As a once in a generation Canadian pipeline review process gets underway, the rhetoric around the massive Northern Gateway project has heated up noticeably. The Conservative government and the Ethical Oil pro-industry group seemed to take turns ratcheting up attacks on environmental groups opposing the project almost daily. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver may have set a new low in his recent attacks on those who would “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda”, backed by “foreign special interest groups”, not to mention “billionaire socialists … like George Soros”. The eerie echoes of Ethical Oil’s recent advertising campaign and back-and-forth timing have led some to recall previously discussed ties between Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and key Ethical Oil figures Ezra Levant and former executive director Alykhan Velshi (now safely back in the PMO).
But it turns out there are other interesting ties behind the scenes. An examination of the web server hosting EthicalOil.org reveals a network of fifty or so websites, mainly on behalf of right-wing causes and politicians. The latter include two Conservative cabinet ministers, Velshi’s old boss immigration minister Jason Kenney and that scourge of foreign billionaire socialists, Joe Oliver. And it also points to the key involvement of Go Newclear Productions, a somewhat mysterious “full service digital agency with a focus on public affairs and politics”.
Go Newclear is headed up by none other than political wunderkind Hamish Marshall, already a veteran of both the PMO and the Conservative federal council – and husband of hapless Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall. The other Go Newclear directors /officers (and presumed principals) are linked to the Conservative PR machine known as the Conservative Resources Group; radio and TV advertising specialist Brendan Jones left the CRG in 2009, while developer Travis Freeman, astonishingly enough, is still with the group. Not only that, but the Ethical Oil cluster of websites and Joe Oliver.ca form a distinct sub-group within the Go Newclear network, with unmistakeable signs of common development and a deployment seemingly aimed at obfuscating the link to Newclear team. So there is more than just common ideology tying EthicalOil.org to the Conservative PR machine; they also share digital service providers – and a lack of transparency.