Harper Government Lobbies US Media on Tar Sands and KXL Pipeline, Documents Reveal

The depth of the Canadian government’s tar sands PR strategy was further revealed yesterday in a collection of nearly 1,000 pages of emails between Canadian diplomats in the United States. The correspondence dates back to August 2011 when protests movements focused on the Alberta tar sands began to spread across the continent. Toronto-based conservation group Environmental Defence obtained the documents through access to information legislation.

In an effort specifically designed to promote the Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, the government has been targeting journalists from major American news outlets, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Time and prominent trade publication E & E Daily, in order to “develop Canada’s network of reporters covering energy issues.” Canadian diplomats took reporters to lunch and then filed reports about strengthening the relationship between diplomats and journalists.

Chris Plunkett, a spokesperson for Canada’s Washington embassy, indicated these efforts were just par for the course when it comes to activities that have an impact on the Canadian economy. 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.”

Adding emphasis to apparent intentions to sway American media, a series of emails going all the way up to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shows the extent of the Conservatives’ response to negative media attention. An editorial in the New York Times that maligned the Keystone project prompted the department to draft a letter to the editor signed by Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer.

Records also show that Canadian diplomats are keeping tabs on Canadian journalists in the US, warning officials of reports about the Forward on Climate rally that drew roughly 35,000 protestors to the White House lawn on February 17th.

Doer recently downplayed the importance of the thousands of protesters who gathered in Washington, DC, for the historic rally. He dismissed opposition to the pipeline among Americans saying those opposed to Keystone are no more than an “outspoken minority” and that 65 percent of Americans are in favour of importing Canadian oil.

The documents show that some Canadians are also displeased with Doer’s use of their own media to lobby for Keystone, responding to an editorial he wrote in a Canadian newspaper with emails telling him to “get his facts straight.”

This information is the latest in a string of reports and documents that point to the Harper government’s attempts to expand the tar sands while downplaying their negative impact on the environment.

Since taking office, Harper has been roundly criticized by the international community for his stance on climate change, but instead of responding with a commitment to developing green energy sources, the Conservative government put together a task force to further push Canadian oil down south.

Last year, in response to a US campaign to combat Alberta tar sands development led by conservation group ForestEthics, Harper launched a campaign of his own, sending a delegation of Canadian diplomats to target Fortune 500 companies to combat so-called misinformation. The documents gave no indication of what that misinformation might be.

In addition to highlighting the Conservative government’s continued push to promote the export of Alberta crude even in the face of massive opposition in both Canada and the US, these documents also once again underscore the flaws in the federal freedom of information policies.

Under Canadian Access to Information legislation, the documents should have been released no later than 30 days after the application was made. Environmental Defence filed the request more than a year ago, and the documents they received were heavily redacted.

Erin Flegg is a freelance writer and journalist, and her work appears in the Vancouver Observer, Xtra West and This…

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