Canadian minister rejected Arctic drilling review warning: memo

Tue Oct 13, 2015 11:00am EDT
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By Mike De Souza

CALGARY (Reuters) - Canada's Conservative government rejected advice from its bureaucrats warning it was "inappropriate" to use a sole-source contract to hire a consultant to review the country's Arctic drilling legislation, according to a memo obtained by Reuters.

The memo, released under Canada's Access to Information Act, was prepared for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt by his department. He is running again in Canada's Oct. 19 election.

Canada is reviewing Arctic drilling at a time when low oil prices and tougher regulation following offshore spills are prompting companies like Imperial Oil Ltd, Exxon Mobil Corp, BP Plc and Chevron Corp to put projects on hold and seek concessions.

The memo, sent to Valcourt in late June, warned it would be "inappropriate" to hire the consultant, Rowland Harrison, without any open competition since this would violate federal rules for contracts worth more than C$25,000 ($19,157.09).

Valcourt rejected the advice, opting to appoint the former member of the federal energy regulator who was described by the department as a "scholar" of Canada's energy regulatory regime with more expertise than other candidates who were considered.

Asked about the memo, Valcourt's office referred questions to his department, which said its advice was based on a "misunderstanding" about whether the consultant's mandate included engagement with stakeholders.

The revelations come as the Conservative government, plagued by a series of ethics scandals, battles to hang on to power after nearly a decade in office. The opposition Liberals and New Democrats have accused it of weakening environmental laws in response to industry lobbying.

Canada's former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, said it was not common for cabinet ministers to reject advice from bureaucrats seeking a competitive procurement process.   Continued...

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Developement Bernard Valcourt speaks at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada event in Ottawa June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Blair Gable