The federal government faced fierce external pressure to abandon or weaken its plan to cap oil and gas sector emissions from provincial governments and industry lobby groups in the lead-up to its announcement last week.

Oil industry players averaged more than two lobbying meetings per workday over the past year. Collectively, Pathways Alliance, the Canadian Association for Petroleum Producers and Canada’s six largest oilsands companies recorded 499 meetings from January through October, Canada’s National Observer found by searching the federal lobbyists registry. The onslaught of lobbying catalogued exceeds 1,000 meetings when the search is expanded to include 30 companies and industry groups, Environmental Defence, a climate advocacy group, found in a recent analysis.

Although environmental groups largely celebrated the framework as an important step forward — Canada is the first country to introduce such a policy — concerns about further delays and details of the design remain.

NDP environment and climate change critic Laurel Collins called the Liberals’ framework to cap emissions from oil and gas production “unbelievably disappointing.”

“It's so disheartening. They have clearly listened to oil and gas executives and lobbyists who have been pushing for loopholes and the watering down of what could be an incredibly important policy to meet our climate commitments,” said Collins in an interview with Canada’s National Observer.

“Honestly, I get the sense sometimes that the environment minister doesn't have the sway or the power to make the change and make the decisions that will protect our environment and climate,” said Collins. Because of this, it's not enough to just push Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, you have to push the Prime Minister’s Office and the government as a whole, she said. A subset of Liberal MPs, led by Patrick Weiler, last month similarly urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to move faster on the regulations.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called the framework “a major victory for Canada's oil and gas lobbyists."

"This cap, which was clearly designed not to hinder the growth of Canadian fossil fuel production and will only come into effect in 2026, is a violation of our Paris commitment and a theft of our children's future," she said in a statement.

May said it's out of step with the climate science, which to avoid catastrophic warming, requires emissions from the oil and gas sector to peak by 2025 and fall from there in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals of holding global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

The federal government faced fierce external pressure to abandon or weaken its plan to cap oil and gas sector emissions from provincial governments and industry lobby groups in the lead-up to its announcement last week.

The federal government has been pushed by hostile provincial governments on this issue. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have consistently waged war on a suite of federal climate policies, including the oil and gas emissions cap, which they characterize as an attack on oil and gas production. Smith has threatened to take the federal government to court for a slew of climate policies, including the cap.

A recent Supreme Court ruling found some language in the federal impact assessment law overstepped federal jurisdiction, which Guilbeault said prompted further examination of the oil and gas emissions cap framework.

Collins said this was a poor excuse for “watering down” the emissions cap because Alberta’s premier has made it abundantly clear she will fight the oil and gas emissions cap everywhere — including in court.

The Pathways Alliance, a lobby group representing the six-largest oilsands producers (Suncor, Imperial Oil, Cenovus Energy, MEG Energy, Canadian Natural Resources and ConocoPhillips Canada), did not immediately reject the emissions cap framework, but said it is unnecessary and unhelpful.

“While we recognize that the federal government adjusted some of the aggressive oilsands targets suggested in the Emissions Reduction Plan after analysis showed they were not technically achievable, we still need a greater understanding of how the cap integrates with other policies to support our emission reduction investments,” Pathways Alliance president Kendall Dilling said in a statement. Dilling said the group would take time to “analyze” the government’s plan “to determine how it may impact oilsands operations.”

The alliance was founded in 2021 with the stated goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in oilsands operations by 2050. To achieve this, it wants billions more in public funding for its flagship carbon capture project.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) consistently takes a harder line than the Pathways Alliance, which is mainly focused on petitioning the federal government to fund its carbon capture project. CAPP is a staunch opponent of the oil and gas emissions cap and has a history of funding ads attacking the policy.

CAPP president Lisa Baiton says the forthcoming regulations would “effectively” cap the production of fossil fuels and that the “trajectory and target remain problematic for industry as technology pathways will be challenging by 2030.”

“CAPP believes the proposed policy risks triggering unforeseen socioeconomic consequences, not the least of which is likely to be higher energy prices for Canadians,” reads the statement. “CAPP will raise our concerns through the consultation process and continue our efforts to work with the federal and provincial governments to ensure the draft framework … does not become a cap on Canadian oil and natural gas production, allowing industry to continue its path of emissions reduction while growing Canada’s role as a secure provider of responsibly produced energy.”

Oil and gas is the largest emitting sector in Canada, accounting for 28 per cent of emissions, and rising. The sector’s emissions have increased 88 per cent from 1990 to 2021, drowning out progress made in other sectors like electricity, which saw a 45 per cent reduction over the same period.

Guilbeault said to expect the draft regulations, which have been repeatedly delayed, in the first half of 2024.

The Liberals “should have really come out with draft regulations already” and are “making a mistake” by not doing this rapidly, said Laurie Adkin, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta.

The federal government is creating ample opportunities for provincial and industry opponents to mobilize and try to further dilute the regulations, Adkin told Canada’s National Observer in a phone interview. Acting faster could have “[kneecapped] the army of opponents that are going to be taking every opportunity to try to defeat the government and water down the regulations.”

The framework proposed last week plans to cut pollution from the oil and gas sector by placing a limit on the emissions oil and gas companies can produce in 2030. However, the limit is softened by allowing companies to buy carbon offsets or put money into decarbonization funds for 20 per cent of the pollution they release.

The federal government says it “worked closely with industry to set a realistic and technically achievable goal for the sector” that will see the sector decrease 20 per cent to 23 per cent below 2019 emission levels while increasing production by about 12 per cent.

The rules won’t be phased in until 2026.

Adkin said the extended timeline also creates “a sense of hope on the part of the conservative parties that they can defeat the Trudeau government and elect [Pierre] Poilievre before they'll ever have to deal with this,” she said. “Taking things so slowly is not in the interest of either the climate or [the] Liberal government.”

Oil and gas companies have used their considerable power to attempt to shape the emissions cap policy. From January through October, the Pathways Alliance registered at least 92 separate meetings with federal government officials, according to reports filed with the registry of lobbyists. Over that same period, CAPP recorded at least 86 meetings.

Pathways Alliance member companies separately recorded 321 meetings over the same period.

infographic displaying the logos of six oilsands companies and the corresponding number of lobbying meetings each company recorded from Jan 2023 through October 2023. Cenovus had 75, suncor had 74, Imperial Oil had 69, Canadian Natural Resources had 48, C
This infographic is based on publicly available information from the federal registry of lobbyists. It depicts the number of meetings the six member companies of the Pathways Alliance oilsands lobby group recorded from January 2023 through October 2023. Infographic by Natasha Bulowski / Canada's National Observer

In October, the most recent month available, the Pathways Alliance registered 23 meetings — more than there are workdays, while CAPP recorded 12. The Pathways Alliance’s six member companies recorded an additional 45 meetings.

Because communication reports filed with the registry do not disclose what was discussed, Canada’s National Observer could not confirm exactly how many of the total lobbyists meetings specifically discussed the emissions cap. But informing politicians and senior civil servants of the group’s preferences for how the cap would work was specifically listed as a topic to discuss in the Pathways Alliance registration. Not every oil and gas company specifically mentions the cap, but each of them describes wanting to communicate with the federal government about a range of greenhouse gas emissions policies, according to their registrations.

University of Victoria environmental studies professor James Rowe says “the oil and gas lobby has already scored a victory by ensuring that regulations for capping actual oil and gas production remain taboo in Canada.”

From a climate science perspective, “it's bonkers to me that we're not talking about production,” said Rowe.

Collins panned the new framework in question period last week, saying it won’t even cut emissions enough to meet the Liberals' climate targets.

“I think that we just need to keep up the pressure, both as opposition parties and also civil society,” Collins told Canada’s National Observer. NDP critics, including Collins, communicate with ministers on issues outlined in the Liberal-NDP supply-and-confidence agreement, which includes advancing measures to significantly reduce emissions by the end of the decade.

“I've had conversations with MPs like Patrick Weiler and John Aldag and others who … I think, clearly sometimes want to do the right thing even if they might not have the power to make it happen,” said Collins, adding herself and Bloc Québécois MP Monique Pauzé are often pushing in the same direction in the federal environment committee.

The framework is “literally a licence to pollute until it is too late,” Pauzé said in question period last week. “Who drafted this plan, the oil companies?"

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In order to make sure that its regulations persist, the government has to remain in power, which means that it must compromise.
The federal should not shy on an information campaign (not disinformation as Alberta is doing) that ordinary Canadians would understand. This campaign should aim to shame the energy producers and all those who only think of short term gains at the risk of ruining the planet.
Also, the federal should impose a gag on lobbying amount: after 1000 meetings, all the interests of the oil producers should already be very well understood.

Ultimately what determines whether the government remains in power is the voters. Compromising with lobbyists does not necessarily make it easier to stay in power--that only helps if enough voters agree with the lobbyists.

Basically, the only real effect the oil and gas lobby can have on whether a government stays in power is their ability to spend money on propaganda, either directly or by giving it to political parties to spend. Or slightly more indirectly by using their status as major advertisers to lean on the media to push their line--which may be much of the reason for oil company ad buys in the first place. I mean, who pays attention to their stupid ads? But the media friendliness the ads buy is pretty valuable to them.

Now, in Canada today, except in the prairies where the Liberals don't get seats anyway, I think telling the oil companies to sod off is more of a vote getter than a vote loser, both because of the issue itself and because voters tend to like leaders who don't look like wusses. Consider that the false impression of strength and refusal to compromise is practically the only thing Conservative and Republican politicians have going for them, and yet it's enough to make them competitive. But telling big oil where to go would be even more politically viable if we legislated to reduce corporate power to propagandize.

Yeah, but giving them enough rope to hang themselves is a strategy too, and kind of interesting to watch because as many keep rightly reminding us on this forum, the market is churning away beyond the fray, thereby redeeming itself for all time I'd say. (Hey, there's a catchy poem for the time!)
What's so satisfying is that it's only a matter of time until the noose that awaits (along with continuing alarming climate events) will also confer pariah status on the entire psycho right wing, now best embodied by the chainsaw-wielding guy from Argentina.
Not that there won't still be a surprising amount of low-information voters to firmly and steadily marginalize, but after coming so close to being governed by them in our democracies, surely we now have more "tools" at our disposal to handle them.
What's happened here in the erudite, arrogant West has provided a lot more perspective on what the rest of the world thinks of us relative newbies.

True campaign is For us ALL be shamed for short term gains at the risk of ruining the planet.
It is us that consumes, consumes whatever is fed to use. We're hardly free-range chickens today.

A new approach for a new LPC leader:

Inform the entire fossil fuel industry active in Canada that they will have access to not just top government cabinet ministers, but the Prime Minister if they come with a viable, factual and enforceable plan to invest deeply into renewables, to enable the domestic and international transition toward low emission electricity at meaningful levels, and to establish a non-governmental industry-based fund with a high floor to seriously tackle the clean up and decommissioning of hydrocarbon operations in oil producing provinces.

Inform the lobbyists and CEOs that even without a government presence either way in their industry, the evidence clearly indicates the fast growing international industrial strategy on renewables will still have a profound downward effect on oil demand in their export markets, and that Ottawa will not protect them as long as they work against renewables.

If industry lobbyists cannot agree to develop said plans or continue to propagandize against a cleaner global economic trend, then it's time to close and lock the government access doors.

Concurrently, a new leader would be looking at policies to erode the influence of private vested interests and their money from public office.

It appears the LPC, the NDP and the Bloc have many like-minded MPs to make a difference internally.

The above course of action would come with a raft of public financial incentives and benefits roughly equal to the subsidies, giveaways and tax credits offered or given to Big Oil over the last decade, chief among them the $33++B Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.

Additionally, the feds could offer partnerships in renewable energy projects of their own to Big Oil, as long as the feds retain majority financial control and maintain absolute control over the project planning, design and implementation.

Alternatively, in the absence of industry participation, the feds must be ready to proceed boldly and build its own projects in the national interest. This would apply to new housing policy and other worthwhile initiatives as well. A package to offer the electorate for the next election.

I believe displaying these attributes and acting with determination will win over youth and swing voters who for some short-sighted reason are leaning toward Poilievre in their haste to get rid of Trudeau. That's how Trump got elected down south, basically hundreds of thousands of progressive youth were pissed off Bernie Sanders didn't get nominated over Hillary Clinton. They cast their protest vote for the Orange Menace out of anger, or stayed home, which caused severe voter regret.

Actions like these within the LPC will no doubt cause a rift from within, but it will also wake up the PM and cabinet to the reality that without bold action and renewal at this point, defeat and at least four years (likely eight) in the political wilderness is a genuine threat in the next election. In addition, their legacy will be of a wishy washy, two-faced, fence-sitting weak government that let the Devil take over.

It is surprising that the NDP MP's of all people are completely ignoring the lumpen body lurking "across the aisle" from them in the House of Commons when they spend so much time there.
Politics absolutely IS the art of the possible because even in the face of an existential threat, thanks to the pandemic we all now know, and it is sobering, just how many people REFUSE to accept information of that nature.
All you have to remember is that thanks to the ton of DISinformation on the internet there were a lot of people who refused to get vaccinated against covid, even after they got it, (because the subtlety of the fact that others who got vaccinated COULD still also get it but were much less likely to get as sick OR to die somehow eluded them) but if they weren't in the 1 out of 10 group that ended up with the "long haul" version, they felt pretty smug about their position/opinion/stance. And for those who actually died from it, apparently some insisted that wasn't what they actually HAD with their last breath!
So the Liberals are the smart ones here; they've got a Greenpeace guy as environment minister who I'll bet used to vote NDP back in the day, but is evolved and open-minded enough to see the only real path to change so joined the Liberals. Him and Wilkinson (who has "industry executive" written all over him) have met with the Pathways Alliance and their component oil companies enough to achieve what is "possible" as a framework, showing much patience and forbearance I'd say by truly "consulting." This while keeping the Supreme Court in mind.
The telling thing from the charts shown here is that they met far more with them than CAPP, who are completely a NO. Which is what the conservatives are.
That's where we are now, basically NO or YES, and the NDP are heroes in helping us actually get to YES. They should formalize that political reality and become part of the solution so we can keep going in the right direction.