The Canadian government, on the provincial and federal level, needs to tag team on tar sands public relations, according to an internal Canadian Embassy document reported on by Mike De Souza yesterday in the Financial Post. The newly released document, obtained by Environmental Defense Canada through an access to information request, details the outcome of a 2010 overseas trip taken by Alberta’s former Environment Minister Rob Renner. According to the Embassy staff who prepared the report, international investors and stakeholders feel Canada’s lack of unified tar sands advocacy leaves the world’s dirtiest source of energy vulnerable to attack.
During a week long visit to the United Kingdom, Renner heard the concerns of invested parties who suggested Alberta take the lead in a nationwide and government-directed public relations campaign to “temper negative coverage” of the tar sands.
According to the internal report
“there is a strong need for consistent (Alberta and federal government) messaging and cooperation on this file. The opponents of oilsands will find ways to exploit any lack of coherence and coordination, undermining common objectives shared by (the Canadian government) and (the Alberta government) on this issue.”
Renner said at the time that the trip was intended to guarantee Alberta’s “responsible environmental approach” was “put in the proper context for those making policy and investment decisions in Europe.”
The report details how Renner developed this “proper context” by significantly overstating Alberta’s environmental protection standards, suggesting that the province had recently set new water efficiency targets requiring 100 percent water recycling by 2016.
But as Mike De Souza reported yesterday in the Financial Post, “the actual regulations introduced in Alberta require a reduction in the growth of tailings waste from the production process, but do not set a target for recycling 100 per cent of water used by the industry.”
Renner reportedly faced a heavy dose of criticism
from some investors who demanded to know why Alberta, “one of the richest parts of the [world],” had not committed to reducing climate change. Others accused Alberta of sidestepping the climate change issue by underemphasizing the true climate impacts of tar sands production.
The international community can see through Canada’s climate inaction, says Gillian McEachern, program manager for climate and energy at Environment Defense Canada, the group responsible for obtaining the internal document.
“If the investment community – the people who hold the financial strings – is becoming increasingly concerned about climate change, then we’re going to keep getting called on this question,” she told the Financial Times. “Not only is it bad environmental policy, but (it’s) increasingly a bad economic policy to be doing nothing.”
Alberta’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been negatively counterbalanced by its efforts to sway media portrayal of the tar sands issue. According to the Embassy document, pressure put on the media for a more favorable representation was ‘successful,’ resulting in more ‘balanced’ coverage of the tar sands.
The report continues:
“More aggressive, proactive media engagement will play a critical role in oilsands advocacy, including engaging in more specific outlets. While this may not result in immediate positive coverage, it will serve to temper negative coverage and increase understanding of the Canadian view point.”
It is troublesome, but not surprising, that the government’s ‘aggressive, proactive engagement’ is focused on media coverage rather than the plethora of environmental, public health and climate change issues surrounding the unsustainable development of the tar sands. The Canadian Embassy document reveals that the country’s delegates are facing direct scrutiny abroad about the impact of the tar sands on the global climate.
But in the face of such challenges, Canada is proving that media spin and dirty PR are the only tools in the nation’s toolbox.