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Nearly a year after the oil and gas industry squared off with Regina’s city council over a proposed amendment to ban fossil fuel companies from sponsoring city buildings or events, a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives uncovers the playbook used to kill the motion.

Using details uncovered through an access-to-information request, combined with interviews with Regina city councillors, the report entitled "Big Oil in City Hall" examines what happened in the seven days between an initial vote on the city’s executive committee that saw the motion pass 7-4 and the next city council meeting that saw the motion unanimously withdrawn.

The amendment to limit fossil fuel advertising was proposed by Coun. Dan LeBlanc, using the logic that because the city had previously committed to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, it should not accept fossil fuel sponsorship money. At the time, it was reported the sponsorships were worth between $100,000 and $250,000 to city coffers. The city describes sponsorship opportunities as a way to build “lasting brand awareness and loyalty with over 230,000 Regina residents … to strengthen your business image.” LeBlanc did not return a request for comment.

Despite the small sum, the response was swift. Premier Scott Moe publicly threatened to withhold more than $30 million that would otherwise flow to the city from Crown-owned utility SaskPower if Regina didn’t change course, calling the motion “absurd.” Similarly, Regina-Wascana Conservative MP Michael Kram wrote an open letter to city councillors calling the motion an “insult” and compared it to Las Vegas banning advertising from casinos.

The report details how after the motion was first introduced, rallying calls from politicians, industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), specific businesses like the Keystone Group of Companies and Federated Co-operatives Limited, and others like the Regina Chamber of Commerce served to mobilize fossil fuel supporters against the proposed change. The report does not argue the motion was killed because of a centrally co-ordinated strategy from Big Oil; rather, it sketches out the influence of the oil and gas industry on the province’s political culture.

“In the end, you had this coalition of industry groups and allies soliciting their followers and their supporters through social media to inundate Regina city council with emails,” said one of the report’s co-authors, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Saskatchewan director Simon Enoch. “We estimate each councillor would have received upwards of 1,000 emails apiece over that week's time span.”

That many emails were able to be sent because writing to elected officials has become a streamlined, automated process. CAPP’s Canada’s Energy Citizens group, for instance, set up a scripted email campaign to encourage its members to contact Regina city officials. That strategy was similarly used by others like Canada Action, the Regina Chamber of Commerce and Alberta’s war room, the Canadian Energy Centre. These scripted emails were then amplified by other local industry advocacy groups, according to the report.

“One of the things we found really interesting was none of the councillors said that any of these emails had any effect on them,” Enoch told Canada’s National Observer.

That’s because councillors could smell the lobbying effort a mile away and could dismiss the automated emails relatively easily, he said. What made the emails a successful strategy for the fossil fuel industry is they rallied supporters who then elevated a relatively innocuous proposal into a controversial issue, Enoch says.

"People they knew were sympathetic to climate goals were just so scared off from the issue because of the rancour and ferociousness of the oil industry assault … one of quotes was, ‘Don't poke the bear.’" #cdnpoli #saskpoli

“This issue became so radioactive that people who are more likely to support climate goals didn't want to touch it with a 20-foot stick,” he said.

“I think what had the most effect on a lot of these councillors was people they knew were sympathetic to climate goals were just so scared off from the issue because of the rancour and ferociousness of the oil industry assault … one of quotes was, ‘Don't poke the bear.’

“It really turned off those climate moderates and made them rescind their support,” he said.

University of Regina associate professor Emily Eaton said that since the oil boom from the mid-2000s to 2014, the oil and gas industry has “really gained a lot of influence and power” over the province’s political terrain.

“If your government is relying on revenues from public spending from the oil and gas industry and less so on taxation through corporate taxes or personal income taxes, they start to change their understanding of who they're working for and accountable to,” she said.

On the municipal level, Eaton said her research has shown some rural communities have become “really dependent on fossil fuel philanthropy” to provide what previously would be considered basic services or infrastructure paid for by government.

“So you have a way of the fossil fuel industry being able to represent itself as essential to people's lives, to infrastructure, (and) to people's well-being,” she said.

Both Enoch and Eaton pointed to a public relations strategy used by the oil and gas industry in recent years to deflect criticism. They describe efforts to use workers as the face of the industry, rather than executives, in an attempt to make criticisms of the industry synonymous with criticism of the workers.

The report highlights this framing used by Premier Moe, who called the motion a “hypocritical attack on workers,” a CEO who described it as a “psychological blow to our employees” and Canada’s Energy Citizens warning it would jeopardize “30,000 jobs.”

“It's much easier to sympathize with the worker than with an oil industry executive, but the industry has acted against the interest of workers for the past decade,” said Enoch. “Even though they're making great profits, they've been downsizing … (so) I really think you need to drive a wedge between what the industry's interests are and what the workers' interests are, and (ask) are those always in unison, (because) I don't think they are.”

The debate over whether a transition off fossil fuels is happening is long over. With the authoritative International Energy Agency forecasting demand for oil to decline in every scenario it considers and outlining pathways to net-zero, Eaton said we’re entering a new era.

Governments and industries reliant on fossil fuels can no longer deny the science and know “the world is talking about an energy transition,” Eaton said.

“I think (what's really) behind this is the public image the oil and gas industry has is starting to slip, and they don't want people from Regina to be able to imagine there's a possibility of having a life and an economy — and a modern one, at that — without oil and gas,” she said.

In an email, Kram told Canada’s National Observer if a similar amendment was brought forward, he would oppose it again. He emphasized he was “not a climate change denier” and understands climate change is real and primarily human-caused, but said as an elected representative, he wanted to avoid solutions that cause further problems, like job losses, in an industry that has generated significant revenue.

“In this context, to treat these industries as though they are doing something shameful is unfair and ethically dishonest. This was especially the case with the City of Regina, which has benefited so greatly from these industries, biting the hand that feeds it with this sort of proposal,” he said.

The report identifies framing fossil fuels as vital to prosperity as one of the “remarkably uniform … sets of arguments and talking points” used by industry supporters during the campaign. The report explains this to be misleading by describing how the fossil fuel industry is often symbolically a national project, with supporters characterizing it as an industry operated for the benefit of everyone when in reality, it is a profit-driven enterprise for the benefit of shareholders.

Enoch said even though the report is focused on Regina, the industry tactics outlined are shared across the country.

“We've demonstrated what they can do when challenged, and I think any sort of urban climate activist strategy worth its salt is going to have to find ways to combat that kind of advocacy campaign,” he said.

John Woodside / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

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Corporate profit is the basis of the economy of the nation and as such has control of the nation as well. It uses the "lost jobs" argument as part of it's active control of the politicians. It appears unfortunately, that the decline of the use of fossil fuels will continue to be delayed by these actions, probably delayed enough to ensure that the benefits to the climate and mankind will come too late to save us from the disasters that are predicted to come in the future. We have created a web of destruction for ourselves wherein our entire social, economic and political systems all contribute to this eminent destruction of the environment as we know it. We all are on this road together and there is no way off of it.

Interesting. CAPP is good with foreign-funded politics. Unless it's in a non-oil-producing province?

And this is how a democracy is bought and sold (and the Feds are no better - SNC-Lavalin anyone?)
"University of Regina associate professor Emily Eaton said that since the oil boom from the mid-2000s to 2014, the oil and gas industry has “really gained a lot of influence and power” over the province’s political terrain.
“If your government is relying on revenues from public spending from the oil and gas industry and less so on taxation through corporate taxes or personal income taxes, they start to change their understanding of who they're working for and accountable to,” she said."

Regina-Wascana Conservative MP Michael Kram: "…to treat these industries as though they are doing something shameful is unfair and ethically dishonest. This was especially the case with the City of Regina, which has benefited so greatly from these industries, biting the hand THAT FEEDS IT with this sort of proposal."

Ask Prairie farmers about drought.
"Prairie drought drives Canada's canola, wheat production down more than 35%: StatsCan' (CBC, Dec 15, 2021)
"99% of Prairie agriculture land 'abnormally dry' or in drought, says Agriculture and Agri-food Canada
"This summer's drought drove down crop yields for the entire country. Several major grains grown in Western Canada had the largest yearly yield decrease on record.
"…It's a sign that climate change is having an immediate impact on Canada's agriculture system, according to the executive director of the University of Winnipeg's Prairie Climate Centre."

"Both Enoch and Eaton pointed to a public relations strategy used by the oil and gas industry in recent years to deflect criticism. They describe efforts to use workers as the face of the industry, rather than executives, in an attempt to make criticisms of the industry synonymous with criticism of the workers."

A rhetorical sledgehammer wielded by Alberta NDP politicians, too. Notley's NDP Govt used that phrase to bludgeon their critics on the left. Notley cited the concerns of "working people" to justify support for Big Oil's agenda, even as the oilpatch automates jobs out of existence, while returning billions of dollars to shareholders.

Notley: "Ignoring the very real needs and concerns of these working families only feeds the growing inequality that fuels so much of the extreme politics we see around the world."
"…climate action, a strong and competitive energy industry, and the well-being of working people go hand in hand in hand."
"On this issue of standing up to B.C., and their attack on working people across Canada, we are very aligned."
"(There are) those who want to write working people out of climate action…"
"To do that and forget the needs of working people, or to throw working people under the bus, means that both economic growth and environmental protection are bound to fail."
NDP Deputy premier Sarah Hoffman: "I recall many times Jagmeet Singh has not been a friend to Albertans, to working people or to our nation when it comes to energy policy."
From Premier Notley's 2018 address to the Alberta Teachers' Association:
"And I submit that the approach of anti-pipeline activists is a disaster not only for working people but, quite frankly, for effective climate action as well because if we write off the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of working women and men, I guarantee you we will write off the ability to move forward on climate or, quite frankly, on just about any other progressive change.
"...But here's the bottom line. Climate action is not free. There is a cost. And to cover that cost, we must grow our economy. We must diversify our economy. We must create jobs. We must fund the things working people depend on. And, that's why we need to build Trans-Mountain.
"...And I would say to those who oppose our fight to build this pipeline that they are being extremely foolish."
The only "working people" the AB NDP seem to care about work in oil & gas.
No climate action possible on the oil & gas front. Emissions to rise indefinitely. Because "working people".
Blatant deception. Neoliberalism doesn't help working people. It helps the rich get richer at the expense of working people.

We have had at least 20yrs.+ of blatant , irresponsible unethical destruction to our world driven by the oil and gas industry. WE KNOW THEY HAVE BOUGHT THEIR WAY TO POLITICAL AASYLUM and own our political system everywhere in Canada and the world . Now that we see that and understand that and have accepted reluctantly knowing it is our dimise, possible extinction what possible satisfaction does oil and gas get from this as it is their self induced death as well. Their mentality is like that of a Mafia psychopathic idelogy /DICTATORSHIP REGIME THINKING above the law of decency and respect only for greed and money, power. They have had years and years to transition and support greener alternatives that would save job loss and family devastation AND SAVED OUR PLANET and could have created a profitable renewal economy but they choose to be glutinous for power and greed and continue even now when we live in REAL TIME CLIMATE CHANGE. Sadly they have corrupted every political system resulting in Corporate systemic corruption owning our democracy and bringing our leaders to their knees ( this article clearly proves that as PREMIER MOES PROVES WHO SIDE HE IS ON). ONLY HONOR AND HUMBLE INTEGRITY AND RESPECT FOR OUR SACRED MOTHER EARTH CAN SAVE US. WE THE PEOPLE HAVE NEVER BEEN NEEDED MORE TO BE ACTIVIST AGAINST THIS INSANIETY FOR THE SAKE OF OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN WHO DO NOT DESERVE A FUTURE OF DEPRIVATION WHILE OIL EXECUTIVES LIVE IN SQUALOR AND ELITIST ARROGANCE AT OUR EXPENSE.

Here's what I wrote about my City Council in Regina this summer, after I read an offensive letter fawning over Oil and Gas, posted by a councillor from the other side of Regina.

In the offensive anti-cat rhetoric so casually used; "there is more than one way to skin a cat - there really is NOT more than one way - Any performance of the atrocity, winds up with a tortured and dead cat. The means, of achieving this are immaterial to those who hate cats.

Predatory Capitalism is now incapable of accepting any means of skinning it. Predatory Capitalism is fighting with desperation to escape the consequences of its centuries long habits of torture, killing and lethal exploitation of planet earth and all its inhabitants, both human and other life forms.

Regina City Council should re-visit its resistance to Big Oil "naming rights". Instead of banning big oil, if it more thoughtfully and carefully re-drafted its policies and procedures for the naming rights game, it's screening, decision making, its choice of criteria for awarding "naming rights" could accomplish the desired result, without the combative step of banning.

Any institution, public or private should have a very transparent and well crafted policy for not only "naming" opportunities but other exercises of granting honours. Any institution should be concerned with due diligence before awarding honours - even, perhaps especially, where money changes hands. No institution should want to endure the agony of rescinding or stripping "honours" which seems to be the fate for many "named" entities now, as reckoning is being demanded for the honouring of persons or organizations history has proven to be toxic to the human race or to the planet.

The lesson seems to be - THINK before naming. Do the research, exercise diligence, consider the future, do not pander to the present, to the existing power structures whose clay feet are dissolving in the rising, warmed waters, as we watch.

Bullying is the sad legacy of Big Oil and the politicians they have bought out. Regina is not the only city that has been bullied. Before Scott Moe decides to pull the plug on some of Regina's funding, he should do a little back-of-the-envelope calculation on the economic contribution of the city to the province. He shouldn't be a bit surprised that Regina contributes 33%-50% or more of the total provincial GDP. Metro Vancouver contributes half of the wealth generated annually in BC. Greater Toronto generated pre-pandemic wealth roughly equivalent to the entire province of Alberta -- oil and all -- during boom times. Canada's six largest cities generate 60% of the nation's two trillion dollar annual economy (pre-pandemic).

Bullying cities and "urban elites" is now a favourite passtime of conservatives and Big Oil. Burnaby BC was also bullied by Alberta's Rachel Notley over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project when she was premier (100% backed by Jason Kenny). Burnaby city council was and still is against the project and wasn't afraid to say so. After all, they have to tolerate not just a pipeline disrupting neighbourhoods and parks, but also an expanded marine loading terminal and a doubling of the number of storage tanks at an already massive tank farm perched above 3,000 homes on the slopes of geotechnically unstable Burnaby Mountain. The current mayor was the fire chief, and he stated his opposition to the project and that there is no way that the Burnaby Fire Dept. will attend to a large fire at the tank farm, mainly because they cannot be put out before the fuel has been burned off. He will protect or evacuate the community below the tanks instead.

Former mayor and tough old litigator, Derrick Corrigan, acknowledged he couldn't act illegally on a project he vehemently opposed, and decided to not resist a legitimate application for building permits. Because of the size of the project, the Planning Dept. even struck a working group exclusively for the proponent to expedite the process. TMX personnel warmed chairs and smiled at staff in meetings for a few weeks, but their permit documents were hopelessly deficient and amateur. Their ulterior motive was obviously to have the then quasi-judicial National Energy Board (i.e. three board members appointed by the oil industry) rule that permits were not required. Burnaby staff was required to appear and testify at then hearings, and were subjected to aggressive third degree tactics by an army of TMX lawyers. If it was a real court of law, the TMX legal team would have been charged with contempt of court in a flash for ganging up on two individuals from city hall. They came out of the process claiming the entire thing was nothing more than a kangaroo court run by well-oiled rubber-stamping officials.

However, unlike Regina, Burnaby is very wealthy and has nearly three billion in capital reserves. It can afford top drawer lawyers who dutifully submitted a 39-page affidavit detailing the kindergarten shenanigans of TMX personnel, as well as a step-by-step description of everything Burnaby Planning did to facilitate -- even lubricate -- the permit application process, and the hopelessly amateur quality and thinness of the submitted documentation. Burnaby was luckily on the same page as the BC NDP government (vehemently opposed) which took TMX to court (but lost over a simple federal jurisdictional factoid) in an effort to stop in order to "protect the coast." Bless 'em!

Up to that point, Burnaby was being accused of "holding up the permits" by TMX, Notley and the media, notably a notorious member of the editorial board of the Calgary Herald and, surprisingly, the Globe's Gary Mason. The affidavit silenced the unfair and unfounded criticism of a city that was doing everything right from the start, and probably embarrassed the editors that thought TM was on the side of the angels. I personally emailed Mason with copied excerpts from the legal submission to the NEB and a link to the Burnaby website that published it in full, and questioned his unquestioning regurgitation of unproven media and industry myths in support for a project that he himself admitted violates the tenets of climate science. Did he really think the 50 jobs TMX would create in BC would noticeably boost the coastal economy and mitigate the risk of spills that even a $10B bond wouldn't begin to cover? There was no reply, and he seemed to change his mind on the pipeline in subsequent columns.

It's sad that Regina council does not have a spine, or enough wealth to reject any and all fossil funds as is its right. They do, however, have other funding tools outside of the city budget, such as a density or heritage bonus system based on negotiation where developers pay the city directly for public assets, such as daycares, community and arts centres, community police offices or fire halls and the renovation of existing theatres or other city buildings in exchange for additional density above the zoning bylaw limits. Medicine Hat, AB, owns a wind farm; why can't Regina explore this option at its periphery for additional revenue or to derive a modicum of independence from coal-burning Sask Power? I will never believe voters will get rid of a council that acknowledges climate change after years of Prairie drought and acts boldly and independently of a premier who is childishly vindictive and stuck in last century.

Maybe it's time for the feds to also buck up and build that national smart grid many climate action folks have been calling for and connect it to First Nations who should be encouraged to capitalize on the huge potential of the Prairie sun and wind falling and blowing over their land and build large solar and wind projects. The power could be bought and / or traded through the federal clean energy corridor by a federal agency as much as possible outside of the Constitutional power provinces have over electricity. Ironically, the Supreme Court of Canada precedence of federal ownership of TMX and, importantly, the contents of the pipe, a federal trans-national electricity corridor should have the same authority as TMX to cross provincial boundaries and carry federal electricity anywhere it deems is "in the national interest." That corridor would run directly through Regina and other cities (preferably underground) with interties located at key points within city boundaries.

Would the premier of Saskatchewan dare to sue Indigenous communities, whose rights are protected under the Constitution, and that wanted to cut ties with filthy Sask Power and sell their power to the nearest cities that are no doubt populated by willing customers who would love to switch to affordable zero emission energy? Let him try.