The Real Bruce Carson Scandal

September 22, 2015
The Real Bruce Carson Scandal

By David Keith

The former Harper adviser was one of a group of players from government and the energy business who worked to muzzle a debate about energy and climate change.

The Bruce Carson trial grabbed headlines with charges of influence peddling by one of Prime Minister Harper’s closest former advisers. It is a juicy tale, but the real scandal is that Carson was one of a group of players from the government and the energy business who worked to muzzle a debate about energy and climate change that was — and is — vital to our economic future.

Canada has an opportunity to lead the world in tackling critical policy questions at the interface of climate science and energy, but the Carson case is a sobering reminder that such leadership depends on academic institutions that can deliver policy-relevant analysis that is independent from government. Sadly, in this instance, university administrators fell asleep at the switch.

I know because I was there. In the spring of 2004, University of Calgary President Harvey Weingarten recruited me back to Canada to help build a top-notch research centre that would inform the hard energy choices faced by Alberta, Canada, and the larger world.

In September 2006, I travelled to Ottawa with Weingarten to showcase our efforts and help raise funds. We met with Carson, who was seen as the prime minister’s go-to guy for climate policy, an increasingly hot topic as the Kyoto accord gained visibility. My impression of Carson then and in succeeding months was of a gruff lawyer keen to cut through the spin and craft a middle-ground deal on climate policy.

The government soon gave $15 million to Alberta’s universities to create the “Canada School for Energy and Environment.” And when it came to choose an executive director, the university’s appointed — you guessed it — Carson. I assumed Carson would take his new mandate seriously and we could maintain an independent, university-based centre that could serve as a neutral convening ground for a wide variety of perspectives from the oilpatch to environmental advocates.

I was wrong.

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