OTTAWA—Ottawa is dramatically ramping up ad spending by Natural Resources Canada as the Conservatives plan to take their environmental and natural resources fight directly to the American market.
Budgetary estimates show that $16.5-million has been set aside by the department for advertising in 2013-14 to highlight what the Harper government calls responsible resource development.
The total includes $4.5-million in the main estimates tabled in March and another $12-million in the government’s supplementary estimates.
That’s up from $9-million spent last year and just $237,000 in Natural Resources advertising in 2010-11.
The department also put out a tender this spring, worth up to $500,000, seeking “media relations training for the minister and senior NRCan officials, scientists, program personnel and communicators.”
In addition to a massive TV ad blitz aimed at domestic audiences, Natural Resources has begun a U.S.-directed advertising offensive that includes promotions and ads in influential publications and a website for American viewers, gowithcanada.ca.
“Canadian pipelines are the environmentally responsible choice to meet America’s oil energy needs,” says the gowithcanada.ca home page.
The American campaign comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets set to travel to New York to make the pitch for Canadian oil and gas resources and promote TransCanada Corps’ Keystone XL pipeline.
A decision from the Obama administration on the pipeline to carry Alberta bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast has become mired in U.S. domestic politics and a significant environmental backlash.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Environment Minister Peter Kent have been making regular pilgrimages south of the border to tout Canada’s resources and environmental record.
Oliver’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The current promotional onslaught has been years in the making.
“The approach would be not just ‘turn up the volume’ … it would change tact (sic) and address perceptions by showing that issues are being addressed and we have the right attitude,” said a 2010 government memo.
But the gowithcanada.ca website has immediately been criticized by some environmental groups for misrepresenting the truth.
The site asserts that “Innovation and research drives improvement in the oil sands—GHG emissions have dropped 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011.”
In fact, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions more than tripled between 1990 and 2011.
The emissions intensity per barrel of oil fell 26 per cent.
The website also presents the Environmental Assessment Act, which was rewritten in the last year’s omnibus budget bill to make it much more industry-friendly, under the heading “Strengthening Environmental Protection.”
“This is what happens when you fire or muzzle the environmental scientists and replace them with advertising executives,” Keith Stewart, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, responded in an email.
“We need our government to force oil companies to clean up their act, not buy their ads for them.”
Stewart said no amount of ad spending will “reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean up those toxic lakes or deal fairly with affected First Nations.”
Natural Resources would not disclose the budget for the U.S. promotion, but said it came out of the department’s $16.5-million ad envelope.
The Conservative government has recently come under sustained opposition criticism for its heavy advertising budget, which has included at least $113-million spent on “economic action plan” ads since the term was first coined for the 2009 stimulus budget.