatives are looking after American interests at the cost to the Canadian industry. and . The reported idea is to cast doubt on that facts.

It's sad and infuriating that this is going nowhere. What is even the point of voting, when it's clearly all a facade?

Big oil, which owns Alberta, can be expected to manipulate, lie, cheat and steal to protect its interests. That they go this far, now, demonstrates that they know the end is coming, and they want to slow it as much as possible. The rest of Canada should be aware of the extent of their determination. They have very deep pockets, and will use those resources to make us believe that up is down.