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UPDATE: The Path of Alykhan (to the Prime Minister’s Office)

Alykhan Velshi

Alykhan Velshi

The Globe and Mail reports, “The Conservative political staffer who ran the campaign that fought criticism of Canada’s oil sands is heading back to the Harper government, this time in the Prime Minister’s Office. Alykhan Velshi, 27, left his job as director of communications to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to defend the virtue of Alberta’s oil industry this summer. But now he’s returning to Ottawa where he will soon join Stephen Harper’s office as director of planning, sources confirmed on Monday. …News of Mr. Velshi’s return to Parliament Hill came just days after oil-sands boosters lost a high-profile political battle with Washington (on the Keystone XL pipeline).”

CBC adds, “Velshi worked for several years for Kenney, including during Kenney’s time as minister of citizenship and immigration, and worked for now-Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird when Baird was environment minister. He also worked for the Conservative Party during elections and was one of the main spokesmen during the 2011 election campaign. The director of planning position was once held by Patrick Muttart, who was a major strategic player in the Conservative party’s first election victory under Stephen Harper.”

Previously, Khan was a foreign policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (a neo-conservative think tank that was one of the leading architects of the second Bush administration’s public policy) and manager of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (which grew out of Emet, an organization that was reportedly formed by a number of billionaires supportive of Israel’s response to the Palestinian intifada). While Velshi is known for his controversial right-wing views, it is notable that in 2006 he described Canada’s health care system as “old and decrepit”, comparing Canada’s system to those in Cuba and North Korea. In 2008, Velshi argued that war resisters from the US military were not legitimate refugees in Canada.

‘Ethical Oil’ spokesperson
The Globe and Mail also reports, “The ethical-oil argument was pushed in a book by Alberta conservative activist Ezra Levant, now a Sun TV pundit. But Mr. Velshi took the reins with, launching a website and advocacy organization in concert with Mr. Levant. Mr. Velshi said the organization would be funded donations from Canadian corporations and individuals. And the group’s arguments were adopted by the Harper government to counter criticism of the oil sands.”

The highlights, “Velshi framed at the time as a ‘grassroots’ organization that was ‘100 per cent independent of government and industry’. But a Tyee investigation revealed that Velshi’s group appeared to have close ties to McLennan Ross LLP, a prominent Alberta legal group which claims to represent ’63 per cent of the most dominant oil sands players’. …Velshi’s new PMO position in a sense fills the gap left by Bruce Carson, the once-trusted top Harper advisor. Carson at one point helped convene secret alliances between Alberta’s oil sands industry and the federal government, but is now disgraced by a scandal involving his former sex-worker fiancée.”

In a January 8, 2011 letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen, Council of Canadians energy campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue wrote, “What is ethical about crude that produces three to five times per barrel, the carbon emissions of conventional oil, while many suffer the ravages of climate change? What is ethical about massive leaking tailings ponds and a watershed under stress contaminated with cancer-causing toxins? What is ethical about a community, Fort Chipewyan, with cancer rates 30 per cent higher than expected? Canada’s tarsands are having significant environmental and social impacts. They are the cutting edge of humanity’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels and descent into reliance on unconventional sources instead of greater energy conservation, efficiency and renewable sources. Canada has a moral responsibility to change course, and quickly.”

This past July, Leo Hickman wrote in the Guardian UK, “You’ve got to hand it to Alykhan Velshi: for such a tender age, he seems to be remarkably well-versed in the dark arts of spin and misdirection. The term ‘ethical oil’ was first coined two years ago in a book by a conservative activist and pundit called Ezra Levant. But Velshi has picked up the term and, well, not just run with it, but sprinted off towards the horizon at a pace that would shame Usain Bolt. …The Globe and Mail states that Velshi’s website is just one cog in the wider effort now being promoted in part by the Canadian government which aims to challenge the popular notion that tar sands are an environmental disaster. But when quizzed about his website’s funding, Velshi said: ‘I won’t take money from any foreign corporations, any governments’. He added, though, that, if offered, he wouldn’t refuse Canadian corporate donations. …China – one of the ‘bastards’, according to Velshi – also happens to be a major investor in Canadian tar sands. …Shouldn’t this now mean that Canada’s tar sands are labelled as ‘Conflict Oil’, too?!”