According to a series of 2014 government policy documents obtained by a Greenpeace analyst via a Freedom of Information request, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2013 budget included $30 million to be invested over two years on a public relations campaign as well as domestic and international “outreach activities” to promote Alberta’s tar sands.
The Guardian‘s Martin Lukacs reports on Wednesday that “the outreach activities, which cost $4.5 million and were never publicly disclosed, included efforts to ‘advance energy literacy amongst [British Columbia] First Nations communities.'”
Further, “The documents indicate the government was funding dozens of projects between 2014 and 2015 to engage Indigenous communities and advance ‘Canada’s reputation as a global energy leader.'” When asked for comment, Natural Resources Canada declined to elaborate on the specific outreach projects.
Previous reporting by Lukacs found that the Alberta government had gone so far as to promise some First Nations leaders an investor-stake in oil extraction projects in exchange for their help convincing Indigenous groups to support various pipeline proposals.
First Nations, for the most part, have been fiercely opposed to the tar sands industry and the proposed pipelines, such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which would transport the heavy, toxic crude from Alberta across ancestral lands to coastal Kitimat, BC. The grassroots mobilization, including a number of legal challenges, against these projects has successfully hampered construction thus far.
Reacting to this latest disclosure, 350.org founder Bill McKibben tweeted: “Secret documents reveal Canadian govt spent tens of millions advocating for tarsands. A true petrostate.”
The Guardian reporting also notes that the government documents also revealed outreach activities including “research to support Canadian lobbying against a European environmental measure that would have hampered tar sands exports. Canada has succeeded in delaying the measure—the EU Fuel Quality Directive—several times.”
Greenpeace climate analyst Keith Stewart, who first obtained the policy documents, said: “The Harper government gutted environmental laws and destroyed public faith in the regulatory system in order to fast-track pipelines, then wasted $30 million of public money on a public relations campaign doomed to fail. They seem to think that if they spend enough money, they can fool all of the people all of the time but that kind of arrogance is a risky re-election strategy at a time of low oil prices and rising concern over climate change.”