Imperial Oil's role in museum's energy exhibit questioned

Imperial Oil, a sponsor of the Museum of Science and Technology's exhibition "Energy: Power to Choose," was actively involved in the message presented to the public, according to emails obtained by CBC News.

Foundation contributed $600K over 6 years to exhibit at Museum of Science and Technology

The exhibit Energy: Power to Choose is receving $600,000 from the Imperial Oil Foundation over six years. (CBC)

Imperial Oil, a sponsor of the Museum of Science and Technology's exhibition "Energy: Power to Choose," was actively involved in the message presented to the public, according to emails obtained by CBC News.

The Ottawa museum unveiled the exhibition last year despite criticism from environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which questioned why it was partly funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, which contributed $600,000 over six years.

The museum had defended the decision, saying it received funding from a number of energy industry sources, and said the final decision about what would be presented was up to the museum.

"We have the character to stand up for the independence of our editorial content and rest assured that it is and will be fiercely defended," wrote museum vice-president Yves St. Onge, in an October letter to the Sierra Club.

In an Oct. 3 radio interview on CBC Ottawa's All in a Day, host Alan Neal asked exhibit curator Anna Adamek whose idea it was to include in the exhibit a reference that says oilsands account for one-tenth of one per cent of global emissions.

"This fact comes from research reports that are available at the museum, that were commissioned by the museum," Adamek told Neal.

Changes requested from earlier drafts

But earlier emails from Imperial Oil Foundation president Susan Swan obtained by Radio-Canada through an Access to Information request show she had recommended that information be included back in May.

Swan, who also served as chair of the advisory committee to the project, also asked that information be included that the oilsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years.

Not all of Swan's requests made it into the final exhibit: in one point, she asked that an illustration for Polar Oil and Gas Reserves be changed from red to blue, arguing red "has a negative connotation" bringing to mind "blood oil." The change was not made.

Sierra Club Canada executive director John Bennett said his group initially complained about Imperial's involvement because he thought it put the exhibit into question.

Industry funding 'inappropriate,' Sierra Club says

"We're concerned that a public museum, a federal government museum, is actually taking funds from the oil industry to repeat what the oil industry wants repeated about the oil industry. And we thought that was inappropriate," he said.

After seeing Swan's letters, he said what was most worrisome was the tone of a letter, in which Swan makes what he says is a subtle but clear threat to withhold funding.

In a letter dated May 20, 2011, Swan wrote: "I find the language not balanced overall. I have tried to point out the most significant issues I have seen, but the overall tone is of concern to me.

"As you know, the funding of this project is not where we want it to be, so focusing on the quality and tone of this exhibit is key to ensuring other sponsors are found."

Imperial says it acted as adviser

In a response to Radio-Canada, the museum said it had the final say on the exhibit's content.

Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser concurred, saying the museum made all the final decisions on content and displays.

"Are we satisfied that the panels' information presents sound factual data? Yes we are," said Rolheiser.

He said Imperial Oil was invited by the museum to participate on the 25-member advisory committee to the project, and to share information based on its expertise in the area.

"Imperial Oil was invited to act in an advisory capacity, and that's what we indeed did," said Rolheiser.

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