NDP calls for ban on 'misleading, deceptive' fossil fuel ads

The Quest Carbon Capture and Storage facility at Shell's Scotford complex northeast of Edmonton. (Kyle Bakx/CBC - image credit)
The Quest Carbon Capture and Storage facility at Shell's Scotford complex northeast of Edmonton. (Kyle Bakx/CBC - image credit)

Federal New Democrats say it's time for Canada to do to the fossil fuel industry what it did to tobacco companies by banning misleading ads that market the industry as offering a solution to climate change.

The NDP's natural resources critic Charlie Angus tabled a private members bill (C-372) in the House of Commons this week. The bill would ban what the party describes as misleading fossil fuel advertising, similar to the way cigarette ads were restricted in the 1990s.

At a news conference Tuesday, Angus said Canada's oil industry is shifting its "propaganda" strategy by promoting its products as clean and claiming they can be part of the climate solution.

"That's like Benson and Hedges telling you that they can help end lung cancer," Angus said. "This is because big oil has always relied on the big tobacco playbook of delay and disinformation."

WATCH | The NDP compares big oil to big tobacco

In 1997, the Canadian government enacted new tobacco control legislation after the Supreme Court struck down a 1989 law which the tobacco industry challenged as an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of expression.

The new bill would outlaw marketing that downplays the climate-altering emissions and health hazards associated with the industry, or promotes fossil fuels in ways that are false, misleading or deceptive.

Health Canada estimates that air pollution caused primarily by burning fossil fuels in North America contributes to 15,300 premature deaths per year in Canada. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) cites research that states fossil fuel air pollution in Canada leads to 34,000 premature deaths annually.

CAPE was among the stakeholders standing with Angus at Monday's news conference. It's also one of the groups that complained to the Competition Bureau about an organization that represents the six largest oil and gas companies, the Pathways Alliance.

CAPE claims Pathways's net-zero ads were misleading because the consortium has not fully accounted for how it would achieve net-zero emissions.

"This is false. Oil can never be net-zero because 80 per cent of the life cycle emissions are released when oil is burned," said Leah Temper, CAPE's director of health and economic policy.

WATCH | News conference on bill banning fossil fuel advertising 

Burning coal, oil and gas accounts for 75 per cent of global climate-altering emissions and 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to the UN.

The Pathways Alliance was not immediately available to comment on the bill. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said it follows Canadian advertising laws.

"Advertising is one way we can reach Canadians to ensure they are informed of the progress their oil and natural gas industry is making on these critical matters," said Lisa Baiton, CAPP's president and CEO.

In a statement, the office of Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said the federal government is holding the oil and gas sector accountable for its emissions through measures like a proposed framework to cap oil and gas emissions. The statement stopped short of supporting Angus's bill.

"We welcome the NDP's bill to the House. Advertisement has a big role to play in public perception, and the industry is racking in record profits," said Kaitlin Power, press secretary to the environment minister. "We will carefully assess their bill and look forward to productive debates and discussions around this important issue."