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
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
"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
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