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Environmental & aboriginal groups 'adversaries' of government: documents

The federal government considers environmental and aboriginal groups “adversaries” when it comes to the oilsands, according to documents obtained under access to information laws.

Environment Minister Peter Kent is distancing the government from the documents.

The papers dated March 2011 and made public by Greenpeace on Thursday detail the government’s media strategy for fighting European opposition to the oilsands.

The strategy says the goal is to reframe European debate on the industry “in a manner that protects and advances Canadian interests related to the oilsands and broader Canadian interests in Europe.”

It also suggests Europeans be educated on how the government works with aboriginals, about its “robust” regulatory process and how technology can mitigate the energy industry’s impacts.

It also contains lists of “allies” and “adversaries.”

Friends include industry groups, governments and the National Energy Board — Canada’s independent energy regulator.

Environmental and aboriginal groups are listed under “adversaries.”

The documents show Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have divided the world into friends and enemies and have no interest in working with those who disagree with them, said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

“This government adopts a black-and-white view of politics,” he said. “You’re either for them or against them, and if you have any concerns about what they’re doing, they don’t want to hear it.”

Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, said he was disappointed with the document.

“It just doesn’t shed a good light on this government,” he said from Terrace, B.C. “We try to work with government. We try to work with industry.

“To be described as an ‘adversary’ is ridiculous.”

The documents were released along with three pages of minutes from a March 2010 meeting that involved senior officials from Natural Resources Canada, the Alberta government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a proposal that CAPP had for the oilsands CEO task force on ‘upping the game’ on oilsands outreach and communications as part of a renewed strategy,” says the meeting’s summary.

“The documents show that the government, for a long time, has had a plan for promoting the tarsands, which is based on an elaborate public relations strategy and attacking people they see as enemies, rather that actually trying to clean up the problem,” said Stewart.

Kent dismissed Stewart’s charges.

“That’s a gross mischaracterization of reality,” the minister said.

“We do recognize that there are some groups characterized by my colleagues as radical and they are very narrowly focused on certain areas that they perceive to be unacceptable in a variety of ways. We intend to fully push back and to counter that, but … respectfully and with the facts and the science.”

The release of the documents comes days after an environmental campaigner accused the Prime Minister’s Office of threatening the charitable umbrella agency Tides Canada. It has provided support for ForestEthics, which has opposed oilsands development and Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline to the West Coast.

The allegations were based on second- and third-hand accounts.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office did not deny that ForestEthics and Tides Canada had been singled out. On Thursday, ForestEthics backed up Andrew Frank’s accusations.

Earlier this month, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter attacking the foreign-funded “radical ideological agenda” of those who oppose the pipeline.

Kent said industry supporters need to turn up the volume.

“I think that perhaps Canada, the industry to a certain extent, has been somewhat remiss in not proclaiming the good news of better practices, better technologies, responsible regulation and development of our natural resources,” he said.

“I think from time to time we need to match the passion of those who slam Canada and its resource industries.”