Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Critics are attacking Ottawa's energy strategy after internal documents shed new light on the extent of federal efforts to advocate for the oil sands industry.

The documents, obtained through an access to information request and released by Greenpeace Canada, are a draft diplomatic strategy outlining ways to shape European perceptions of Canada's oil sands. They show that the government's messages are intended to shift attitudes in media and among top decision makers regarding the oil sands industry, which faces a possible effective import ban in Europe as the continent pursues a low-carbon fuel strategy.

In the document, environmental organizations and aboriginal groups are shown as "adversaries." Industry associations, energy companies and the National Energy Board – which is supposed to serve as an independent body evaluating new projects – are listed as "allies."

Story continues below advertisement

Critics say the documents raise questions about the government's ability to fairly regulate new energy projects, and its increasing embrace of the country's energy industry. Ministers have publicly tussled with environmental groups and made clear their friendly attitude toward Corporate Canada.

Government officials quickly moved to play down the significance of the documents. A spokesman for International Trade Minister Ed Fast said "we do not agree with the characterizations" of the documents, and Environment Minister Peter Kent called them "a gross mischaracterization of reality."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated his support for oil expansion at the Davos World Economic Forum, calling it a "national priority to ensure we have the capacity to export our energy products beyond the United States and specifically to Asia."

Also Thursday, Mr. Kent, in an address to a Calgary Chamber of Commerce audience packed with some of the top oil patch executives, described the new relationship between industry and his ministry, which plays an important role in regulating new projects.

"Environment Canada is a strategic partner to everyone in this room – everyone who does business in Calgary, everyone who does business in Alberta, everyone who does business in Canada," he said.

"I'm not here to kill your buzz," he said, adding that "we've reviewed and renewed our approach as a government department" to focus on efficiency and expediency – both inside the department, and in its focus on allowing industry to create jobs and investment.

Although he said "we are still environmental regulators," he highlighted Environment Canada's efforts at streamlining regulations as "the equivalent of installing bright lights around a rocky path to make progress safer and swifter."

Story continues below advertisement

Those statements raised eyebrows among those who say the duty of Canadian regulators is not to advocate on behalf of one party.

Environment Canada's duties do include partnering with industry, in the sense that it must call on companies to achieve better performance. But "the focus of regulation has to be on public interest, not on the interest of one particular stakeholder group – including industry," said Jack Mintz, the director of the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy who also sits on the board of Imperial Oil Ltd.

Environmental advocates say Ottawa has begun to shift the definition of what is good for the country.

"The Harper government is now making explicit that they define protecting the public interest as protecting the interests of the oil industry," said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice, a legal defence group that works with environmental organizations. "This is consistent with a shift that we've seen at Environment Canada ever since Harper came into power, and it's the shift from being a steward of the natural environment to being a partner with industry."

Such a policy – and the provocative language the government has used to further it, including labelling some environmental groups "radicals" – could have longer-term consequences, said Warren Mabee, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University.

He pointed to the development of the national energy program, and the Trudeau government's provocative language toward Alberta as it worked to set that into place. That, he argued, helped set in motion the western Reform movement. Ottawa's current battle against environmental groups could also create long-term unintended consequences, he warned.

Story continues below advertisement

And, Mr. Mabee added, this country's battles over cutting old-growth forest – which led to international consumer rejection of Canadian products – should serve as a cautionary tale.

"By favouring one outcome over another, government runs the risk of creating the impression of manipulating the process. And that will just backfire, I think, in terms of market acceptance of the product."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies