Canada’s oilsands strategy includes lobbying against global warming measures: documents

Published by Postmedia News on Sunday Nov 21 2010

OTTAWA – Three major departments in the federal government have been actively co-ordinating a communications strategy with Alberta and its fossil- fuel industry to fight international global-warming policies that “target” oilsands production, newly released federal documents reveal.

The documents, obtained by Postmedia News, suggest that Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have collaborated on an “advocacy strategy” in the U.S. to promote the oilsands and discourage environmental-protection policies.

“The activities of the oil sands sector has emerged as one of the high priority files for the federal government,” wrote Natural Resources Canada policy adviser Paul Khanna in an email, on behalf of Kevin Stringer, the director of Petroleum Resources in the same department.

“As a result we have developed several products that provide the department’s views on oil sands development . . . and we have contributed (along with EC) to a DFAIT led ‘Advocacy Strategy’ on oil sands for the US.”

The email, dated Dec. 1, 2008, is part of hundreds of pages of documents released through an access-to-information request by Climate Action Network Canada.

The documents also include a powerpoint presentation outlining the communications strategy in 2009 and secret briefing notes that urge the natural resources minister to fight back against “well-orchestrated media campaigns” against the oilsands as well as “restrictive legislative and regulatory proposals that associate oil sands with ‘dirty oil.’”

“As a result we have developed several products that provide the department’s views on oil sands development . . . and we have contributed (along with EC) to a DFAIT led ‘Advocacy Strategy’ on oil sands for the US.”

The powerpoint presentation highlights the economic importance of the oilsands as a resource that places Canada second in world oil reserves, but also acknowledges that development is threatened by environmental concerns and climate policies from south of the border.

“US legislation at both federal and state levels potentially target oilsands production,” says a Natural Resources Canada powerpoint presentation from March 2009 called: Addressing Oil Sands Issues in the United States. “Some (environmental groups) have targeted oil sands in proactive, well financed and well organized `dirty oil’ campaigns.”

The Harper government has followed the U.S. in introducing regulations to crack down on tailpipe emissions from new cars, but it has not yet set any caps on pollution from the oilsands or other industrial sectors.

Meanwhile, the documents say the government is developing a “proactive outreach strategy” as part of its communications plan in partnership with other stakeholders, such as the oilsands industry and the Alberta government, which launched its own $25-million campaign in 2008.

“Engagement with (environmental groups) has been limited, but we will seek opportunities where we can,” says the powerpoint presentation.

The documents also reveal that the government is aware a majority of Canadians want stronger action to crack down on oilsands pollution. It highlighted public opinion research that suggests 72 per cent of Canadians want it to do more and that 79 per cent want emissions to be reduced from current levels.
Greenhouse-gas pollution from the oilsands has tripled since 1990. The government’s research also suggests that 52 per cent of Canadians support a moratorium on new development until environmental issues are resolved.

The coalition that obtained the documents said the revelations may only represent the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of other international lobbying efforts by the Harper government, including recent letters sent to European politicians to discourage similar policies targeting pollution from the oilsands.

“There are states, there are regions, there are countries in this world that are trying to make progress to deal with the problem of climate change, and our government is actually trying to stand in their way,” said Graham Saul, executive director of Climate Action Network, which represents environmental, labour and faith-based groups concerned about global warming.

“(Canada has) actually created a monster that’s going into other countries and trying to undermine clean-energy and climate-change policy and that’s totally inexcusable and it’s outrageous.”

The documents also suggest that some staff at Environment Canada urged the government to be realistic in its communications plan about the footprint of oilsands development.

“Even though it is intended to show how Canada has its act together we should provide notes for (the deputy minister’s) use that point to areas where governments need to devote greater attention and possibly resources,” wrote Peter Hale, an Environment Canada manager at the environmental-assessment and marine programs division in an email sent March 18, 2009.

“These could include, but are not limited to, ecosystem monitoring, the development of thresholds and new legislation where necessary.”

Natural Resources Canada, which describes itself as the lead federal department on oilsands issues, has previously been criticized in internal correspondence by senior Environment Canada officials for being too “pro- industry,” Postmedia News reported in January.

Environment Minister John Baird declined to be interviewed about the communications strategy, but a spokesman referred questions to Natural Resources Canada.

Paul Duchesne, manager of media relations at Natural Resources Canada, wrote in an email that his department’s communications goal was to deliver a “fact-based approach on all aspects of the oilsands issue, including environmental impacts, economic benefits and technological advancements.”

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