Public officials faced ‘organized and sustained’ oil and gas lobbying on pipelines in recent years: study

Vancouver Sun

Oil and gas industry lobbying in recent years intensified when public servants and politicians were considering pipelines to pump fossil fuels from Alberta to B.C.’s coast, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Those projects included the since-scrapped Northern Gateway pipeline and the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, a piece of infrastructure that Canada ultimately purchased from Kinder Morgan, according to the report, titled Big Oil’s Political Reach.

The report looked at 11,452 lobbying efforts by 46 oil and gas companies and associations from 2011 to 2018 under prime ministers Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper. Its authors found that “strategic, organized and sustained lobbying” helped to explain “the past and continuing close coupling of federal policy to the needs of the fossil fuel industry.”

Nicolas Graham, a sociology instructor at the University of Victoria and the lead author of the study, said oil and gas lobbyists contacted government officials an average of six times a day during the seven-year study period. Graham characterized the in-person and remote interactions as “pretty continual contacts between a few firms and a few officials.”

Graham explained that the basic idea of lobbying “is to influence a decision around a given regulation or initiative to advance the interest of their organization.”

The oil and gas industry dominated the lobbying agenda in Canada during the study period, and it tended to ramp up efforts during key times, such as when Harper’s government was working on changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the report found. Those amendments ultimately weakened federal environmental review of major industrial projects, the authors argued.

For Graham, the report points to the power of the fossil fuel industry to shape policies connected to climate change.

“It’s an important time to be thinking about this,” Graham said. Many Canadians showed through their votes in the recent election an interest in tackling the climate change emergency, he said.

The bulk of the lobbying under Trudeau was done by the same firms as that done under Harper, the report found. Those firms — and the industry associations that represent major players — control much of the oil and gas sector “and therefore have the resources for permanent campaigns,” according to the report.

Graphic showing lobbyist contacts with government officials.
Lobbying contacts by industry groups far outnumbered contacts by environmental NGOs. NATHAN GRIFFITHS

During the Harper years, the lobbying activity focused on Natural Resources Canada, the House of Commons, Environment Canada, Foreign Affairs, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Prime Minister’s Office, and specifically on elected officials. Under Trudeau, “high-volume lobbying” targeted Natural Resources Canada, the House of Commons and Environment Canada, and its focus was on senior and mid-level public servants, according to the report.

The authors recommended changes to the regulation and conduct of lobbying to ensure it better serves the public’s interest. They called for greater transparency, but also for increased support for public advocacy lobbying as a way to “even the balance of power that currently heavily favours corporations.” The authors pointed as an example to B.C.’s Office of the Seniors Advocate as an institution that represents the interests of residents rather than corporations.

The other authors of the report were William Carroll, a sociology professor at UVic, and David Chen, a graduate student in UVic’s sociology department.

A previous report, titled Big Oil’s Oily Grasp, found oil and gas lobbying had intensified in 2010 and 2011, immediately before the CCPA report’s period of study. That time was “a turning point in public debate on energy development,” as the CCPA study’s authors put it. Around that time, coastal First Nations declared a ban on supertankers on B.C.’s north coast, and Enbridge applied to build the Northern Gateway pipeline.

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