CAPP trashes environmental regulations to push petroleum

OPINION by Gillian Steward

It is one of the most powerful and influential lobby groups in Canada. A sophisticated, well-funded, well-staffed organization that uses its muscle to advance the interests of big oil — especially oilsands players — whether it be on the provincial, national or international stage.

Headquartered in a suite of highrise offices in the heart of downtown Calgary, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has the kind of money and access to decision-makers that environmentalists and First Nations can only dream about.

CAPP doesn’t publicly reveal its annual revenues, which it raises mainly through membership fees. Ninety of its members are oil and gas producers. Their annual fees range from $5,000 to $2.6 million, depending on annual production. The 150 associate members pay annual fees ranging from $1,000 to $7,500, depending on the size of the company.

Half of CAPP’s 30-member board of governors represent oilsands developers and include eight of the top 10 oilsands producers. Some board members represent companies based in the U.S., China, Malaysia and Norway.

About 80 staff members — including economists, engineers, communicators, accountants, political scientists, lawyers and administrative staff — keep CAPP on top of all issues that affect the petroleum industry. CAPP also spends a lot of time lobbying government and has no problem gaining access to ministers and top-level bureaucrats.

In Ottawa, it out-lobbies industries such as mining, forestry, banking and automotive manufacturers, according to research conducted by the Polaris Institute, a non-profit watchdog that monitors corporate lobbying.

According to the federal government’s lobbyist registry, between September 2011 and September 2012, CAPP met five times with Joe Oliver, then minister of natural resources. That same year, it had a total of 14 meetings with five different ministers. Individual companies also met with ministers: Suncor, for example, had 13 meetings.

In January 2012, the day before hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline — which would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to the west coast — Oliver slammed environmental groups for damaging Canada’s economy by causing delays and controversies over energy projects.

The federal lobbying registry also shows that between September 2011 and September 2012, CAPP lobbied the government to repeal and replace the Fisheries Act and to review the Species at Risk Act and the environmental assessment process for oil and gas projects.

All of those issues were addressed in the Harper government’s omnibus bill, C-38, which was passed in June 2012. It included several changes to environmental regulations and impact assessments that benefited the oil industry and caused considerable dismay among environmentalists and aboriginal organizations.

Two years earlier, the federal and Alberta governments had struck up a secret committee that included CAPP to co-ordinate promotion of the oilsands.

According to a document obtained through an access to information request, the committee brought together CAPP’s then president Dave Collyer and deputy ministers from Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, Alberta Energy and Alberta Environment to synchronize their offensive in the face of mounting protests over pipelines carrying bitumen and looming international regulations targeting Alberta crude.

Talking points for a meeting with CAPP included the federal government aiming to “ramp up” its lobbying in the United States and Europe.

In 2010, the Alberta government developed a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at American consumers on the easy availability of Canadian oil. The campaign ran during the five months between Syncrude’s guilty verdict over the death of 1,600 ducks in one of its tailings ponds and its sentencing.

“We want Americans to know … that we are developing the oilsands in a responsible manner, that we are considering the environment and that we are doing groundbreaking work on carbon capture and storage,” a spokesman for then-Alberta premier Ed Stelmach told CBC News.

By 2013, the federal government had launched its own multimillion-dollar advertising blitz to impress on Americans the importance of Canadian oil imports.

The call for tenders spelled out the mission: to defend Canadian energy’s reputation against hostile groups and lawmakers threatening anti-oilsands measures in the U.S. and Europe.

The campaign included subway posters, social media and Google ads. Space was purchased in the Economist, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes editions on three continents, as well as in publications in Beijing, Shanghai, London and Brussels.

The blitz lasted two years and ate up $24 million of taxpayers’ money.

During 2014-15, according to the federal lobbyist registry, CAPP representatives had 79 meetings or personal communications with federal government ministers, deputy ministers and Conservative and Liberal MPs. They met with nine cabinet ministers including Joe Oliver, Lisa Raitt, Jason Kenney and Bernard Valcourt to discuss the Income Tax Act, aboriginal constitutional rights and oilsands environmental policies.

CAPP representatives also met with Liberal party Leader Justin Trudeau, but there is no record of CAPP meeting with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair or Green party Leader Elizabeth May.

Gillian Steward is the Toronto Star’s 2015 Atkinson Fellow. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star as part of Steward’s Atkinson series on the Alberta tarsands. The Star’s annual Atkinson series contributes to public discourse and policy innovation.