The newly appointed head of the B.C. government’s communications branch is a former lobbyist for Enbridge Inc., the company that hopes to build the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline stretching 1,200 kilometres from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat on the B.C. coast.
John Paul Fraser, who DeSmog Canada has learned became acting deputy minister in charge of Government Communications and Public Engagement (GCPE) earlier this month, worked as a lobbyist for National Public Relations from 2008 until shortly before moving to the B.C public service in 2011.
He previously worked for Burrard Communications Inc. — a company founded by Premier Christy Clark’s former husband Mark Marissen — where he was registered with the Federal Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada as a lobbyist on behalf of Enbridge Inc.
Fraser is a long-time friend of Clark who worked on her election campaign and, until this summer, was assistant deputy minister for strategic planning and public engagement. He is the son of B.C.’s conflict commissioner Paul Fraser.
It is not the first time Clark has included an Enbridge lobbyist in her inner political circle. Ken Boessenkool, her former chief of staff who resigned in 2012 after admitting to inappropriate conduct towards a female staff member, was also an Enbridge lobbyist.
The question for opponents of Northern Gateway is whether having former lobbyists in government corridors of power could make a difference to how Clark treats the project. Northern Gateway was conditionally given the green light by the federal government in June, subject to Enbridge meeting 209 conditions listed by the Joint Review Panel, but Clark has never been enthusiastic about the project.
Clark has set out five conditions that must be met before B.C. gives its support, including strict environmental protections, adequate consultations with First Nations and a greater share of economic benefits. B.C. also has its hand on the controls through numerous provincial permits that will be needed if Northern Gateway manages to overcome legal challenges launched by First Nations and environmental groups.
It is possible that having high-level bureaucrats who intimately understand the Enbridge file is an advantage as they will know the odds are stacked against the project, said Will Horter, executive director of Dogwood Initiative, a democracy group fighting against the oil pipeline and tanker project.
“There’s a revolving door of people associated with Enbridge, either directly or as advocates, coming into the close circles of the premier … . But they must understand that this is a big mountain to climb or even that this is a zombie project,” Horter said.
Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee’s national campaign director, worries about a system that allows those with partisan or business interests to take up high-level positions in the civil service.
“I do have a concern when we have powerful players in our government that seem to slip seamlessly between the partisan world, corporate world and bureaucracy,” he said.
“I am not suggesting there is anything untoward, but I think it shows up a fairly major flaw in our system of government, because it is very important that citizens know who they are talking to.”
Fraser previously worked for David Anderson, former federal Liberal environment minister and a Northern Gateway opponent.
Anderson said he has no idea whether his opposition to bitumen-laden tankers in B.C.’s coastal waters could have rubbed off on Fraser, but he cannot see that someone as bright as Fraser could have had much to do with the Northern Gateway project.
“I have great admiration for John Paul Fraser. Enbridge has done such an appalling, hopeless, ridiculous job in managing its public relations, they couldn’t have taken advice,” he said.
Fraser could not be contacted for an interview.