“They don’t scare me,” said Kent in an interview with Postmedia News. “As long as they deal in the facts and the science . . . we have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Environmental Defence, an Ottawa-based group, plans to spend the next several months in Kent’s Thornhill, Ont., riding seeking out constituents concerned with the government’s policy on the oilsands.
Next week, it will begin calling 50,000 households in the suburb, about 30 minutes north of Toronto.
According to the group, this type of large-scale initiative has never been attempted by any environmental organization.
At issue are some of the first remarks Kent made after he was named environment minister in early January. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Kent said Alberta’s oilsands industry was a producer of “ethical oil” and blamed the public’s perception of its negative effects on misinformation.
These comments drew much controversy from critics, who called it an attempt by the government to “rebrand” the oilsands to the rest of the world, an accusation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed.
Climate change experts call the oil produced in the oilsands “dirty oil” because the methods used to extract it create greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.
Kent defended this views again Friday.
“Of course, the oilsands are one of many of our great natural resources,” he said. “(The industry) is done in a responsible manner, a sustainable manner and I believe they will help us create Canada as a great superpower, absolutely.”
He added that he isn’t worried about the group specifically targeting him and his constituents in their campaign, as rumours of a possible federal election remain rampant on Parliament Hill.
“Our government doesn’t feel we need an election,” said Kent. “But if there is an election, bring it on.”
The minister said a plan to crack down on industrial pollution will still be revealed some time this year and he continues to remain confident that Canada will meet its climate change targets set for 2020.
Gillian McEachern, a spokeswoman with Environmental Defence, said the group will remain “on the ground” in Thornhill for the next several months to raise awareness on the issue.
Beginning next week, residents will be called by an automated messaging service that will ask them a few questions about the oilsands and the minister, to which they will be able to respond by using their touchstone keypads. The information will then be recorded and forwarded to the group, who will contact them at a later date.
“People are very aware in Thornhill about this issue,” said Ian Carey, the campaign project leader. “The most common reaction we get is confusion because people don’t understand why the environment minister, whose job is to protect Canada’s environment, would be promoting something so environmentally destructive.”
The group said it also will publish a letter Saturday addressed to Kent in the local Thornhill newspaper, the Liberal.