Canada’s politicians want to reduce emissions … and extract more oil and gas

Alberta’s gas tax, ‘dictator oil,’ offshore drilling, thousands of pages of documents — and the lobbyist influence that ties them all together

Alberta has axed its gas tax. Premier Jason Kenney is railing against “dictator oil.” And Canada’s industry lobbyists are all too eager to push for expanded fossil fuel production at home to counter the energy crisis in Europe.

But would Canadian oil even be able to fill the void? Is increasing production something that should be under consideration when there’s an urgent need to shift to renewable energy? And what about the obligations of oil and gas companies, which so far are putting their gains from high prices toward investor payouts instead of emissions-reduction projects or settling unpaid bills from Alberta’s municipalities and landowners?

Prairies reporter Drew Anderson has penned this must-read analysis that tries to answer these questions, and more.

Kenney isn’t the only provincial leader making the pitch for more Canadian oil and gas production. Over in Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Andrew Furey is urging the federal government to green light the controversial Bay du Nord deep-sea drilling project.

And while the Bay du Nord project does face a level of federal oversight, a number of other emerging fossil fuel projects in the province may not face the same fate.

That’s because the Trudeau government decided to exempt exploratory offshore drilling off Newfoundland’s coast from federal review. This came as a part of regulatory reforms the feds said would restore public trust in oversight of major industrial projects.

It may be 6:00 where you are but it’s 6:30 in Newfoundland … if you know what I mean.

To understand why and how the exemption came to be, The Narwhal’s senior editor Elaine Anselmi sifted through more than 3,000 pages of internal government documents and correspondence. And she found evidence showing that federal officials pushed for the loophole requested by both the province and oil and gas lobbyists.

Elaine Anselmi

Elaine also found internal emails that reveal how scientists within government departments attempted unsuccessfully to correct what they viewed as a flawed regulatory trajectory that would put public health and the environment in jeopardy.

But wait, you want more insider details about sneaky industry-government dealings?

We present you with northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons’ scoop showing how lobbyist talking points made their way into the briefings of top provincial officials in British Columbia. 

Matt obtained documents through freedom of information legislation that revealed oil and gas lobbyists were telling public servants that a landmark Indigenous Rights ruling on industrial development could lead to 10,000 job losses for industry and tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue losses for the province. This “feedback” was then relayed, with little apparent fact-checking, to B.C.’s deputy energy minister (the ministry told Matt it “uses a number of best available information sources” in its estimates, but didn’t identify those sources.)

“The real surprise was just seeing how this all unfolded behind the scenes — having that sort of insight because of these documents, which we so rarely get,” Elaine told me as she reflected on her Newfoundland piece.

“We’re all familiar with public consultation and community workshops around different projects being considered,” Elaine said, “but it’s really interesting to see the conversation going on between different departments, who’s giving what advice and how it’s actually being taken in.”

“We got to see how the sausage gets made.”

It turns out what happens behind closed doors tells us a whole lot about why politicians are out there pitching emissions reductions on one hand while pushing through resource development on the other.

Take care and check lobbyist registries,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

P.S. This month is my two-year anniversary of working at The Narwhal, which means two years of getting to write these weekly emails for all of you and hearing your valuable feedback. These past two years have also been a time of incredible change in Narlandia as our team grows and we tell more stories for more people, from coast to coast. It all feels pretty surreal and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to be a piece of the puzzle. If you believe in the work we do, please consider joining the 4,300 readers who give whatever they can each month by becoming a member today. Your support is critical for our continued success, growth and impact. And thanks for reading, as always.

The Narwhal in the world

Executive editor Carol Linnitt holds a Narwhal-branded surfboard.

Guess who’s already been honoured with an alumni award less than a year after picking up her PhD? Our very own co-founder and executive editor Carol Linnitt! The University of Victoria has recognized the outstanding work Carol is doing in the wake of her degree in English, and Cultural, Social and Political Thought. 🤓

“It’s been a challenge but also an immense intellectual pleasure to have one foot in the journalism world and one in academia,” Carol said in this award profile, noting how she was able “to draw upon my experiences as an environmental journalist to enrich my academic research.” (That research was on … deep breath … post-apocalyptic fiction.) Now, she’s channeling those PhD lessons as an editor in our pod: “At the moment, I’m really enjoying the work of bringing my academic background into my work at The Narwhal, and using it to interrogate the presumptions that undergird journalistic practices.”

Here’s to all the journalistic interrogations! And to Carol!

This week in The Narwhal

What does an old-growth forest look like in Ontario?

A man hanging from a rope and a climbing harness dangers below a cedar tree growing out of a cliff on the Niagara Escarpment, with farmland and the Niagara Escarpment visible in the background. The photo has a film-style border.

By Emma McIntosh

Size doesn’t matter – some of the province’s most ancient trees are skinny, contorted cedars clinging to cliffs. As the definition of ‘old-growth’ is hard to pin down, a 350-year-old hemlock in the Kawartha Highlands is slated for logging. Read more.

What has (and hasn’t) changed for coal mining in Alberta

Proposed coal mines in alberta like the Tent Mountain mine can continue

By Drew Anderson

As the province announces another about-face on coal policy, here are eight things that still haven’t changed when it comes to coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies. Read more.

As COVID-19 evolves in deer, scientists say Canada’s animal monitoring is disorganized and underfunded

A photo illustration of a gorilla over a background of viruses.

By Denise Balkissoon

A new lineage of SARS-CoV-2 may have jumped from Ontario deer to a human. Two years and 17 species in, the world’s zoonotic virus experts could use money — and commitment. Read more.

What we’re reading

Guardian article: Canadian pipeline groups spend big to pose as Indigenous champions
Globe and Mail article: Iqaluit has endured six months of water woes – when will the federal government step up?

GIF of dog staring at camera while sitting in boardroom

When you’re hard at work, lobbying. Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter, where we disclose all the facts.

Highway 413 threatens more Ontario conservation lands than publicized

The Ontario government’s proposed Highway 413 would cut through not just one but three parcels of land set aside for conservation, according to an internal...

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We’re tripling our Prairies coverage
The Narwhal’s newly minted Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.