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“Dirty Oil Diplomacy” report sheds light on international oil sands advocacy

As the U.S. Senate quashes Keystone XL, a new report released by Climate Action Network breaks down efforts from big oil and government to sell the tar sands—both at home and abroad.

Photo of Alberta oil sands by Kris Krug

The aggressive push to sell oil sands products is undermining Canada’s reputation, according to a new report released Thursday by Climate Action Network Canada. The 32-page document was produced in cooperation with other environmental groups including Greenpeace and Sierra Club, and addresses both domestic and international advocacy efforts from government and industry.

The report, titled “Dirty Oil Diplomacy: The Canadian Government’s Global Push to Sell the Tar Sands”, was released just hours before the U.S. Senate voted against an amendment to authorize the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from the oil sands to the Gulf Coast.

According to the groups involved, the new report is intended to provide a comprehensive look at coordinated campaigns directed primarily at oil sands critics. It also shares the authors’ views on how the national focus on an oil economy is affecting how the world sees our country.

“This dominating energy strategy right now is defining Canada’s reputation. It’s shifting the country’s image abroad from a constructive participant in global dialogue to what’s ultimately a self-absorbed bully,” said Hannah McKinnon, Campaign Director for Climate Action Network Canada.

“Domestically, as this report will outline, the government strategies vis-à-vis dissenting voices really resembles McCarthyism,” she said, referring to tactics that aim to restrict charitable funding and label environmentalists as “radicals” or “extremists”.

In a press teleconference Thursday morning, McKinnon explained that evidence was drawn from a number of government documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests. These documents, she said, paint a picture of “a government prepared to go to very great and very damaging lengths to protect the short-term interests of Canada’s fastest source of greenhouse gas pollution.”

Some of the documents shed light on the Harper government’s “Pan-European Oilsands Advocacy Strategy”, which was used by diplomats to counter criticism and fight back about the potentially damaging EU Fuel Quality Directive legislation. Parts of this strategy had already been released by Climate Action Network in January. They revealed that officials had listed First Nations and environmental groups as oil sands “adversaries” while the National Energy Board was considered an “ally”.

The increasingly bold strategies used to promote the oil sands internationally have caught the attention of advocates and policymakers in the U.S. and in Europe. Former U.S. Congressman Toby Moffett joined McKinnon during Thursday’s teleconference, expressing his sincere disappointment at recent developments in Canadian environmental policy.

“I remember looking up to Canada, and it wasn’t only that we were looking north. We were looking up to Canada because we wanted to be like Canada. On every one of those historic pieces of legislation, we had help from the Canadian government, in one form or another,” he said.

“So I never dreamed that now, at the age of 67, that I’d be on a call following a very important report that not only shows Canada not helping on those things, but shows the Canadian government—not its people, its government—having gone over to the other side. The dirty side.”

The report’s release also came less than a day after candlelight vigils that took place Wednesday night, outside Canadian embassies in 20 different cities across The U.S. and Europe.

“We are hoping to get the attention of the Canadian government, and have them take some moral responsibility for the future of the planet,” said Reverend Canon Sally Bingham, founder of the Interfaith Power & Light campaign.

Rev. Bingham was one of the vigil organizers, gathering about 100 people to the event held in San Francisco.

“We have a responsibility to save Creation. God gave us resources, but they were not intended to be used in a destructive manner,” she said.

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