9 “Doing Things Better Together”Industry Capture of Climate Policy in British Columbia
Shannon Daub, Chuka Ejeckam, Nicolas Graham, and Zoë Yunker
In the Canadian political imaginary, British Columbia is often thought of as the country’s “Left Coast” or “Lotus Land.” Indeed, BC’s political culture has a long-standing progressive bent, and the province has a rich history of activism and resistance driven especially by Indigenous, labour, environmental, and other movements. British Columbia is arguably the heartland of environmentalism in Canada, home to many high-profile leaders and organizations. Opposition to oil sands pipelines is fierce, particularly in coastal regions, with mass mobilizations and civil disobedience organized by Indigenous, environmental, and local citizen-driven groups underway against the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX), along with legal challenges by First Nations. But the province is also the country’s second-largest producer of fossil fuels, primarily natural gas and coal (Natural Resources Canada 2019, 5). Natural gas production has soared in BC since the mid-2000s, driven largely by unconventional gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the province’s northeast region, and industry aspires to establish a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export sector in the coastal regions. Moreover, industry and the provincial government have aggressively pursued the construction of natural gas extraction sites, pipelines, and other infrastructure on the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples without gaining their free, prior, and informed consent. As a result, the province has a complicated relationship with respect to both climate policy and Indigenous rights and title that belies its progressive image.
The tension between curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, on the one hand, and a growing and politically powerful fossil fuel industry, on the other, can be readily seen in British Columbia’s engagement with climate policy. The province enjoys an international reputation as a climate leader, thanks largely to its introduction of North America’s first carbon tax in 2008.1 The carbon tax was the centrepiece in a suite of policies developed at that time by the BC Liberal government under then-Premier Gordon Campbell.2 In the years following, however, the BC Liberal government’s enthusiasm for meaningful climate policy waned, overtaken by enthusiasm for developing an LNG industry, particularly under Premier Christy Clark (who took over from Campbell in 2011 and held the office until 2017).
This chapter examines industry capture as a key factor in British Columbia’s turn away from substantive climate action. We briefly review different concepts of capture and provide an overview of the province’s climate-policy trajectory from the late 2000s to 2017. We then focus on two interrelated arenas of capture—political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry and closed-door joint policy making by industry and government officials—and conclude with reflections on the prospects for democratizing energy politics in British Columbia.3
“Capture” is a simple and powerful concept that refers to the subversion of the public interest in democratic processes or institutions by vested private interests. A wide range of scholarship deals with issues of capture, notably theories of regulatory capture developed primarily by American political scientists and economists beginning in the mid-twentieth century. These scholars grappled with the tendency of regulatory agencies (and often legislators) to become unduly influenced by the very interests that are subject to regulation.4 More recently, the global financial crisis in 2008–9 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 contributed to a resurgence of interest in regulatory capture and related ideas such as institutional corruption. Lawrence Lessig (2013, 553) defines institutional corruption as a “systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including … weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness.” Developed within the fields of ethics and law, the concept of institutional corruption reminds us that all varieties of capture ultimately represent problems of political corruption and, further, that many forms of political corruption are not illegal.
In discussing the enduring utility of the idea of capture, Daniel Carpenter and David Moss (2014, 8–9) note that research in this field nevertheless lacks a clear standard for “detecting and measuring” capture. Carpenter (2014, 63) argues that in order to diagnose capture, empirical study “needs (a) to posit a defensible model of public interest, (b) to show action and intent by the regulated industry, and (c) to demonstrate that ultimate policy is shifted away from the public interest and toward industry interest.” The current chapter utilizes these tests in assessing the trajectory of BC climate policy.
A further limitation of regulatory capture theory is that it often fails to deal critically with larger questions of how political institutions and practices are shaped by the economic system in which regulation is created. Much of this literature originates within neoclassical economics, which has, perversely, viewed capture as an argument for deregulation rather than more robust intervention by government in the public interest (see, for example, Stigler 1971).5 Particularly with respect to the governance of natural resources, left perspectives, such as analyses of staples-based economies and theories about rentier and petro-states, instead treat capture as a systemic problem in historically resource-dependent capitalist economies. Kevin Taft (2017, 117) argues, for example, that in fossil fuel producer jurisdictions, multiple democratic institutions may be captured by one interest over a prolonged period, leading to the development of a deep state—that is, an “unofficial system of government that arises separately from, but is closely connected to, the official system.” These more critical approaches shift our attention from relatively isolated examples of capture toward the broader problem of state capture (see, for example, Adkin 2016; Carter 2018; Drache 2014; Haley 2011; MacNeil 2014).
Climate Policy in British Columbia: A Brief History
BC’s Climate Moment, 2007–9
British Columbia’s engagement with climate policy is relatively recent. In the early 2000s, the BC Liberal government under Premier Gordon Campbell resisted federal efforts to implement the Kyoto Protocol and had no climate framework or other significant measures aimed at reducing GHG emissions. That started to change in 2007, when Campbell led his government through an about-face and made climate action a central focus of its agenda. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, passed in November 2007, legislated ambitious GHG emissions reduction targets (33 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below by 2050). A few months later, the 2008 BC budget announced a new carbon tax, starting at $10 per tonne of GHGs and rising to $30 per tonne by 2012, applied to the burning of fossil fuels (British Columbia, Ministry of Finance 2008, 1). A flurry of activity followed, including the development of the full 2008 Climate Action Plan (British Columbia 2008) and the establishment of a Climate Action Secretariat to coordinate policy implementation across ministries and public agencies.
The introduction of a carbon tax launched British Columbia into the international spotlight ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks. There were significant problems in its design, however, and the overall policy agenda was limited. The principle of “revenue neutrality” built into the carbon tax meant its revenues were completely offset by personal and corporate income tax cuts, making corporations and upper-income earners net beneficiaries despite having the largest ecological footprints (Lee and Sanger 2008). Moreover, this approach meant carbon tax revenues could not be invested into related green initiatives such as expanded transit or transition plans for rural regions. Notably, the carbon tax did not cover emissions from natural gas production (emissions from agriculture and cement making were also exempt). In addition, much of the government’s progress toward its interim GHG reduction target was to be achieved through the purchase of offsets, rather than by actual reductions in emissions (Lee 2017).
Reactions within British Columbia to the new climate plan varied widely and mostly focused on the carbon tax. Environmentalists were thrilled to see a long-sought policy measure realized, and most voiced enthusiastic support. The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) was initially vehemently opposed on the grounds that the carbon tax would ostensibly penalize rural and northern residents while favouring business. The corporate sector itself responded in generally positive, if cautious, terms (with some exceptions, such as the trucking industry). That a significant advance in climate policy would be greeted without any real fuss by business elites was a reflection of the plan’s substantive limitations, summarized above. Reaction to the plan also reflected the long-standing political alignment between the corporate sector and the BC Liberal Party, which describes itself as a “free enterprise coalition.”
BC’s Climate Retreat, 2011–16
No significant further actions were taken in the years following the 2008 Climate Action Plan, and when Christy Clark took over as premier in 2011, she showed little interest in her predecessor’s legacy. Under her watch, the provincial government froze the carbon tax at $30 per tonne, claiming that it negatively impacted BC businesses and taxpayers. The government also created a highly favourable tax and regulatory regime geared to establishing an LNG industry on British Columbia’s coast that would liquefy gas piped from the northeast extraction region for shipment overseas. In 2012, the government introduced both its Natural Gas Strategy and its Liquefied Natural Gas Strategy. These policy frameworks were refined and expanded in 2013 when the government also created a new Ministry of Natural Gas Development. In an effort to entice LNG developers despite poor global market conditions, in 2014 the province lowered and then locked in a near-negligible LNG tax rate for twenty-five years and introduced a corporate income tax credit for LNG producers and other industry subsidies. Also in 2014, the government introduced the Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act, which replaced BC’s cap-and-trade system for regulated emitters with emissions intensity targets (GHGs per unit of production)—effectively enabling the industry’s total emissions to rise substantially. Developed and released through the Ministry of Environment, the new GHG regulations were branded as a climate initiative (British Columbia, Ministry of Environment 2016).
Facing criticism for its backslide on climate policy, and with the Paris climate talks approaching, the provincial government announced in May 2015 that it would develop a new climate plan. A “Climate Leadership Team” (CLT) was struck, composed of representatives from First Nations, local government, industry, the provincial government, and environmental organizations. The CLT was tasked with developing recommendations on how British Columbia could meet its existing legislated GHG reduction targets for 2020 and 2050. The CLT was, however, required to ensure that its recommendations could accommodate the province’s LNG strategy and Jobs Plan—two policy frameworks that implied significant increases in industrial emissions—signalling a limited desire for substantial new measures from the outset.
In the summer of 2015, the provincial government released a Climate Leadership Plan discussion paper and launched a public consultation process. That fall, the CLT’s thirty-two recommendations were released, which the CLT noted should be taken together as a cohesive package (BC Climate Leadership Team 2015, 7). The most significant recommendation was to increase the carbon tax by $10 per tonne every year starting in 2018 and expand it to cover all GHG emissions after five years (with the exception of methane from natural gas production, provided industry reached a 40% voluntary reduction target in the meantime). The CLT also called for targeted support for “emissions intensive trade exposed industries”; changes to the low-income and rural/northern tax credits; measures to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce vehicle emissions; and for the public hydro utility (BC Hydro) to provide “clean electricity” to the natural gas sector for both upstream production and LNG. This last policy, also called “electrification,” is a means to reduce the emissions intensity of both fracking and liquefaction, which are extremely energy-intensive and otherwise rely on burning natural gas for power.
Overall the recommendations represented a very modest package (not surprisingly, given the constraints imposed on the CLT by the provincial government). Nevertheless, a broad range of environmental and other groups urged the provincial government to adopt the recommendations. Instead, however, the province embarked on further consulation while delaying the release of its draft new climate plan, saying little in the meantime about its intentions with respect to the CLT recommendations. The new plan (British Columbia 2016) was eventually released in August 2016, many months later than promised. The plan did not fully take up any of the CLT’s recommendations, with the partial exception of electrification of natural gas production—effectively a major industry subsidy geared to facilitating increased production and to supporting the government’s dubious claim that British Columbia was poised to become “one of the world’s cleanest producers and distributors” of natural gas (15).
British Columbia’s failure to adopt a meaningful climate policy along with its enthusiastic support for fracking and LNG were significant issues in the 2017 provincial election, which the long-governing BC Liberal Party lost. The close relationship between the provincial government and its corporate donors (in particular the fossil fuel industry) and the absence of any limits on political contributions figured centrally during the election campaign.
Two of the most obvious ways that corporations pursue capture is through donations to political parties and lobbying of public officials. Political contributions can be thought of as “interested gifts” for which corporations expect general policy returns (Ansolabehere, de Figueiredo, and Snyder 2003; Brownlee 2005, 137). At worst, such contributions represent “a form of legal bribery” (Etzioni 2009, 323) or sanctioned corruption. Until 2017, there were no limits on political donations by corporations, unions, or individuals in British Columbia, including foreign contributions. Political donations help secure access to key decision makers and therefore function in tandem with or may be considered as part of the lobbying process (McMenamin 2012), the fundamental purpose of which is policy capture (Miller and Harkins 2010).
Lobbying in British Columbia is governed by the Lobbyists Registration Act. The act places modest restrictions on who may lobby but does not limit the volume of lobbying an organization or individual may conduct. As of 2010, the act requires lobbyists to register and to report whenever they communicate with (or intend to communicate with) a public official in a lobbying effort—information that is publicly reported via the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists—but the amount of detail that must be disclosed about meetings with officials is fairly minimal (date, public official targeted, public body they are associated with, and a brief summary of the nature of the issues discussed).6
Fossil Fuel Industry Political Donations, 2008–16
Using Elections BC’s Financial Reports and Political Contributions System, we examined fossil fuel industry donations to the provincial Liberals and NDP between 2008 and 2016. This eight-year period covers the three election cycles that occurred during the climate policy period reviewed above and also corresponds to the rapid increase in natural gas production that began in 2008–9. Forty-eight fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated a total of $5,789,141 to the two parties over this period, 90 percent of which ($5,279,906) went to the BC Liberals. Ten fossil fuel industry donors (see table 9.1) accounted for more than three-quarters (77 percent) of total donations, with the two top firms—mining giant Teck Resources and natural gas major Encana—contributing more than half of this amount.
Among these top ten donors, there is a distinct geography of giving, with the majority of firms headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. Notably, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)—the country’s most powerful oil and gas lobby group—gave over $128,100. Only two of the companies—Teck Resources and FortisBC—are headquartered in BC, and one company—Spectra Energy—was headquartered in the United States (Spectra was purchased by Enbridge in the fall of 2016). Chevron Canada and Imperial Oil are, however, foreign-controlled subsidiaries of US-based parent companies.
Oil and gas production
Oil and gas production
Oil and gas production
Terasen / FortisBCb
Oil and gas transport
Calgary and Vancouver
Oil and gas production and retail
Pristine Power / Veresenc
Gas transport and distribution
Oil and gas production and retail
Oil and gas lobby group
Total political donations
Source: Financial Reports and Political Contributions System, BC Elections, https://contributions.electionsbc.gov.bc.ca/pcs/Welcome.aspx. Figures do not include donations made by individuals (such as executives, board members, and paid lobbyists) associated with these companies or with CAPP.
a Donations from Spectra Energy in 2016 predate its merger with Enbridge.
b FortisBC supplies both electricity and gas. The gas distribution arm of the company was known as Terasen Gas until 2011, when it was renamed FortisBC Energy Inc.
c In November 2010, Pristine Power was acquired by Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP, which changed its name to Veresen at the start of 2011. Veresen is now owned by Pembina Pipeline, another Calgary-based corporation.
Looking beyond these top ten, we see that newly formed LNG operators made significant donations starting in the early 2010s. Pacific NorthWest LNG (a consortium of foreign energy corporations, led by Malaysian state-owned Petronas, that until 2017 was seeking to build a massive LNG export plant on BC’s north coast), Prince Rupert Gas Transmission (owned by Calgary-based TransCanada and created to build a pipeline to transport gas from northeast British Columbia to the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal), Woodfibre LNG (owned by the Singapore-based RGE group of companies, which is controlled by Indonesian tycoon Sukanto Tanoto), and Steelhead LNG gave combined contributions of $160,400 to the BC Liberals and $55,350 to the BC NDP between 2014 and 2016. Progress Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Petronas and one of the top fracking operators in northeast British Columbia, gave $100,250 to the BC Liberals between 2010 and 2013. TransCanada gave $105,400 to the BC Liberals between 2008 and 2016 (over 70 percent of which was contributed since 2012).
Fossil Fuel Industry Lobbying, 2010–16
We conducted an exhaustive search of the Lobbyists Registry and found forty-three fossil fuel corporations and industry groups with registered lobbying efforts between April 2010 and October 2016.7 Of these forty-three, the ten most active accounted for more than three-quarters of the lobbying by the fossil fuel sector. Together, they reported a total of 19,517 lobbying contacts with BC public office holders between 2010 and 2016, an average of fourteen lobbying contacts per business day.
Substantial overlap was uncovered between giving and lobbying, with seven of the top ten political donors also ranking among the ten most active lobbyists (see table 9.2). The amount of lobbying by environmental NGOs pales in comparison: only eight such organizations were registered as active lobbyists, reporting a total of 1,324 contacts over the same period.
Almost half (48 percent) of lobbying contacts were with staff at ministries (such as deputy ministers) and government agencies. The central lobbying targets were the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Ministry of Natural Gas Development, and the Ministry of Environment. The BC Oil and Gas Commission also figured prominently: the registry data show 984 contacts by the ten most active firms. The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources also attracted considerable attention. It is striking how many lobbying ties led to the Ministry of Environment, whose responsibilities ought to be quite distinct from those of industry-focused ministries (like Energy and Mines), which typically facilitate business investment.8
Contacts with ministries or agencies
Contacts with cabinet ministers
Contacts with MLAs
Source: Active and terminated lobbyists, Lobbyists Registry, Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists for BC, April 2010–October 2016.
Note: Figures include both actual and planned contacts.
Cabinet ministers were also frequently targeted, accounting for 28 percent of contacts by the ten most active lobbyists. Rich Coleman, minister of Natural Gas Development, was the most frequently targeted, with the ten firms reporting a total of 733 contacts—an average of nearly three contacts per week for Coleman alone. The next most often contacted were Premier Christy Clark (618 contacts), Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett (437), Minister of Environment Mary Polak (354), and Minister of Finance Mike de Jong (330).
The remaining 24 percent of contacts were with members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Spectra Energy and Teck Resources were particularly active at this level: in contrast to the rest of the top ten, the majority of their total lobbying contacts were with MLAs. This focus on elected representatives may reflect the nature of their business operations, which are spread throughout the province. Both NDP and Liberal MLAs were heavily targeted. This was especially the case for two leaders of the BC NDP, Adrian Dix and John Horgan (the latter is now premier), who were among those most often contacted.
Oil and gas industry associations play an important role in lobbying efforts. Associations like CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) are central to the network of lobbyists and are far more active than other resource and manufacturing associations in the province. Of particular note, CAPP reported 201 expected lobbying contacts with government ministers and agencies in relation to development of the provincial government’s Climate Leadership Plan between October 2015 and August 2016. Alex Ferguson, former commissioner and CEO of the BC Oil and Gas Commission (whose tenure ended in 2011), reported lobbying his former organization nineteen times on behalf of CAPP.
As noted earlier, Carpenter (2014, 63) argues that to diagnose capture, researchers must demonstrate both “action and intent by the regulated industry.” The massive political donations and lobbying documented above do so unequivocally. Further, even the limited reporting on lobbying activities required under British Columbia’s Lobbyists Registration Act reveals the explicit intentions of fossil fuel corporations and industry groups—for example, to “promote the establishment of a new LNG export industry in BC” (CAPP) and to “advocate for provincial climate change and greenhouse-gas reduction policies and strategies that fully recognize the cost implications for industry” (Chevron Canada). Of course, intentions are not the same as outcomes, given that they do not guarantee favourable results. However, as we detail in the following section, an unparalleled level of direct industry influence in the policy-making process served to weaken the already relatively modest climate action options under consideration.
As we have seen, when the provincial government embarked on the creation a new climate plan in 2015, it established a process that began with the appointment of a Climate Leadership Team and included two phases of public consultation. The first phase took place following the July 2015 release of a discussion paper that outlined the full process (see figure 9.1), along with the goals and action areas on which the government wished to focus (British Columbia 2015). The discussion paper was prepared by the Climate Action Secretariat, which was housed within the Ministry of Environment and responsible for developing and monitoring provincial climate policy. The discussion paper made no mention any special role for the corporate sector—though after releasing the CLT recommendations in the fall of 2015, the government stated that it would carry out further consultation with the public and industry before releasing its draft climate plan.
To ascertain how the fossil fuel industry sought to influence the new climate plan (beyond participation in the formal public consultations), we submitted a series of seventeen requests under BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The requests, made over a fourteen-month period, were directed to a number of agencies, primarily the Ministries of Environment, Natural Gas Development, and Energy and Mines. Our initial requests focused specifically on the development of the climate plan in 2015 and 2016, while several subsequent requests broadened the scope in an effort to learn how industry and government interacted more generally on policy and regulation related to the energy sector over that period of time and beyond. The requests yielded 2,055 pages of records (more than a hundred additional pages were withheld under various exemptions in BC’s FOI act). Here we highlight two key findings from our review of the records.
First, the records reveal that the provincial government undertook an elaborate closed-door policy development process with the fossil fuel industry alongside the second phase of its official public consultations. A January 2016 document from the Ministry of Natural Gas Development titled Climate Leadership Team Recommendations: Consultation with Oil and Gas Industry provides an overview of the structure and aims of this parallel process.9 As the document reveals, this was much more than a “consultation” exercise. Rather, oil and gas corporations were invited to participate in a series of meetings over several months to directly shape the provincial Climate Leadership Plan (see figure 9.2). The meetings were structured around three working groups, each focused on a key policy concern of industry: the carbon tax, methane and fugitive emissions, and electrification (that is, the provision of hydroelectricity for natural gas extraction and liquefaction). The document outlined the “tangible deliverables” each working group was to achieve. Regarding the carbon tax, these included “Determine ‘the art of the possible’ (how much and how fast).” For the groups working on methane and other emissions and on electrification, deliverables included “Add detail and policy direction (timing / voluntary vs. regulatory tools)” and “Refine language in CLT recommendation.”
The meetings themselves were co-organized by the BC government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and all took place in CAPP’s boardroom in Calgary. Participants included deputy ministers and other senior BC government officials from the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Gas Development and representatives from oil and gas corporations and industry groups. To date, we have obtained the list of industry participants for only one of the meetings, on January 13, 2016, which included at least sixteen different fossil fuel corporations and industry groups, including the BC LNG Alliance (which also had a seat on the official Climate Leadership Team), Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Chevron Canada, ConocoPhillips, Encana, Imperial Oil, Nexen Energy, Progress Energy, Shell Canada, Suncor, Teck Resources, Woodfibre LNG, and, of course, CAPP. Of the sixteen industry organizations present at that one meeting, only four had not made political donations to the BC Liberal Party in recent years.
This closed-door joint policy development process, carried out with the industry most directly implicated by climate policy, represents a clear case of the variety of capture that ethicists call institutional corruption. Handwritten notes made by the executive director of the Climate Action Secretariat during the January meeting include several troubling comments that reinforce this diagnosis:
“CLT recommendations just that—government can take or leave”
“Doing things better together”
“Deliverables: wording that could go into a climate plan”
“Overall competitiveness is the Big Picture that comes even before carbon tax and climate change.”
No other sector was afforded this kind of direct hand in the policy-making process, and, in personal communications with the authors, two CLT members indicated that they were unaware it had taken place.
When these documents were made available to the public and media, industry and government representatives professed surprise at the outcry that resulted. With regard to the location of the meeting, Rich Coleman, the minister of Natural Gas Development at the time, argued there was nothing to be concerned about. “Our folks responsible for climate action were sent to consult with everybody,” he stated, and the meetings took place in Calgary “because that’s where all their head offices are” (quoted in Woodward 2017). A vice-president with CAPP similarly characterized the meetings as a typical approach to consulting with a key stakeholder, describing the choice of meeting location as “as simple logistics thing” (Uechi 2017). Extensive follow-up FOI requests show that the government carried out proactive consultations with a variety of other corporate sectors, such as the mining, automotive, trucking, renewable energy, and energy technology industries, as well as with municipal governments, but nothing equivalent with environmental groups, First Nations, or scientists.
Taft (2017, 118) observes that, in a deep state, “captivity becomes normal,” meaning that it becomes an inherent part of the state’s institutional culture. Our FOI requests illustrate the extent to which capture had become commonplace within the Ministries of Natural Gas Development, Energy and Mines, and Environment. These requests revealed, for example, that senior BC government officials routinely travelled to Calgary to meet with fossil fuel corporations and industry organizations. More than a hundred such meetings took place between January 1, 2015, and September 18, 2017, ranging from meetings with a single company regarding matters of particular concern to sectoral meetings on issues such as the development of a new caribou habitat plan and ongoing “working group” sessions on methane emissions and electrification of natural gas. During his tenure as minister of Natural Gas Development, even Coleman travelled to Calgary to “meet with CAPP members” on July 12, 2016—little more than a month before the government’s Climate Leadership Plan was released.
Email communication records also show that powerful industry groups like CAPP, the Mining Association of British Columbia, and the BC LNG Alliance enjoyed routine, casual access to government officials, including deputy ministers. In 2016, for example, two emails from the Mining Association of British Columbia communicated displeasure with the province’s carbon tax regulations, prompting a flurry of emails from two officials in different ministries rushing to arrange a meeting with the association. Such meetings frequently entailed coordination across multiple ministries, usually including five to ten different staff members, along with the development of background materials or briefing notes, hinting at the massive amount of publicly funded resources that government expends liaising and working with industry.
In other correspondence, public officials communicated how strongly they valued industry’s close relationship with government. An internal Ministry of Environment document pertaining to a half-day meeting in June 2015 between CAPP and a number of deputy ministers included a recommended response to CAPP’s concern about “how upstream industry participates in Climate 2.0”: “The Ministry and CAS [the Climate Action Secretariat] are prepared to meet with the sector as and wherever necessary.” In a similar vein, a meeting note prepared for a September 2015 meeting between the environment minister and CAPP suggests that the minister should convey the message that “the province values the ongoing partnership with CAPP, and the individual companies in the oil and gas sector, on climate change policy development.”
CAPP is among the ten most active fossil fuel industry lobbyists in British Columbia (see table 9.2). While a handful of specific oil and gas corporations report a larger volume of lobbying contacts than CAPP, it is clear from the records we obtained that CAPP is the single most active voice in government’s ear when it comes to matters of industry regulation and oversight, including climate and energy policy. In its communications with government, the organization speaks authoritatively on behalf of industry overall and is engaged in a much more complex process than the term “lobbying” conveys. For example, CAPP routinely prepares and submits sophisticated technical briefings on range of matters of concern to industry, such as regulations governing the detection and control of methane emissions. Often taking the form of slide decks, these documents typically exceed fifty pages in length and include substantial, original research. CAPP thus plays an especially pivotal role: one of host, facilitator, technical advisor, and lobbyist all rolled up in one.
“Capture” is a useful and powerful concept—but it also implies a movement from a state of independence to one of capture, from an ideal state to a compromised one. In a resource-based jurisdiction like British Columbia, where extractive corporations have long played a central role in economic development and politics, it may be more appropriate to view the period of relatively ambitious climate action from 2007 to 2009 as an aberration, followed as it was by a reassertion of corporate economic interests as the province’s natural gas industry went through major expansion, including both rapid increases in production and the shift from conventional wells to shale gas fracking. But does this mean a deep state exists in British Columbia? That the provincial government is entirely captured by the oil and gas industry? We have presented troubling evidence that this may be so. Yet the challenge is not so much one of “reclaiming” the state as of recognizing the state as a long-standing terrain of struggle.
The election of a minority NDP government in 2017 highlighted the contested nature of British Columbia’s status as a petro-state. The NDP minority was supported by the BC Green Party on the basis of a confidence-and-supply agreement negotiated by the two parties shortly after the election. That agreement included commitments to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—which in turn requires that resource development and infrastructure projects proceed only with the free, prior, and informed consent of impacted First Nations—and to implement a climate strategy capable of meeting the province’s GHG reduction targets. While the agreement was silent on the specific question of the future of British Columbia’s natural gas industry, the NDP-Green relationship has been strained by the government’s enthusiasm for LNG, which grew steadily after the election. In March 2018, for example, Premier John Horgan announced major new tax exemptions for the LNG industry, in hopes of advancing the proposed LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat (Linnitt 2018).10
The NDP government has also sent mixed messages with respect to climate policy. It has, as promised, brought in modest increases to the carbon tax and has attempted, through a court challenge, to restrict the flow of heavy oil through the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline. In addition, the government has banned political donations from corporations and unions and has taken steps to reform the province’s lobbying rules. At the same time, the government’s new Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council is co-chaired by a senior executive from Teck Resources, and the province has yet to explain how it will meet existing GHG reduction targets if plans for new LNG facilities come to fruition.
As movements for Indigenous rights and energy democracy grow, and as the climate crisis becomes more extreme, industry’s grip on public institutions and policy making processes will be increasingly subject to challenge. In turn, we can expect fossil fuel companies and industry groups to double-down on their efforts to control the trajectory of climate policy in order to protect their bottom line. How this struggle will unfold, both in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada, remains to be seen.
- 1. Alberta has had a limited carbon price for large industrial emitters since 2007, initially in the form of its Specified General Emitters Regulation, but this was not an “economy-wide” carbon tax.
- 2. The BC Liberal Party is entirely separate from the federal Liberal Party of Canada and is a more right-leaning coalition of both ideologically liberal and conservative forces.
- 3. A third arena of the capture process, the discursive realm, is discussed in chapter 8 in this volume.
- 4. See Novak (2013) and Spence (2013) for a detailed history of this work.
- 5. For a critical analysis of this literature, see Novak (2013). Novak notes some key exceptions, pointing to early left scholars of regulatory capture such as Gabriel Kolko, who viewed capture as an inherent and systemic problem in a capitalist economy. See also the discussion of capture theory in Spence (2013, 466–68), specifically in the context of rationales for regulation at the federal level, rather than at the state (or provincial) level.
- 6. The discussion in this section is based on research published in greater detail in Mapping Political Influence: Political Donations and Lobbying by the Fossil Fuel Industry in BC (Graham, Daub, and Carroll 2017) and “State-Capital Nexus and the Making of BC Shale and Liquefied Natural Gas” (Graham 2017).
- 7. The Lobbyists Registry can be searched through BC’s Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, at https://justice.gov.bc.ca/lra/reporting/public/registrySearch.do?method=init.
- 8. Several of these ministries have been restructured and/or renamed since 2016.
- 9. A scan of the pages from the document that our request yielded is available at https://www.corporatemapping.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/NGD-2017-72320.pdf. See also Daub and Yunker (2017).
- 10. In October 2020, the NDP won a majority government, bringing the NDP-Green agreement to an end.
- Adkin, Laurie E., ed. 2016. First World Petro-Politics: The Political Ecology and Governance of Alberta. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
- Ansolabehere, Stephen, John M. de Figueiredo, and James M. Snyder Jr. 2003. “Why Is There So Little Money in U.S. Politics?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 17, no. 1: 105–30.
- BC Climate Leadership Team. 2015. Recommendations to Government. October 31, 2015. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/climate-change/action/clp/clt-recommendations-to-government_final.pdf.
- British Columbia. 2008. Climate Action Plan. Victoria: Province of British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/climate-change/action/cap/climateaction_plan_web.pdf.
- ———. 2015. Discussion Paper: Climate Leadership Plan. July 2015. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2018/07/ClimateLeadershipPlanDiscussionPaper.pdf.
- ———. 2016. Climate Leadership Plan. Victoria: Province of British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/climate-change/action/clp/clp_booklet_web.pdf.
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