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Oil and gas industry lobbyists far outgun their environmental counterparts in the battle for influence over climate legislation, a joint investigation by Canada’s National Observer and the Investigative Journalism Foundation has found.

Despite a mammoth lobbying push in recent years, culminating in a record number of meetings with federal government officials in 2022, environmental groups still find themselves in an impossible race with fossil fuel lobbyists who are similarly upping their lobbying game, according to our investigation.

We used data from the federal registry of lobbyists to track meetings that key subsets of both lobbying sectors had with the government, seeking to represent the push and pull for influence over climate legislation. In 2022, environmental groups we tracked hit a record high, logging 961 meetings with government officials. However, oil and gas lobbyists logged 1,372 meetings in the same year, 40 per cent more than their green counterparts.

Getting a foot through the door to make your voice heard does not necessarily mean your advice will be heeded. The considerable lobbying push from environmental and climate advocacy groups to rein in the world’s most polluting industries has so far failed to stop the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. In Canada, the fossil fuel industry is responsible for about a third of the country’s planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions at a time when scientists are stressing we need to start phasing out fossil fuels to limit global temperature rise.

An important aspect of lobbying is who you’re able to meet with, explained Julia Levin, national climate program manager with Environmental Defence, which registered 155 meetings with federal officials in 2022.

According to our investigation, environmental groups get the warmest reception from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), led by minister Steven Guilbeault, once a climate activist himself. In 2022, environmental lobbyists had 341 meetings with the department. However, they struggle to get meetings with certain influential departments like Finance Canada, Levin said, noting climate policy is not the sole purview of ECCC.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is one of the most important ministers, developing budgets that “make or break climate action,” Levin said, which is why the oil and gas industry understands this and “incessantly” lobbies the finance department.

Despite a mammoth lobbying push in recent years, environmental groups still find themselves in an impossible race with fossil fuel lobbyists, according to our newest investigation on lobbying with @IJFMedia.

Levin said Freeland is important both as finance minister and deputy prime minister and "not having access to her is a major limitation."

We repeatedly reached out to the Department of Finance for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Our investigation examined who both camps met with and found significant inequities in access to some of the most influential ministries. In 2022, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) had 318 reported meetings with oil and gas lobbyists and only 59 with environmental groups. Finance Canada accepted 104 meetings with oil and gas lobbyists in the same year and only 22 with environmental groups.

A response from Nature Canada said overall access under the Liberal government has been “fairly good.” However, some departments are industry-dominated, which presents internal conflicts and makes them less inclined to meet with environmental groups. For example, “Natural Resources Canada has a mandate to promote the competitiveness of Canada’s logging industry, but at the same time, it is the lead department for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions from the logging sector.”

When asked if the environment ministry under Guilbeault consciously decided to grant environmental groups more meetings, Kaitlin Power, press secretary for ECCC, said protecting the environment and addressing the climate crisis requires collaboration between many groups. In an emailed statement, she said ECCC co-operates with government departments and groups outside government.

The immense influence of oil and gas

Sen. Rosa Galvez, an expert on pollution and a key critic of fossil fuel lobbying in Canada, said fossil fuel companies have an "army of lawyers" to support their lobbying efforts. Also, they have an inherent leg up because "politicians tend to listen to [the industry] that produces money, not that costs money."

Sen. Rosa Galvez in the hallway of the Senate on July 4, 2022. Photo by Spencer Colby / Canada’s National Observer

Environmental Defence Canada, 2022’s top environmental lobbyist, has 15 team members registered with the federal registry. Meanwhile, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), a top oil and gas lobby group, has a team of 25 who are dedicated to lobbying the federal government.

CAPP also benefits greatly from Ottawa’s lobbying revolving door, where some former designated public office holders go on to work as lobbyists: its team has eight lobbyists who held positions in government prior to working for CAPP, four times as many as Environmental Defence Canada, which has two.

Galvez points to last year’s United Nations climate conference, COP27 — which saw hundreds of oil and gas lobbyists in attendance, including about a dozen from Canada — as an example of the undeniable influence of the industry. Those lobbyists were there to block climate policy, she said, just like oil and gas companies that lobby the federal government aim to slow the transition to safe, cheap, renewable energy.

We contacted the top 10 fossil fuel lobbyists for comment about their activities, but few responded in time for publication.

Shell Canada and Enbridge said lobbying is crucial to keep lines of communication open between corporations and government. Enbridge said its lobbying efforts include advancing low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen, renewable natural gas, carbon capture and liquefied natural gas (LNG). However, both renewable natural gas and LNG are planet-warming fossil fuels.

The Mining Association of Canada, which represents companies involved in mining as well as the oilsands, said its membership is “diverse.” When asked if the association could break down its lobbying activity, spokesperson Cynthia Waldmeier said they “don’t quantify our government advocacy by member interest nor do we advocate on behalf of individual members.”

Here in Canada, there is strong evidence oil and gas lobbying efforts are working, Galvez said. As reported by Reuters, CAPP (which ranked fifth in a recent report outlining the most influential corporations hindering world climate policy) was gunning for the federal government to cover 75 per cent of the costs for carbon capture facilities. It didn’t get that much, but in last year’s budget, Finance Canada put forward a credit that will cover 50 per cent of costs and will cost the public $2.6 billion over the next five years. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has seen a 1,000 per cent increase in profits since 2019. A previous investigation by CNO and the IJF found 11 of Canada’s largest oil companies received the same amount of funding from 2010 to 2021 while lobbying the federal government.

Finally, the number of communications recorded by oil and gas companies in the lobbying registry do not reflect the entire number of meetings. Those initiated by the government, for example, do not have to be reported. The registry provides only a “partial picture of that kind of privileged access,” said Nick Graham, who co-authored a 2019 analysis of Canada’s fossil fuel lobbying for the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP).

The Breach documented meetings initiated by NRCan with oil and gas companies in 2020, where the ministry referred to itself as a “champion” for the oil and gas industry.

In an emailed statement, NRCan said it meets with environmental groups, fossil fuel companies and other stakeholders in the energy sector.

“This includes meeting with various natural resources industries on a collaborative and proactive basis, with a view to building a low-carbon economy, assuring energy resource security and helping with the transition to cleaner fuels,” department spokesperson Anthony Ertl said in an email about how the department chooses which lobbyists to talk with.

The department did not respond to a specific question about NRCan being difficult for environmental groups to access.

The deep influence oil and gas lobbyists have while lobbying the government and beyond means environmental groups must push harder to have their voices heard, said Muhannad Malas, Ecojustice’s director of law reform.

“Public interest groups (including environmental NGOs) are increasing their lobbying efforts to counter the growing corporate interests … in the physical or virtual halls of Parliament Hill,” said Malas, noting the fossil fuel industry pressures government to “double down on the status quo and adopt false solutions.”

Graham said it was heartening to see the gap lessen last year as environmental groups pushed to keep up with their fossil fuel counterparts. But Galvez notes oil and gas lobbyists continue to push for more extraction, even if they’re well aware of the consequences.

How we did this story

Our data incorporates meetings disclosed within the federal lobbying registry by oil and gas-affiliated companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, producer members of CAPP, Pathways Alliance and the oil and gas lobby groups the CMP identified in its 2019 report. We added Pathways Alliance to our list of oil lobbyists on the basis that the organization had only just formed when CMP released its analysis, but Graham said they would have included Pathways Alliance in the analysis if they were redoing it now. (Pathways had only disclosed its first meeting with the federal government a month prior.) Those numbers were then compared with records from environmental groups in Canada that the CMP also identified in 2019 as being the core subset of environmental groups in Canada that lobby. Variations of organization names were identified using fuzzy matching. We manually verified the names of all similar entities found.

Our research builds on the CMP’s work, which found environmental groups lobbied about a fifth as much as the oil and gas industry between 2008 and 2019. The mapping project used a different methodology, reaching its numbers by counting how many government officials were listed in each meeting, which are defined as “oral and arranged communications,” such as. phone calls or in-person meetings. Our analysis measured the number of individual meetings, some of which included multiple government officials from different agencies. Our 2022 data is valid as of Jan. 11, 2023.

— With files from Tracy Sherlock

Keep reading

Sen. Rosa Galvez: "fossil fuel companies have an 'army of lawyers' to support their lobbying efforts. Also, they have an inherent leg up because 'politicians tend to listen to [the industry] that produces money, not that costs money.'"

These industries are costing us our future. The wealth they generate is illusory. We cannot afford fossil-fuel profits.

Why would the most climate caring Prime minister in the history of the world allow this to happen. Unless of course he knows climate change is a bunch of horse manure and he is just using it to control gullible liberal fool?

The "revolving door" between government and industry is replicated by the flow of personnel between big ENGOs and government. Starting with Minister Steven Guilbeault himself.
In an open letter, Quebec environmentalists denounced the founding member of Équiterre, now Liberal MP and Minister Steven Guilbeault. Apparently, Guilbeault made many controversial compromises with industry.

"On projects as sensitive and critical for the climate as the thermal power plant of the Suroît, shale gas exploitation in Quebec, the port of Rabaska and more recently the cement plant in Port-Daniel, Steven Guilbeault's positions have systematically contradicted, thwarted and sometimes even sabotaged hard efforts and patient struggles…"
"Rupture définitive de Steven Guilbeault avec le mouvement écologiste" (2019/10/16)

Then there's Gerald Butts from World Wildlife Fund Canada. The Pembina Institute's executive director, Marlo Raynolds, served as chief of staff to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
On and on it goes.

"environmental groups still find themselves in an impossible race with fossil fuel lobbyists"

The problem is worse than portrayed.
Several big ENGOs are compromised. Far too cozy with industry. Unelected, they sign bad deals with industry and government, only to "regret the error" later.
Controlled opposition ENGOs displace and stifle grassroots activism.
Several ENGOs advocate false climate solutions like carbon capture and EVs.

In Nov 2015, top environmental brass held hands with Big Oil CEOs on stage with AB Premier Rachel Notley. Unconscionably, big ENGOs signed on to AB's plan to fail.
The ENGOs applauded Notley's non-climate plan. Or rather Big Oil's "climate" plan. Greenlighting oilsands expansion enabled by new export pipelines in return for a small carbon tax that would not impair their profits and a fraudulent oilsands cap that would not outlive the Notley govt.

ENGOs provided political cover to oilsands expansion. A fraudulent cap limiting oilsands emissions at 43% ABOVE then-current levels. Oilsands emissions would rise, not fall. At best, Alberta's emissions in 2030 would remain virtually unchanged from 2015.
Making it impossible for Canada to meet its targets.This climate plan brought to you by your local Esso dealer holding hands with your favorite ENGO.

"It's a matter of trying to, what they called have interactions, fruitful interactions and partnerships with environmental organizations, bringing the environmental groups inside of the tent making them feel as if they have power and in the process they become compromised, lower their expectations of demands and become tame. On the other hand, those organizations that can't be brought into the tent and co-opted are subjected to harassment campaigns."
— Environmental sociologist Bob Brulle

Tzeporah Berman on AB's climate plan: "I understand that we produce over two million barrels a day, and that will increase under the new oilsands emissions limit. I am supporting that climate change plan."
Berman: "While the NDP strategy was far from perfect, at least it was moving in the right direction, albeit slowly."

Tzeporah Berman now acknowledges that ENGO collusion with the oil industry was a failure, because the industry staunchly opposes meaningful climate action. Of course, anybody paying the slightest attention could have told her so and saved her the trouble.
When big ENGOs and big-name environmentalists sit down with industry, the results range from disappointing to appalling. Some of these people seem to be professional sell-outs. Share a bottle of wine with politicians and industrialists, and power goes to their heads. Too many compromises.

The real mission of corporate, foundation-funded "environmentalists"? Provide political cover for backroom deals, collaborate with industry, give the oilsands and the govt of the day a green varnish, and sell out future generations.
Who elected these corporate environmentalists to speak on our behalf? Who gave them the greenlight to negotiate bad deals? I don't remember voting for them. They have far too much power and zero accountabilty — and they do a lot of damage.

A few years later, they come back and say, "Sorry, we didn't realize it was a bad deal. Please trust us again."
Everybody else realized. Why didn't they?
Maybe think twice about donating to big ENGOs. Support local grassroots groups active in your community instead. And pray they don't get too big.

Berman is kind of almost-deliberately naive, isn't she?

The big ENGOs are not all rowing in the same direction.
Controlled opposition ENGOs displace and stifle grassroots activism.
Government and media give controlled opposition groups like the corporate-funded, industry-friendly Pembina Institute a big platform — far too much clout in negotiations with government and industry — and an outsize voice in the public square.

ENGOs almost universally oppose carbon capture subsidies for the O&G industry. The Pembina Institute is the sole exception. Pembina does not represent the environmental or climate action community on this issue, but receives the lion's share of attention.
Unlike most ENGOs and the 400+ scientists and academics who signed an open letter in January 2022 criticizing federal support for carbon capture (CCS) in the O&G sector, the largely corporate-sponsored Pembina Institute has long supported both carbon capture in Canada's O&G sector and massive public subsidies to fund it.
Who elected Pembina to speak for Canada's climate movement and make bad deals with industry? Why is Pembina supporting plans to fail?
A controlled opposition group, Pembina has long promoted oxymoronic "responsible" oilsands development and collaborated with industry on failed climate plans. Working hand in glove with industry, Pembina blurs the line between advocacy and collusion.
"Meet the green group that the oilpatch can work with" (Financial Post, April 21, 2016)

The Pembina Institute was one of the key architects of the Alberta NDP's climate plan. Director Ed Whittingham stood on stage with oil industry CEOs when Notley made the announcement in Nov 2015.
Working hand in glove with industry, Pembina blurs the line between advocacy and collusion.
Financial Post energy columnist Claudia Cattaneo details then-director Ed Whittingham's role in forging the fatally flawed compromise between industry and ENGOs that sabotaged Canada's climate plan.
"Meet the green group that the oilpatch can work with" (Financial Post, April 21, 2016)

Industry collaborator Ed Whittingham loudly supported the Trans Mtn pipeline expansion project. He even wrote an op-ed boosting the project in the Globe & Mail with talking points lifted straight from CAPP.
Former Pembina director, self-styled "pragmatic environmentalist", Whittingham has positioned himself on the wrong side of many climate issues and bad deals with industry. His advocacy for false climate plans, carbon capture with EOR, and new oilsands pipelines puts him in opposition to IPCC and IEA reports.
Pembina's biggest funders are oil & gas companies, and the Big Banks that back them.

Why would the most climate caring Prime minister in the history of the world allow this to happen. Unless of course he knows climate change is a bunch of horse manure and he is just using it to control gullible liberal fools?

I think the magic formula is meetings PLUS bribes . . . ah, campaign contributions . . . and I don't think environmentalists can match big oil on that front. Not gonna say the environmentalists shouldn't try for the lobbying, but the rest of us would be fools to rely on it being effective. An outside strategy--demonstrations, civil disobedience, even clicktivism--is also necessary. And things like getting lots of city councils on side and mustering pressure through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (plus, just doing municipal stuff, like building codes).

Canada used to have a strong civil service and independent scientists providing expert advice to ministers. This has changed and now industry has captured all our democratic institutions. I asked why the decision was made to go with small nuclear reactors and carbon capture and storage when these are clearly the worst choices. "Because that is what the lobbyists want." Ministers are unaware that the advice they are being given is corrupt.

The advisors to the Minister of Health [Drs. Howard Njoo and Tam] are industry lobbyists for the 13,000 member, private Infectious Diseases Society of America [IDSA] and the Association of Medical Microbiologists and Infectious Diseases [AMMI] Canada. Ticks are responsible for 95% of vector-borne diseases in Canada, yet the hidden epidemic Lyme disease is being ignored and dependent on obsolete testing. It is because the long-term disability insurance industry doesn't want to underwrite the costs of chronic Lyme disease. Infectious disease doctors are uncomfortable with microbes that can cause neurological diseases. Medicine has lost its way; there are no medical sleuths searching for the root cause of disease. Share holder preferences now control medicine and shareholders are no longer interested in cures, new antibiotics or vaccines. The paradigm of modern medicine is to palliate with treatments that provide lifetime annuities to the pharmaceutical industry. AMMI/ IDSA/ PHAC are closely aligned with industry and have captured medicine with flawed guidelines that were meant to help patients and assist physicians.

We shouldn't be following the Americans and the CDC down this path. Perhaps proportional representation would help break this destructive path we are on.

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini

The legislation governing lobbying is fraught with loopholes - which are exploited far more by the well funded O&G lobby than by environmentalists. Besides, the O&G industry has a major party in their pocket while influencing the other major political party. Environmentalists have mainly the smaller parties.