Investigation: Big Oil’s most powerful lobby group held more meetings with feds in 2020 than any other year on record

John Woodside & Xavier Richer Vis
Illustration by Ata Ojani

Jan. 11, 2023

Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby won’t let a crisis go to waste. As the global pandemic seized economies in 2020, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) went on the offensive, recording hundreds of meetings with government officials — more than any other year on record — data obtained by the Investigative Journalism Foundation and Canada’s National Observer reveal.

Led by CEO Lisa Baiton, CAPP is the fossil fuel industry’s chief lobby organization in Canada. It wields a multimillion-dollar budget and represents 41 oil and gas companies, big and small, involved in fossil fuel exploration and extraction. Fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change.

From 2009 to 2019, CAPP’s in-house lobbyists averaged 117 meetings per year. That figure more than doubled to reach an all-time high of 269 meetings in 2020 — more meetings than business days in the year — underscoring Big Oil’s full-court press. Those 269 meetings happened on 149 unique days.


According to a letter CAPP sent then-Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan in March 2020, the lobby group’s priorities were primarily pandemic-related and aimed to convince Ottawa to defer or relax a raft of regulations ranging from methane emissions reporting to wildlife monitoring.

While progressives pounced on a chance to speed up the energy transition off fossil fuels and towards clean energy, CAPP “saw the crisis as an opportunity to push the kind of slash-and-burn deregulatory agenda that would just slow the pace of the transition,” said University of Victoria associate professor James Rowe.

After that letter was sent, CAPP kept its foot on the gas, with its lobbyists meeting more government officials in April 2020 than any other lobbying group, including HealthCareCan, the organization representing hospitals and health organizations across the country.

More recently, according to CAPP’s lobbying registration, the association has been seeking money for its members to explore for new sources of oil from programs like the Environmental Studies Research Fund or a reinstatement of the Atlantic Investment Tax Credit. CAPP also seeks to influence regulations like the clean electricity standard, obtain government support for getting oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to new markets and, above all, to be constantly in conversation with the federal government to ensure its priorities are heard.

Specifically, in response to the federal government’s fall economic statement, CAPP said it wanted government support for a multibillion-dollar carbon capture project, and was “encouraged” to see increased funding for the Impact Assessment Agency and Canada Energy Regulator to more quickly stickhandle projects through the regulatory process.

CAPP did not return multiple requests for comment.

For a decade, Canada's biggest oil and gas lobby averaged 117 meetings with government officials each year. Then the pandemic hit — and in 2020, CAPP hit an all-time high of 269 — more meetings than business days in the year. #cdnpoli #CAPP - Twitter


Given that CAPP is one of the most active lobby groups in the country and the organization’s goals appear to be closely aligned with those set by the federal government, it’s clear their efforts pay off, Rowe said. “They're not dumb, they wouldn't be spending all of these resources if it wasn't effective at getting what they want.”

CAPP’s power and influence

CAPP directly employs 29 lobbyists at the federal level who frequently meet with government officials to shape policy, but it is impossible to know precisely what is discussed at each meeting. Lobbyists, most of whom are required to report their “oral and arranged communications” with government officials, typically submit boilerplate descriptions outlining a range of topics. They also don’t have to publicly report meetings initiated by government officials.

The money to hire this team of lobbyists comes from membership dues, with oilsands majors like Suncor, Cenovus, Canadian Natural Resources and Imperial Oil contributing the lion’s share.

Though it does not report its exact revenue, the association’s 2021 membership form shows dues are $3.99 per barrel of oil (equivalent) –– an industry term used by companies to combine oil and gas reserves into a single unit of measurement. Based on 2021 expected production statistics, CAPP would have had a core budget of about $16 million that year.

As an oil and gas lobby group, CAPP’s chief goal is to ensure the continued growth of its members. That means trying to influence government policy to ensure it doesn’t threaten increased fossil fuel production, which scientists say must not happen if the world is to prevent catastrophic global warming. To that end, it works to keep politicians on side.

Yet the data obtained by the IJF and CNO reveal CAPP’s top government targets are not high-profile politicians but, rather, the civil servants who influence the decisions made by politicians.

From 2008 to 2022, the top lobbied government officials were:

  1. Mike Beale, former assistant deputy minister at Environment Canada
  2. Jay Khosla, Privy Council Office assistant deputy minister
  3. Andrew Noseworthy, assistant deputy minister for clean technologies at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
  4. John Moffet, assistant deputy minister at Environment and Climate Change Canada
  5. Mark Livingston, Export Development Canada regional vice-president


“It's a version of administrative capture,” said Rowe. “Politicians are coming in and out of office, and cabinets are getting shuffled all the time,” he explained, noting that ministers turn to senior bureaucrats for advice.

“Lobbying itself is kind of this hidden power, but there's a huge amount of hidden power in our unelected bureaucracy,” he said. “This isn't to make it some kind of conspiracy theory where they're all rubbing their hands and making nefarious deals, but they've got their own interests and relationships that can get established over the years.”

University of Alberta political science professor Laurie Adkin suggests some higher-profile ministers may be concerned about the optics of meeting so frequently with CAPP, so they send other officials. But beyond optics, she said CAPP is interested in influencing the details of policies, which is why it so frequently lobbies the bureaucracy.

“That's where the real meat of the matter is,” she said.

Adkin points to carbon pricing as just one example. The fossil fuel industry is prepared to accept carbon pricing but lobbies hard to influence the benchmarks and timelines used.

Oil and gas companies aren't fighting carbon pricing, University of Alberta professor Laurie Adkin says, but are working hard to influence the government's timelines for the policy. Photo by Julia Kilpatrick, Pembina Institute via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“That's where the industry always has enormous influence because they have expertise, they have data, they have personnel they can send in, and the government often relies rather heavily on the industry for that expertise and that data to produce the regulations,” she said.

Several of CAPP’s lobbyists have government connections stretching back years. CAPP’s director for Atlantic Canada, Paul Barnes, previously worked with the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board, the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil regulator. Claire Hafner, a government relations adviser with CAPP, was recently a legislative assistant and communications director for Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen, who sits on the natural resources committee. And another CAPP lobbyist is Paul Hartzheim, who was previously an economist with the National Energy Board (now called the Canada Energy Regulator).

CAPP’s agenda

CAPP’s goal is to ensure oil and gas production in Canada keeps expanding — especially between now and 2050, which is the window we have to limit global warming to 1.5 C, Rowe said. “Their efforts to facilitate expanded production are, so far, super successful.”

CAPP’s members are certainly benefiting: they received over $1 billion in wage subsidies during the pandemic, and the federal government is rolling out new subsidies to industry through a planned carbon capture tax credit that will cost the government $2.6 billion over the program’s first five years. Clean fuel standard regulations have been watered down, and Ottawa continues to throw billions of public dollars at the Trans Mountain pipeline to help Big Oil find new markets for its product.

Rowe says CAPP’s lobbying isn’t just limited to garnering support; it also aims to push off potential policies that would hurt its members’ bottom line, like a windfall tax some countries have adopted and Canada has dismissed.

Because it’s a registered lobbyist, CAPP is required to report some of its meetings with members of the federal government. It’s registered in provincial lobbying records, too, but not all provinces publicly report the extent of its lobbying.

“It's always difficult to trace a straight line between the access and the policy outcome,” Adkin says. “We're able to document the frequency with which they meet public officials and who they meet with, and very few details about what was discussed.”

The Investigative Journalism Foundation and Canada’s National Observer unpacked over a decade of lobbying data in an effort to better understand the influence. Going back to 2008, the IJF and CNO crunched over a thousand records to understand how often CAPP lobbies, what subjects it is most focused on and, critically, who CAPP lobbyists meet with. By taking a long view of the industry’s influence on government, important trends can be determined that reveal for the first time how influenced governments are by this powerful lobby group.

The data reveals CAPP lobbies most often on the subjects of energy, environment and taxation and finance. The data also shows the high-water mark for CAPP’s lobbying efforts was 2020, followed by 2012 and 2011.

Publicly available lobbying records do not cover the entirety of Stephen Harper’s time as prime minister, but of the records available, data reveals in-house CAPP lobbyists met with his government 879 times, compared to 897 times recorded by the Trudeau government as of June.

CAPPs priorities

CAPP is so successful as a lobbying organization, its influence has drawn the attention of climate observers outside the country. The U.K.-based Influence Map describes CAPP as a lobbying juggernaut that generally seeks to undermine most climate policy. Its lobbying “appears to weaken aspects of ambitious climate regulations at the federal and provincial level in Canada,” Influence Map says. A November report published by Influence Map analyzed the world’s most obstructive climate lobby groups and ranked CAPP fifth.

Before the pandemic, CAPP outlined in 2019 what it called two climate-related “key opportunities” to the federal government that now dominate the country’s oil and gas strategy: carbon capture and LNG exports.

Taken together, CAPP’s pitch is essentially that Canada can continue growing its fossil fuel industry by cutting emissions from the production stage and exporting oil and gas overseas, where the emissions from burning fossil fuels are no longer Canada’s responsibility. This belief hinges on the argument that the world still relies on fossil fuels and will for years to come. But it ignores warnings from scientists that in order to prevent catastrophic global warming, fossil fuels must be phased out across the entire world.

“Either you have a sense of global citizenship and solidarity with other people or you don't, and the Liberals just can't have it both ways,” said Adkin.

Still, CAPP’s sales pitch was recently used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while touting climate progress. When asked about CAPP’s lobbying, Ian Cameron, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s director of communications, said the group’s lobbying efforts picked up as the federal government introduced more climate initiatives.

The prime minister of canada (a white man) sits in a white armchair, shown from the shin up, gesturing with both hands
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at the national climate conference 2030 in Focus: Getting the Next Decade Right on Net-Zero. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada's National Observer

“​​As we continue to raise our ambition on climate action, stakeholders of all viewpoints correspondingly raise the level at which they reach out to the government,” he said. “Our priority remains fighting climate change while creating jobs and growing a strong economy that works for all Canadians,” said Cameron.

Cameron also pointed to the price on pollution and the plan to slash Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2030 as examples of the government’s climate action.

The lobby group is at least partially responsible for “this wackadoodle situation” where the Canadian government is declaring steps to draw down domestic emissions while completely sidestepping the fact oil companies are planning to grow production over the next number of years, Rowe explained. “They're adhering to the letter of the Paris Agreement, but just completely pissing on the spirit of it.”

CAPP’s most high-profile win in the Justin Trudeau era was when industry convinced the federal government to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline.

By now the story is well known, but the broad strokes are that the pipeline’s previous owner, Kinder Morgan, didn’t see a business case for an expansion when it was expected to cost $7.4 billion. Then CAPP president Tim McMillan publicly called for Ottawa’s support, and CAPP lobbying ratcheted up. The federal government bought the pipeline, and its costs have now soared to over $21 billion.

Workers prepare the route of the Trans Mountain pipeline across a golf course near a subdivision in Chilliwack, B.C., in late April 2022. Photo by Jesse Winter / Canada's National Observer

Before Trudeau’s time, in 2012, CAPP scored a big win for its members when Harper’s government gutted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. About 90 per cent of industrial projects that would have previously been subjected to environmental assessments were no longer under that scrutiny, and large pipeline projects, like Trans Mountain and Keystone XL, saw the responsibility for their environmental assessments transferred from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the federal energy regulator, then called the National Energy Board (NEB). By transferring responsibility, the NEB could do its own “national interest” assessment, paving the way for Trudeau’s Trans Mountain purchase, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives explains.

The decision dovetailed with CAPP’s position at that time. In a letter obtained by Greenpeace through an access-to-information request, CAPP told Harper’s environment and natural resources ministers that existing legislation, like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, was “outdated.”

“At the heart of most existing legislation is a philosophy of prohibiting harm; 'environmental' legislation is almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes,” reads the letter signed by then-CAPP president Dave Collyer, Brenda Kenny, then-Canadian Energy Pipeline Association president, Timothy Egan, Canadian Gas Association CEO and Peter Boag, former president of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute.

Rowe said there’s no way to know exactly how influential CAPP is on Parliament Hill, but when looking at over a decade of lobbying, there’s an unavoidable conclusion: CAPP tends to get what it asks for.

“They want to grow (oil and gas) production at the same time we should be sunsetting the industry, and that's insane to do that,” he said. “They're getting their way from the government.”

Updates and corrections

 | Corrections policy
January 11, 2023, 11:35 am

This story has been updated to reflect that if government invites CAPP to a meeting, it does not have to be recorded.

[Top: Illustration by Ata Ojani]