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Feds met privately with oil execs to discuss 'communications effort'

Top federal government policymakers met with several oil industry executives during the summer of 2009 to discuss an oil sands "communications effort", according to internal documents.

The meeting took place in the downtown Calgary headquarters of Nexen, a leading oil sands producer (which may soon be acquired by a Chinese state-owned company).

"While we understand Government and industry will not always have identical messages," read briefing notes prepared for then deputy natural resources minister Cassie Doyle, "it is important to ensure that our facts are consistent."

Doyle appears to have been joined in the "Meeting with Oil Company Executives" by Kevin Lynch, then-Clerk of the Privy Council Office, one of the Prime Minister's most important advisors.

The list of confirmed and potential industry attendees reads like a who's who of western Canada's oil-patch, including executives from Nexen, Suncor, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Syncrude and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

The meeting's itinerary and a list of "Points to Register" by deputy minister Doyle were obtained by Greenpeace through an access to information request.

The day before the meeting, CAPP President Dave Collyer wrote to Doyle about her trip to Calgary, explaining that "it would be desireble [sic] to have all of the companies involved in the [oil sands] communications effort represented at this meeting."

The would "ensure a consistent and aligned approach," wrote Collyer. That "approach" apparently referred to a government and industry-led campaign that would counter negative public perceptions about Alberta's so-called "dirty oil."

"Canada is developing a full-blown case of the 'resource curse,'" said Greenpeace Canada climate and energy coordinator Keith Stewart in a statement, "where governments put what is good for oil companies ahead of what is good for the nation."

The internal documents, along with a report summarizing them, were released by the advocacy group as Canada's premiers meet in Halifax for the annual Council of the Federation talks.

The Tyee has sent a media request to Natural Resources Canada, asking what was discussed at the 2009 meeting, and what the federal government hoped to achieve by developing a "communications effort" with Canada's oil industry leaders.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate change issues for The Tyee.

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