MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Canadian Ex-Prime Minister influence peddling for Canadian firms

Published by MAC on 2005-03-05


Aside from those mining companies which are named below, it is noteworthy that an oil company whose president is Clifford James, also presdient of TVI Pacific in the Philippines, is quoted as receiving high level Canadian government aid.

The little fixer from Shawinigan?

Ex-presidents become diplomats, working for Middle East peace or tsunami relief. But, as Alan Freeman reports, Jean Chrétien's recent globetrotting has a much less altruistic angle

By Alan Freeman, Toronto Globe and Mail

Saturday, March 5, 2005

At 71, after four decades in public office, one would think that Jean Chrétien would be glad to simply sit by the fireplace at his country home of Lac des Piles, near Shawinigan, Que., and read a good book. But in the 14 months since he left office, Mr. Chrétien has been racking up frequent-flier points like a hungry business executive half his age.

China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Niger, Gambia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Angola, Congo. Sometimes, it must seem to the former prime minister that he is still on the official circuit of the Commonwealth, APEC and NATO summits.

Although he still is interested in politics, Mr. Chrétien's new life is all about business -- mainly Canadian businesses, anxious to use the cachet of a respected elder statesman to give them access to governments, particularly in the developing world.

So while his old golf buddy, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, raises money for tsunami relief and Jimmy Carter tries to foster regional peace agreements, Mr. Chrétien is busy trying to smooth relations with tetchy governments for Canadian oil firms.

Bernard Isautier, chief executive of Calgary-based PetroKazakhstan Inc., has publicly credited Mr. Chrétien, "because of his name," for landing the company high-level meetings in China and Iran last June to discuss oil-transportation problems.

"For a company to come in with a highly respected Canadian statesman, it helps the government realize that these companies are serious and responsible," said Paul Coniber, president of Tenke Mining Corp., a Vancouver mining company that owns a copper and cobalt deposit in Congo.

"Mr. Chrétien continues to have good international contacts," said Ihor Wasylkiw, vice-president of investor relations at PetroKazakhstan. "We look at him in terms of enlarging our business opportunities."

Asked to describe Mr. Chrétien's role at PetroKazakhstan, the Central Asian nation's second-largest oil producer, Mr. Waylkiw responded, "He's not an officer. He's not a director. He's a special adviser."

Although Mr. Chrétien appears to be well within Ottawa's conflict-of-interest rules for former ministers -- which are largely aimed at stopping ex-politicians from lobbying the Canadian government and are silent about such activities involving foreign governments -- his interactions with repressive regimes such as Turkmenistan have been subject to criticism.

Joan Kuyek, who heads MiningWatch Canada, a coalition of environmental, labour and other groups that monitors the actions of Canadian mining companies, thinks that it's no coincidence that Mr. Chrétien is representing Canadian resource firms abroad.

"It's a testimony to the power of the minerals industry in Canada," she said in an interview from Ottawa.

When Brian Mulroney left office in 1993, one of the first boards he joined was that of Barrick Gold Corp., the giant Toronto mining firm. Joe Clark later became special adviser for African affairs at First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian mining firm active in Zambia and Congo.

"We don't hold our companies accountable for what they do overseas," said Ms. Kuyek, who said Canadian resource companies act no better in the Third World than their peers. "Canadian companies are predatory when they're dealing with developing countries, particularly when there's weak governance."

Despite the criticism, Mr. Chrétien's clients seem pleased.

"We're just a little tiny company," said Ted Best, chairman of TG World Energy Corp., a Calgary oil company that hired Mr. Chrétien last year to help it get out of a pickle in the impoverished African nation of Niger. "He gave us some added credibility."

Seven years ago, TG World won the right to explore 18 million acres of Niger wilderness for oil and gas. It was the company's sole asset.

Then in September of 2003, complaining that TG hadn't invested enough in the prospect, the Niger government issued a decree cancelling the exploration agreement and awarded the same acreage to a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corp.

"They had no right to do it," Mr. Best complained. Worried about losing its only property, the Calgary company sued the Niger government and went to arbitration with the Chinese firm.

It also asked Mr. Chrétien to intervene. The former prime minister spoke with officials of China National Petroleum during a trip to Beijing and then in March of 2004, he flew into Niamey, the Niger capital. In normal circumstances, the best TG World could have hoped to get on its own was a meeting with the Energy Minister. But Mr. Chrétien managed to snag a meeting with the President. "No doubt, he could open doors. He brought us some credibility with the CNPC and with Niger as well."

By December of last year, TG World had managed to sign a new agreement with Niger and the Chinese. TG received $1-million (U.S.) for past costs plus a 20-per-cent interest in a renewed exploration concession in which the Chinese have promised to spend $55-million over the next four years.

"We think we've done unbelievably well," Mr. Best said, noting that the company stock price, which was 8 cents a year ago, now regularly trades above $1.

Mr. Best said most of the credit for saving the company from a near-death experience goes to Clifford James, its president, but Mr. Chrétien clearly played a key role. "It was important," he said.

In Africa, once a prime minister always a prime minister. In January, Mr. Chrétien flew into Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, for a series of meetings with political leaders of the African nation, which is emerging from the chaos of a civil war that left millions dead over the past decade.

For the Congolese, who described Mr. Chrétien as Canada's "honorary prime minister," it was a big deal. As one Canadian businessman recalls being told by a Congolese colleague a few weeks before the visit, "I hear that one of your prime ministers is coming here."

"Even if you were a minister three ministers ago, you're still honourable and the older you are, the more respected you are," the businessman added.

And though he clearly likes the fees that come with his new career, Mr. Chrétien is convinced that what he is doing is serving the interests of Africa.

"I want to accompany business leaders to this continent, where so much remains to be done, where so much remains to be built and where pressing needs must be filled with and for Africans," he said in a recent interview for an internal publications of Desjardins Ducharme Stein Monast, a Montreal law firm with interests in Africa.

Dorothee Gizenga Ngolo, a program officer with Partnership Africa-Canada, an Ottawa group that played an important role in exposing the scandal of conflict diamonds in Angola, is disappointed with Mr. Chrétien's concentration on business in his African travels.

"It's the same Chrétien who overlooked the human-rights situation when he decided to open the trade doors with China. The contradictions were there. So why wouldn't he do the same thing in Africa?

"I always thought of him as someone who was championing Africa," Ms. Ngolo said. "He had a very strong idea of Africa when he was in office. But right now, I think he's there just for business."

Alan Freeman is a correspondent in The Globe and Mail's Washington bureau.


Jean's jaunts

Compiled by Rick Cash

Dec. 12, 2003: Last day as Prime Minister.

Feb. 7, 2004: Arrives in Beijing in the company of a team of Power Corp. executives, including his son-in-law, Andre Desmarais.

March 30, 2004: Delivers speech to the Commonwealth Foundation in London.

March 31, 2004: Begins a tour of West Africa with a two-day visit to Gambia.

April 2, 2004: Visits Nigeria and is feted by his good friend President Olusegun Obasanjo before heading off to Niger to lobby for Calgary-based oil company TG World Energy Corp.

July 1, 2004: Celebrates Canada Day with expats in Ukraine.

July 5, 2004: Has private meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who says Mr. Chrétien will also be travelling to Kazakhstan.

Sept. 3, 2004: Meets with Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niyazov in Ashkhabad to discuss oil and gas projects.

Sept. 20, 2004: Travels to the United Nations in New York for the opening of the 59th General Assembly.

Nov. 11, 2004: Delivers a speech in Shanghai during the ceremonial opening of Canadian-owned medical-diagnostics company Shanghai CP Adaltis Diganostics Co.

Dec. 8, 2004: Speaks at a conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he criticizes the Russian government's handling of OAO Yukos affair.

Jan. 11, 2005: Arrives in Luanda, Angola, to meet with President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos for a few hours before departing to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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