By Ryan McGreal
Published June 12, 2009
At first I didn't follow the story about Federal MP Lisa Raitt's recorded conversation very closely, having dismissed it as mere partisan grist.
To be sure, the curious backstory of how the tape came to be recorded and then left in the hands of the media is both entertaining and more than a little suspect, but the central drama - Raitt's disrespectful comments about the forced closure of the Chalk River nuclear power plant, the instant crisis in medical isotopes and the potential for both to help Raitt's political career if she can unload responsibility onto fellow MP and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq - seemed like a lot of noise about a minor fiasco.
I mean, it's hardly controversial that a person speaking privately and off-the-record to a close confidant will drop their guard and speak bluntly, even impertinently. I'd be more concerned about someone who took themselves and their chosen occupation so seriously that they could never enjoy a little sacrilege.
But that story transformed yesterday from a mere curiosity to a serious policy issue with yesterday's report by the Chronicle Herald that the tape contains more than impudent commentary about a "sexy" health care crisis.
Raitt, the Minister of Natural Resources since last October, also told her aide Jasmine MacDonnell that she suspects Environment Minister Jim Prentice diverted money earmarked for wind power into a "clean energy plan" to develop the Alberta Oilsands.
Ms. MacDonnell tells Ms. Raitt that CanWEA, the Canadian Wind Energy Association, had sent a letter to its supporters complaining about the lack of funding for wind energy in the budget.
"I'm not going to put up with the whining of CanWEA, and the reason being is that they're not utilizing the money that is there now," says Ms. Raitt. "And until these things don't start getting built."
Ms. MacDonnell appears to read from the letter from CanWEA: "We know that the proposal was actively promoted and pushed by Minister Raitt. In fact, it is our understanding that it was actually part of the budget until it was taken out very late in the process."
Ms. Raitt responds: "No. No. I would never have told that."
"You wouldn't have told her," says Ms. MacDonnell. "Is that true?"
"Yes," says Ms. Raitt. "It is true."
"So somebody is talking," says Ms. MacDonnell.
"Someone in Finance talked," says Ms. Raitt. "Am I going to get blamed for this?"
Ms. Raitt was worried about the prime minister's reaction to the fact that CanWEA was somehow aware of budget talks, which are supposed to be kept in confidence.
"I certainly didn't know the fact that it came out late in the process," she said.
"I would have no way of knowing that. I understand that's what happened. My suspicion is, what I told you, that Jim took the money for his clean energy plan. They said 'Ah, they don't need it.' There should never have been any choice. No one asked my opinion on it. If they had, I would have lobbied. Maybe that's why I'm invited to P and P (priority and planning, a cabinet committee). Oh, the prime minister's not going to like that."
It's bad enough that the Clean Energy Plan itself is mostly going into research and development around the environmentally apocalyptic Alberta Oilsands. To discover that additional money supposedly intended for actual clean energy R&D may also have been shifted to the central industry of the Conservative Party's economic home base warrants a serious investigation.