Registrar clears petroleum producers of breaking the rules: Group alleged to have influenced government PR strategy

Alberta's lobbyist registrar has cleared the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers of any wrongdoing after allegations the group tried to influence government public relations strategy.

"CAPP is not in breach of the act," Lobbyists Act Registrar Bradley Odsen wrote in an eight-page investigation report tabled Monday in the legislature.

"The totality of the evidence clearly shows that CAPP is in full compliance with the requirements of the Lobbyists Act."

The allegations against CAPP were levelled in August by the Alberta Federation of Labour.

In an Aug. 18 letter to the registrar, the federation alleged that a leaked briefing note dated Aug. 3 showed the petroleum producers had sought to influence government messaging about fracking and shale gas development in the province.

"CAPP has approached the (provincial government) requesting collaboration to enhance public communication on Alberta shale gas development," the briefing note said.

It also added that three government departments and Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board reviewed the organization's request.

The federation also claimed three lobbyists representing CAPP were not listed in the lobbyist registry under CAPP's filing, though all three were registered lobbyists for their employers, which included Encana, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Shell Canada Limited.

In his investigation report, Odsen ruled that "collaboration to enhance public communication" is not lobbying.

"Quite the contrary," Odsen wrote. "If anything, the communication in this case clearly amounts to an 'offer' from CAPP to work collaboratively with the Government of Alberta - in an effort to benefit government.

"Government working collaboratively with stakeholders does not automatically make those stakeholders 'lobbyists' within the meaning of the Act."

Since the "collaborating" does not constitute "lobbying," CAPP is not in breach of the act, Odsen wrote.

He said when government initiates talks with an outside group, any discussion that takes place is not considered lobbying under Alberta's act.

It is only lobbying when the outside group initiates talks.

Odsen's ruling echoes arguments made by CAPP's general counsel in a letter responding to the federation's allegations.

"It is plainly in the interest of Alberta and Albertans to correct ill-informed campaigns that are designed to discredit Alberta Energy and confuse the public so that the economic interests of Albertans are not unjustly injured," Nikol Schultz wrote.

"The (federation's) characterization of the process is highly inaccurate.

"Furthermore, AFL's actions in publicly releasing their letter suggest an agenda that focuses less on serving the public good or the real interests of Alberta workers than it does on attacking governments and industry."

The leaked cabinet documents first made headlines in August because they also suggest the province is worried that environmental groups will undermine public support for shale gas development by spreading misinformation about health and environmental effects of chemical fracking.

"Shale gas environmental concerns in the media are potentially problematic for energy development and environmental management in Alberta," the briefing note says.

"Several initiatives are underway by different groups within government and industry - to address emerging issues and public interest concerns."

The documents were leaked to the NDP one week after federal documents obtained under access to information laws revealed CAPP helped organize the Alberta government's public relations strategy to polish the image of the oilsands.

Energy Department spokesman Bart Johnson said Monday it is not uncommon for government to work with stakeholders in areas of common interest, including public awareness campaigns, as well as communications strategies.

"In this case, government discussed the possibility of a joint public awareness strategy with CAPP, but CAPP decided to pursue its own plan," Johnson said.

Edmonton Journal, Tues Nov 29 2011
Byline: Karen Kleiss

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