smoke-tar-sands.jpg

Feds Solicited Industry Support for “Very Controversial” Environmental Reforms

The Harper government knew in early 2012 that proposed regulatory reforms tabled in the contentious Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 would be "very controversial." As a result a parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment Canada was directed to seek the cooperation of a major tar sands developer, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), regarding the proposed changes, saying "the reforms, when introduced, may be very controversial. I hope we can count on your support."

The comments, revealed in secret briefing notes released to Postmedia News through Access to Information requests, were prepared for Environment Minister Peter Kent's parliamentary secretary, Michelle Rempel. The secret documents show behind-the-scenes coordination between industry and Environment Canada occurred well before the federal government overhauled environmental laws last summer or even proposed the changes in Parliament.

Similar communication did not occur with First Nations or environmental groups.

The briefing notes provided Rempel with specific talking points intended to highlight the role industry interests played in the overhaul of environmental protections.

"Resource development is certainly among the major industrial sectors that are top-of-mind as we consider the modernization of our regulatory system," the notes read.

Rempel, who met with Bill Clapperton, CNRL vice-president of stakeholder and environmental affairs on February 2, 2012, suggested the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – Canada's most powerful oil and gas industry lobby group – had also "pointed to potential areas for reform."

The documents are part of a larger body of internal documents that highlight the federal government's close liaison with the oil and gas industry.

In September 2012, Postmedia's Mike De Souza reported on internal briefing notes prepared for Minister Kent before a meeting with the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. They showed the federal government's promise that new legislation would lighten regulation of industrial projects.

"Pipeline development is certainly among the major industrial sectors that are top-of-mind as we consider the modernization of our regulatory system," the documents stated.

An additional internal document from late 2011 and only released earlier this month, showed numerous oil and gas industry groups requested changes to existing environmental laws that they deemed not beneficial to industrial activities. The Harper government granted these requests only months later with the radical overhaul of environmental protections through Bill C-38.

The federal government appears to have pushed through these massive environmental reforms – eliminating some 3000 environmental reviews in tandem – despite the caution of Environment Canada officials who told Kent such reforms could "weaken public trust and credibility in the environmental assessment process…especially when applied to major projects such as oil sands developments or large mines."

Those comments, originating from Environment Canada, came from internal briefing notes, prepared for Minister Kent, and released through Access to Information legislation to researcher Ken Rubin.

The notes continued, "it is in the interest of all parties that the federal and provincial governments fully meet their respective mandates for the protection of the environment in relation to oil sands development," adding anything less could "undermine the government of Canada's ability to fulfill its responsibilities," reported De Souza.

These internal documents, now released, demonstrate the extent to which Harper's budget legislation appears to be designed with industry interests in mind, or rather, "top-of-mind."

Image Credit: Emissions from tar sands refineries by Kris Krug. Used with permission.

New title

You’ve read all the way to the bottom of this article. That makes you some serious Narwhal material.

And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired eight journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 2,900 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

We’ve drafted a plan to make 2021 our biggest year yet, but we need your support to make it all happen.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

Saving the salmon: why the Gitanyow are creating a new Indigenous Protected Area

When the sun sets in a bowl-shaped basin on Ana’miso mountain on Gitanyow lax’yip (territory) in northwest B.C., that means the sockeye salmon are running...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help power our ad-free, non‑profit journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!

People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism