Alberta condemns ‘Orwellian’ bill that threatens fines for supporting oil and gas

‘Bill C-59, put plain and simply, is an undemocratic gag order,’ said Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz. ‘Any company not willing to risk millions of dollars in fines will be forced to stay silent.’

Alberta condemns ‘Orwellian’ bill that threatens fines for supporting oil and gas
The Canadian Press / Jeff McIntosh and The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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A private member’s bill threatening oil and gas advocates with jail time has secretly made its way to the Parliament in separate legislation.

“In February, federal NDP MP Charlie Angus introduced a bill that threatened fines and jail time for Canada’s oil and gas industry if they tried to defend their record on the environment,” reads a statement from Alberta’s Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz.

Bill C-372, An Act respecting fossil fuel advertising, attempted to bar positive messaging of fossil fuels. 

It proposed restrictions on industry professionals, advertisers and media companies would “prevent the public from being deceived or misled with respect to the environmental and health hazards of using fossil fuels and to enhance public awareness of those hazards.”

The bill received a first reading on February 5 by its sponsor, NDP MP Charlie Angus, but received no further consideration in its iteration. At the time, he said it would 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 Minister Schulz.

However, last-minute amendments to Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the fall economic statement, included elements of the private member’s bill.

“Companies that wish to defend their environmental record will have to prove that their claims can be substantiated by an ‘internationally recognized methodology,’” Schulz said, calling it a “vague” and “undefine phrase that creates needless uncertainty for businesses.

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

Bill C-59 is currently in third reading in the House of Commons and may pass as early as this week, with support from the Liberals and Bloc Québécois. It is expected to be rubber-stamped by the Liberal-dominated Senate.

“Any company not willing to risk millions of dollars in fines and legal fees will be forced to stay silent,” the minister said, alleging that’s “exactly the outcome” her federal counterpart wants. 

Environmental activists will be able to bring claims against oil and gas companies under so-called ‘anti-greenwashing provisions.’

“C-59, put plain and simply, is an undemocratic gag order. It must be stopped,” emphasized Schulz. Those who defied the Fossil Fuel Advertising Act would have faced upwards of two years in prison and a $1 million fine.

“I introduced Bill C-372 to outlaw advertising and promotion by the oil and gas lobby,” MP Angus earlier said. “Big Oil has 60-plus years of disinformation on their impacts on the environment and health.”

“That's like Benson and Hedges telling you that they can help end lung cancer,” Angus said. “This is because big Oil has always relied on the big tobacco playbook of delay and disinformation.”

Canada outlawed tobacco advertising in 1989, with health warning labels added to cigarette packaging in 2012. “The big tobacco moment has arrived for Big Oil,” he added. 

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