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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Alberta Government Plays Oil Sands PR Games While Canadian Forest Industries Show Leadership

I have to say the front pages of the Edmonton Journal for the past while have been amazing.  The stuff they are featuring is so much of what I am interested in for public policy and politics.  Some of the stories about the Alberta Minister of Energy telling a Middle East audience that the dead Syncrude ducks is a media event promoted by ENGOS has been astonishing.  He has shown an enormous sense of tone deafness as to what Albertans and the world are seeing happen in terms of how we are developing our vital oil sands resources.

Then the fact that the Premier can't get earned media in the Washington Post newspaper from a Letter to the Editor so he bought advertising space to run the content is telling.  In the Social Media world paid advertising is a necessary part of an y effective communications campaign.  That said, it is also well regarded as the price you pay for being boring. I will read the letter with interest.  Some of the media coverage n the paid ad has been "earned media" and the content has mentioned some vital points but rejection of a Letter to the Editor of one of the most influential newspapers in the USA has to speak volumes about how un-newsworthy they saw the letter from the Premier.

Buy space to run a text message on the Friday before a long weekend in the USA is damage control.  It is not and effective media strategy...but what is new for the $25m of propaganda programing the province perpetrated and cancelled early...again after being caught publishing misleading photographs of Alberta beaches.

Today's front page is reassuring and provocative in that it shows some conservationist, political and industry support to ensure the Canadian Boreal Forest is revered , respected preserved and respected as an intact and extensive ecosystem.  I have much more to say about this later but for now, know that I worked for a few years on establishing a policy for biodiversity offsets in the Boreal forest to mitigate the habitat destruction of the oil sands development.

The forest industry also hired me in 2005 to help them understand what it would take to have them to be seen and valued as the preferred stewards of the public Boreal forest assets. We know that answer now and much is being done by the forest industry to deliver on that brand promise - in very difficult times.

There was a time when the forestry sector was the economic pariahs of corporate social responsibility.  While not everyone in the industry is a stellar performer, many are now.  The oil sands and conventional energy industry need to go to school on how be be worthy of a social license to operate as developers of the public's natural capital.

If we did not have the forestry industry in Canada these days, for purposes of setting a positive corporate social responsibility model, we would want to invent it.  It is not all sweetness and light but the parties are on the right path and energy sector titans would do well to take a lesson from them and learn to be effective stewards and good tenants - not self-serving masters or their own universe.

The energy industry needs to be more concerned about the public interest and quit trying to bully government.  Elections are coming and there is lots of evidence of changes in the air.  Behind closed door deals with lame duck politicians is not a winning strategy to preserve a social license to operate in the public and shareholder interest any more.  Time for real engagement by industry and the public and time to quit the behind the scenes games we see being played now.    

So energy executive, take a forestry company leader to lunch and learn from them.  You need to change your attitude just like they did.