VANCOUVER – One of the key concerns for the federal government in a multimillion-dollar Natural Resources advertising campaign was the negative publicity around the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, according to internal government documents.
In particular, the statement of work provided to the ad company a year ago noted that media coverage had been critical of legislative changes that gave the federal cabinet power to override the National Energy Board recommendations on project approval.
There was also criticism of changes that limited public participation in joint review panel hearings that are currently taking place in B.C., said the April 2012 document obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Among the key issues:
— “allegations that these changes will put British Columbia’s sovereignty at stake.”
— “if cabinet can override the National Energy Board, why bother with Northern Gateway hearings, for a project which the government has already declared to be in the national interest.”
— “ongoing uncertainty over impact of the Responsible Resource Development changes to the Northern Gateway pipeline.”
— “putting Responsible Resource Development changes in the Budget Implementation Act means the federal government can adopt the changes without comprehensive analysis, hearings or debate by Parliament.”
— “potential for changes to the Fisheries Act to end up in litigation.”
The Conservative government’s energy policies and new energy developments will continue to come under public scrutiny, said the April 2012 document.
“It will be important in this environment to increase public awareness and understanding of the Government’s balanced approach to energy policy,” the document said.
Among the objectives of the two-year newspaper, television, online and radio ad campaign was to promote the government’s “balanced investments to secure Canada’s energy future and that this will help grow our economy, maintain our quality of life, and sustain our social programs.”
The Northern Gateway proposal would see pipelines linking Alberta oilsands to a tanker port in Kitimat, on B.C.’s north coast.
Project supporters say that diversifying the market for Canadian oil products beyond the U.S. — currently the only customer — will boost profits in the neighbourhood of $20 billion a year because currently producers are forced to sell to just one customer.
Project opponents, which include many First Nations and conservation groups, say the pipeline poses too great a risk to the environment, in particular off the B.C. coast where it would result in more than 200 oil tankers a year traversing the waters around the Haida Gwaii archipelago.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the ad campaign relays facts to the public.
“The advertisements provide specific facts about measures taken by the government to protect the environment, and other information on Responsible Resource Development,” Oliver said in an email.
Natural Resources Canada has an advertising budget of $9 million for this fiscal year, according to a previous report by The Canadian Press.
Oliver said all details of the ad campaign will be published in the annual report on government advertising activities.