Documents released on Monday reveal that B.C.’s climate plan under the previous Liberal government was drafted by the oil and gas industry in a Calgary boardroom, just as the province’s new NDP government moves to ban corporate and union donations to B.C. political parties.
The documents speak to long-standing concerns over the influence of political donations in B.C.’s political process. B.C. has long been considered the ‘wild west’ of political cash for placing no limits on corporate, union or foreign donations.
“I think this is deeply corrosive to our democracy and it encourages cynicism about politics,” Max Cameron, political science professor and director of the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia, told DeSmog Canada.
The documents, released to Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of her research with the Corporate Mapping Project, reveal that while the B.C. government under former premier Christy Clark hired a celebrated Climate Leadership Team and conducted public consultations, a parallel industry consultation process occurred behind closed doors in a boardroom of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The BC Liberals have raked in cash from the fossil fuel industry, including more than $3.7 million from just the top 10 industry donors between 2008 and 2015.
Cameron said the documents, which include slides outlining industry working groups tasked with addressing carbon pricing and methane emissions, provide a much-needed glimpse into what exactly industry is paying for when making large donations to political parties.
“Reading these documents gives us some real insight into how it is that these kinds of donations can buy not just access to government but access to actually writing policy,” he said.
Climate Leadership Team Unaware of Parallel Industry Consultations
B.C. handpicked a blue-ribbon team of 17 academic, business, environmental and First Nations stakeholders to form the Climate Leadership Team. That team made 32 official recommendations to the B.C. government, none of which were implemented in the province’s eventual Climate Action Plan.
Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, was a member of the team and said the fact that not a single recommendation was adopted “really says it all.”
Christy Clark’s government “allowed the oil and gas sector to write the climate plan for B.C. that is mostly status quo and has very little impact on B.C.’s growing climate pollution,” Smith told DeSmog Canada.
She added once the team made its recommendations to the government, their involvement in the crafting of the Climate Action Plan tapered off quickly.
“We had very few meetings with the B.C. government once the recommendations were created. It was clear that they actually had very little interest in doing anything with recommendations.”
Meanwhile, Christy Clark pointed to the recommendations at the UN Climate Summit in Paris as evidence of B.C.’s climate leadership.
Tzeporah Berman, a prominent environmental advocate in B.C. and member of the Climate Leadership Team said she had no idea B.C. was conducting parallel consultations with industry.
“I was shocked when I saw these documents,” Berman told DeSmog Canada.
“Consultation should be a transparent process and should be done with multiple stakeholders. These were secret meetings in Calgary where the oil and gas industry was rewriting B.C. policy. That's not consultation, it's corruption.”
Berman said the documents reveal an “unacceptable level of access and influence with the Liberal government.”
“They also help those of us from the leadership team understand how the climate plan that the Liberals put together really had no similarity to what the Liberals’ own climate team recommended,” she said.
The team worked hard for months to deliver a plan within a short timeframe and offered to meet with stakeholders to “problem solve any concerns” if that would help B.C. “ensure implementation” of the recommendations, Berman said.
But that offer was never taken up.
“From our end it was a bizarre process,” Berman said.
Fossil Fuel Companies Regularly ‘Craft’ Climate Plans
Laurie Adkin, professor of political science at the University of Alberta, said when it comes to government consultations with corporations, “secrecy is routine” and “transparency is the exception.”
“Even when governments reveal that they have met with representatives of private corporations, reporting on these meetings typically does not reveal which corporate representatives were in the room, or what their positions were,” Adkin told DeSmog Canada.
Adkin, who is a member of the Corporate Mapping Project, specializes in documenting corporate influence in politics and on university campuses.
Government consultation with industry is the status quo, Adkin said, while public consultation is meant to merely survey public opinion and “give the appearance that government has created meaningful opportunities for citizen input into policy decisions.”
“I do not believe that any climate change plan has been written, to date, in which the major fossil fuel corporations have not ‘directly crafted’ the plan,” Adkin said.
Adkin and Cameron agree the documents are reflective of “institutional corruption.”
“Corruption isn’t just quid pro quo of privately benefitting from your public office, it’s also a corruption of the institution, when the public purpose of the institution is undermined by private actors in a way that diminishes our trust in those institutions,” Cameron said.
“The goal of public policy is to serve the public’s interest, not to serve particular private interests.”
Leadership Team Hopeful Under New NDP Government
Berman said the oil and gas industry has too much political influence in Canada, but said she is hopeful the new B.C. government will “design policy to benefit the people and not just polluters.”
“I was very glad to see the carbon tax increase in the last budget,” Berman said.
“I think the next step is removing all the subsidies that the Liberal government handed out to the gas industry. We shouldn't be spending taxpayers dollars to help the fossil fuel industry expand in the climate era”
Berman said she also looks forward to the new government moving forward on the zero emissions vehicles targets and strengthening the clean fuel standard.
Smith said she is pleased the Climate Leadership Team had the opportunity to craft the recommendations when it did.
“The silver lining is that we still have a good, solid set of climate action recommendations sitting there, and we now have a Premier and government who is interested in taking climate action and building a clean growth economy for the twenty-first century.”
Image: Former premier Christy Clark at a Woodfibre LNG announcement. Photo: Province of B.C. via Flickr