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TransCanada hires controversial PR firm to derail public opposition to the Energy East pipeline


There are now multiple news articles that report Calgary-based TransCanada hired the controversial public relations firm Edelman in an attempt to derail growing public opposition to its proposed 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East tar sands pipeline. The P.R. firm began working for TransCanada in February and submitted detailed proposals to them in May and August.

Among the various tactics to be undertaken, Edelman proposed in their ‘Promote, Respond, Pressure’ document to “prepare a research profile of key opposition groups by examining public records (including financial disclosures, legal databases and legislative records), traditional media sources (news databases such as Lexis-Nexis and Factiva) and social media (Facebook, Twitter and other relevant sites). …We will begin with the Council of Canadians. Other possibilities include Equiterre, the David Suzuki Foundation, Avaaz and Ecology Ottawa.” The overall plan was to “add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources.”

CBC reports, “Documents obtained by Greenpeace and shared with CBC News show the energy company is using the U.S. public relations firm Edelman, the largest in the world, to promote the massive oil pipeline project. …In strategy documents prepared for TransCanada, Edelman warns [TransCanada] it will need to counter ‘permanent, persuasive, nimble and well-funded opposition groups’. …It suggests a three-pronged approach — promote the pipeline, respond aggressively to any criticism and apply pressure on opponents using ‘supportive third parties who can put pressure on, especially when TransCanada can’t.'”

The Toronto Star reports, “The company ‘is bringing in tea party tactics, the advertising has been crazy and yet opposition is growing’, said Andrea Harden-Donahue of Council of Canadians. On being specifically named in the internal documents, she said everything about the Council of Canadians is on the website. ‘We could save them millions of dollars … we have nothing to hide’.”

The Canadian Press reports, “TransCanada PipeLines acknowledges it considered aggressive tactics such as using proxy groups to attack opponents of the company’s proposed Energy East pipeline. But [likely utilizing more spin, TransCanada] says it did not accept those recommendations outlined in leaked documents from the Edelman public relations firm obtained by Greenpeace. …Environmental groups targeted in the outline of Edelman’s communications plan for Energy East remain wary. ‘They knew who they were hiring’, said Andrea Harden-Donahue of the Council of Canadians. ‘Edelman’s been involved in questionable tactics before.'”

The company has been involved in at least two high-profile scandals.

It was implicated in the Walmarting Across America blog affair. Business Week reports, “The site featured the musings of a couple known only as Jim and Laura as they drove cross country in an RV, and included regular interviews with Wal-Mart workers, who were dependably happy about the company and their working conditions. [But] Jim and Laura weren’t real people … the woman [was] Laura St. Claire, a freelance writer and an employee at the U.S. Treasury department [and] Jim Thresher, [was] a staff photographer at The Washington Post. [An investigation revealed that] Wal-Mart was paying plenty for the couple’s support, including money for renting the RV, gas, and fees for writing the blog.”

And Edelman has worked for the American Petroleum Institute to counter climate change legislation in the United States. The Checks and Balances Project reports, “The launch of API’s Energy Citizens campaign was controversial from the start, after an internal launch memo went public, detailing how oil companies should recruit employees to attend rallies organized by oil industry lobbyists. …There has [also] been criticism of the truthfulness of [their] advertising, particularly the claim that 9.2 million Americans are employed as a result of the industry’s economic activity. [And] attendees [at the open call for their ‘Vote 4 Energy’ commercial shoot were] given strictly worded lines to repeat, but any deviation from the lines brought a prompt dismissal from the set.”

The Guardian UK reports, “The battle plan drawn up by Edelman for Energy East calls for a budget for the recruitment of 35,000 activists in 2014 alone. It also involves 40 paid Edelman staff working out of the public relations firm’s offices in Washington DC. Nine TransCanada employees will also work on the campaign, according to the documents.”

That article highlights, “The Council of Canadians said the ambitious scale of the PR pitch suggested TransCanada was concerned about growing opposition to the project. ‘What this speaks to is that they are losing’, said Andrea Harden-Donahue, climate campaigner for the council. ‘What these documents reveal is that they are bringing Tea Party activists into the equation in Canada combined with a heavyhanded advertising campaign. They are clearly spending a lot of time and thought on our efforts. I’d rather see them address the concerns that we are raising.'”

And the New York Times reports, “If TransCanada or Edelman did investigate, Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, said they probably would come up with little fodder. ‘I’m a grandmother’, she said. ‘To me it’s a sign of desperation’, she added. ‘It’s basically all wrong, and it takes away from the public debate we should be having.'”

For more on this situation, please see our media release TransCanada hired world’s largest PR firm to target Council of Canadians’ Energy East campaign. And for more on why we are opposed to the Energy East tar sands pipeline, you can go to our campaign web-page here.