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Secret Meeting Planned, then Cancelled, between ENGOs and Tar Sands Companies

Secret Meeting Planned, then Cancelled, between ENGOs and Tar Sands Companies

Invitees included Tzeporah Berman, World Wildlife Federation, ForestEthics

by Dru Oja Jay

April 7, 2010 // The Dominion

MONTREAL— A secret meeting between top Canadian Environmental

Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) and tar sands corporations was

cancelled after word of the meeting spread beyond the initial invitees,

according to two emails leaked to The Dominion.

Billed as a "fireside chat" and an opportunity for "deeper dialogue" in a

room at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the invitation was sent by Marlo

Raynolds of the Pembina Institute on behalf of himself and Gord Lambert of

Suncor. Suncor is the fifth-largest oil company in North America, and the

Pembina institute is a high-profile advocate for sustainable energy in

Alberta. The invitation was marked "confidential."

Ten representatives each from tar sands operators and high-profile

environmental groups were invited to the "informal, beer in hand"

gathering. The David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence Canada,

Forest Ethics, Pollution Probe and Tides Canada were among the invited

environmental groups. Merran Smith of ForestEthics was listed without

affiliation, as was Tzeporah Berman, who worked to privatize BC’s rivers

as director of PowerUp Canada, and who is slated to start work this month

as Greenpeace International’s Climate Campaigner. Among invited oil

companies were Shell, ConocoPhilips, Total and Statoil. Leading tar sands

investor Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) was also on the guestlist.

The event would be, the invitation explained, "an opportunity for a few

ENGOs and a few companies to share their thoughts on the current state of

relations and explore ideas on how a deeper dialogue might occur."

Three days later, Raynolds sent a second email, cancelling the gathering,

owing to "the level of tension" between "a subset of companies and a

subset of ENGOs." The followup email specified a legal dispute. Sources in

Albertan environmental circles suggested pressure to cancel came from

threats to expose the meeting publicly.

"I personally believe we all need to find a way to create the space and

conditions necessary for deeper and meaningful conversations to find some

solutions," wrote Raynolds, explaining the cancellation. "I do hope that

in the coming months, we can work to create those conditions."

The invitation to the secret meeting came as several of the invited groups

had signed on to an open letter to Enbridge, asking it to cancel the

Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pipe tar sands crude to BC’s

central coast, to be put on oil tankers. The letter was published as a

full page ad in the Globe and Mail.

In 2008, the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Boreal Initiative

(financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts; see "Can Pew’s Charity be

Trusted?," November 2007) released a report proposing "conservation

offsets" as a way to mitigate the destruction of biodiversity by tar sands

operations.

According to Pembina, conservation offsets "allow resource companies to

compensate for the unavoidable impact to biodiversity from their

development projects by conserving lands of equal or greater biological

value, with the objective of having no net loss in biodiversity."

Pembina acknowledged a contribution of $44,000 from tar sands operator

Nexen for the "costs of the document."

Petr Cizek, a land use planner and long-time critic of ENGOs’ campaigns

because of their lack of transparency and accountability, said it is to be

expected that prominent environmental groups will meet in secret with oil

companies.

"Is this surprising? No. Is this blatant? Yes," Cizek said.

"The issue isn’t negotiation or compromise. I’ve done lots of both in my

time. The issue is whether the negotiations are transparent and the

organizations are democratic. Virtually none of these organizations are

democratic," he said.

Environmentalists invited to the secret meeting have come under fire by

grassroots environmental activists for their secretive, back-room approach

to negotiations with corporations in previous campaigns. Tzeporah Berman

and Merran Smith both acted as negotiators when ForestEthics and other BC

ENGOs accepted a deal that protected 20 per cent of the Great Bear

Rainforest.

Some grassroots organizations and First Nations were furious at the deal,

which settled for half the minimum protected area outlined in protocol

agreements signed by environmental groups and First Nations prior to the

negotiations. (The area protected by the Great Bear deal was later

increased to 30 per cent after First Nations’ land use plans forced

reconsideration of some of the concessions.)

Cizek said he is not bothered by the outcome of negotiations, but by the

lack of accountability and public oversight.

"My issue isn’t the fact that they protected only 30 per cent, or that

they protected the wrong 30 per cent. In some cases, maybe that is all

that you can achieve. These negotiations can be really ugly. I’ve been

there," he said.

"My issue is that they lied to and betrayed and broke a deal they had with

the smaller organizations."

In a 2009 interview published in the report Offsetting Resistance,

Valhalla Wilderness Society (one of the smaller organizations Cizek

mentioned) Director Anne Sherrod made the connection between the Great

Bear Rainforest agreement and the tar sands.

"These are greenwashing deals. I am speaking out about this because there

is evidence that the collaborative agreement industry may be moving to the

tar sands," said Sherrod.

"I want everyone to know that issues where people are dying of cancer from

serious pollution is no place for this kind of thing. Open public process

is your best friend in situations like this. Insist on it."

Dru Oja Jay is a member of the Dominion editorial collective. He is

co-author, with Macdonald Stainsby, of the report Offsetting Resistance:

The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the

Athabasca River.