Public Eye – February 10

Days after an election that saw environmentalists help the Liberals win a third term in government, a senior member of that movement made a policy pitch to the premier’s chief of staff.

  • Feb. 8, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Quid pro quo? Oh, no, no, no

Gaining access to power

Days after an election that saw environmentalists help the Liberals win a third term in government, a senior member of that movement made a policy pitch to the premier’s chief of staff.

But the environmentalist, Merran Smith, has said there was no quid pro quo connection between her pitch and that help — which came in the form of a coordinated attack on the New Democrats’ platform a day before the 2009 campaign got underway.

The attack included a news conference in which representatives from the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics and The Pembina Institute blasted the platform as a “step backwards for climate action.”

At the same time, those environmental groups applauded the Liberals for taking British Columbia from being a climate change “laggard to leader in four years” by introducing a carbon tax, among other measures.

Indeed, in an email sent 17 days after the election to the premier’s chief of staff Martyn Brown, Smith — ForestEthic’s climate action director — stated, “I think it is fair to say that the government was commended (during the campaign) for their leadership action on climate policy.”

The message — obtained by Monday via a freedom of information request — was directed to Brown’s private party email address rather than one he uses for his government work.

In it, Smith advised the chief of staff and two senior bureaucrats that “both run of river/IPPs and oil and gas were hot issues and I believe (they) will continue to be key issues in BC over the next four years.”

“I’ve spoken with each of you,” she continued “about ideas around some solutions” — offering to provide them with a “few pages” on one if it was “something that could be moved on.”

Prior to releasing the email, the government blanked out what those ideas were. It did so using a law that allows it to redact information that would “reveal advice or recommendations” developed for a public body.

But what wasn’t blanked out was Smith’s offer to discuss with Brown and his colleagues “how we can move the energy file in this province in as progressive a way as we are moving the climate file forward.”

“Perhaps we could have a small meeting with a few people to discuss ideas and see if there are some ways to move forward. Let me know if this seems appropriate.”

In an interview, Smith said she couldn’t recall what specific policies she emailed Brown about.

But it was likely “an energy plan for B.C. which is what I had talked to all those people about and many people in the bureaucracy about” — as well as during public forums.

“The other thing might have been something around the Enbridge pipeline. I just say that because, at the time, the Enbridge pipeline was one of the key issues I was working on.”

She also said there was no connection between her communication with Brown and the environmentalists’ earlier attack on the New Democrats’ platform.

“As you’re well aware, during an election, it’s very difficult to get meetings with government,” Smith explained. So, with the end of the campaign, she was simply reminding the province of ideas ForestEthics had advanced prior to the writ being issued — ideas the government hasn’t acted on.

“You can actually see they haven’t stopped the Enbridge pipeline from moving ahead — which I think is what I’m assuming one of the things was and they haven’t moved forward on creating an energy plan for B.C.”

Smith also said her message was sent to Brown’s private party email address because “I seem to only have that in my computer because I’m a dysfunctional techie.”

Smith has since been appointed director of an energy initiative launched by Tides Canada — which provides charitable funding to environmental groups, among other organizations.

As for Brown, he’s moved on to become the government’s deputy minister of tourism, trade and investment. M

Sean Holman is the editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye (publiceyeonline.com) and host of Public Eye Radio, 8-10 a.m. Sunday mornings on CFAX 1070.

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