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A dozen or so companies in the Alberta oil patch are dipping into deep pockets for an advertising campaign against the Liberal government's climate- change policy that bears a striking similarity to the business-sponsored campaign in favour of free trade more than a decade ago.

The tactics and even the name of their instant umbrella organization have a familiar ring. The same goes for their shyness in admitting how much they are spending to win friends and influence people for a mission to oppose the Kyoto accord, which would limit the emission of greenhouse gases.

When the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions, as the ad hoc grouping calls itself, was asked directly how much its television campaign was costing, I was referred to a Calgary lawyer who feigned surprise that anyone might think he would divulge his clients' confidential private business.

The petroleum industry has every right to oppose the government's program to approve and implement the accord and to spend its money how it sees fit -- but it stretches the imagination that such a public lobby campaign qualifies as "private business."

Suffice it to say the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions is not as unified as it claims to be.

One of the country's largest public-relations companies, National PR, sold the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and its allies at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on the coalition idea. (When climate change first surfaced as an issue in the early 1990s, one of NPR's competitors, GPC Government Policy Consultants, put together a similar campaign, this one called An Alliance for Responsible Environmental Alternatives. Today's alliance has morphed into a "coalition" and alternatives have morphed into "solutions," and as always they are "responsible.")

The coalition includes the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and it says in its promotional material that it speaks for about 30 other business organizations. In practice, it reflects the views of the CEOs of the four main organizations.

But when it comes to the television advertising campaign against Kyoto (which ad agency experts estimate is costing about $225,000 a week) the money is coming almost exclusively from the oil companies. A spokesperson for the Chamber of Commerce said its contribution was essentially sweat equity.

The oil companies' advertising campaign advocates developing a made-in-Canada alternative to targets called for in the Kyoto treaty. They don't explain how this non-existent plan would manage neither to cost jobs nor limit Canada's standard of living.

Nor do the ads admit that even the petroleum industry is divided over Kyoto. There are two fundamentally opposed approaches; one is to deny the problem exists and question the science behind it (which covers most of the CAPP members), and the second is to get on with reducing emissions and pursuing sustainable alternatives, which is what Suncor, the pioneering oil sands company, Shell and BP are doing.

Suncor has gone together with a pipeline company to build a new type of electricity-generating plant in Fort McMurray that is 85-per-cent efficient compared with the 30-per-cent efficiency ratio of conventional fossil generators. It has also reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions to 16 per cent below 1990 levels, while the Kyoto target is only 6 per cent below 1990.

The business lobby that promoted the free-trade agreement in 1988 considered itself wildly successful for a promotional expenditure the Lortie Commission on Electoral Reform estimated at $4.7-million.

The anti-Kyoto coalition hasn't got there yet and it has a way to go before it matches the $10-million the government has committed to its climate-change advertising campaign. But the oil patch would do a lot to dispel skepticism about its lobby if it adopted a bit of candour. hwinsor@globeandmail.ca

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