How Canada’s big oil firms are trying to sway public opinion – by Kelly Cryderman (Globe and Mail – June 11, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY — The images have become ubiquitous in the Canadian TV advertising landscape – earnest engineers working to unlock oil sands bitumen from Northern Alberta’s boreal forest, and manufacturers parlaying the Fort McMurray boom into jobs in Ontario and Quebec.

The oil industry has developed TV, print and online ads to extol the national economic and social benefits of the oil sands, and to battle critics who have emphasized the risk of spills, and say an overreliance on the energy industry as an economic driver means outsized greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.

The question is, are Canadians moved by the pictures and words paid for by big Canadian oil? Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative Research Group Inc. – a Toronto-based public affairs and corporate communications firm that counts a number of energy companies among its clients – believes there’s some potential to move “the mushy middle” of Canadian public opinion.

“When they’re given new information – which are the arguments the industry puts forward – they’re prepared to be swayed. That doesn’t mean they will be.”

A new poll by Mr. Lyle’s firm shows almost three in 10 British Columbians “strongly oppose” both oil pipelines and port facilities for oil tankers. That compares with about one in five strongly opposed in both Ontario and Quebec.

But the same survey – which Mr. Lyle said wasn’t commissioned by a client and used respondents from his regular national panel – shows overall opinions shift slightly to the positive after people are given oil “proponent messages” about the safety record of pipelines, the resulting cash flowing to governments to fund social programs, and the need to diversify Canada’s oil exports. For instance, the net support (total support minus total opposition) for oil pipelines in unconvinced B.C. improved by 12 percentage points when the same question was asked after a series of proponent messages.

The oil industry already seems to believes these messages can help to win over public opinion.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association is now spending $2.5-million annually on an array of advertising, including a visually compelling paper clouds TV ad that suggests pipelines are as important as highways or railways in maintaining national connections over vast distances.

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