Natural Resources Minister in the Canadian federal government, Greg Rickford was recruited by an oil industry lobby group to both give a pep talk and strategic planning advice to 40 to 50 oil industry executives.
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The secret, closed door meeting was held last October at the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel in the Rocky Mountains. The meeting was the annual strategy session of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producters (Capp). Rickford's speech was never made public but a copy was obtained by the Greenpeace campaign under the Freedom of Information Act and made available to the Guardian newspaper.The speech makes no mention of climate change or studies that show the effects of development of the tar sands on global warming. Rickford describes the debate on the side of those scientists and other campaigners against development of the tar sands as being governed by myth and emotion that "crowded out the real facts." The Harper government has been accused of itself trying to hide the real facts about issues by silencing scientists who do not agree with the official facts.Last year, the Alberta tar sands producers launched a new public relations campaign replete with ads showing how oil sands development produced jobs not just in Alberta but elsewhere in Canada. The oil producers are attempting to counter concerns about tar sands development causing climate change, worries about pipeline breaks, and accidents involving oil tanker cars. Keith Stewart, of Greenpeace Canada said: “This is a government minister giving political and communications advice to the industry he is supposed to be regulating." However a spokesperson for Rickford, Christopher McClusky said that the minister regularly attended events in order to help promote Canada's energy industry. That is fair enough, but it does not explain the fact that this meeting was secret and that his speech was not made public. Nor does it address the issue of his actually giving advice to the industry.The close relationship between the Harper government and the oil industry is hardly new nor is the government view that aboriginal activists and environmentalists are adversaries. They are listed as such in a government plan "Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy" dated March 2011 and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Allies are the National Energy Board, Environment Canada, business and industry associations.Back in 2009 senior representatives from Natural Resources Canada and the Alberta government met with Capp in Washington and agreed to set up a steering committee to develop a joint messaging strategy. Cassie Doyle the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada told the meeting that "we need to meet an active organized anti-oil sands campaign with equal sophistication."This sophistication includes the funding of fake grass-roots organizations or astroturf NGOs. Energy Citizen, allegedly a grass-roots organization, was launched in 2009 with the support of the American Petroleum Institute. It was quite helpful in defeating climate legislation in the US. Last July, Keith Stewart wrote in aGreenpeace blog:While opponents call groups such as Energy Citizen "fake" grass-roots organizations , they are real grass-roots in the sense they are not paid lobbyists but ordinary people who have been convinced that environmentalists and aboriginal activists are wrong and should be stopped. The ubiquitous ads promoting energy development as good for Canada and Canadians and their own government's equally strong support for energy development no doubt aid in promoting such views. To call them "fake" is probably counter-productive since it ignores the fact that the people involved believe in what they are doing. A better tactic would be to show that they are being used by the oil industry along with a persuasive presentation of the reasons for not developing the tar sands.
My personal bullshit detector went off when the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ (CAPP) launched its own version of “Energy Citizens” (www.energycitizens.ca) six weeks ago. They advertise it as a “movement of Canadians who support Canada’s energy”, but anyone who’s been following climate politics knows that Energy Citizens (www.energycitizens.org) was actually launched by the American Petroleum Institute (API) back in 2009.Capp even imported Derek Spooner, senior director of external mobilization of the American Petroleum Institute to talk to the Canadian version of Energy Citizen about the API's successful grass-roots mobilization efforts in the US.