In November 2016, 25,000 emails appeared in the ‘in-box’ of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They were from ordinary Canadians, from coast to coast, in support of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project – a pipeline that will expand Canadian oil’s access to export markets.
It’s worth noting that Trudeau’s government approved both the Trans Mountain expansion and Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement projects shortly after.
“It’d be a stretch to assign a direct correlation, as those decisions usually involve a lot of people over many weeks and months of deliberations. Nevertheless, we know direct citizen response is the kind of thing politicians really take note of,” says Steve Rennick.
Rennick has worked previously in politics in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. These days, he’s the lead organizer of Canada’s Energy Citizens, a grassroots community of people who support Canada’s oil and natural gas industry and the benefits it provides.
“When people take the time to write their MP, or sign a petition, or take part in a rally, it’s noticed,” says Rennick. “Leaders know that these are citizens and voters who are expressing an opinion, one they care about, and one they need to pay attention to.”
Canada’s Energy Citizens, or CEC, was formed in 2014 as a means to give ordinary Canadians who believe in a strong oil and natural gas industry a voice in the energy debates of today.
“Our supporters believe that a strong oil and natural gas industry means jobs and economic growth; it means revenues that can support social programs and a good quality of life,” says Rennick. “They also know that as Canadians, we know how to produce our resources responsibly and sustainably. That we can balance economic and environmental priorities.”
The less-quiet majority
Through CEC, industry supporters have a strong public voice, but it wasn’t always so. Before the group took off, fossil fuel opponents often seemed to dominate media headlines with protests and one-sided critiques of energy projects.
“Polls consistently show that significantly more Canadians support pipelines and responsible energy development than oppose it,” says Rennick. ”Opponents have sometimes been a bit louder and more present in the media, though.”
In fact, polling back in 2014 showed that while support for the industry exceeded 40 per cent, compared to 25 per cent opposed, opponents were almost three times more likely to speak up publicly than supporters.
“It’s not easy to show your support when some who are opposed to fossil fuel development are so heated in their opinions,” says Taleesha Thorogood CEC campaigns advisor for the prairies. “Also, as Canadians, many of us are naturally a bit more quiet and polite.”
“But what can really help is to show supporters that they are not alone—that there are others, many others, who have the same beliefs. Through CEC we can get that message out and encourage more and more Canadians to have a voice in our country’s energy discussions.”
CEC also helps share information, arming its members with the knowledge, tools and information to engage factually and constructively on energy topics.
It’s an approach that clearly has resonated with Canadians. As of January 2018, CEC has a social media following of well over 200,000, and an emailable list of 100,000. And the numbers continue to grow.
“We’re now have the largest social media presence of any advocacy group dealing with oil and gas issues in Canada--larger than Greenpeace, Sierra Club or the Suzuki Foundation,” adds Thorogood.
CEC followers show their support in a variety of ways. A key method is online petitions and letter-writing campaigns. There’s the 25,000 emails that were sent to Prime Minister Trudeau in 2016. Last year, a campaign sent 15,500 emails to Natural Resource Jim Carr signaling strong support for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in the wake of the B.C. election. And CEC has an ongoing pipeline support petition that so far has gathered more than 87,000 names.
As well, CEC supporters are now setting up rallies and getting active in their own communities. For example, one group of supporters from producing communities in northern B.C. got together and drove a convoy across the country to Ottawa in support of LNG.
Supporters can find on the EnergyCitizens.ca website an advocacy toolkit, with resources to help members host and attend events, initiate campus rallies and engage with legislators.
Underlying these efforts is a tone of respectful engagement. While giving industry supporters a strong voice is a priority, CEC organizers emphasize that discussions need to be positive and solutions oriented.
“Our goal is not to bash those who disagree with us. What we want is to give voice to a balanced, solutions-oriented approach to meeting the energy, economic and environmental needs of Canadians and energy consumers everywhere,” says Thorogood.
This means finding realistic solutions that work for most Canadians, including local communities, Indigenous groups, and yes, environmental groups.
“There’s a tendency to paint this as a black-and-white debate—which is too bad, because at the end of the day, I think we share a lot of the same values,” says Thorogood.
Natasha Westover agrees. The Vancouver resident helps organize and recruit CEC supporters in British Columbia. Although some governments in the province have come out in opposition to pipeline development, she sees a different side.
“I meet people every day who join CEC because they support energy development, and they care about the environment. They want to know that industry, government and communities are working together to keep our land, air and water clean. They want to know that we are finding solutions to address the needs and interests of communities and Indigenous peoples, while we are building a strong economic future that benefits all Canadians.”
Rennick, meanwhile, says this balanced approach is ingrained in the industry which his group supports. He points to serious commitments that industry has made in the name of environmental sustainability, such as a 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions by 2025, and the Alberta government’s 100 megatonne hard cap on oil sands GHG emissions.
“Plus, the really exciting stuff is happing on the innovation front,” he adds. “Producers are finding ways to produce oil and natural gas, both less expensively and with less carbon. It’s a win-win, and it’s really the Canadian way.”
The Canadian Way
Rennick notes that industry’s solutions-based approach can only work if governments and Canadians fully understand the benefits a strong, growing oil and gas industry provides, and support policies to keep that industry on a competitive footing against other producers.
Rennick points to the recent Pacific NorthWest LNG decision as a wake-up call. The $36 billion project recently got shelved when the international consortium backing it decided not to move forward on a final investment decision. While current market conditions including low prices for natural gas were a factor, Rennick notes that investment in general in Canada has fallen.
“Delays and uncertainties in project reviews, along with rising costs associated with unnecessarily complicated policies and regulations—they’re leading to a perception in some corners that Canada isn’t a good place to do business,” says Rennick.
“We’ve seen investment dive in the past few years. That capital that leads to jobs and economic growth is going to other places like the U.S. and Mexico.”
Rennick adds, “When these projects fail, there’s a price. It’s easy to miss the fact that in the case of projects like Energy East and Pacific NorthWest LNG many local communities and Indigenous groups signed agreements to be partners in the project—receiving community investment dollars, supplying workers and goods and so on. Ultimately, that’s jobs and revenue lost to communities, who, in many cases, were really looking forward to the numerous long-term economic and social benefits major projects like these provide.”
“Worse, the loss of such projects doesn’t save the environment or produce a net reduction in global GHG emissions. In fact, it drives investment and ultimately production to jurisdictions quite often that don’t follow the same strict environmental and safety standards and commitments than Canada has.”
It’s important say the CEC organizers for more Canadians to become a part of the conversation—get informed about the issues and make up their own minds about what’s best for themselves, their community and the country.
Says Rennick, “I think if more Canadians do that, we’ll definitely see support for energy produced the Canada way, and for movements like Canada’s Energy Citizens continue to grow.”