By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The chair of Canada’s spy agency watchdog has registered in Alberta to lobby for a First Nations energy company jointly drilling for oil on its territory with a Chinese-controlled firm.
Chuck Strahl is chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) which oversees the activities of the Canadian Intelligence Security Service (CSIS) and investigates complaints against the agency.
Strahl faced conflict of interest allegations this week from the NDP after the Vancouver Observer reported he registered on Dec. 6, 2013, to lobby the British Columbia government on behalf of Enbridge, which is behind the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project to move Alberta tar sands oil to the B.C. coast.
CSIS has been monitoring opposition to the pipeline project which received the green light from the National Energy Board in late December. It is up to Stephen Harper’s cabinet to give the project its final approval.
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner said in an email to APTN National News that it found no conflict with Strahl’s work as chair of SIRC and his lobbying for Enbridge.
“Based on the information he provided to the office and on any other information currently available to the office, Mr. Strahl was advised that the office had no grounds to believe that there had been a contravention,” said spokesperson Jocelyn Brisbois.
A spokesperson for SIRC said Strahl would be required to step away from any SIRC discussions around CSIS activities that include Enbridge.
“If there is something within that investigation in which that committee member has a conflict of interest they would withdraw from participation in committee proceedings,” said SIRC spokesperson Lindsay Jackson.
The Enbridge file, however, may not be the only one that could be problematic for Strahl in his role as chair of SIRC.
Strahl, who was Aboriginal Affairs minister from 2007 to 2010, registered with Alberta’s lobbyist registry on Dec. 3, 2013, to lobby for Frog Lake Energy Resources Corp. The energy firm has partnered with Chinese-financed Windtalker Energy Corp to drill for oil on Frog Lake’s territory.
Sichuan Rui Investment Management Ltd. says on its website that it owns 90 per cent of Windtalker. The company was born out of a $30 million deal with Frog Lake Energy in 2010. Under the deal, Frog Lake farmed out four blocks of land to Windtalker for oil development. The two firms drilled about 30 wells since then and produce, on average, about 700 to 800 barrels per day.
Frog Lake sits about 90 kilometres north of Lloydminster, Alta., and 80 km south of Cold Lake, Alta.
Strahl said in an email to APTN National News that he knows “nothing about Windtalker. Never discussed them with Frog Lake Energy.” Strahl said he knows “nothing about them from my work at SIRC.”
Strahl did not respond to follow up questions about his Enbridge lobbying.
CSIS has expressed concerns in the recent past over China’s resource push. The agency published a paper in September 2013 that explored China’s acquisitions of resources abroad, including in Canada. The report was based on a conference hosted by CSIS and National Defence.
CSIS has also investigated links between Chinese investment and First Nations. Vancouver lawyer Merle Alexander told APTN National News that he was approached by CSIS agents in 2010 and 2011 probing whether First Nations were being “manipulated” by the Chinese through their business deals.
Alexander, a partner with Gowlings, said in an interview that Stahl’s position as CSIS watchdog while lobbying for a First Nations firm with Chinese links raises a lot of questions.
“CSIS is looking at the relationship between First Nations and China for potential undo influences, (Strahl) works for a First Nations owned company that has relationships with China and he also has a role on an investigative body,” said Alexander. “Anyone can draw on those three things, you should be able to publicly answer to it.”
According to Sichuan Rui Investment Management’s website, the seeds for the Windtalker deal found fertile ground during a meeting with a U.S.-Canada business delegation organized by the Sichuan province’s department of commerce in 2010.
The meeting proved to be productive, Windtalker was born and Sichuan Rui Investment Chairman Doug Wang was named an honourary chief by Frog Lake.
While Windtalker and Frog Lake Energy are separate legal entities, they jointly operate oil wells on Frog Lake’s territory. Windtalker also pays lease rentals annually to Frog Lake for use of the blocks.
Windtalker’s only operations in Canada are in Frog Lake. Windtalker, however, is hoping to expand into other areas in Canada and the U.S., according to Sichuan Rui’s website.
Frog Lake Energy’s CEO Joe Dion could not be reached for comment.