Dear Mr Gilbert,
To be sure, freedom of the press is one of the foundations of our democratic life and the vitality of public debate in Canadian democracy. In that respect, we are fortunate in Canada to live in a political and media environment characterized by a lack of political interference that might undermine the credibility and impartiality of our media institutions, including public broadcasters.
I must admit that I was perplexed by Mr Guy Gendron’s report on the program ” Zone Libre Enquête” on Friday, January 19, 2007, which covered the oil sands industry in Alberta. Indeed, at times, Radio-Canada indulged in unacceptable innuendos, the most striking of which were as follows:
“…the day after the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Canada, U.S. oil industry leaders met in this hotel in Houston, Texas, together with promoters of major oil sands projects in Alberta.”
“Talks, sometimes secret deals, as discovered by our colleague from ‘Zone Libre Enquête,’ Guy Gendron. “
“The Radio-Canada program ‘Zone Libre Enquête’ reveals that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President George Bush cut a secret deal last year .”
“So far, the Conservative government, as you know, has withdrawn… Canada is the only country to have withdrawn from Kyoto among the 35 signatories.”
Finally, I would draw your attention to the following statement:
“The oil-sands have a road map to a production level of 5 million barrels a day,” A “Current projections are more like 2-to-3 million over the next ten years.”
That quotation dates from September 8, 2004, and was made by the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources under the former Liberal government.
By beginning with the election of a Conservative government, the report neglected to highlight the decisions by the former government.
The “secret” report, “Oil Sands Experts Group Workshop Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Houston, Texas January 24-25, 2006 Oil Sands Workshop SPP Report,” which is also available at http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/oilgas/publications/oilgas_generalpubs/oilsands_spp_report.pdf , says that:
“President Bush, Prime Minister Martin and President Fox officially announced the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North American (SPP) agreement in March 2005. The energy activities of the SPP encompass a trilateral effort among Mexico, the United States and Canada, to create a sustainable energy economy for North America. The Canadian oil sands are one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources and will be a significant contributor to energy supply and security for the continent. As such, the three countries agreed to collaborate through the SPP on the sustainable development of the oil sands resources and an ad hoc Oil Sands Experts Group was formed that includes the U.S., Canadian and Alberta Government representatives. The first deliverable for the Group consisted of the following: ‘By January 2006, building on joint discussions with key stakeholders and scientific experts, issue a report that discusses the mid- to long-term aspects of the oil sands product market development and the infrastructure and refinery implications for increased oil sands market penetration.’ To meet this deliverable, the Group convened a workshop in Houston, Texas, on January 24-25, 2006, that was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). […] The workshop brought together experts representing the oil sands industry, refiners, marketers, pipeline companies, and government.”
On several occasions, the SRC blamed the current situation on the Conservative government. As you know, the situation is much more complex, and goes beyond the election of a Conservative government on January 23, as suggested by Radio-Canada.
It is noteworthy that the report by Natural Resources Canada is made up of recommendations, whereas the reporter implied that it is binding and that the Conservative government approves the recommendations from the outset.
The SRC story contained a number of factual errors, including one regarding the appointment of the former environment minister, Ms Rona Ambrose. The story indicated that Ms Ambrose was appointed on February 16, when in fact she was appointed minister on February 6, 2006.
The report took a sensationalist tone and sought to draw a direct link between oil sands development and the election of the Conservative government, a link that is more than dubious.
On the program “Tout le monde en parle,” host Guy-A Lepage stated that the report might bring down Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government. How could he make such a claim when most of the facts occurred under the Liberal government led by Paul Martin?
The wording used suggested to viewers that there was a link between the two events. How can any kind of link whatsoever be drawn between that meeting by oil industry leaders in Houston and Prime Minister Harper’s election the day before? There is no link between these two completely separate events. The timing angle, by which the events were depicted as occurring together within a broader environment, was unacceptable as worded in the report. There was no further clarification that would enable viewers to realize that these two events were completely separate from each other.
If the reporter felt it was important to indicate the timing of the meeting in Houston, a more nuanced wording -notably with regard to syntax- such as “Incidentally, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was elected on January 23,” would have had the advantage of dispelling any ambiguity. And as you know, the meeting of oil industry leaders was convened under the Liberal government of Paul Martin.
Furthermore, Radio-Canada spread misinformation that Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President George Bush met secretly. That information is completely false: no secret meeting or deal took place between Prime Minister Harper and President Bush.
A lot of things happened on January 24 and 25, 2006. I hope that not all those events that took place the day after January 23 have a direct link with our election. That would be rather bizarre timing.
I also want to clarify once again that our government was sworn in on February 6, 2006, which means that on February 6, 2006 , the Liberal Party of Canada was still in power.
This incident in no way diminishes my confidence in the excellent work carried out by the Société Radio-Canada. Media impartiality is essential in the knowledge and information society. The quality of our media institutions depends on it, as does the maintenance of the high degree of journalistic integrity that characterizes the SRC. We acknowledge that we are at odds with the SRC’s position. We are calling on you to consider the facts properly, so that the truth can come out of this misunderstanding.
I hope this meets with your expectations.
Director of Communications
Prime Minister of Canada