I’ve met quite a few Environment Ministers over the last 22 years. Indeed, listening to the concerns and proposed solutions of environmental groups is generally considered part of their job description.
But their real job is to be the champion for environmental protection within government. The best ones (and yes, I have met some good ones from all three major parties) actively encourage environmental groups to get out there and build public support, so they can convince their Cabinet colleagues that doing the right thing is also the politically smart thing.
So it came as a shock to have Peter Kent, as his first public statement after becoming Minister of Environment in January 2011, extol the virtues of “ethical oil.” Or hear him slander environmental charities as “money launderers.”
Which makes you wonder who, exactly, is he listening to?
When Greenpeace asked to meet with him, we got a pretty clear message that he would not be available (ever). I’ve heard similar stories from colleagues at other organizations, most of whom have given up even trying to get a meeting. Fortunately, there is a way to track who he is meeting with. And when you crunch the numbers, the oil industry comes out on top when it comes to having the Minister’s ear.
According to the federal lobbying registry, Peter Kent has met 48 times with oil and gas lobbyists since becoming Minister of the Environment and only 7 times with representatives of environmental and conservation groups. On the environmental side, he has met with the Canadian Boreal Initiative (four times), the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nature Canada and the Pembina Institute.
This is not to say that Minister Kent shouldn’t meet with industry representatives. But given that the polluters already have the Ministers of Industry and Natural Resources defending their interests at the Cabinet table, Canadians have a right to expect a little more balance from the Minister of the Environment.
Because that’s his job.
P.S. You may be wondering if Minister Kent has handed off the “talking to environmentalists” part of his file to his Parliamentary Secretary, the very capable Michelle Rempel. She, however, has met 41 times with oil and gas interests (the pipeline companies seem to be particularly interested in talking to her) and only four times with environmental or conservation groups (the Canadian Boreal Initiative and Ducks Unlimited).