Dismissal of illegal lobbying complaint questioned

Internal government documents obtained by CBC appear to contradict some of the evidence upon which Alberta's lobbyist registrar dismissed allegations of illegal lobbying against the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

In an eight-page ruling released Monday, Registrar Bradly Odsen found CAPP was in "full compliance with the requirements of the Lobbyists Act."

Odsen based that finding, in part, on his understanding that it was the government that asked CAPP to collaborate on a communications campaign related to the controversial practice of fracking.

"Government working collaboratively with stakeholders does not automatically make those stakeholders 'lobbyists' within the meaning of the Act," Odsen wrote.

Under the act, lobbying is distinguished from collaboration by which organization initiates the communications. If an outside group initiates talks with the government that is lobbying. In the case involving CAPP, Odsen found that it was the government that initiated talks with CAPP.

New documents contradict findings

But documents obtained by CBC, and statements made by the government itself to CBC, directly contract Odsen's findings.

Internal government briefing notes, emails and minutes of meetings show several meetings were held last summer, in direct response to an invitation from CAPP to produce a collaborative communications campaign.

Officials from the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the arm's length regulator of the oil and gas industry in Alberta, also attended the meetings.

"As you recall, CAPP contacted Alberta Environment to request a meeting with Environment, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, Sustainable Resources Development and the Department of Energy to discuss CAPP's desire to strike a committee to develop public communications strategy focused on fracturing and water use associated with shale gas development," Doug Bowes, Alberta Energy's Director of Unconventional Gas, wrote in a June 8, 2011 email.

Minutes show CAPP asked to meet with government

Bowes makes reference to an agenda for a scheduled meeting and states: "Based on the focus of CAPP's request, I believe that we have managed to tighten the agenda up again."

The June 9th agenda minutes show the "meeting purpose" was to "provide CAPP with an opportunity to provide their view of unconventional gas in areas of communications needs. Identify industry and regulatory concerns, needs, possible action items and work plans to ensure efficiency and coordination of efforts."

The agenda further states the meeting's purpose was to "consider requirements and outcomes for three areas of concerns previously expressed by CAPP to Alberta Environment and the Energy Resources Conservation Board."

The industry and government were to "each draft a skeleton game plan for the next two years with short, medium and long-term targets and milestones. These will be discussed and meshed at the above meetings."

AFL to file new complaint

The Alberta Federation of Labour filed the lobbying complaint against CAPP based on leaked briefing note dated Aug. 3.

The AFL said the industry lobby group had sought to influence the government's public communications on fracking and shale gas development in the province. And it contended that none of the three CAPP representatives who met with the government were registered as lobbyists.

AFL president Gil McGowan said he subsequently received more documents through Freedom of Information but didn't realize they directly related to their complaint until the AFL provided the documents to CBC.

McGowan said Tuesday the AFL is filing another complaint against CAPP to Odsen and will attach the documents.

"These documents clearly show that it was CAPP that approached the government and that the government actively took direction from CAPP in producing a collaborative communications strategy," McGowan said.

Spokesman confirmed CAPP approached government

In fact, a government spokesman confirmed to CBC that it was CAPP that approached the government.

In an interview with CBC News, Energy spokesman Bart Johnson said "CAPP approached us, there was a meeting of what I would describe as mid-level managers and in the end, nothing came of it. CAPP went their way, and we went our way, and the ERCB went its way."

Johnson said there was no Public Affairs Bureau communications staff at the meetings, and as soon as they found out about the meetings, they put an end to them.

"Maybe the (government) people around that table thought it appropriate, I don't know, but in the end, government thought it inappropriate to be working with CAPP, because that was the decision that was made," Johnson said.

But in a later interview, Johnson changed his story and said the government works with stakeholders on various communications issues all the time. In this case, it was CAPP, not the government, that decided to end the collaborative communications initiative.

A spokesman for the Energy Resources Conservation Board, which is supposed to be an arm's-length regulator of the oil and gas industry, told CBC that its officials were only at the meetings to provide "technical advice."

Contacted Tuesday, Odsen said he was prohibited by the act from commenting.

cbcnews, Tues Nov 29 2011 8:41 p.m.

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