Alberta premier attacks Ottawa’s oil and gas advertising bill

By Catherine Griwkowsky June 5, 2024

A man wearing a suit and hard hat stands with a woman wearing a beige jacket and white hard hat in front of a large container of liquid natural gas.

Premier Danielle Smith says she is willing to be prosecuted for promoting Alberta’s oil and gas industry under a proposed federal law requiring companies to prove claims about their environmental impacts. She is pictured here at the opening of the Keyera pipeline in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta on October 4, 2023. (Government of Alberta).

Premier Danielle Smith said she may be the first person prosecuted under new rules brought in through the federal government’s Bill C-59, which will require oil and gas advertising to follow regulations against false advertising enforced by the Competition Bureau.

“Maybe I’ll be the first person prosecuted under the act,” Smith said at a news conference. “Because I can tell you that our oil and gas industry has got a better environmental record than anywhere in the world, and I’m going to continue to celebrate that.”

The provisions in the bill would require any advertiser to back up claims about environmental, social or ecological protections related to their products by proving they are true in accordance with “internationally recognized methodology.”

“I think they’ve gone way, way over their skis on this one,” Smith said.

The addition of the amendments to Bill C-59 comes on the heels of a related private member’s bill NDP MP Charlie Angus tabled in February, which aimed to “stop the misleading advertising and promotion of fossil fuels in Canada.”

In a statement to Parliament Today, Angus said it is “very troubling” if the UCP thinks the oil and gas industry should be free to engage in false advertising.

“Just this past week the Ad Standards Council ruled that a front group for the oil and gas industry was engaged in a campaign of misleading claims,” Angus said. “These are serious issues and the public has a right to hold corporations to account, particularly as we are dealing with the growing impacts of a fossil fuel-driven climate catastrophe.”

Following Tuesday’s news conference, Angus revived his criticisms by bringing up Smith’s previous attacks on anti-smoking lobbyists.

“When it comes to emissions, Big Oil ads lie like a rug,” Angus wrote on social media. “Now Danielle Smith is threatening a constitutional crisis to protect industry disinformation.”

‘Vague’ language and ‘greenwashing’ charges 

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said earlier in the week that the proposed amendments to the Competition Act will impact companies of all sizes and sectors, requiring businesses to verify all environmental performance claims.

The chamber warned the rules could put a chill on innovation and decarbonization efforts because if a company can’t comply with reporting requirements for a technology that isn’t yet proven, it could be subject to fines on all its profits, not just profits on the projects in question.

Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has questioned the “internationally recognized methodology” the amendments say advertising must adhere to.

The “vague and undefined phrase” will create “needless uncertainty for businesses,” per the minister, who called it “an undemocratic gag order” that must be stopped.

Emilia Belliveau, energy transition program manager for Environmental Defence, fired back at Schulz, accusing her of trying to create controversy when the bill simply asks companies to tell the truth.

“We’re not buying it,” Belliveau said. “Greenwashing is a pervasive issue, and there should be consequences for companies lying about their green credentials.”

“The important amendments made to Bill C-59 will help protect consumers from greenwashing and help tackle misinformation about the causes of and solutions to climate change. Alberta should not be siding with big polluters over the public.”

Premier threatens constitutional challenge

Smith said she wants to double the production of oil and natural gas, and will support the industry in its aspirations to reach net zero by 2050 through carbon capture, utilization and storage; small modular reactors; and direct air capture.

“If I’ve got to be the only one out there that is going to defend the industry, then I’m happy to do that, but I think it’s outrageous that federal politicians would stand in the way of the incredible amount of work that our industry is doing in advancing emissions reduction as well as continuing to provide the world energy that they need.”

Smith said the province may launch a constitutional challenge to the law, stating it violates the right to free expression.

“I regret that they’ve gone in this direction, but ultimately, if it lands in court, that’s where we’re going to have to settle this out,” she said. “We have a multitude of court actions against the federal government for stepping out of its constitutional jurisdiction. This is just one more example.”

Angus responded by mocking the premier. “Canada’s poor and battered constitution: Danielle Smith is invoking a constitutional ‘right’ for Big Oil to lie to the public.”

On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said May 2024 was the hottest May on record, marking 12 straight months of record-breaking global temperatures.

“Fossil-fuel companies are the ‘godfathers of climate chaos’ and should be banned in every country from advertising,” Guterres said.

The bill is now before the Senate at second reading. So far the advertising amendments have not been discussed on the Senate floor.