Oliver met last July in Calgary with nine members of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, where they discussed the "importance of communicating to Canadians" the benefits of the energy sector and environmental measures.
A ministerial event report after the July 5 meeting listed communications as the top two key issues discussed, followed by labour shortages in the pipeline sector and "support for the Government's 'Responsible Resource Development' initiative."
Natural Resources Canada has an advertising budget of $9 million in 2012-13 and a new round of television ads, touting the Responsible Resource Development theme, are currently airing.
The Conservatives announced in 2008 that the oil and gas sector would be regulated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the rules in place at the start of 2010. Those regulations keep getting delayed, amid fresh promises they're coming soon.
"Instead they've chosen to go with a pure communications strategy," said Greenpeace climate researcher Keith Stewart. "This is an industry that has an actual environmental performance problem. But both government and industry treat it as a public relations problem."…
Reached for comment in Houston, the minister responded in an email that "I regularly meet with stakeholders to talk about promoting Canada as well as the need to abide by our tough standards and strive for even greater environmental performance.
"Our government is proud of Canada, our natural resources, and our tough environmental standards," he said. "When we talk about opening new markets we promote all three."
It's all part of a broad communications strategy by the Conservatives that dates back to 2010, when government officials met with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and agreed on "upping their game."
"The approach would not just 'turn up the volume' on the existing approach - it would change tact (sic) and address perceptions by showing that the issues are being addressed and we have the right attitude," according to a March 2010 memo.
Governments have frequently come to the aid of industries that are under siege. What's different now, say critics, is the breadth and closeness of the government-industry ties.
"When you can't see any daylight between the government and industry ad campaigns, I think it's a sign that the Harper government is confusing what's good for oil companies with what's good for Canada," said Stewart.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May said the problem now is that the ministers of Natural Resources and Environment, plus the prime minister, are all "championing industry - and nobody is watching out for the roadkill."