(VANCOUVER) Over 60 per cent of voters in the recent federal election cast ballots for parties that campaigned to take action on the climate emergency. And, with the Liberal party returning to government having committed to more aggressively fight climate change, a new report suggests that the influence of the fossil fuel lobby may not bode well for the future of Canadian climate policy.

The report, Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau, finds that during both the governments of Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau the industry was remarkably active in lobbying the federal government. Also, the intensity of lobbying increased when salient policy issues—like the Environmental Assessment Act—arose or when there were big stakes for industry such as major pipeline decisions and approvals.

During the seven-year period studied (2011-2018) by the Corporate Mapping Project and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC and Saskatchewan offices, the fossil fuel industry recorded 11,452 lobbying contacts with elected and non-elected federal government officials, which amounts to over six contacts per working day. The bulk of lobbying directed at Harper and Trudeau was carried out by the same large firms.

“The network this research uncovers amounts to a small world of intense interaction among relatively few lobbyists and the designated public office holders who are their targets,” said author Nicolas Graham, a sessional sociology instructor at the University of Victoria who is conducting research on competing political projects for energy transition.

“The study also examines the timing and intensity of lobbying across the sector and among select firms to the formation of important policy frameworks and in relation to specific projects such as pipeline proposals and decisions. We argue that the strategic, organized and sustained lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel sector help to explain the past and continuing connection of federal policy to the needs of the fossil fuel industry,” he added.

The report is co-authored by William Carroll, sociology professor at the University of Victoria and co-Director of the Corporate Mapping Project, and David Chen, a University of Victoria sociology masters student, and notes that during the period under examination climate change was increasingly acknowledged as an urgent threat yet carbon intensive resources became a major focus of the economy.

“There’s no doubt that climate change and fossil fuel extraction were vote-determining for significant sections of the population in the federal election,” Carroll said.

“The Liberals again campaigned on a promise to more aggressively fight climate change. The question of why Canada has been so politically paralyzed in pursuing decisive climate action and how to overcome this paralysis is urgent. It’s a problem of central concern to us at the Corporate Mapping Project,” he explained.

The research looked at the two ends of the lobbying relationship—the fossil fuel firms and industry associations doing the lobbying and their government targets, and found:

  • When compared to other resource industries, including forestry, automotive and renewable energy, fossil fuel industry associations were far more active lobbyists. The fossil fuel industry also lobbied the federal government at rates five times higher than environmental non-governmental organizations.
  • Lobbying is highly concentrated among large fossil fuel firms and key industry associations with 20 organizations accounting for 88 per cent of the total lobbying contacts by the industry.
  • The leading lobbyists during this period were the Mining Association of Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which both represent prominent fossil fuel firms.

“While it is not possible to determine with certainty the extent to which lobbying by any one group or sector directly influences public policy outcomes, industry continues to find value in employing lobbyists to exert continual pressure on decision-makers to develop policies that align with their interests,” Chen said.

The report notes that while lobbying can serve the public interest, the financial resources available to the fossil fuel industry seem to put it at a distinct advantage in the system as it is currently designed. The authors say that changes in the regulation and conduct of lobbying are needed to ensure the public interest is better served and make recommendations to achieve this, including:

  • Improved transparency to begin levelling the playing field in a landscape with very powerful players like those representing fossil fuel companies.
  • Policies to proactively support more equal access to political influence so that industry is not over-represented when shaping policy. The authors explain this could be accomplished with increased support for public interest or public advocacy lobbying similar to BC’s Office of the Seniors Advocate, which represents seniors’ interests on issues like health care, housing, income, independence, transportation and mobility. Advocacy offices with similar powers could address a range of major issues that matter to Canadians and would help even the balance of power that currently heavily favours corporations, in particular those in the fossil fuel sector.

“In this time of climate crisis, transitioning away from fossil fuels in a rapid, democratic and socially just manner is essential,” says Carroll. “If we do not acknowledge and address the influence that the fossil fuel industry holds over government policy, we will not be able to take the steps necessary to adequately address the crisis with the urgency it requires.”

The Corporate Mapping Project is jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC & Saskatchewan offices) and the Parkland Institute. This research was supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).


For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact Jean Kavanagh, [email protected] 604-802-5729

Author: Corporate Mapping Project