Tory staffer who left Hill to plug ‘ethical’ oil lands job in Harper’s office

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Last updated Monday, Sep. 10 2012, 1:27 PM EDT

An oil-sands worker operates a rig near Fort McMurray, Alta., in September of 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen /Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

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.

He debated the likes of Hollywood actress Darryl Hannah with arguments that buying oil from Alberta’s is a more a better choice than what he called “conflict oil from regimes like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.”

News of Mr. Velshi’s return to Parliament Hill came just days after oil-sands boosters lost a high-profile political battle with Washington. Last week, President Barack Obama chose to delay a decision on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline until 2013 – after the U.S. election.

That project would have extended a pipeline carrying Alberta bitumen to the Texas coast. But it was opposed by local environmentalists in the United States and global climate-change activists who argued it would increase American dependency on Canada’s so-called “dirty oil.”

Mr. Velshi’s move doesn’t appear to be linked to that blow. He had told some in Ottawa months ago he would leave in the near future for a return to government.

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.

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