Nearly a year after the oil and gas industry clashed with the Regina city council over a proposed amendment to ban fossil fuel companies from sponsoring city buildings or events, a new report from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives reveals the playbook used to override the motion.

Using details uncovered through an access to information request, combined with interviews with Regina city councilors, the report titled “Big Oil in City Hall” examines what happened in the seven days between an initial vote in the city ​​executive committee that saw the motion. pass 7-4 and the next city council meeting at which the motion was unanimously withdrawn.

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

Despite the small sum, the response was quick. Prime Minister Scott Moe publicly threatened withhold more than $ 30 million that would otherwise flow to the city from the Crown-owned utility SaskPower, if Regina did not change course, calling the motion “preposterous.” Similarly, Conservative Regina-Wascana MP Michael Kram wrote an open letter to city councilors calling the motion an “insult” and compared it to Las Vegas banning casino advertising.

The report details how after the motion was first filed, gathering calls from politicians, industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), specific companies like the Keystone Group of Companies and Federated Co-operatives Limited, and others like the House of Regina. of Commerce served to mobilize fossil fuel supporters against the proposed change. The report does not argue that the motion was annulled due to a centrally coordinated strategy by the oil majors; rather, it outlines the influence of the oil and gas industry on the political culture of the province.

“In the end, you had this coalition of industry groups and allies asking their followers and supporters through social media to flood Regina city hall with emails,” said one of the report’s co-authors, the Center’s director. Canadian Policy Alternatives for Saskatchewan, Simon Enoch. . “We estimate that each council member would have received more than 1,000 emails each during the span of that week.”

So many emails could be sent because writing to elected officials has become a streamlined and automated process. CAPP Canada’s Energy Citizens group, for example, established 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 Center. These scripted emails were later amplified by other local industry advocacy groups, according to the report.

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

That’s because councilors could smell the lobbying effort from a mile away and could dismiss automated emails with relative ease, he said. What made the emails a successful strategy for the fossil fuel industry is that they brought together supporters who then raised a relatively innocuous proposal to a controversial issue, Enoch says.

“This problem got so radioactive that the people who are most likely to support climate goals didn’t want to touch it with a 20-foot pole,” he said.

“People who knew they were sympathetic to climate goals were so scared of the issue because of the rancor and ferocity of the assault on the oil industry … one of the quotes was, ‘Don’t push the bear.’ #Cdnpoli #saskpoli

“I think what had the biggest effect on a lot of these councilors was that the people who knew they were sympathetic to the climate goals were so scared of the issue because of the rancor and ferocity of the assault on the oil industry … one of the quotes It was, ‘Don’t screw the bear.’

“It really turned off those temperate climates and made them withdraw 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 “really gained a lot of influence and power” over the political terrain of the province.

“If your government relies on revenue from public spending from the oil and gas industry and less on taxes through corporate taxes or personal income taxes, they begin to change their understanding of who they work for and who they are accountable to. “, He said. .

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

“So there is a way that the fossil fuel industry can represent itself as essential to people’s lives, to infrastructure (and) to people’s well-being,” he 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 as executives, in an attempt to make criticism of the industry synonymous with criticism of workers.

The report highlights this framing used by Prime Minister Moe, who called the motion a “hypocritical attack on workers”, an executive director who described it as a “psychological blow to our employees” and Energy Citizens of Canada warned that it would put in danger “30,000 jobs”.

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“It is much easier to sympathize with the worker than with an executive in the oil industry, but the industry has acted against the interests of the workers over the last decade,” Enoch said. “Even though they are making huge profits, they have downsized their staff … (so) I really think there needs to be a gap between the interests of the industry and the interests of the workers, and (ask) are they the ones who they’re always in unison, (because) I don’t think they are. “

The debate over whether a transition from fossil fuels is taking place is long overdue. With the authority of the International Energy Agency forecasting that oil demand will decline in all scenarios it considers and delineating paths to net zeroEaton said we are entering a new era.

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

“I think (what is really) behind this is that the public image of the oil and gas industry is starting to wane, and they don’t want the people of Regina to imagine that there is a possibility of having a life and a economy, and a modern one, also, without oil or gas, “he said.

In an email, Kram said National Observer of Canada if a similar amendment is presented, he will again oppose it. He stressed that he “does not deny climate change” and understands that climate change is real and primarily man-made, but said that, as an elected representative, he wanted to avoid solutions that cause more problems, such as job losses, in an industry that has generated significant income.

“In this context, treating these industries as if they are doing something shameful is unfair and ethically dishonest. This was especially the case for the City of Regina, which has benefited so much from these industries, biting the hand that feeds it with these types of proposals, ”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 that this is misleading in describing how the fossil fuel industry is often symbolically a national project, and its supporters characterize it as an industry operated for the benefit of all when in reality, it is a profit-for-profit enterprise. of the shareholders. .

Enoch said that while the report focuses on Regina, the industry tactics outlined are shared across the country.

“We’ve shown what they can do when challenged, and I think any kind of strategy by urban climate activists worth its salt will have to find ways to combat that kind of advocacy campaign,” he said.

John Woodside / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer

Reference-www.nationalobserver.com

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