GiornoWatch Extra: Children of the Corncob

Speaking of Kory Teneycke, congratulations are in order for being the first of the new arrivals – not counting the new Chief of Staff himself, of course – to find himself the subject of one of Jane Taber’s signature profiles in The Globe and Mail.

Despite his alleged fondness for the press – at least in comparison with the open hostility that emanated from his predecessor – Teneycke “would not be interviewed” for the article. In fact, the only person willing to go on the record was former Reform staffer-turned-consultant Phil von Finckenstein, perhaps because, unlike the unnamed Conservative source(s) who spoke to Taber, he can’t be fired by Guy Giorno by this afternoon. (We’re not sure what the anonymous Liberal’s excuse was, except that he probably doesn’t want to cause anyone to be fired by Guy Giorno either.)

What the profile doesn’t do, however, is raise the possibility that the PM’s new Message Man may have some explaining to do about the potential for conflict of interest between his pre-PMO incarnation as head of the Canadian Renewable Fuel Association, and an unabashed ethanol evangelist, and the growing pressure on government – both provincial and federal – to rethink their equally unabashed support for pro-ethanol policies.

Back when Corn Cob Bob was charming the mandatory emissions standards off politicians and the public alike, lobbyists like Teneycke who were pushing for greater investment in biofuels – particularly ethanol- were widely seen as environmental good guys. Green Hats, as it were. Governments – the then-newly elected Conservatives first among them – responded to the industry’s wooing with enthusiasm, pouring billions of dollars into increased production of renewable fuels, and passing legislation that would enforce a 5% minimum ethanol content on all gasoline sold in Canada. The CRFA was so thrilled by the response from the Tories that it ran a billboard-based ad campaign thanking Stephen Harper, personally, for his support.

Since then, however, Corn Cob Bob’s credibility has been steadily withering away, partly because of the suggestion that increased biofuel production is behind the spike in global food prices, but also because – according to some environmentalists, at least, the promised environmental benefits seem to have fallen somewhat short of expectations.

From CanWest News:

Aaron Freeman, policy director at Environmental Defence, said the benefits of grain-based ethanol are now seen as minimal at best. Fuel used in the production and processing of corn crops — including in fertilizer, harvesting, transporting and refining — negates whatever advantages ethanol might offer, he said.

(The article then goes on to quote Teneycke’s former CRFA colleague, Robin Speer- who, coincidentally, in a former life worked for Gerry Ritz, who has since become Minister of Agriculture – who says that the argument in favour of biofuel production has “never been stronger.”)

During the leadup to the last campaign, Stephen Harper promised to put an end to the so-called “revolving door” that allowed ministerial staffers to take up lucrative lobbying careers after leaving government – and the Federal Accountability Act delivered, with a five year ban on post-employment lobbying by public office holders.

Revolving doors, however, go both ways. The inescapable fact is that Teneycke was working for the biofuel lobby as recently as this January, and in politics, when it comes to conflict of interest, perception is 9/10ths of the law. That means that both he and his prime minister will have to make it absolutely clear that any change in policy on ethanol – or lack thereof, as the case may be – has nothing to do with who Corn Cob Bob knows in the PMO.

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