Whenever you see multinational oil companies waving Canadian flags, it’s worth taking a closer look at whose interests are really being served.

My personal bullshit detector went off when the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ (CAPP) launched its own version of “Energy Citizens” (www.energycitizens.ca) six weeks ago. They advertise it as a “movement of Canadians who support Canada’s energy”, but anyone who’s been following climate politics knows that Energy Citizens (www.energycitizens.org) was actually launched by the American Petroleum Institute (API) back in 2009.

This fake grassroots group played a key role in the oil industry’s successful strategy to defeat climate legislation in the United States.  The New York Times called it “another astroturf campaign”, where “the oil lobby has taken a page from the anti-health-care-reform manual in an effort to drum up opposition to climate change legislation in Congress. Behind the overall effort — billed, naturally, as a grass-roots citizen movement — lie the string-pullers at the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade organization and a wily, well-funded veteran of the legislative wars.”

These string-pullers were outed when Greenpeace obtained a copy of the memo sent by the head of the API to its member companies asking them to recruit their employees for a series of Energy Citizen rallies across the country.

The objective of these rallies, according to the API, was “to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states’ U.S. Senators to avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill and the Obama Administration’s tax increases on our industry.”

The oil industry lobby group said it would pay professional event organizers to pull the rallies together, but wanted their member groups to help supply the bodies. According to the memo:

“The measure of success for these events will be the diversity of the participants expressing the same message, as well as turnouts of several hundred attendees. In the 11 states with an industry core, our member company local leadership—including your facility manager’s commitment to provide significant attendance—is essential to achieving the participation level that Senators cannot ignore. In addition, please include all vendors, suppliers, contractors, retirees and others who have an interest in our success.”

Energy Citizens is still very active in the U.S. and the API boasts that it has a presence in every congressional district in the country, where they push for approval of the Keystone pipeline, support fracking, and continue to drum up opposition to climate legislation at the state level.

And now, stung by the growing public opposition to new pipelines and tar sands expansion, these same companies are importing this classic U.S. astroturf strategy into Canada (BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and many more companies are members of both API and CAPP).

So what can we expect from the Canadian version?

It is only six weeks old, but the group’s Facebook page and twitter account are already doing the dirty work of attacking industry critics (such as smearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu) so that CAPP itself can stay out of the fray.

Big Oil doesn’t spend the kind of money it takes to create a tool like this without a plan to use it. So I expect we will see Energy Citizen rallies (or at least they’ll send counter-protesters to environmental and First Nation rallies), as well as campaigns targeting politicians who dare question whether the unlimited growth of the tar sands is a good thing.

It will be particularly interesting, however, to see what role CAPP creates for Energy Citizens with respect to the unfinished business of regulating greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry in Canada. These regulations were first promised by the Harper government in 2007, but have never been passed, largely due to successful lobbying by CAPP that was uncovered by a Greenpeace Freedom of Information request.

If the group’s work in the U.S. is any indication, it won’t be pretty.