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

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Issue: 69 Section: Environment Geography: West Vancouver, Alberta Topics: corruption, greenwashing

April 7, 2010

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

Invitees included Tzeporah Berman, World Wildlife Fund, ForestEthics

by Dru Oja Jay

"Ask a toad": Suncor is now the largest tar sands extraction company, and the fifth largest oil company in North America. It has an ongoing partnership with the Pembina Institute. Photo: Dru Oja Jay

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.

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Pragmatic solutions to protect the environment require dialogue

I would welcome an interview from your publication on this story, as I think your readers deserve to hear different perspectives on the intention of bringing together ENGOs and companies for dialogue.

Below is the invite in its full text.
This meeting or the invitation were not "confidential" or "secret" at all.

When Gord Lambert of Suncor sent out the invitation to the people representing corporations, at the bottom of his email is a standard corporate "confidentiality" statement that comes with every email they send. I have pasted this below as well.

Should anyone have any questions on this matter, feel free to email me directly: marlor@pembina.org

Thank you,
Marlo Raynolds
Executive Director
Pembina Institute


Personal Invitation - March 24 - 4pm-6pm - Vancouver (Globe Week)

A “Fireside” Conversation about Corporate and ENGO Relations on the Oil Sands

From: Gord Lambert, Suncor and Marlo Raynolds, Pembina Institute

To date there has been very little constructive dialogue between environmental NGOs and the oil sands industry. Much of the debate is occurring in the media.

We believe the best solutions are going to emerge from a deeper understanding of multiple perspectives.

Creating that space for dialogue is not easy, but we would like to host an informal, beer in hand, “fireside chat” to create 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.

There will be no speeches, no third-party facilitator, no rules – just a room, some beer, and 20 people taking some time to share their thoughts.

We are inviting the following people to this discussion and we hope you can make it. Please let me know.

1. Gord Lambert - Suncor
2. Marlo Raynolds – Pembina
3. Lloyd Visser & Bob Mitchell – ConocoPhilips
4. Murray Elliot – Shell
5. TBD – Total Canada
6. Jon Mitchell – Cenovus
7. TBD - Statoil
8. TBD – Forest Ethics
9. Bob Oliver – Pollution Probe
10. Peter Robinson – David Suzuki Foundation
11. Gerald Butts – WWF
12. Rick Smith – Environmental Defence Canada
13. Tzeporah Berman
14. Lyn Brown – Catalyst
15. Ross McMillan – Tides Canada
16. Paul Griss – New Directions Group
17. TBD – Nexen
18. Sandra Odendahl – RBC
19. Bob Walker – Ethical Funds
20. Merran Smith


Heritage Courtroom 301
Vancouver Art Gallery

750 Hornby Street

Wednesday, March 24
4:00 – 6:00 p.m.



This email and its contents are private and confidential, for the sole use of the addressees. If you are not an intended recipient, copying, forwarding or other distribution of this email or its contents by any means is prohibited. If you believe that you received this email in error please notify the original sender immediately.

Petro-Canada is a Suncor Energy business.


Ce courriel et son contenu sont privés et confidentiels, et sont destinés à l’usage exclusif des destinataires. Si vous n'êtes pas le destinataire prévu, toute reproduction, transfert ou autre forme de diffusion de ce courriel ou de son contenu par quelque moyen que ce soit est interdit. Si vous croyez avoir reçu ce courriel par erreur, veuillez en aviser l'expéditeur original immédiatement.

Petro-Canada est une entreprise de Suncor Énergie.


The email subject line

Hi Marlo,

Thanks for posting the invitation in full.

The subject line of the email that was leaked to the Dominion reads as follows:

"CONFIDENTIAL: Personal Invitation - GLOBE - Fireside Chat on oil sands - corporate / ENGO relations"


The email subject line that was sent in the invitation

Hi Dru,

The subject line in the invitations coming from both myself and Gord Lambert read:

"Personal Invitation - GLOBE - Fireside Chat on oil sands - corporate / ENGO relations"

There was no "CONFIDENTIAL". I suspect your source added the "confidential".

My suggestion in the future is to call and ask more about the intention, nature and objectives of such meetings. I would be more than happy to share our perspective and help ensure the facts are accurate, and hear what concerns others might have.



Hi Marlo,

That's fair enough. However, the fact remains that a very small, exclusive number of people knew about the meeting until it was leaked.

And yes, I will call you next time I do a story about this.


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