Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre, speaking about a federal “gag law,” in a scrum in Weyburn on June 5. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

WEYBURN – The Saskatchewan Government has grave concerns about federal legislation that could impinge on free speech when it comes to promotion of oil and gas. Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre called it a “federal gag law,” in a press scrum on June 5, at the Saskatchewan Oil and Gas Show in Weyburn. And NDP Energy Critic Aleana Young said she’d join Eyre and Pipeline Online editor Brian Zinchuk sitting in the same jail cell if promoting oil and gas were prosecuted.

This is all concerning Bill C-59, a federal spending bill, which passed third reading in the House of Commons on May 28 and second reading in the Senate on June 4. In other words, it’s just about to become law. And as a spending bill, if it were to not pass, the federal government would fall. So tacking these measures onto a budget bill essentially guarantees they will be passed into law.

You have to dig real hard to find this, buried in the omnibus budget bill:

On Page 60 of the bill legislative summary (available in this PDF PV_44-1-C59-E) states, “The Competition Bureau enforces against false or misleading representations towards the environment that are not based on adequate or proper testing – a practice known as greenwashing – under sections 52 and 74.01(1)(c) of the Competition Act. Clause 236(1) adds new section 74.01(1)(b.1) to explicitly prohibit this conduct.”

So what does that mean? These are those portions of the bill:

“Makes a representation to the public in the form of a statement, warranty or guarantee of a product’s benefits for protecting or restoring the environment or mitigating the environmental, social and ecological causes or effects of climate change that is not based on an adequate and proper test, the proof of which lies on the person making the representation;

And

“Makes a representation to the public with respect to the benefits of a business or business activity for protecting or restoring the environment or mitigating the environmental and ecological causes or effects of climate change that is not based on adequate and proper substantiation in accordance with internationally recognized methodology, the proof of which lies on the person making the representation.”

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Gag law

Eyre told reporters, “This is a gag law. It’s a federal gag law. It’s Charlie Angus’ fossil fuels advertising act in another form, and it is very serious. That’s what the letter expresses, our profound alarm at this rushed bill, Bill C-59, which is part of an omnibus budget bill. It was rushed, it was done without consultation with any of the provinces. And it could have a very profound effect, very sobering effect harmful effects on our economy, frankly, so very, very concerned about C-59.”

Notably, Eyre was previously Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources prior to her current posting.

Pipeline Online asked, “So I’m running a media company that is specifically about promotion of oil and gas. So what would this law do for me and my clients?”

Eyre responded, “What is particularly alarming about the bill is that it will put the onus on you. It’s a reverse onus bill, which will make you responsible for proving, according to an international definition of a factual evidence, whether what you are saying is true.

“And so, we’re talking, what definition? We’re talking written by whom? According to whom? According to what?

“And so (it’s) very subjective – reverse onus on an energy company, which is trying to go green and energy company, which promotes the fact that it’s that it’s trying to go green, or has undertaken sustainability measures, is trying to adopt new innovation, and promotes that they could be subject to a $10 million fine. And that’s just for starters, or 3 per cent of their worldwide gross revenues.

“And so, a very serious impact on companies, and on an economy by default, they have to go in front of the Competition Tribunal. And so, … according to Bill C-59, these are the penalties that could be doled out.”

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Go to hell?

Pipeline Online asked, “Couldn’t the companies, as well as myself, just say we have the Constitution, Section 2 of Charter of Rights, so go to hell?”

Eyre responded, “I think that’s an argument that’s being made. And that’s an argument that’s out there –  freedom of association, freedom of certainly of expression and of speech. And I think that’s one of the challenges, or among the challenges that we’re going to be seeing going forward with this bill.”

“Will the province be having any legal fights in this regard?” Pipeline Online asked.

Bronwyn Eyre. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Eyre said, “We’re going to look at everything. We’re looking at everything. We’ve mentioned explicitly, in the in the announcement of news release today, that we’re looking at the Saskatchewan First Act. Obviously, the main focus of the Economic Tribunal, under the Saskatchewan First Act, is economic harm. And this is constitutive, certainly, of that. There’s a strong risk of that where you have companies who actually go out and talk about the energy sector, talk about how great it is, talk about their efforts to reduce methane, for example. And suddenly you have some rushed law, which can financially penalize them, throw the book at them, force them to go to a Competition Tribunal, and put the onus on them to prove what they’ve said. That’s scary stuff.”

That announcement noted, “New amendments to the federal Competition Act will enable environmental activists to ‘complaint swarm’ and bring applications before the Competition Tribunal, which could result in maximum fines to companies between $10-$15 million (or three per cent of their annual gross revenues), simply for advertising their sustainability records or defending the energy sector.”

“The federal government has taken Charlie Angus’ private member’s bill, The Fossil Fuels Advertising Act, and incorporated it into government legislation,” Eyre said in the release. “It introduces new liability based on vague, subjective requirements for which a company must carry the full burden of proof.”

The release added, “The reverse onus amendments will subject companies to punitive financial penalties if they assert their environmental records without “adequate and proper substantiation in accordance with internationally-recognized methodology, the proof of which lies on the person making the representation.”

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Who can afford to fight this?

In the June 5 scrum, Pipeline Online asked, “Big companies, they may have legal departments. Small companies don’t they don’t have the money to spend on any sort of legal stuff like this. I sure as hell don’t. Is this a, as you said, a muzzle law, to make them afraid?”

Eyre responded, “It’s Charlie Angus, his law, which was about threatening companies with fines, with jail simply for promoting and trumpeting the energy sector. And is that by the backdoor? Absolutely, it is. And I got a text on an hour ago from someone saying Charlie Angus, should have to defend every single word of what he has said about the energy sector according to some UN style definition. That’s what we’re getting into here.”

Pipeline Online asked, “When did we become 1984?”

Eyre said, “I don’t know. And I wish it would stop.

“I appeared in front of the Senate Committee on Energy yesterday, on Bill C-69, and the new amendments to Bill C-69. And one of my statements was Orwell would have a field day, not only in the Orwellian sense. But in the word sense, the doublespeak sense. What are non-negligible adverse effects versus adverse effects, for example? It doesn’t mean anything, it’s Bill C-69, all over again, with a few apparent amendments. And all the same concerns are there. And all the same subjectivity is there. And all the risk.

“And we see a country which is struggling with productivity. Saskatchewan is doing everything we can. Here we are, at the oil show, and all we’ve heard about are really the turnaround, the revolution, in energy productivity, fueled by Saskatchewan. Positive energy fueled by Saskatchewan, which is at risk.

Global News asked, “What is it about the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan that you feel the federal government just doesn’t understand?”

Eyre said, “The people –  the 35,000 people who are employed by the industry. That’s number one.  The value to the broader economy, number one export. And so, … last week, we were talking about the equalization formula, and how Saskatchewan is joining with Newfoundland.

“If on the one hand, you say thank you for your equalization money, from have province, Saskatchewan, which only became a half Saskatchewan, keep in mind, under this government in 2007, and you say thank you for that, but we’re going to come after you in every way we can to hamper what you do, which helps the country, that’s not cooperative federalism. And I think it’s time for a reset of what cooperative federalism and an honorable relationship between provinces and the federal government really means. And energy is so much a part of that conversation right now.”

Global asked, “So what does corrective action on your words cooperative federalism look like, now? What would like to see change or happen?”

Eyre said, “Stop Bill C-59, for starters. don’t slip it in at the last moment into a budget omnibus bill, don’t not tell us it’s coming. Don’t find companies $10 million, just out of the gate for saying the energy sector is great, that would be a great place to start with cooperative federalism.”

NDP Energy Critic Aleana Young on the trade show floor of the Saskatchewan Oil and Gas Show on June 5. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

NDP calls it “bone-headed”

NDP Energy Critic Aleana Young, speaking to Pipeline Online on the trade show floor, said, “It’s fairly bone-headed. There’s concerns about advertising. I said the same thing when Charlie Angus’ bill came out. It’s essentially stupid virtue signaling. We have truth in advertising legislation already, if there were concerns. This just feels a little bit more about talking to people in downtown Toronto than it does to listening to people from Western Canada.”

Notably, earlier in her career, Young worked in communications for the Petroleum Technology Research Centre.

When asked about the possibility of jail for publications like Pipeline Online, Young added, “Look if prison sentences are being handed out for people talking about Saskatchewan oil and gas, it will be an odd day for the federal government to have Bronwyn Eyre, Brian Zinchuk and Aleana Young sitting in the same jail cell together.”

 

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