Secret documents expose Ottawa’s tar sands enemies list

Environmentalists seek guarantee of f regulator’s impartiality

As the Harper government works with oil companies to slander and discredit opponents of tar sands, will the supposedly impartial regulator be trusted?

(Greenpeace Canada, January 26, 2012) As controversy increases over the Harper government’s attacks on environmental groups, Greenpeace Canada today released internal government documents obtained under Access to Information legislation showing that the Harper government has explicitly identified environmental and aboriginal groups as “adversaries” in its strategy to increase tar sands exports.

“This government established a list of enemies nine months ago and has since launched a public attack on environmental and aboriginal groups that are raising concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the tar sands,” said Keith Stewart, coordinator of Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy campaign. “Rather than dealing the devastating impacts of the tar sands, the Harper government is working with the oil industry to silence their critics.”

The March 2011 “Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy” prepared by the federal government to undermine support in the EU for cleaner fuels legislation lists “National and European level Politicians (especially from the ruling and influential parties)” as a primary target.

The strategy document, obtained by the Climate Action Network under Access to Information legislation, identifies the government’s “adversaries” as Canadian NGOs and environmental organizations, Aboriginal groups, competing industries and media in Europe (although the type of media seen as an adversary is redacted).

The list of “allies” includes European industry associations and companies (with Shell and BP singled out elsewhere as “like-minded allies”), as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, federal government departments, Alberta, business associations and unidentified NGOs. Disturbingly, the list of allies also includes the independent federal regulatory tribunal National Energy Board.

“Canadians should be concerned when a supposedly arms-length agency that is supposed to regulate the oil industry, including conducting hearings on the Enbridge’s proposed new tar sands pipeline across British Columbia, is listed as an ‘ally’ in a political strategy to lower environmental standards in other nations,” said Stewart.

Greenpeace also released a copy of minutes from March 2010, obtained under Access to Information legislation, between high-ranking federal officials, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and former PMO official Bruce Carson. These minutes show that it was the oil industry that initially approached the government about crafting a joint strategy for “upping their game” and to “turn up the volume” in promoting the tar sands.

“The latest attacks on environmental groups are part of an orchestrated campaign by the Harper government and the oil industry targeting anyone who dares to question the wisdom of tripling tar sands production,” said Stewart. “Rather than ‘turning up the volume’ in this pro-industry public relations campaign, the Harper government needs to start listening to the legitimate concerns of Canadians on the costs of dirty energy.”

(Ecojustice, January 27, 2012) Ecojustice is calling on regulators overseeing public hearings on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project to investigate and comment on whether remarks made by the Government of Canada in recent weeks have damaged the integrity of what is supposed to be a fair and objective process.

“Comments made in recent weeks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver have cast a dark shadow over what is supposed to be a fair and open process, independent of politics,” said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director.

“Given the impact the proposed pipeline would have on our country, it’s absolutely critical that this review process is objective, representative of all interests and conducted with integrity and fairness. This isn’t just an ethical issue — it’s about the legal principles of due process.”

The motion comes in response to recent remarks by the Prime Minister and Minister Oliver, who have singled out “environmental and other radical groups” for threatening to “hijack” the regulatory system to achieve a “radical ideological agenda” and undermine Canada’s national economic interest.

Minister Oliver has gone so far as to say that he expects the Joint Review Panel (JRP) to rule in favour of the project.

Meanwhile, internal documents detailing the government’s strategy for promoting oilsands projects overseas, released by Greenpeace yesterday, labelled environmental groups, First Nations groups and the media as “adversaries.”

According to Ecojustice, these attempts to discredit select groups — some whom are formally registered interveners in the process — and prejudge the hearing’s recommendations could undermine the JRP’s ability to carry out a fair process.

“In light of recent events, there is a real risk the Joint Review Panel will be unable to do its job effectively unless it takes steps to now protect the integrity of its own process,” Page said.

Filed on behalf of ForestEthics, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the motion asks the JRP to issue a public statement that both affirms its independence and requests that the government refrain from making further comments on the proceedings and its participants while the process is underway.

“The JRP is the rightful judge of whether or not the pipeline should be built,” said Page. “And given the government’s recent comments, Ecojustice believes those participating in the process — and in fact all Canadians — need to hear from the JRP that its process has not been compromised.”

Ecojustice’s motion was filed as the federal government also announced its intentions to overhaul the way regulators review industrial projects so they can be approved more quickly. Page said the government is now making it explicit that promoting the interests of industry is their priority.

“This promise to roll back legislation is consistent with a shift that we’ve seen ever since the prime minister came into power, and it’s the shift from being a steward of the natural environment to being a partner with industry.”

Read the motion.

Download the supporting documents from the National Energy Board website.