The Harper government has created an elaborate strategy to promote approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that includes an outreach program targeting American journalists behind the scenes, newly released diplomatic correspondence reveals.
The documents reveal a flurry of activity among Canadian diplomats in the United States, dating back to the summer of 2011, as unexpected delays and a national North American protest movement started to emerge regarding Alberta-based TransCanada’s pipeline expansion proposal, which is still under review by the Obama administration.
Chris Plunkett, a spokesman for Canada’s Washington embassy, said the outreach efforts were part of normal advocacy work for an issue of importance to Canada. He said the Canadian government “strongly supports the expansion of the Keystone pipeline and the embassy continues to advocate for its approval which will contribute to energy security and economic growth for both Canada and the U.S.”
The documents, nearly 1,000 pages of emails, were released to Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based conservation group, through access to information legislation more than a year after they were requested and were heavily redacted.
“I’d like to discuss strategy for KXL hearings,” wrote Marc Lepage, at the time a Canadian embassy special adviser on climate change and energy issues, in an email to a senior Canadian diplomat – Paula Caldwell St-Onge, consul general to the south central United States.
“We’re considering a weekly ‘war room’ and I’d like your views – you’ll be very busy!”
Canada’s access to information law requires government departments, agencies and Crown corporations to release public records within 30 days, upon request, allowing for delays and exemptions in some cases.
The records revealed several attempts, over a two-week period in August 2011, to reach out to various journalists from major publications such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and an influential trade publication, E & E Daily, as part of a government program to “develop Canada’s network of reporters covering energy issues” and to “support energy objectives in the U.S., specifically as they relate to advocacy on the Keystone (XL) pipeline expansion.”
After a $123 lunch with one of the journalists, a media relations officer from Canada’s Washington embassy filed a report saying the meeting was designed to develop a “better relationship” with the journalist and had strengthened the network of reporters covering Keystone XL.
The records also showed a flurry of emails, generated in response to a negative editorial from the New York Times that criticized the pipeline project, going all the way up to the office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, prior to approval of a letter to the editor that was signed by Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a multibillion dollar project, would open up new routes and markets for Canadian oilsands companies to ship their heavy oil to refineries in the Gulf coast of Texas and expand production levels over the next decade.
The U.S. State Department last week downplayed environmental concerns about the project in a new report that also suggested any decision to approve or reject the pipeline would have little impact on the oilsands industry because of other pipeline projects in the works.
After receiving harsh international criticism over its climate change record at a series of global warming summits starting in 2006, the Harper government set up a special task force across multiple departments to promote the oilsands in Canada and abroad.
Canadian diplomats have also lobbied representatives of Fortune 500 companies as part of the Harper government’s efforts to promote the oilsands.
Oil and gas industry stakeholders have defended the government’s lobbying efforts in recent years to promote the oilsands industry, which represents about two per cent of the Canadian economy according to Natural Resources Canada, noting that their companies make important job and tax contributions that benefit Canada.
Environmental groups have argued the federal government’s approach has neglected emerging clean energy economic opportunities as well as the importance of cracking down on heat-trapping pollution from oilsands operations, which are considered to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in Canada.
“The facts speak for themselves,” said Hannah McKinnon, national program manager at Environmental Defence. “There are no rules to control the soaring pollution from the tar sands. Until that changes, it’s all just a glossy PR strategy.”
Other records indicated the embassy officials were closely monitoring media coverage about the issue, including emerging protests outside the embassy and the White House. In one email, a Canadian diplomat suggested officials should brace for Canadian reports about the issue after spotting a Postmedia journalist covering one of the protests.
The records also show that Ambassador Doer received a bitter response to an opinion piece published in a Canadian newspaper that promoted pipeline expansion in the form of 56 similarly worded emails from people urging him to “get his facts straight and to stop lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline.”
Another email exchanged between Canadian diplomats noted that Environment Minister Peter Kent had just introduced draft regulations to crack down on pollution from coal-fired electricity plants – finalized in 2012 – and that he should travel to the U.S. and talk about these regulations in order to promote pipelines and deflect criticism in America about the oilsands.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver continued government efforts to promote the pipeline during stops in U.S. cities this week by suggesting that the oilsands industry was green. Bitumen, a tar-like heavy oil found in natural deposits of northern Alberta, is criticized by some scientists and environmentalists as one of the dirtiest forms of oil in the world because it requires massive amounts of energy and water to extract.
A series of internal records obtained by Postmedia News in recent months have also suggested that the Harper government deliberately tried to downplay scientific evidence about the industry’s environmental footprint on air, water and wildlife, while discouraging federal scientists from speaking publicly about their oilsands research revealing evidence that the industry is contaminating natural ecosystems.…