Communication is not a bad thing. In particular, business and government should communicate – not least about a sensitive and sometimes controversial business such as Canadian oil and gas.
But a report issued by the Polaris Institute on Tuesday portrays the comparatively high volume of communications between senior government officials and lobbyists for oil-and-gas companies as a sinister phenomenon. Repeatedly, it conjures up a “process of turning Canada into a petro-state” – perhaps another Saudi Arabia, Iran or Venezuela?
In his first major speech abroad as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s theme was Canada as an “emerging energy superpower.” This was far from an undercover operation; it was a very explicit strategy. And if there have been many meetings between the federal government and the oil-and-gas industry, that means they have things to talk about. There is and should be mutual persuasion.
There can be no great conspiratorial secrecy about such meetings; all the documents presented there are subject to access-to-information requests.
The paper contrasts the amount of oil-and-gas lobbyists’ contact with officials and the amount for environmental NGOs, but it acknowledges that very few of the latter register as lobbyists in the first place. That vitiates the comparison, and invites the thought that environmentalists should do more to acquire – and employ – the skills of lobbyists, who are often well versed in the ways of government, as former civil servants or political staffers. It is good to be able to speak the same language.
The oil-and-gas industry is not dictating to government, or vice versa. What corporations want above all from government is a clear regulatory framework – not laissez-faire, and not a petro-state.