Documents Reveal Canada's Secret 'Oil Sands Team' in Europe

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DeSmog has helped to document the Canadian government’s extensive efforts in Europe to kill climate change legislation targeting the Alberta tar sands. In a major development today, official documents obtained though an Access to Information request by the Dominion newspaper exposed a nefarious “pan-European oil sands advocacy strategy” that is much more coordinated than previously understood. 

According to Martin Lukacs at the Dominion Paper, the Canadian government has carried out a secret plan to boost investment and keep world markets open for Alberta’s filthy tar sands oil. Their strategies include collaboration with major oily allies to aggressively undermine European environmental measures.

In December 2009, the federal government “oil sands advocacy strategy” was launched out of fear that growing opposition could curb European investment in the industry and that the EU restrictions on tar sands imports could be mimicked globally.

While very little of Alberta’s tar sands oil is actually exported to Europe (the lion’s share goes to the U.S.), entrenched tar sands defenders in Canadian government and the oil companies who stand to profit from it were concerned that European efforts to favor low-carbon fuel sources could influence other countries seeking ways to reduce global warming pollution.

Thus the government worked diligently, and often hand-in-hand with industry, to oppose the European Fuel Quality Directive.

The “pan-European oil sands advocacy strategy” is run by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) and involves eight foreign missions who work alongside Natural Resources, Environment Canada and the Alberta government. 

Interestingly, the Team was launched around the time of the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Perhaps, rather than mending Canada’s damaged reputation, the government figured it could lobby it away.  

According to one of the documents obtained, the Team understands that, “Oil sands are posing a growing reputational problem [in Europe], with the oil sands defining the Canadian brand,” The document goes on to argue that, “Canada’s reputation as a clean, reliable source of energy may be put at risk.”

It appears that the Canadian government sees clean fuel legislation as more of a PR problem to be finessed than as as legitimate environmental problem to be addressed. 

The Team routinely monitors green groups, responds to negative media coverage, and assists Canadian policymakers to lobby European parliamentarians and organize trips to Alberta. They’ve also worked to “enhance cooperation” with oil companies, and coordinated regular meetings between top European oil executives and Albertan and federal ministers, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The diplomatic campaign is much more coordinated than previously understood. It involves the complicity at the highest level of government and oil company executives, from secret meetings to big investments in the tar sands. It’s a story so gruesome, it will make your head spin.

Head over to the Dominion Paper and The Tyee to read more. 

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