Oilsands 'allies' and 'adversaries' named in federal documents

The federal government considers the media, aboriginal and environmental groups 'adversaries' when it comes to the debate on Canada's oilsands, according to documents released by Greenpeace.
Aboriginal groups are identified as adversaries in a government document released Thursday that outlines a strategy to advocate for Alberta's oilsands in Europe. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The federal government considers the media, the biodiesel industry and environmental and aboriginal groups "adversaries" in its attempt to advocate for Alberta's oilsands, according to documents obtained under access to information legislation.

Energy companies, the National Energy Board, Environment Canada, business and industry associations, meanwhile, are listed as "allies" in a public relations plan called the "Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy." It is dated March 2011.

The documents were obtained by Greenpeace Canada and Climate Action Network and released to the media on Thursday. The groups say Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is working hand-in-hand with the oil industry to silence critics.

"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 tarsands," Keith Stewart, co-ordinator of Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy campaign, said in a statement.

The documents indicate the strategy is to reframe the European debate on oilsands "in a manner that protects and advances Canadian interests related to the oilsands and broader Canadian interests in Europe."

Strategy seeks image makeover

It also is intended to improve Canada's image in Europe so that it is seen as a "responsible energy producer" and to have Europeans understand the measures that are being taken to address the social and environmental impacts of the oilsands.

The strategy was developed in response to high-profile campaigns in Europe by non-governmental organizations that are "framing the issue in a strongly negative light," the strategy plan says.

It was also developed in the context of the European Commission's consideration of a fuel quality standard that would label Canada's oilsands crude dirtier than other sources because it uses more energy in production. 

The documents show the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers was calling for a new communications approach that would "turn up the volume" on its existing strategy.

According to a summary of a meeting on March 16, 2011, CAPP representatives, the deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, Alberta government officials and Bruce Carson, a former adviser to Harper who at the time of the meeting was executive director of the Canada School of Energy and Environment, discussed a proposed new strategy.

Cassie Doyle, the deputy minister at Natural Resources, said the federal government has been working with the petroleum producers group for some time and "it is now time to up our game."

A spokesman for CAPP, Travis Davies, told the CBC's Margo McDiarmid that there is nothing wrong with his group and the government collaborating on a strategy.

"I think we know what we're doing on the ground," he said, adding that his group has the information the government needs and is playing an appropriate role in providing it.

'Allies' and 'adversaries' listed

The entire document was not released, as some lines in the summary were blacked out.

The strategy plan contains a chart where it lists its targets, influencers, allies and adversaries. First Nations are characterized as influencers, along with energy companies, academics and think tanks, and media and government.

Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs and the Privy Council Office, CAPP, and energy industry associations are all listed as allies while European NGOs, media and competing industries are listed as "adversaries."

Environmental NGOs and aboriginal groups are identified as Canadian adversaries.

"They are trying a [public relations] campaign together, quite explicitly, with the major international oil companies to defeat environmental legislation in other countries," Greenpeace's Stewart told the CBC's McDiarmid.

"This government sees the world very much in terms of black and white. For them, you're either for them – which means being 100 per cent pro-tripling the size of the tarsands over the next 10 years – or you're against them and must be destroyed," he said.

The documents obtained by Greenpeace were released by the department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A spokesman said Thursday the department doesn't agree with the "allies" and "adversaries" list but that it will continue to promote the oilsands industry because it creates jobs and economic prosperity for all Canadians, including aboriginal Canadians.

The strategy designed for Europe could be part of a larger approach that is also being applied in Canada. The government is supporting the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would bring oil from Edmonton to British Columbia for export to Asia.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently said that "environmental and other radical groups" are trying to block the pipeline and are threatening to "hijack" the regulatory system to achieve their "radical ideological agenda." 


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.

With files from Margo McDiarmid