Braid: Ottawa tries to muzzle oil and gas companies with huge fines for praising their climate efforts

Companies publicizing their environmental actions will have to prove the truth of every word they say, measured against undefined ‘internationally recognized methodology’

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Shut up, oil and gas companies. Don’t talk about the environmental and emissions gains you’ve made. Not a word.

That’s the clear message in the latest legislative horror from Liberal-NDP Ottawa, enshrouded in late-arriving amendments to larger Bill C-59.

It’s heading for the rubber stamp in the Senate. Some provisions would take effect immediately after Royal Assent.

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The Alberta government is already considering counteraction.

“We are looking at every legal option that we have available to us, and that does include the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act,” Rebecca Schulz, UCP minister of environment and protected areas, said in an interview.

“And there’s a potential constitutional challenge as well.”

Rebecca Schulz
Alberta minister of environment and protected areas Rebecca Schulz speaks at a press conference in McDougall Centre in Calgary on Thursday, August 10, 2023. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia file

Companies publicizing their environmental actions will have to prove the truth of every word they say, measured against undefined “internationally recognized methodology.”

Oil and gas companies will face scrutiny and penalties unique in the business and political worlds.

The fine for a first “offence” could be up to $10 million, or three times the benefit gained from the “deception.” A second conviction would raise the fine to $15 million.

These provisions probably violate the constitutional right to free speech and association under the Charter of Rights. But that would take years to establish in court.

Meanwhile, companies will have to decide whether they will keep saying positive things about their climate change efforts, or simply fall silent.

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Silence is exactly what the drafters of these draconian measures want.

The amendments to Bill C-59 are aimed at “greenwashing” — roughly defined as making false statements about positive climate action.

The larger goal is to stop companies from stating the inconvenient truth that they are making significant gains on emissions.

In February, NDP zealot Charlie Angus brought in a private-member’s bill that would have jailed oil and gas executives. That seemed like a bad joke. The bill died.

The new measures don’t come with jail terms.

Just wait for it, though.

On Wednesday, three federal MPs joined the growing call for criminalizing “ecocide.” Green party Leader Elizabeth May agreed with Stop Ecocide Canada that climate and environment offenders should face the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

In hearty agreement with May were Patrick Weiller (Liberal) and Alexandre Boulerice (Bloc Quebecois).

If they get their way, you can bet that Canadian oil and gas executives will be top candidates for the slammer.

The hostility has been building for years. During the 2019 federal election campaign, industry executives put out a mild statement asking Canadians to join them in “urging Canada’s leaders of all political stripes to help our country thrive by supporting an innovative energy industry.”

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May exploded. “For them to promote a campaign of self-interest and deception on this scale in an election year is beyond despicable,” she said.

Even a suggestion that the industry might do some good was “deception.”

This official animosity is now entrenched in what passes for the political centre in the Liberal-NDP government. Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois all support these penalty amendments to the larger bill.

Elizabeth May
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May takes part in a press conference in Ottawa, Ont. on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Bryan Passifiume/Postmedia

Private individuals will be allowed to file claims under this legislation. This would enable organized complaint-swarming of companies.

They would have to prove their innocence. And the measuring stick is that vague “internationally recognized methodology.”

Nobody seems to know what that means. Official Ottawa will surely figure it out, though, and not to the benefit of oil and gas companies.

In an analysis of the legislation, the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright wrote: “Companies making climate-related, net zero, environmental impact or similar claims will have to consider the increased risk stemming from these new greenwashing provisions, while at the same time navigating the possibility of private applications.”

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Do oil and gas companies offer the best picture of themselves with promotions and reports? Of course they do, just like every other organization with a public face.

But they alone stand to be penalized for the slightest violation of an undefined standard.

“It’s a gag order on businesses and industry, plain and simple,” says Schulz.

“Oilsands emissions intensity are down, electricity emissions are down, methane emissions are down and overall emissions continue to decline.

“That is our record. Those are facts.”

She added: “One could argue the person greenwashing is Steven Guilbeault” (federal minister of environment and climate change.)

“He hasn’t hit any of his targets when it comes to climate. He greenwashes his own failed environmental record.”

That’s bang on, but she’d better be careful. They might come up with a law against insulting the captains of climate.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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