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Tar Sands Protesters To Greet Harper In London Despite Canada’s Pro-Oil Lobbying

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares to give a speech to the British Parliament this Thursday, a coalition of environmental groups prepares to greet his arrival at Parliament in London with protests against the tar sands.

Jason Fekete writes for Postmedia News, that "Canada's bitumen production [from the Albertan tar sands] will likely be a popular topic during Harper's eight-day trip to Europe."

Harper left for Europe on Tuesday, along with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and International Trade Minister Ed Fast. The trip will end with the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland on June 17-18. At G8, the somewhat contradictory goals of championing the tar sands and touting Canada as a dependable leader in clean energy will likely be high on Harper's agenda.

The Harper contingent will also be looking to use the trip to lobby against the proposed European Union (EU) fuel quality directive which would label tar sands oil as high-polluting.

The European Commission hopes the fuel quality directive will help "cut emissions by a cumulative total of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020" by preventing tar sands oil imports into Europe, to reach the goal of a ten per cent cut in GHG emissions by that year. Canada has staunchly resisted the directive, claiming it unfairly targets tar sands oil over other fuels.

Fekete quotes Harper's spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, as saying that the Canadian government wants tar sands crude "judged on science and in fair comparison with other sources of oil," rather than "arbitrary standards." The Harper government hasn't addressed the fact that the EU directive is based on a Stanford University scientific study that confirms tar sands oil as highly polluting in "fair comparison" with other fuels.

It's also likely that Harper will try to meet with President Obama at G8 to discuss the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline linking tar sands crude from Alberta to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. Obama is set to make a decision on whether to approve Keystone XL by the end of the year.

But before G8 is Harper's London stop, where he will be the first Canadian prime minister to address the British Parliament since 1944. The UK Tar Sands Network, who are organizing Thursday's protest, note that addressing parliament is "normally reserved for the most highly-respected dignitaries," and that "Harper does not deserve this honour."

That Harper was bestowed this honour is unsurprising, considering that British Prime Minister David Cameron's government has been a loyal ally in Canada's push against the EU fuel quality directive. The UK Tar Sands Network cites this "destructive 'special' relationship" between the two countries as one of the reasons for Thursday's protest. They aim to show Harper that "there is huge opposition to tar sands in the UK."

Suzanne Dhaliwal, a Canadian citizen and member of the UK Tar Sands Network says "Harper may be coming here hoping to escape the multiple controversies dogging him at home, but the tar sands are a scandal of global proportions, because the industry's emissions could tip the world over the edge into runaway climate change."

"The Canadian government's campaign of misinformation against the EU Fuel Quality Directive is particularly outrageous," she added.

"They are actively trying to prevent Europe passing effective climate legislation by claiming it is arbitrary, unscientific and unfair. In reality, it is none of these things. It is non-discriminatory, based on solid peer-reviewed science, and covers all types of fuel. So we will be protesting Harper's visit, in solidarity with Indigenous communities and all those opposing the tar sands in Canada."

On their website and a Facebook page for the protest, the group raises concerns that the Harper government's "unprecedented lobbying campaign in the EU, with the energetic support of the UK government and British oil companies like Shell and BP" have stalled the fuel quality directive, and may entirely squash it.

In tandem with efforts in Europe, Fekete observes that Harper's government has also been "launching a public relations advertising offensive on American lawmakers in recent weeks — running ads in Washington D.C. newspapers, along with the launch of a new government website" to drum up US support for Keystone XL. The new government website announces that Canada is "one of the few major suppliers of crude oil…taking concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions," and boasts a "world-class  environmental  monitoring system…founded on science and transparency."   

The website doesn't mention Canada's opposition to the EU fuel quality directive to reduce GHG emissions, or accusations that the Harper government is muzzling scientists from speaking out on climate change. The government will be spending 16.5 million dollars on tar sands advertising in the upcoming year.

But despite what Jess Worth of the UK Tar Sands Network calls "absolutely extraordinary and relentless" lobbying by the Harper government, the divide between Canada's advertised image as "world environmental leader" and its aspirations towards being the chief global exporter of high-polluting tar sands oil seems clear to those preparing to protest in London on Thursday.

Image Credit: David Hoffman / Flickr

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Indrapramit Das is a freelance writer, critic and artist. His work has appeared in Slant Magazine, Vancouver Weekly, Strange Horizons…

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