The Original Occupy

Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists. To wit, unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, Canada has regressed on climate change initiatives.

Ah, the Great White North. America’s attic. Uncle Sam’s hat. The land of self-deprecation, Tim Hortons donuts and ice fishing. Less notably, it is the land of my birth. Although I became a U.S. citizen in the fifth grade, my Canadian roots were always a source of pride, despite precluding me from ever becoming president.

It has always amazed me how little we Americans think of our sister nation to the north. With the occasional exception of the tabloid coverage that accompanies “Bieber Fever,” the media here are devoid of Canadian news. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising there hasn’t been a single article devoted to the indigenous Idle No More movement that has taken hold in Canada. As we witnessed during the early days of Occupy, corporate media are indifferent to dissent unless it’s displayed in a faraway nation by throngs of angry Arabic men. (Congrats again on winning Best Picture, Ben.) Recall that it took weeks for any established media to begin covering Occupy in any meaningful way, and when they finally did, they were largely dismissive of it.

Yet the American news media do spend a good deal of time and ink discussing the relationship between the United States and China. Any news of civil unrest in China is worrisome to corporate America because of our obsession with our mutual economic interests. After all, we are the global champions of human rights so long as we’re not stripped of our fundamental economic right to slave labor.

Missing from this equation is the fact that China is America’s second top trading partner. The first is Canada. Yes, the land that calls its one- and two-dollar coins “loonies” and “toonies” is our number one trading partner on the planet. This is why the lack of coverage of the Idle No More movement is rather astounding given that our economic interests are involved. Not only have Canadian Indians disrupted commerce, they are providing the strongest resistance on the Canadian side to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project that would run from Canada through several U.S. states.

In December of 2012, four Canadian activists named Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean and Nina Wilson founded Idle No More to protest the Canadian government’s passage of C-45—a massive omnibus bill containing anti-environmental provisions that might surprise many Americans. Since December, native people across Canada have disrupted major events and even gained international attention from a hunger strike waged by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Protestors have closed off roads, blockaded bridges, cut off a road to a De Beers diamond mine and generally raised hell by attacking this bill for moving Canada further away from the path of sustainability.

Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists. To wit, unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, Canada has regressed on climate change initiatives. In January, Global Legislative Organisation (GLOBE), an environmental NGO, issued its third report on the legislative initiatives of 33 nations. Of the 33 countries, which include China and the United States, GLOBE gave 32 of them credit for making progress in enacting and adopting beneficial environmental legislation. The only nation to go backwards? Canada.

John Kane, a native activist and writer who hosts a show on Indian affairs on WWKB-AM in Buffalo, says that Idle No More “is about water, land and sovereignty.” Like many who have observed Canadian politics of late, Kane laments that the dominion has been besieged by a warped conservative agenda, characterizing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a “cross between Bush and Cheney.” Relations between the tribes and her majesty’s government, strained as they are, worsened as C-45 set off alarms among tribal leaders almost immediately.

“Harper initiated a suite of legislation,” says Kane, “that would lower the threshold to invade native lands and take streams, rivers, minerals, you name it.” Reading between the lines of a “jobs act” in the bill, Kane says that “job creation” is a euphemism for “the opportunity for other countries like China to participate in mineral extraction.”

Idle No More intersected with other activist movements in February when its members joined the massive rally in Washington, D.C., organized by the Sierra Club and 350.org, to call for President Obama to continue the U.S. obstruction of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 protestors descended upon the National Mall. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, was even arrested at the rally, breaking the organization’s longstanding prohibition against civil disobedience. (The rally was also woefully under-reported by corporate media.) President Obama is clearly important in the process and the U.S. has to clear far more regulatory hurdles to move the Keystone project forward. But the pressure to begin construction is coming more from the Canadian government than anywhere else. The Harper administration, with tremendous support from Canadian petro companies, is hell-bent on exploiting the Alberta tar sands, no matter how environmentally catastrophic the process is.

“This is an area the size of Florida,” says Kane. “The bottom line is Canada can make a lot of money by raping Alberta.”

Idle No More goes beyond the Keystone Pipeline. This week I spoke with Yoni Miller, who is the president of Occupy Wall Street—an intentionally ironic title as Occupy continues to be an amorphous, leaderless and volunteer movement. I reached out to him because the Occupy outlets were among the relatively few areas to obtain any information outside of native publications. Regarding C-45 and the potential toll on native territory, Miller said, “We all know it’s more than that—it’s about the ongoing and existing process of colonialization.” He also believes the tribes have better insight to environmental issues because of “their unique relationship to the land.” 

On Jan. 5 of this year Yoni was invited to Akwesasne, the Mohawk territory that straddles the St. Lawrence River between New York and Ontario. For several hours Iroquois members of Idle No More shut down the Seaway International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada—an experience Miller called “humbling.” When I asked him whether he felt Occupy had fueled any of the confidence in Idle No More, he was reluctant to take anything away from what had been accomplished.

“It may not have been possible without the energy from Occupy,” he said, but then quickly added, “but these people were activists before we were even born.  Indigenous resistance has been going on since 1492. It’s what makes this different.”

Both Occupy and Idle are relatively quiet at the moment. But John Kane and Yoni Miller independently expressed the same sentiment that spring is the season of awakening and that both groups will be on the move. Perhaps they will jolt the mainstream media from their hibernation as well, though I doubt it. These particular bears appear to be idle, forever more. 

 

Illustration by Jon Moreno

Obamacare

On myriad levels, Obamacare is a good plan, and ultimately I am in favor of seeing it fully implemented. But if we eliminate emotion and politics, it’s fair to say Obamacare is only half of what is required.

Affordable? Maybe not. Necessary? Likely so.
Part 6 (of 8) of the Off The Reservation special election series in the Long Island Press

It has been said that death and taxes are the two irrefutable realities of our existence. By declaring the act that seeks to prolong death for every American to be a tax, the U.S. Supreme Court has neatly fused them together, making the debate surrounding Obamacare an inescapable reality unto itself.

My election series of columns has thus far made clear arguments in favor of re-electing Barack Obama with respect to the stimulus, deregulation, foreign policy and appointing justices to the Court, with Obama winning three of the four topics convincingly and a split decision on Wall Street regulation. When it comes to healthcare, I must admit that I am struggling a bit. Perhaps you can help.

Intellectually, I am a fan of a single-payer healthcare system. In America, this would essentially mean Medicare for all, with no option for private health insurance. The administrative cost and paperwork associated with patient care would be a fraction of what they are today and with the advent of electronic medical records an argument can be made that there are significant efficiencies to come. Practically, however, this is essentially the Canadian system and it is far from perfect.

My family is originally from Canada and most of my relatives still live there. While there is no question that general care is indeed more affordable, available and efficient, critical care is a problem. My aunt died prematurely due to the ridiculous lengths she had to go through to receive a proper and thorough diagnosis. But this painful anecdote belies statistics that suggest the mortality rate from disease in the US and Canada is nearly identical.

Doctors in the United States are compensated much higher than doctors in Canada; but this applies mostly to specialists and not general practitioners. Therefore, in Canada there are far more general practitioners per capita than in the United States. Perhaps this implies that although critical care is less available, greater access to preventive care mitigates the severity and incidence of diseases that require critical care. Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know, just looking at Long Island for example, that we have universal healthcare because the emergency room at Nassau University Medical Center is just about the busiest place on the Island. This is why I am in favor of an attempt to cover every individual in the United States and, for the most part, a proponent of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”


When I began working for my father 18 years ago, we covered 100 percent of healthcare costs for our employees. Now, we can only afford to cover half. Moreover, this “half” is far more expensive than the entire amount was almost two decades ago even on an adjusted basis. It’s why I find it insulting when people suggest that Obamacare is crushing small businesses already. The fact is, Obamacare hasn’t been fully implemented yet, but this is the first year that two very significant things happened to our business:

  1. We were reimbursed several thousand dollars by our insurance company because they had failed to meet the minimum standards under Obamacare for the amount of money that must be allocated to actual care, and not administrative costs.
  2. This is the first year the insurance company didn’t attempt to raise our premiums by double-digits.

So, as a small business owner, I have already benefitted from a plan that hasn’t even been fully implemented. Moreover, it puts my business on a level playing field with other small businesses I know that skirt the rules by paying their people as independent contractors simply to avoid offering them health insurance.

There are other great parts of this legislation such as extending dependent care, outlawing the practice of declining coverage for anyone with a pre-existing condition, closing the Medicare “donut” hole for seniors, mandating electronic records, and identifying best practices across the nation. But I have heard time and again that Obamacare will ultimately result in a massive decrease in reimbursements for physicians— forcing them to see more patients to sustain current income levels—thus jeopardizing the quality of care.

This is a practical sentiment that I can sympathize with, but many of my friends who are physicians have been complaining about this for years. This isn’t an “Obamacare” phenomenon; this is a “healthcare-as-it-currently-is” phenomenon. And while I agree that adding millions of additional people to the insurance pool is beneficial for insurance companies and detrimental to the earning potential of physicians, access to preventive care and wellness visits is undoubtedly a positive step for America. I’m hoping my physician friends weigh in on this to express their viewpoints because I know many of them are tired of being businesspeople and accountants and simply want to get back to caring for patients and growing as doctors.

The politics surrounding Obamacare have drowned out any and all reasonable debate surrounding this issue. The mere fact that the GOP vehemently opposes this plan that was originally crafted by a conservative think tank, touted by Republican legislators and actually adopted fully by a Republican governor now running for president should indicate how toxic our politics are. On myriad levels, Obamacare is a good plan, and ultimately I am in favor of seeing it fully implemented. But if we eliminate emotion and politics, it’s fair to say Obamacare is only half of what is required. The real drivers of cost in the system are the high-cost liability insurance, rampant pharmaceutical dependence encouraged by advertising that is unnecessary and unethical, an overly-litigious culture that forces physicians to order unnecessary tests simply to thwart potential claims, paying doctors and hospitals per procedure instead of paying for the care the patient requires, and the extraordinary cost of end-of-life care. If over the next decade, Obamacare is married with serious attempts to tackle these issues, then it has a shot at not just succeeding but being a model system. If not, it will likely lumber along as a quasi-failure but no worse than had we done nothing at all.

WEEK 6 goes once again to the POTUS.

PHOTO: Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law, March 23rd, 2010. The act is the most sweeping healthcare reform since Medicare and based largely on initiatives created by conservative think tanks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Fracking in Canada

As furious debate over fracking continues in the United States… Canada struggles to balance the economic benefits drilling has brought with the reports of water contamination and air pollution that have accompanied them.

Oh, Canada’s Become a Home for Record Fracking

by Nicholas KusnetzProPublica, Dec. 28, 2011, 11:09 a.m.
Photo Credit: Associated Press

Early last year, deep in the forests of northern British Columbia, workers for Apache Corp. performed what the company proclaimed was the biggest hydraulic fracturing operation ever.

The project used 259 million gallons of water and 50,000 tons of sand to frack 16 gas wells side by side. It was “nearly four times larger than any project of its nature in North America,” Apache boasted.

The record didn’t stand for long. By the end of the year, Apache and its partner, Encana, topped it by half at a neighboring site.

As furious debate over fracking continues in the United States, it is instructive to look at how a similar gas boom is unfolding for our neighbor to the north.

To a large extent, the same themes have emerged as Canada struggles to balance the economic benefits drilling has brought with the reports of water contamination and air pollution that have accompanied them.

The Canadian boom has differed in one regard: The western provinces’ exuberant embrace of large-scale fracking offers a vision of what could happen elsewhere if governments clear away at least some of the regulatory hurdles to growth.

Even as some officials have questioned the wisdom of doing so, Alberta and British Columbia have dueled to draw investment by offering financial incentives and loosening rules. The result has been some of the most intensive drilling anywhere.

“There definitely is concern on the part of people living in northeast B.C. on the scale of developments, which are quite significant already and are only in their infancy,”said Ben Parfitt, an analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a research institute that promotes environmental sustainability. “We are seeing some of the largest fracking operations anywhere on earth.”

Canada’s eastern regions have proceeded more cautiously. In March, Quebec placed a moratorium on shale development [1] pending further study. Protesters have taken to the streets in New Brunswick [2] demanding the same.

Public opposition, coupled with low gas prices, has slowed drilling over the past year. Still, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expects production from shale and other unconventional sources to more than triple in the next decade.

The industry’s aggressive plan for growth has drawn an ambivalent response from the nation’s top environmental officials.

In March, Canada’s deputy minister of the environment sent an internal memo warning that more work was needed to assess the risks from shale gas drilling [3]. The memo, obtained by an Ottawa-based newspaper and addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent, said water use and contamination top a list of environmental concerns including air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and the use of unknown toxic chemicals. Kent subsequently ordered two studies looking at the safety and environmental impacts of shale drilling.

Yet, in a written response to questions from ProPublica, the environment ministry affirmed its commitment to continued development.

“Our Government believes shale gas is an important strategic resource that could provide numerous economic benefits to Canada,” the ministry’s statement said. Gas is an important part of a clean energy future, the ministry added, saying that “a healthy environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.”

B.C., Alberta Lure Drillers

Canada’s current drilling boom dates to the late 1990s, when Encana began using fracking to extract gas from dense rock in northern British Columbia.

The second-largest gas driller in North America, Encana also started fracking shallow coal seams, or coalbed methane, in Alberta in the early 2000s, using nitrogen rather than water to free the gas. Coalbed methane drilling generally requires less fluid than fracking shale but occurs much closer to drinking water. In some cases, Encana and other companies have drilled wells directly into aquifers, injecting fracking fluids into groundwater suitable for drinking.

In the middle of the last decade, Encana and other operators started exploring northern British Columbia’s shale gas reserves. The formations were promising, holding at least 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to industry estimates.

But drillers faced formidable hurdles to get to it. Unlike the Barnett and Marcellus shales in the U.S., Canada’s best shale basins are far from most markets and existing infrastructure. Soggy ground slows drilling in the spring and summer, and the average high temperature hovers around zero degrees Fahrenheit in January.

To encourage development, British Columbia enacted a series of incentives, including reduced royalties for deep drilling and credits for building roads and pipelines in the remote regions.

These changes, combined with the area’s severe conditions, spurred companies to concentrate and scale up their operations in British Columbia in an effort to cut costs, industry experts say. The result: a string of record-breaking fracks.

In a written response to questions from ProPublica, Apache said this approach reduces surface disturbance. It also can heighten the risk of air and water pollution, said Bruce Kramer, an expert in oil and gas law with McGinnis, Lochridge and Kilgore, a Texas-based law firm.

In both western provinces, the regional authorities responsible for regulating drilling have passed rules to allow more intensive drilling.

In Alberta, drillers can now pack wells closer together and pump more water out of shallow coal seams to free gas more efficiently. British Columbia issued detailed regulations last year that limit where and when companies can drill and set rigorous environmental standards but also gave its Oil and Gas Commission the authority to exempt drillers from virtually all of these provisions.

The commission referred an inquiry from ProPublica to its parent organization, the Ministry of Energy and Mines. In written responses to questions, the Ministry said the new regulations adequately address environmental concerns over drilling activity in the province. Pointing to an upcoming health study and new rules that compel companies to disclose chemicals used in fracking, officials said they would continue to review and revise standards as necessary.

Still, the regulatory shifts have prompted environmental advocates in Alberta and British Columbia to question whether officials are prepared to cope with rising concerns about water use, contamination and unchecked development.

“We just don’t have a clue how big this issue is from a public policy perspective,”said Bob Simpson, a member of British Columbia’s legislative assembly and an outspoken critic. “We really don’t know what we’re doing.”

Jessica Ernst’s Water Problems

Over the last five years, there have been several prominent cases in which Alberta residents have said gas drilling contaminated their water.

There are no hard numbers. The government does not track such complaints. But in some instances, residents’ frustration has been exacerbated by their sense that regulators have not properly investigated their claims.

In 2005, Jessica Ernst noticed strange things happening to her water. The toilet fizzed. The faucets whistled. Black particles clogged her filter. Then she began getting rashes.

Ernst, a longtime environmental consultant for oil and gas companies, wondered whether the changes could be connected to drilling nearby. Encana had been drilling shallow coalbed methane wells near her home outside of Rosebud, about 50 miles northeast of Calgary.

She asked Alberta Environment and Water, the agency that oversees groundwater, to test her well. When the well was drilled in 1986, tests showed it had no methane [4]. The new tests, however, showed high levels of the gas, as well as a hydrocarbon called F2 and two other chemicals.

But in 2007, a government research agency concluded it was unlikely that drilling had affected her water [5]. The final report said the chemicals found were not typically used in coalbed methane drilling, and that one had probably come from a plastic tube used to test the water.

Ernst wasn’t satisfied with the province’s response, however. The government’s report concluded that the methane in her well might be occurring naturally because tests showed similar levels of gas in nearby wells. But the tests were conducted after Ernst noticed the changes in her water — she saw the results as an indication that the contamination might be more widespread.

The government’s report also ignored evidence provided by one of its own analysts, a professor of geochemistry at the University of Alberta. When Karlis Muehlenbachs analyzed the gas in Ernst’s well for Alberta Environment and Water, he found ethane, a gas often found with methane, with a chemical signature indicating that it had come from deep underground, below the depth of the well. Muehlenbachs told ProPublica that the ethane’s signature meant that it could not have been there naturally. He said he is convinced that it resulted from drilling.

As Ernst searched for answers to what happened to her water, she unearthed evidence of other problems related to drilling. She found an Alberta Environment and Water report that listed cases in which the fracking of shallow wells resulted in gas or fluid leaking [6] into nearby gas wells or spraying into the air. She also found government gas well records that said Encana had fracked into the aquifer that supplies her water well.

“The community was used as a test tube,”she said. “I was used as a test tube.”

Earlier this year, Ernst sued Encana, Alberta Environment and Water and the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board [7], which regulates drilling, alleging that Encana’s drilling was negligent and that the government agencies had covered up the company’s contamination and failed to enforce regulations.

Ernst, who is asking for about $33 million Canadian in damages and return of wrongful profits, has vowed she will not accept a settlement that includes a confidentiality agreement, as others have done.

“Somebody has to do this,”she said.

Alan Boras, a spokesman for Encana, said the company would not comment on the case.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board denied a request for an interview. In written responses to questions, spokesman Bob Curran said he could not comment on the specifics of Ernst’s case, but the agency is confident it has conducted itself appropriately.

Carrie Sancartier, a spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Water, would not comment on Ernst’s allegations because of the lawsuit but said there have been no confirmed cases of gas drilling contaminating water wells in the province.

Muehlenbachs, whose work has been used in several government investigations, said that is “simply false.” He said he’s analyzed thousands of cases of gas leaking up well bores and knows of at least a dozen cases of water contamination.

Alberta has introduced several measures to safeguard water from shallow drilling. In 2006, it established a buffer zone between shallow gas wells and water wells [8] and required drillers to test nearby water wells before drilling into an aquifer [9].

Nevertheless, last January, as part of a review of drilling regulations, the Energy Resources Conservation Board [10] said shallow fracking poses a risk to groundwater.

Is ‘Communication’ a Risk?

There have been no reports of groundwater contamination related to new drilling in British Columbia.

Increasingly, however, there are reports of something called “communication” — events in which a fracture travels through the ground and connects two gas wells.

Ken Paulson, chief engineer at the province’s Oil and Gas Commission, said these events do not pose a contamination risk. Other experts say their principal impact is to undermine production.

But opponents of expanded shale drilling say instances of communication show that drillers lack a full understanding of what happens when wells are fracked closer together, increasing the risk of contamination. Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell University, said that if a fracture hit a natural fault, it could allow contaminants to enter aquifers.

Communication has occurred in the U.S. as well: Regulators in Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan and Pennsylvania reported such events to Canadian officials as part of the Energy Resources Conservation Board’s regulatory review [10].

Documents provided to ProPublica show that energy companies have reported 25 cases of communication in British Columbia [11] since 2009. Companies are not required to report such events, so the list isn’t comprehensive, Paulson said.

In May 2010, the province’s Oil and Gas Commission issued a warning when a drilling company inadvertently shot sand from one fracking job into another well [12] being drilled more than 2,000 feet away.

The advisory said the operator contained the resulting jump in pressure within the well but warned of a “potential safety hazard.” When communication occurs, Paulson said, the biggest concern is that an operator could lose control of a well and cause a blowout.

Concerns Over Water Consumption

As the debate over communication continues, Parfitt and other Canadian environmentalists have raised more immediate concerns about water use. Fracking requires lots of water — on their biggest reported fracking job, Apache and Encana used an average of 28 million gallons of water per well.

While the oil and gas industry says it is responsible for 1 percent or less of British Columbia’s overall water use, environmental advocates say that may not reflect the full extent of the industry’s consumption or long-term needs.

Drillers use both surface and groundwater. Access to surface water is regulated by two agencies that issue long-term licenses or year-long permits. Overwhelmingly, energy companies have chosen to obtain permits, which require less regulatory review.

Most groundwater withdrawals aren’t regulated at all. Drillers need permits to sink water wells, but there are no limits on the amount of water that can be taken from them. They can also purchase water from other well owners, so there’s no way to track overall use.

“How much water is actually being used and, more importantly, how much water is projected to be used over next the 10 to 15 years? Because of the scattershot approach of regulation, this isn’t something we can actually answer right now,”said Matt Horne, acting director of the climate change program at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank that published a report on the gas industry’s water use.

Last year, in a report focusing on province-wide groundwater oversight, British Columbia’s auditor general [13] said the province was not adequately protecting aquifers from overuse and potential contamination. Agencies lacked the basic data necessary to assess the risks, such as the number and extent of the province’s aquifers, the report said.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines, in a written response to questions, said the province is taking several steps to improve oversight of water use, including a research project studying aquifers. The agency said it can review large groundwater withdrawal projects and that pending changes to the province’s water law would regulate withdrawals.

Drillers themselves are also moving to address water concerns. Encana and Apache have started using saline water not suitable for drinking or irrigation in some of their projects. Alan Boras, the Encana spokesman, said the company uses non-potable water almost exclusively in its main operating area in the Horn River Basin, where the largest frack jobs were reported.

Environmentalists say they welcome the effort, but caution that these projects are tiny compared to the industry’s overall water use.

Governments, Industry Get Cozy

Public backlash to fracking has become such a concern for drillers and provincial governments in western Canada that last year they launched a joint effort to counter it.

In December 2010, the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding laying out a plan [14] to share information and develop standards for hydraulic fracturing and water use. The provinces invited only one non-governmental entity to participate in the project: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The memo, which was leaked in August and published by the Alberta Federation of Labour, a union group, said the provinces and petroleum producers would work together to develop “key messages” on shale drilling to persuade the public not to fear fracking.

“The project will help to demonstrate that shale gas extraction is viable, safe and environmentally sustainable,” the memo said.

The memo blamed environmental groups for spreading misleading information and stirring opposition to drilling.

“Environmental Non-Government organizations (ENGOs) are supporting a ill-informed [sic] campaign on hydraulic fracturing and water related issues in British Columbia and in other jurisdictions,” it said. “This is expected to grow as shale gas development expands into Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

In a separate memo [14], Alberta Environment and Water reported that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers had approached the province to work on a joint public relations campaign.

Ultimately, no campaign materialized.

Janet Annesley, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the group hadn’t wanted to join forces on PR but was just informing the province of plans to publish voluntary standards for shale gas drilling.

Still, critics saw the memo as proof of an overly cozy relationship between the government and the industry.

Bart Johnson, a spokesman for Alberta’s Energy Minister, said the petroleum producers had suggested a joint PR initiative but dropped the request. Such a collaboration, however, would not have been inappropriate, he said. The government works with industry groups all the time, he said, citing a campaign with education groups against bullying in schools.

“Oil and gas is huge in Alberta. It fuels our economy. Indeed it fuels the economy of Canada,” Johnson said. “Any suggestion that we shouldn’t meet with that industry is ridiculous.”