In less than a year since energy minister Josie Osborne was sworn in, she, her staff and related crown corporations have had 600 meetings and other interactions with oil and gas lobbyists, new data compiled by Dogwood shows.

That represents the bulk of the 1,032 conversations between oil and gas lobbyists and the B.C. government captured by lobbying records since Dec 2022. Meanwhile the climate crisis reached new levels of intensity, fuelled by ongoing fossil fuel expansion in B.C. and around the world.

Osborne, the former mayor of Tofino and a longtime environmental advocate, was sworn in as Minister of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation last December. Her portfolio includes the BC Energy Regulator and BC Hydro.

Using publicly available data from the BC Lobbying registry, Dogwood compiled interactions between oil and gas companies, lobby groups and the government since David Eby and his new cabinet ministers took the helm in B.C.

In that time oil and gas companies and industry groups lobbied Osborne’s ministry 409 times and the BC Energy Regulator (formerly the Oil and Gas Commission) 195 times. Premier Eby’s office was a top lobbying target, along with ministers of the environment and Indigenous relations.

A long list of fracking and oil companies were eager to sway government policy, with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, FortisBC, and the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada representing a third of all lobbying interactions.

A flawed registry

The registry offers limited insight into the meetings, as lobbyists are only required to disclose the general topic of their communications. But their agenda is clear: more oil and gas infrastructure and more government help in the form of project approvals, subsidies and hands-off regulation.

Some lobbyists make no effort to provide even a vague description of meetings. The Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, a major oil and gas lobby group, simply copied and pasted the boilerplate text provided by the registry.

What did they talk about on Aug 23 when they met with the executive director of the British Columbia Energy Regulator? “(…) [specific policies or programs related to matters on which the organization is lobbying, or intends to lobby in the near future].”

When asked about the template filing, the BC Lobbyist registry told Dogwood that it didn’t contravene the Lobbying Act. The public effectively has no idea what is discussed in meetings between corporations and our public servants.

And it’s not the registry’s only flaw. As Donald Gutstein points out in the Tyee, the registry doesn’t list payments lobbyists receive for their work. British Columbians are also in the dark about how much companies spend to influence laws and regulations.

Lobbying rules also allow former senior public office holders to work for powerful fossil fuel corporations with no cooling-off period. That’s how former premier John Horgan was allowed to start work at Teck’s coal mining division the day after he quit as an MLA.

Co-opting environmental leaders

Osborne, a former fisheries biologist for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, was the mayor of Tofino for seven years before she ran for the NDP in 2020.

No Tankers campaign supporters might remember Osborne rallying local elected officials on the B.C. coast to oppose Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil tanker proposal.

Back in 2014 she described herself as a “environmentalist”, opposed old growth logging in Clayoquot Sound, mining, and voiced her concerns about salmon farming. She was even courted by Green party leader Elizabeth May to join her ranks. (Osborne at the time was an active member of the federal Green party).

When asked by the Tyee about bigger political ambitions at the time, she railed against partisan politics “that centralize and concentrate power and leave people, in her view, feeling disenfranchised.”

Since becoming energy minister for the BC NDP, Osborne has approved Cedar LNG (a brand-new gas export terminal fed by the Coastal GasLink pipeline). And documents show Osborne’s staff pushing her to advocate for more public money to support LNG projects.

Lobbying time on your dime

Clearly oil and gas companies feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Lobbyists, some of whom are deeply embedded in the governing BC NDP, appear to be fully in control of the government’s talking points and actively shaping policy.

But their expansion agenda is at odds with B.C.’s own emissions plan – not to mention the health and safety of residents, and often Indigenous rights. Why is the public paying politicians and government staff to collude with the industry driving climate breakdown?

It’s time to roll back the influence of oil and gas corporations in Victoria. That means confronting the powerful lobbying firms and party insiders who are derailing climate action and pushing for more fossil fuel expansion.

Send a message to your MLA asking them to shut the door on oil and gas lobbyists. Like Big Tobacco or the weapons industry, fossil fuel companies are a malign force undermining our democracy, that has no place lobbying our public officials.

The B.C. legislature returns to work on October 3, after a summer of record-setting drought and deadly wildfires. We need our leaders focused on responding to the climate crisis, not make it worse. That starts with turning down meetings with oil and gas lobbyists.

Note on the data used : Dogwood compiled all lobbying interactions from Dec 7 2022 to Aug 23, 2023 tagged under the “Energy” topic that came from Oil & Gas companies and lobby groups such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and The Explorers and Producers Associations of Canada. We excluded interactions with Green and BC United staff and MLAs. Because of a lack of consistency in lobbying reports, some data refining was required to identify which minister or crown corporation each lobbying interaction targeted. We also renamed some interactions that took place before the Oil & gas commission became the BC Energy regulator. The entire dataset can be consulted and downloaded here.