Top executives of three Calgary-based oil sands companies published an “open letter" Thursday that urges Canadians to support the much-criticized sector when they go to the polls in the national election due this October, an ad blitz that is part of a wider oil industry campaign to elect a sympathetic government.
Presidents at Cenovus Energy Inc., MEG Energy Corp. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. took out ads in 30 newspapers across the country on Thursday, touting their industry’s record and encouraging Canadians to push all political leaders to “help our country thrive by supporting an innovative energy industry.” The letter did not explicitly support any of the federal parties.
In an interview, Cenovus president and chief executive officer Alex Pourbaix insisted the letter was non-partisan in nature, although the Conservative Party has been the most supportive of industry positions in the past. Mr. Pourbaix said the oil and gas industry has failed to effectively defend its record in the national debate and the executives want voters to understand its issues when they assess their choices in the October election.
“We’re encouraging Canadians to take the time to look at the parties’ platforms as they relate to the industry and be thoughtful about what they do and how they vote,” Mr. Pourbaix said. “But it really was a focus [of the open letter] that we think we have not done a good enough job of communicating to Canadians all elements of our business.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) pursued a similar campaign in last spring’s Alberta election with a message it claimed to be non-partisan but was widely seen as favouring the United Conservative Party and its Leader and now Premier Jason Kenney. CAPP has vowed to launch a similar initiative for the federal election while, separately, some of its board members from non-oil sands companies were part of an April strategy session that included Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer and some top party organizers.
Cenovus was part of an aggressive industry lobbying effort to overhaul the Liberal government’s Bill C-69, which was proclaimed into law in June and provides stronger protections for the environment and First Nations’ interests when reviewing major resource projects. Conservative senators pushed to adopt a series of amendments proposed by CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association that would have tilted the balance of the legislation towards quicker, more favourable outcomes.
After the C-69 vote, CAPP chairman and Birchcliff Energy Ltd. chief executive Jeffrey Tonken accused the Liberal government of "positioning itself to let the energy industry die so they can get votes to get re-elected.”
The Liberals have a mixed record when it comes to the oil sector’s priorities – approving pipelines and even spending $4.5-billion to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline and keep the expansion project alive, while imposing regulatory burdens that the industry consider onerous. The oil sands companies have generally endorsed carbon pricing – which is favoured by the Liberals and opposed by the Conservatives.
The New Democratic Party and Green Party of Canada take the hardest line on the oil and gas industry, each with a platform that would dramatically increase efforts to cut emissions, oppose oil export pipelines and end all subsidies and incentives for industry.
In an interview, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May denounced the political advocacy of the executives and of CAPP more broadly, saying they are misleading Canadians about the need for urgent action amid the growing climate emergency.
“For them to promote a campaign of self-interest and deception on this scale in an election year is beyond despicable,” she said.
The executives’ open letter sought to counter the argument that growth in the oil sands is inconsistent with the progress of climate change. Mr. Pourbaix said Cenovus has reduced the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each barrel of crude it produces by one-third over the last 15 years, while the industry as a whole has cut its per-barrel emissions by 30 per cent. It is developing technology that will not only help Canada reduce emissions, but will be available to the industry around the world, it said.
However, the sector remains the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in Canada, as rapidly expanding production more than offset the per-barrel improvements. Canada has committed to reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The latest Environment Canada emissions report projects the oil sands emissions will have tripled to 106-megatonnes by 2030 from 2005 levels, and would account for more than 20 per cent of Canada’s 512-megatonne target.