The call starts as a run-of-the-mill internal corporate presentation. 

With a cheerful preamble, Liam Iliffe, a  B.C.-based political staffer turned industry executive, introduces  himself to his colleagues at TC Energy,  a major North American energy company that builds and operates crude  oil and natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure. He  summarizes his background working for the BC New Democrats as a senior  advisor under former premier John Horgan. He talks about how his work  there included ensuring cross-party support for legislative changes  needed to push through the Coastal GasLink pipeline and LNG Canada. The call is a “lunch and learn” session for the company’s external relations employees across North America.

Eight minutes in, things get interesting.

Warming to his task, Iliffe starts to  outline strategies he says the multinational fossil fuel company uses to  influence provincial, federal and state governments in Canada, the  United States and Mexico. The corporation employs lobbyists and analysts  in key political centres including Ottawa and Washington D.C. In 2023,  TC Energy posted earnings of $11 billion.  

Speaking for 42 minutes, Iliffe goes on to claim TC Energy has surreptitiously influenced many major policy decisions. 

“We’ve had some really remarkable results in terms of our message being repeated back to us by key decision makers  in government,” he says, adding “we’ve been given opportunities to  write entire briefing notes for ministers and premiers and prime  ministers and it gets stuck on government letterhead.”

He says TC Energy played a pivotal role in  excluding pipelines from key climate regulations in British Columbia,  saving the company billions in revenue. He claims TC Energy leverages  relationships with Canadian ambassadors, Indigenous leaders and senior  government officials to sway government decisions. He suggests the  company conducts impromptu lobbying of elected officials by placing its  staffers in positions where they can “bump into” prominent decision  makers in informal settings. 

Notably, he claims these tactics were  successful in persuading B.C. Premier David Eby to change his mind about  taking action to address the climate crisis.

“This is a remarkable achievement over the year,” Iliffe tells his TC Energy colleagues.

The Narwhal obtained two hours of leaked  recordings from the call on March 28, 2024, that appeared to implicate  TC Energy in a concerted effort to influence premiers, ambassadors,  cabinet ministers, the media and more. As part of the reporting, the  leaked recordings were analyzed for authenticity and The Narwhal reached  out to each party that could be implicated, asking dozens of questions.  The recording reveals several key tactics allegedly used to influence  government and sway public opinion.

  • Cultivating relationships with influential bureaucrats to gain political support for corporate initiatives
  • Encouraging TC Energy staff to seek out opportunities to meet  politicians in casual settings, with the goal of having conversations  that flow between “personal and professional, that advances our  initiatives”
  • Drafting proposed government policies and persuading “underpaid and  overworked” public servants to use these and other TC Energy messaging  on official government briefing notes for top politicians and decision  makers
  • Deliberately placing staff at public events to ask scripted  questions to politicians and press them to talk about the company’s  priorities in front of an audience
  • Leveraging relationships with Canadian diplomats to have them “deliver a pro-LNG message” to prominent politicians
  • Using “validators” such as “Indigenous people, Indigenous leaders and the general public” to sway government decisions
  • Forming partnerships with third parties “who are happy to work with and take direction from TC on shifting government policy”
  • Influencing the media to suppress stories that could be harmful to the company’s reputation

Four days after The Narwhal sent questions  to TC Energy about the recording, Iliffe responded with an email on  June 17 saying that some events he described did not actually occur and  that he had resigned from the company.

“My intent was to emphasize the importance  of local relationships TC Energy built in support of projects and  operations,” he wrote in an email. “It would be remiss of me to suggest  that anyone other than our elected representatives make decisions on  behalf of British Columbians.” 

“I respect and treasure my relationships  with past and present colleagues, partners and elected officials,” the  email continued. “Out of respect for those relationships, I have  resigned from TC Energy effective immediately to avoid further  distractions.”

Two days later, TC Energy said it had reviewed a recording of an internal presentation made by a “former employee.”

“This individual is no longer with the  company,” an unnamed spokesperson with TC Energy’s media relations team  wrote in an email. “We apologize to the Government of British Columbia,  Premier David Eby and all our partners, stakeholders and rights holders  for any impact on our valued, trusted and longstanding relationships.” 

The spokesperson did not answer specific  questions about the contents of the recording and did not specify  whether any of the claims made on the recording were true or not.

In response to follow-up questions, TC Energy provided a second statement on June 26 from its senior  vice-president of external relations, Patrick Muttart, who said some  statements made on the call were untrue. Muttart also said he was  disappointed someone had released recordings “which included inaccurate  comments from an employee that portray a false impression of how we do  business” and that they were released without authorization.

Muttart later provided additional comments to the National Post about the recording.

“The moment I found out about his  comments, he took accountability, we took accountability, he is no  longer with the company,” Muttart, a former senior political advisor to  ex-prime minister Stephen Harper, told the newspaper.

‘We place people so they can bump into folks’: TC Energy exec

TC Energy has stakes in two pipelines that  will supply B.C.’s new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry. The  recently completed 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline will send gas  from B.C.’s northeast to the LNG Canada project, which was granted billions of dollars of tax breaks and other subsidies by the BC NDP government. The 800-kilometre Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project, set to start construction in August, will supply the Ksi Lisims LNG  project currently undergoing environmental assessment. Iliffe noted TC  Energy’s natural gas interests are directly linked to expansion of the  LNG sector.

“The growth of LNG off the west coast  benefits TC Energy: if more gas is coming out of the basin, that  benefits us,” Iliffe said on the call.

During his presentation, Iliffe repeatedly  emphasized the importance of developing and maintaining relationships  with politicians and public servants. He claimed the company regularly  engages in lobbying  — activities meant to influence public policy, a  common practice governed by both federal and provincial laws — outside  of business hours. 

“You’d be surprised how much work I  actually get done in the cooler at Costco because I bump into a  significant minister or bureaucrat that I really want to spend some time  with and I can do that next to the strawberries or the romaine  lettuce,” he said, prompting laughter from some of his colleagues on the  call.

According to the recording, this approach reflects TC Energy’s corporate strategy.

“We place people so they can bump into  folks at the airport terminal or at the Costco cooler and on a Saturday  have a remarkable conversation that flows between personal and  professional, that advances our initiatives,” Iliffe said.

Speaking to the National Post, Muttart  said the company doesn’t lobby at Costco and that TC Energy has a  “robust” lobbying framework.

As The Narwhal reported on Wednesday, B.C.’s attorney general, Niki Sharma, wrote to the provincial registrar of lobbying asking it to review some of the claims made by Iliffe after the government learned about  them through questions sent by The Narwhal to the premier’s office.  Sharma’s letter noted Iliffe’s registration as a lobbyist did not  identify him as a former public office holder, which may have been an  oversight.

While Iliffe told The Narwhal that TC  Energy was responsible for submitting his lobbying registration, the  company did not respond to a question about whether it had made an error  in its submission.

Sharma’s letter also noted that her office  had conducted its own review of Iliffe’s comments and believed his  statements were “untrue.”

TC Energy exec takes credits for B.C. premier’s evolving views on LNG and climate goals

On the recording, Iliffe spoke at length  of how TC Energy had zeroed in on Eby in what he said were successful  efforts to sway the premier’s climate policy — efforts he said  intensified shortly after Eby took office in late 2022. 

“We had a new premier with a new mandate  and that mandate was described on his very first day in office as ‘we  cannot continue to expand the fossil fuel infrastructure and hit our  climate goals,’ ” Iliffe said. “This set off alarm bells, of course,  across industry.”

B.C.’s climate ambitions have long been at odds with its stance on liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Natural gas is about 95 per cent methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas that is the second biggest contributor to global warming after carbon emissions.

The province approved LNG Canada — a joint venture by Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Korea Gas and Mitsubishi — in  2015. When its first phase comes online around 2025, it plans to power  its energy-intensive operations by burning some of the natural gas it  would receive daily from the Coastal GasLink pipeline, according to LNG  Canada’s project plans  filed with the B.C. government. LNG Canada said a second phase would  double production. While this could also double the amount of gas it  burns domestically, LNG Canada has previously told The Narwhal it has a  team exploring options to reduce emissions through electrification.  

Meanwhile, B.C.’s 2018 climate plan set  targets to reduce emissions across the province from all sources to 40  per cent below 2007 levels by 2030, scaling up to 80 per cent by 2050.  It also set a 2030 sectoral target of 33 to 38 per cent reductions from  oil and gas activities in the province. Iliffe said Premier Eby faced  tough conversations around natural gas and opposition to the sector  “needed to be quelled” when he took office.

“So we made efforts to do that,” he said.

Those efforts, Iliffe said, had clear  results. “We [find] ourselves now in a position where we have a premier  who says that LNG is part of our future.”

Jimmy Smith, Premier David Eby’s press secretary, disputed Iliffe’s claims.

“Since the premier was sworn into office in 2022, B.C. has made significant policy changes in relation to the  energy sector,” Smith wrote in an email. He said Eby’s “comments and  actions” since taking office show a “clear and persistent commitment to  B.C.’s climate plan” that included implementing an emissions cap for the  oil and gas industry. 

“Premier Eby highlights that these climate  commitments are not a hindrance to our economy but rather represent a  significant opportunity for growth and prosperity because of how B.C. is  positioned,” Smith said.

The premier’s deputy chief of staff, Don  Bain, who was lobbied by Iliffe at least four times since 2023 according  to provincial lobbying filings, also denied Iliffe’s claims. 

“On a few occasions, Mr. Iliffe and I  spoke on the phone on issues relevant to TC Energy and my role as lead  on various energy-related files including the sale of the Prince Rupert  Gas Transmission line from TC to the Nisg̱a’a Nation,” Bain told The  Narwhal in a statement. “Mr. Iliffe’s self-aggrandizing claims have no  basis in reality.”

‘Leveraging our relationships allowed us to have Canadian ambassadors abroad deliver a pro-LNG message …’ 

Iliffe claimed TC Energy staffers reached  out to “international thought leaders and diplomats” to influence the  new premier. He said when Eby and some of his cabinet ministers went to  Japan, South Korea and Singapore on a trade mission  in 2023, TC Energy’s Ottawa bureau reached out to Canadian ambassadors  to brief them on desired messaging to give to British Columbia officials  about the natural gas sector. 

“We know that premiers, when they go to  countries, have dinners with ambassadors,” he said. “That’s a one-on-one  period of time that an ambassador can deliver our message. Leveraging  our relationships allowed us to have Canadian ambassadors abroad deliver  a pro-LNG message to a premier who was skeptical at the time.”

The result, Iliffe said, was “a marked shift in language when he came home.”

“We have a shift in government position, a  clear shift. We have public comments and policy development that are  positive for TC Energy’s initiatives being made daily by the British  Columbia government. We didn’t find ourselves there a year ago.”

The Narwhal sent a request on June 17 for  interviews with Canadian ambassadors who met with Eby on his trade  mission in Asia. Global Affairs Canada declined interview requests, but  confirmed Canada’s ambassador to Japan, Ian McKay, visited an oil and  gas conference hosted in Vancouver in July 2023 and attended a reception  hosted by TC Energy.

This occurred after Eby’s trade mission to  Asia, a spokesperson with Global Affairs said in an emailed statement.  The federal department added McKay did not meet “directly” with any  company officials, but did not explain what it meant by that.

The federal department confirmed McKay and Eby discussed the LNG industry and other sectors during the premier’s  visit to Japan. 

The federal department also said that  Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service helps Canadian oil and gas companies  “sell their products and services outside Canada.” 

“Promoting Canadian oil and gas solutions  to enable the energy transition is a priority for the [Trade  Commissioner Service], which leverages its global network of trade  commissioners in over 160 cities worldwide to advance commercial  interests,” the statement said.

Muttart, the senior vice-president at TC  Energy, confirmed to the National Post that the company is “informing,  educating and engaging with not just Canadian diplomats but other  diplomats representing other countries.” 

TC Energy exec claims company saved billions after lobbying to be excluded from new climate rules

Saying the company achieved “remarkable  results” in exerting its influence over the premier, Iliffe applauded a  decision by the B.C. government to approve Cedar LNG,  an Indigenous-owned gas liquefaction and export facility that will  receive its supply from Coastal GasLink. He also referenced the  government’s favourable statements about the proposed Ksi Lisims LNG facility, a Nisg̱a’a-led project currently undergoing environmental assessment.

“All of this effort is for naught if there  isn’t Indigenous support or at least Indigenous non-objection,” he  said. “A government of any stripe, in British Columbia particularly, is  not going to push projects forward unless there’s Indigenous support.”

The NDP government’s endorsement of natural gas had already taken a significant step forward last year, when Premier Eby announced  the decision to approve the Haisla-led Cedar LNG project. One the same  day, the government said new regulations would require all new proposed  LNG projects to have a credible path to achieve net-zero emissions by  2030. The rules would target facilities that liquefy methane-heavy  natural gas, but pipelines — including those operated by TC Energy —  were exempt. 

Smith said the new regulations were  brought in “to ensure oil and gas sector projects fit within B.C.’s  climate commitments and create new opportunities for people in clean  energy and technology.” 

“This framework ensures some development can occur, while also ensuring we meet our climate goals,” Smith wrote  in an emailed statement.

“We were able to cut ourselves out of that,” Iliffe claimed, saying the regulations’ exclusion of pipelines  more than halved operating costs, which “saves TC and our partners and  our customers billions of dollars over the operational lifetime of their  projects.”

It wouldn’t be the first time TC Energy lobbied the government to water down emissions regulations. As The Narwhal previously reported, the fossil fuel company asked the federal government to exclude methane from its emissions cap.

But Iliffe said the company’s tactics go  beyond lobbying elected officials. He claimed the company also works  with “influential bureaucrats,” internal ministry staff who tend to keep  their jobs when an elected government changes, to “make certain that  our messaging and our advice is landing on their letterhead.”

“A really interesting thing about  government is that you’ve got a lot of people, public servants, who are  overworked and underpaid and sometimes they just want the job done for  them,” he said. “We’ve had instances where we’ve been given  opportunities to write entire briefing notes for ministers and premiers  and prime ministers and it gets stuck on government letterhead and put  into an envelope and into a briefing package that goes to that elected  figure. There’s nothing more powerful than that.”

Robin Librach, a spokesperson with Natural Resources Canada, denied the allegations.

“Briefing notes for high-level political and public officials are developed by public servants,” Librach wrote in  an emailed statement. “External stakeholders have no role in drafting  briefing notes, and are not privy to them.”

Smith, with Premier Eby’s office, said the  B.C. government reviewed Iliffe’s comments and “found no evidence that  support his claims.” Smith called them “complete fabrications.”

“In fact, lengthy internal energy and  climate policy development processes, cabinet decisions records and  briefing note drafting protocols contradict his claims directly,” Smith  wrote in an emailed statement.

Smith said public servants draft briefing  notes from “extensive consultative work” that involves a wide variety of  stakeholders. “This is done to provide the widest range and most  accurate advice on the subject under consideration,” he wrote, adding  senior government officials review drafts before briefing notes are  shared with cabinet.

However, there are cases when industry views make it directly into government briefing notes. For example, in 2022, The Narwhal obtained documents through freedom of information legislation  that showed how natural gas lobbyists discussed a landmark Supreme  Court decision around Indigenous Rights with provincial public servants.  After the court found B.C. guilty of infringing on Blueberry River  First Nations Treaty Rights, lobbyists’ warnings about specific economic  impacts were passed on to senior B.C. government officials, including  the deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, without  analysis or counter arguments.  

‘We’re not going anywhere’: TC Energy exec

After concluding his presentation, Iliffe opened up the call to questions and discussion. 

An unknown speaker asked Iliffe about the recently announced sale of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, noting some politicians and public servants in Ottawa are interpreting the deal as “TC Energy’s retreat from LNG.”

Iliffe responded by saying the response in British Columbia has been different.

“We have an advantage in B.C. in that we  are pursuing aggressively CGL phase two and Cedar LNG,” he said,  referring to Coastal GasLink’s approved expansion which would double the  amount of gas it plans to start shipping this year.

“We have delivered a message that we aren’t going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere.”

By Matt Simmons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Mike De Souza

Original Published on Jun 27, 2024 at 14:43

This item reprinted with permission from   The Narwhal   Victoria, British Columbia
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