Let's start with two questions.
How did Bruce Carson, 66, come to be appointed as the executive director of the Canada School of Energy and Environment, a federally-funded think-tank that links academics from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge?
How did Carson come to be named, only this January, to the Alberta government's "expert panel," which is supposed to create a world-class environmental monitoring system for Alberta's oilsands?
Carson, after all, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in the 1980s for theft and fraud in relation to the misappropriation of funds from both his law firm and his clients. (The thinktank website boasts of Carson's two legal degrees, without mentioning that he was disbarred by the Upper Canada Law Society in 1980.) More to the point, perhaps, Carson is a former senior policy adviser to Stephen Harper, and a federal Conservative campaign strategist who has been instrumental in structuring the federal government's prooilsands PR strategy, and in serving as an adviser to CAPP, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
He was appointed to the federally created, federally-funded think-tank in 2008 while he was actually working in Harper's office, and he continued to do campaign strategy work and policy consultation for the Conservative party and the Harper government even after he was named the school's executive director. It's a degree of political consanguinity that undermines the credibility and academic integrity of the think-tank, which is supposed to be positioning Alberta as a world leader in "green" energy development.
Then, this January, Rob Renner, Alberta's environment minister, named Carson as one of the 12 experts hand-picked to come up with a way to monitor environmental impacts of the oilsands. How a person convicted of theft and fraud, who was also advising CAPP and the federal government on how to put a positive "spin" on oilsands development, was to add credibility to Alberta's environmental monitoring practices isn't clear.
Here's the third question. Why did it take the words "escort" and "nude photos" to get people -including me -asking the first two questions?
Bruce Carson's name hit the national headlines late last week, when news broke that RCMP were investigating allegations that Carson might have misused or misrepresented his connection to the prime minister and to federal Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan to market expensive water-treatment systems to reserves with poor water quality.
Then the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which first broke the story, added one more spicy detail to the mix. Carson's 22-year-old fiancee, Michele McPherson, was a former sex-trade worker who told the Ottawa Citizen that she began turning tricks at 13, and who later became a high-priced escort servicing VIP clients in Ottawa.
According to a contract document obtained by APTN, McPherson was to receive 20 per cent of all gross receipts from sales of water contracts with First Nations reserves.
Rachel Notley, the NDP environment critic, asks another good question. Is it appropriate to appoint a man whose fiancée has a financial interest in a company that sells watertreatment systems to First Nations, to a panel examining the impact of oilsands operations on water quality in aboriginal communities?
In the wake of the RCMP investigation, Carson has taken a leave of absence from the Canada School of Energy and Environment. (No one from the CSEE returned my calls on Monday.) Carson has also taken a temporary unpaid leave from the province's oilsands monitoring panel. How ironic, that it took a cause celebre involving an Ottawa call girl to get us wondering how Carson got those posts in the first place.