The documents arrived in a CD, five months after the Freedom of Information Request was first filed by the National Observer team.
Over 160 pages of heavily redacted emails give glimpses into the Harper government's two-year effort to market Canada's oil sands and pipelines to Americans.
Social media outreach and a partnership with a top U.S. oil lobby group are discussed in government correspondence, which often loops in dozens of staff scattered across different states.
The emails mention efforts to advocate for Keystone XL ahead of a U.S. Congressional election, with nearly 300 legislators, industry and labour leaders identified as "targets" to help promote the pipeline.
The documents suggest the extent and intensity of the last ditch effort to promote Canada's oil sands and TransCanada's pipeline before President Obama ultimately vetoed it in February.
Lobbying expert Rogan Kersh, a politics professor at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said the sheer intensity of Canada's pipeline lobbying was "unusual," though not unique.
"This level of government spending is unusual on a single issue," he said, noting that Canada's strong efforts likely "helped solidify Republican support" for Keystone XL, especially within the U.S. Senate.
Tim Wigley, president of the influential Western Energy Alliance which is mentioned in the emails, told the National Observer his organization partnered very briefly in 2013 with the Canadian government on co-sponsoring one event. That was the only time they worked together to help promote Canadian oil interests, he said.
"We're a lobbying organization. We lobby Congress pretty hard, but as for our dealings with the Canadian Consulate... They'd come on board as a Western Energy Alliance member primarily because we've got substantial players in the oil and gas industry that are Canadian companies."
Western Energy Alliance and the Canadian Consulate
When lobbyist Richard Berman's secretly recorded talk about oil companies needing to "win ugly" against environmentalists surfaced in the New York Times last October, the Vancouver Observer reported that the Canadian Consulate was a part of the group that sponsored his speech. The reporter later asked the foreign affairs department for emails mentioning "Canadian Consulate" and "Western Energy Alliance" or "Richard Berman."
The Consulate is the only governmental group in the 450-member strong Western Energy Alliance which brought Berman to its June 2013 meeting in Colorado Springs.
Berman, nicknamed "Dr. Evil" by U.S. unions, was raising $3 million from energy executives at the meeting to pay for an advertising campaign against "radical" environmentalists.
When asked if Berman had any involvement with the Canadian government's initiatives, Berman and Company senior research analyst Will Coggin told the National Observer: "not accurate."
Natural Resources Canada spokesperson Jacinthe Parras said the federal government "did not work with Richard Berman and/or Western Energy Alliance in the context of the two initiatives" outlined in the FOI: the "Keystone XL advocacy" plan and "Energy and Environment Social Media Pilot."
"Their names may have been included in correspondence given that either of these parties may have been considered stakeholders in the Government of Canada's broader advocacy efforts in the U.S.," she said, but did not explain further.
As for how much the promotion initiatives cost, she said figures weren't yet available, but the 2013-14 report indicates that Natural Resources advertising cost $11 million — 15 per cent — of the federal government's total ad expenditures across 43 departments.
Inside the government's lobbying campaign
In July 2013, the Canadian Consulate partnered with the Western Energy Alliance to sponsor a reception at the Cheyenne Frontier Days event in Wyoming, billed as the world's largest outdoor rodeo, the documents showed. Wigley spoke, then handed the microphone to Marcy Grossman, the Denver, Colorado-based representative of the Canadian Consulate who went on to talk about Canada's role as an energy partner for the U.S.
Wigley — who criticized anti-fracking activists last year at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver with Sarah Palin, calling them "long-haired, maggot-infested hippie freaks" — stressed that even though the Canadian Consulate is a member of his group, they work independently, and that no Canadian government staff attended Berman's strategy presentation last year.
But he sees nothing wrong with any of the tactics Berman advocated, Wigley said.
In the talk at Western Energy Alliance's annual meeting, Berman and his associate Jack Hubbard advocated "hardball" tactics such as exposing details from environmentalists' personal lives — the cars they drive,and their criminal records — to "diminish their moral authority."
"We're really making this personal. We're trying to make it so that they don't have any credibility with the public, the media, or with the legislators," Hubbard said, while Berman encouraged companies to exploit emotions like fear and anger to win in an "endless war" against environmental groups.
"Berman uses the exact same tactics as the environmental community," Wigley said. "All he did was encourage the oil and gas community to stand up for itself, to be tough, be aggressive, tell the truth. We've got the moral high ground... the talk caused a stir amongst a couple of media outlets, but there was nothing said in that meeting that I think wasn't well-received. He gave a very good presentation."
While Canada's federal government continues to shield the oil industry, Wigley expressed frustration over the U.S. president's policies to fight climate change, which many Americans believe to be unrelated to human activity.
"If you listen to the president, he likes to say 97 per cent of scientists agree about climate change. I've never, ever, bought that line. It is going to be a debate that rages on. I can't speak for other industries, but we greatly reduced emissions up and down the line, while dramatically increasing productions.... I think Obama's climate goals and the tactics with which they're trying to get it done are off-base."
Aggressive advocacy for Keystone XL
The Canadian Consulate has 12 consul offices across the U.S., as well as three trade offices. According to the emails, the consulate has played a significant role in the Harper government's campaign to promote Canada's oil industry — and Keystone XL— across the U.S.
In addition to lobbying for Canada's oil and gas industry, the consulate promotes Canadian culture, food, agriculture and trade relationships with the U.S.
Staff, scattered across the U.S., were discussing "KXL advocacy" in preparation for the U.S. Congressional election in 2014, the emails show. Canada's foreign affairs department compiled a large list of nearly 300 "targets" in the U.S, including legislators, academics, labour and industry associations, and names of individuals with strong media influence.
The documents mention Fleishman Hillard, a PR company that won a $22 million contract from the Harper government last year to promote the oil sands pipeline.
In an email dated July 14, 2014, Foreign Affairs department North America advocacy deputy director Caroline Desrochers tells her team of staff across the U.S.: "Please find the proposed Keystone XL advocacy campaign ... We also have attached a list of targets from the previous overarching KXL advocacy strategy ... This will be a work in progress for the next two weeks, as we incorporate other elements to reflect discussions we are having with NRCanada [Natural Resources Canada] as well with the Government of Alberta."
The Department of Foreign affairs was pushing for a three-month "energy and environment social media pilot" project aimed at depicting Canada's oil industry as safe, environmentally friendly, and actively engaged with First Nations.
'Someone who will take the boot off our throats'
Despite these efforts, plus a $24-million taxpayer-funded ad campaign to promote Keystone XL, the Canadian government failed to get the White House on board. President Obama vetoed a bill to approve Keystone XL in February, and the Senate couldn't muster enough votes to overturn it.
Of course, Prime Minister Harper hasn't given up yet. Keystone XL is still a priority, according to the foreign affairs department's 2015 report. Finance minister Joe Oliver spoke to Wall Street investors in May, vigorously promoting the project, even though the Alberta government has abandoned its lobbying effort.
But even if the U.S. has ceased to talk about Canada's pipeline, it doesn't necessarily mean the Harper government's expensive lobbing efforts have gone to waste, Kersh said.
"Continued lobbying pressure, whether by foreign governments or domestic groups, could ultimately help influence this administration's decision," he said. "Or, the next adminitration's."
The Canadian government's lobbying was a small part of a "very large pie" overall from both oil and environmental groups, but Kersh said he was struck by the "very public and sustained nature of Canada's pipeline lobbying effort."
Wigley readily acknowledges that the war to win approval for Keystone is at standstill. But he has not given up. It's a matter of patience, of waiting for new conditions.
"It's been a quiet issue ever since Obama decided to veto — everybody's moved on to other stuff," he said. "I certainly don't see any big push in Congress for it now. I think everyone pretty much knows this president's not going to approve it. We've been anxiously awaiting a more friendly administration, regardless of which party it is...someone who will take the boot off our throats and let us operate."
Little time for Canada's clean energy industry
While the Canadian government spent lavishly to market Keystone, little spending went to develop or promote Canada's clean energy sector.
Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Merran Smith said the federal government's general stance on renewable energy is mostly that of "indifference." She can't recall a time when the federal government has reached out to her organization to talk about promoting green energy companies in the U.S., despite the interest of American billionaires like Bill Gates who has pledged to invest two billion into the renewable energy sector.
"When it comes to working with Canada’s clean energy sector and promoting the industry’s work in the United States, we’d rate the federal government’s performance as poor," Smith said. "The file just hasn’t been a priority in Ottawa."
See below for 160-page document containing emails and briefings referred to in this story.