It looks both ominous and sticky: an anti-oilsands newspaper advertisement featuring black, tar-like goo completely covering Canada on a map of North America — and oozing down over the United States.
The provocative full-page ad –which calls the oilsands “the dirtiest oil on earth” — cost $18,000 US to run on page B6 of USA Today Tuesday.
“This is the beginning of a process to educate the American people and the Obama administration on the issue of the tarsands and its impact on our people,” said George Poitras of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, who is behind the ad along with the Athabasca Chipewyan. The environmental group ForestEthics, another sponsor, footed the bill.
With U. S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Ottawa just a day away, conservation groups and northern Alberta First Nations are continuing in their blitz to make sure environmental and health concerns about the oilsands stay front and centre.
Activists across North American have been re-energized with the swearing-in of Obama, who has spoken generally with disdain for”dirty” oil and pledged to green America’s deeply troubled economy.
Many of those groups worry aloud that Stephen Harper’s government–whose political base lies in Alberta — will try to negotiate a North American carbon trading system where increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands receive some kind of special treatment or exemption.
Already, ForestEthics–aB. C. based environmental group — created a mock-dating personal aimed at the president, asking whether he would like to “make sweet climate-change solutions together.”
Poitras said people will see through recent “cynical” attempts by the federal and Alberta governments to make themselves look environmentally sensitive — such as laying charges against Syncrude for the death of 500 ducks last year, or a 20-year plan for developing the oilsands, which critics have argued is light on specifics.
“All those initiatives they’re rolling out are nothing more than a public relations exercise,”Poitras said.
During a news conference Tuesday, Rick Smith, executive director of the Environmental Defence Canada in Toronto, said “the government of Alberta and the federal government are isolated. I think they know it. And they’re getting defensive about it.”
However, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said his government’s actions are concrete and anything but cynical.
The government is contributing $2 billion to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies are being developed to make oilsands extraction less onerous on the environment.
Projects have been underway for months, the minister said. “I guarantee that the work on these projects was begun, and the commitment on our part, was well in-hand long before Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.”
Just before leaving from a meeting of Canadian environment ministers in Whitehorse Tuesday, Renner added that federal minister Jim Prentice had promised provincial ministers that Ottawa will “engage in a meaningful way with the provinces” on climate change policy instead of just informing them after the fact.
“There is a role for the provinces,” Renner said. “But at the end of the day, the federal government is going to have to make the decision and be held accountable.”
In Edmonton, Premier Ed Stelmach said the campaign against the oilsands was “disconcerting.”
“That’s part of the misinformation that continues to roll out quite often from various self-interest groups, painting Alberta and the country of Canada with a picture like that. Most unfortunate.”