Alberta condemns ‘absurd’ censorship bill for targeting oil and gas companies

Bill C-59, which imposes hefty fines on oil and gas companies for making environmental or social assertions, has been condemned as 'absurd authoritarian censorship' following its royal assent on Thursday.

Alberta condemns ‘absurd’ censorship bill for targeting oil and gas companies
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and her cabinet are considering a Sovereignty Act motion to oppose the federal government's censorship of conventional oil and gas companies after the latest attack on the industry.

Through last-minute amendments, a private member’s bill threatening oil and gas advocates with jail time quietly made its way to Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the fall economic statement.

It amends the Competition Act to combat ‘greenwashing’, threatening companies with stiff fines for communicating environmental or social assertions.

It received royal assent on Thursday before the summer parliamentary recess.

“Ironically, this kind of absurd authoritarian censorship will only work to stifle many billions in investments in emissions reducing technologies — the very technologies the world needs to reduce emissions while avoiding energy poverty for billions around the world,” the joint statement reads.

The province also rejected the “chaos and uncertainty … of phasing out the energy industry altogether.”

A previously attempted private member's bill, Bill C-372, An Act respecting fossil fuel advertising, attempted to ban positive messaging of fossil fuels.

It proposed restrictions on industry professionals, advertisers and media companies “deceiving or misleading with respect to the environmental and health hazards of using fossil fuels.” 

NDP MP Charlie Angus, the bill’s sponsor, aimed to target industry “propaganda” that considers oil and gas a part of the ‘climate solution.’

“Canadians were immediately outraged, and the bill was laughed away as being just plain crazy,” said Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz in an earlier statement.

“Any company not willing to risk millions of dollars in fines and legal fees will be forced to stay silent,” she said. 

Those who defied the Fossil Fuel Advertising Act would have faced upwards of two years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Under Bill C-59, individuals could be fined up to $750,000, or three times the amount of any financial benefit gained, whichever is greater. 

Companies could face fines of $10-million or three times the financial benefit. If that figure is unknown, a company may have to pay 3% of worldwide revenues.

“MP Charlie Angus has managed to sneak his bill in through the back door,” Schulz claimed.

As of Thursday, CBC News reports that Pathways Alliance, a consortium of oil and gas companies, removed all content from its website and social media platforms. 

The Pathways Alliance includes Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc., ConocoPhillips Canada, Imperial Oil Ltd., MEG Energy Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc. 

They cite that the Competition Act amendments would create “significant uncertainty” for Canadian companies who “want to communicate publicly about the work they are doing to improve their environmental performance.”

Suncor Energy Inc., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., have added notes to their online communications reflecting provisions of the bill.

“With uncertainty on how the new law will be interpreted and applied, any clarity the Competition Bureau can provide through specific guidance may help direct our communications approach in the future,” the website reads. 

“For now, we have removed content from our website, social media and other public communications.”

Another industry group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), announced it would also reduce content on its websites and other digital platforms, until further notice.

The Competition Bureau said the legislation will strengthen its ability to police deceptive claims but declined further comment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also commented on the contentious bill Thursday, claiming that “people build their positions and their decisions around facts” in a democracy.

“Now, freedom of expression, freedom of people to share their points of view, is extraordinarily important. It's one of the foundations of a free and open democracy,” he said. 

“But we need to make sure that people are debating and discussing and basing their worldview on things that are anchored in truth and reality.”

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