Lobbyists for Canada’s energy industry say they will be reaching out more to opposition parties, including the New Democratic Party, when Parliament reconvenes in a few weeks.
The Liberals won only a strong minority of seats in the House of Commons in the Oct. 21 election. That means Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will require the co-operation of other parties to pass legislation, and that the Liberals will no longer have a majority of seats on parliamentary committees. Both factors mean that opposition parties will have more influence than usual to change legislation.
Ted Gruetzner, vice-president of energy, environment and resources at public relations firm Global Public Affairs, said he’s advising clients to tell their stories to all parties, no matter what their energy policies are. Mr. Gruetzner is registered federally to lobby on behalf of companies that include Petronas Energy Canada Ltd. and Conoco Phillips Canada.
“It’s easy to talk to people who agree with you,” he said, but “you have to work with the people who are there.”
Francis Bradley, president of the Canadian Electricity Association, said talking to all caucuses will be crucial as the government has less control over the legislative agenda.
“The electricity sector always approaches advocacy from a cross-partisan basis,” he said. “Everyone uses electricity, after all.”
The Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats all have enough MPs that any one of those parties can help the Liberals pass bills.
But each of those parties will have very different views on the important energy issues that will come before Parliament. The Conservatives draw much of their political support from Alberta and Saskatchewan and champion those provinces’ oil-and-gas industries. They advocate building infrastructure, such as pipelines, to get that oil to market, and have criticized the federal carbon pricing regime brought in by the Liberals in 2018.
The NDP and Bloc, however, are against new pipelines – including the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline bought by the Liberal government last year – and are in favour of the carbon price.
Another key Liberal promise that will come into play in the next Parliament is the Clean Fuel Standard. The policy aims to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels by encouraging companies to take measures such as making production more energy efficient or mixing in biofuels.
The Clean Fuel Standard was first announced in 2016, and the Liberal government released its proposed regulatory approach this past June. The government says it will produce draft regulations covering the liquid fossil fuels next year, followed by consultations, then do the same for gaseous and solid fossil fuels in 2021. Regulations would come into force in 2022 and 2023.
Anne McGrath, an associate at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a former top aide to federal NDP leader Jack Layton and Alberta premier Rachel Notley, said minority governments can be a time of “creative energy” for lawmakers.
“In a period where Parliament is volatile, with a lot of confidence motions and things like that, it’s actually a good time to try to influence policy,” she said in an interview, “but it’s a bad time to try to get face time with members of Parliament because it can be quite a roller coaster."
The federal parties are making key staffing decisions over the next month. Lobbyists who spoke to The Globe and Mail said they would be paying attention to who gets named to cabinet on Nov. 20, which key staff get recruited to work in ministers’ offices and which parliamentarians are invited to sit on committees.