Only three-and-a-half months have passed since the federal election, but fossil fuel companies and lobby groups haven’t wasted any time in ramping up their lobbying efforts.
Suncor, the country’s largest energy company by revenue, has led the pack in meeting with high-ranking federal officials — logging at least 12 meetings in just over one month.
Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 19 the dominant oilsands player met four times with Louise Metivier, who was Canada’s chief negotiator at the UN climate summit held in Paris between Nov. 30 and Dec. 12.
Steve Williams, the company’s CEO and head lobbyist, also met three times with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (on Nov. 18, Dec. 7 and Dec. 8) another three times with Environment Canada’s chief of staff Marlo Raynolds (on Nov. 5, Dec. 7 and Dec. 9) and twice more with Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s right-hand man and principal secretary ( Nov. 18 and Nov. 19).
“The meetings were preparatory meetings for Suncor’s participation at COP 21 in Paris,” explained Sneh Seetal, spokesperson at Suncor, via e-mail. “Our president and CEO, Steve Williams, attended as a member of the Canadian delegation at the invitation of the federal government. We discussed Suncor’s perspectives on climate change and how industry can help be a part of the solution.”
Other oil and gas interests have displayed similar determination since the Liberals formed government.
Take LNG Canada Development (a Kitimat-based joint venture composed of Shell, PetroChina, Korea Gas and Mitsubishi), which met with Erin O’Gorman, assistant deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, on Oct. 27, Nov. 5 and Jan. 8.
TransCanada, the proponent of both the Energy East and Keystone XL pipelines, lobbied Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, three times on Oct. 30.
The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association met with NEB chairperson Peter Watson on Nov. 2 and Dec. 17. And the Petroleum Services Association of Canada lobbied McKenna, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk in separate meetings on Dec. 22.
It’s important to keep in mind that the lobby registrations are likely just scraping the surface of the actual lobbying happening in Ottawa.
Richard Girard, executive director of research centre Polaris Institute, notes that only employees who spend more than 20 per cent of their month’s work on lobbying efforts are required to register as a lobbyist. As a result, Girard suggests there are “lots of meetings that are more likely taking place that we don’t know about.”
Even the meetings that are registered lack specifics, only hinting at general subjects such as “environment” or “energy.”
“It certainly provides you with a list of who’s seeing who, which is helpful,” says Gillian Steward, author of the Toronto Star’s 2015 Atkinson Series on public policy on the oilsands. “They do have to at least put down the topic of what they’re talking about. On the other hand, it can be very difficult to get — say, from CAPP — exactly what they’re presenting.”
Some companies have clearly been making plenty of moves, with Bear Head LNG — the company proposing to build a liquefied natural gas facility in Nova Scotia — meeting with Doer on Oct. 21, Oct. 26, Oct. 30, Nov. 10, Nov. 11, Dec. 10 and Dec. 18.
Represented by former U.S. ambassador Derek Burney, the company also lobbied the duo of Jay Khosla (assistant deputy minister of Natural Resource Canada’s energy sector) and Terence Hubbard (director general of Natural Resource Canada) four times between Nov. 12 and Dec. 29, with Khosla chatting individually with the company an additional four times in the window.
Girard notes that while the Canadian lobbying registry has improved over the years, it’s still flawed because it doesn’t show how much companies are spending on lobbyists, unlike the U.S. But reasonable conclusions can still be made.
“The number of times people register communications increases around certain important pieces of legislation,” says Girard, who served as co-author for the Polaris’ report Big Oil’s Oily Grasp. “Many of those pieces of legislation were very positive for the industry. We can’t draw the line, but yes we can see there’s a correlation between the level of lobbying — who’s lobbying and for what — and the outcome of the legislation.”
The Polaris Institute’s 2012 report found that that 2,733 lobbying communications were made by oil and gas companies between July 2008 and November 2012, far outweighing similar efforts by mining and forestry interests. Prominent lobbying organizations such as the Canadian Association for Petroleum Producers (CAPP), TransCanada, the Canadian Gas Association, Imperial Oil and Suncor led the way. Meanwhile, only 11 environmental non-governmental organizations were registered as lobbyists in that window.
“It’s a question of balance,” Steward says. “[Oil and gas companies] have a right to go and do that. It’s just that they have more resources and more power to actually have those meetings, where environmental and First Nations groups and other kinds of NGOs don’t have the funds or staff, and aren’t represented as well. It’s much harder for them to actually get their message across to the people who influence those decisions.”
Image: Steve Williams takes the helm as Suncor CEO in 2011.
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