Prentice moved wind power funds to oil sands projects: Raitt tape

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is heard on tape saying she believes the environment minister pushed to divert funds earmarked for wind energy to oil patch projects during pre-budget negotiations, says a report on Thursday.
Canada's Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt (left) is flanked by her former press secretary Jasmine MacDonnell in Ottawa in May. ((Chris Wattie/Reuters))

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is heard on tape saying she believes the environment minister pushed to divert funds earmarked for wind energy to oil patch projects during pre-budget negotiations, says a report on Thursday.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald published a previously unreleased excerpt of a five-hour conversation between Raitt and her former aide, Jasmine MacDonnell.

The Jan. 30 conversation was apparently recorded inadvertently while the two were being driven around Victoria. The digital recording device landed in the hands of a Chronicle Herald reporter after reportedly being left in a Parliament Hill washroom.

On the tape, Raitt says she believes Environment Minister Jim Prentice redirected wind power funds to the Clean Energy Fund, a $1-billion fund for research and development in alternative energy sources, mostly in the oilpatch.

Prentice represents a Calgary riding that's home to many in the country's oil industry.

In the recording, MacDonnell can be heard telling Raitt that the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) had sent letters to its supporters about the lack of funding in the Jan. 27 budget.

MacDonnell then appears to read from a CanWEA letter claiming the organization knew help for the industry was part of the federal budget until it was removed late in the process.

"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," says the letter, according to the Chronicle Herald.

Raitt worries about being blamed for leak

Raitt denies she told anyone from CanWEA about the budget negotiations and speculates the leak could have come from either the Finance Department or her own.

"Someone in Finance talked," Raitt says on the tape, reported the newspaper. "Am I going to get blamed for this?"

She later speculates that someone at the Natural Resources Department could have been the source of the apparent leak, says the report.

Raitt adds that she didn't know the proposal was dropped from the budget late in the process.

"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," she said.

"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 [the priority and planning committee of cabinet]. Oh, the prime minister's not going to like that."

Raitt is also heard saying she won't "put up with the whining of CanWEA," and says wind producers are not making use of existing funds allocated to the industry.

Not a story: Prentice

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice has denied that he was mentioned on the recording. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))
Prentice told the Chronicle Herald he has not been mentioned in the recorded conversation.

"Well, let's be clear. I've listened to the transcript in question. It doesn't say Jim Prentice at any point," he said outside the House of Commons on Wednesday.

"It doesn't use the words oil industry or oilsands at any point. It doesn't use the word pandering at any point. And so, really, this isn't much of a story."

The recording, revealed earlier this week by the Chronicle-Herald, has been a source of embarrassment for Raitt.

She issued an emotional apology on Wednesday after the newspaper published an earlier segment of the conversation in which she called the shortage of medical isotopes a "sexy" issue that she should take credit for fixing.

She also expressed doubts about the abilities of her colleague, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, to handle "hot" issues. Raitt has since apologized to Aglukkaq.

Opposition MPs have demanded her resignation, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has confidence in her abilities.

The recording was released after Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Gerald Moir rejected an application by MacDonnell on Monday for an injunction blocking the Halifax Chronicle Herald from publishing a story about its contents.

MacDonnell resigned last week after leaving secret documents related to Canada's nuclear industry at CTV's Ottawa news bureau.

With files from The Canadian Press