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National gas lobby targets Burnaby’s new electrification rules

The Canadian Gas Association says it wants governments and the public to be aware of new rules reducing natural gas use, but environmentalists call their advertising 'astroturfing.'
National lobbyist Canadian Gas Association has set its sights on advocating against new rules in Burnaby that require electrified heat and water.

An “air campaign” of digital ads targeting new rules around natural gas in new Burnaby homes has raised local eyebrows, but the national lobbyist group funding the operation says it’s to generate awareness about “energy choices.”

Ads reading “Say ‘no’ to natural gas bans in Burnaby” have popped up on local (including the Burnaby NOW), regional, national and international news sites and social media.

The ads direct users to a website called Voice for Energy, which features slogans promoting “energy choice” and allows people to “Make your voice heard with our easy letter writing tool.”

The website does not include which organization runs the marketing program, but it states it is a “national initiative of gas energy companies and stakeholders who are passionate about preserving energy choice for Canadians.”

Reporting by Canada’s National Observer found links to CGA Enterprises, a subsidiary of Ottawa-based lobby group Canadian Gas Association.

Coun. Alison Gu said she’s concerned about the ad campaign’s “grassroots” image.

“They’re trying to pose as if they’re this grassroots organization, composed of residents, homeowners, who are concerned about others’ access to choice when having access to energy,” Gu said. “That is obviously not who they are.”

But Gu said she’s not worried about the ads in a local context, because Burnaby has already unanimously passed bylaws that will require electric heating and hot water and reduce the amount of natural gas used in new homes.

The changes are part of the city’s climate action goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and were supported by community members and industry, Gu said.

Gu said the top-down approach from the lobbyist group shows new pressures directed at local governments doing climate work.

“They’re coming to realize the truth, which is that municipalities represent a significant portion or influence of emissions in Canada.”

She added there’s more scrutiny at provincial and federal levels of government, where there are regulations around lobbying, like documenting meetings with ministers.

“When we’re seeing these kinds of air campaigns around energy being targeted at municipalities, that begs the question: what are they doing on the ground?” Gu asked.

Link to national lobbyists

Timothy M. Egan, president and CEO of the national natural gas lobby group Canadian Gas Association, said he’s pleased the campaign is getting attention.

He said the campaign is run through a subsidiary called CGA Enterprises, which he said is separate from the trade association.

He said the trade association, which is made up of utilities that distribute gas, like Fortis BC, is funded through things like conference fees, but its members don’t fund the CGA Enterprises subsidiary.

“Companies that are interested in participating in a campaign donate money to the organization to finance the campaign,” he said, and added, “Fortis offers no money to that campaign.”

He said the campaign is meant to go directly to the public and “encourage Canadians to engage with decision makers about their choices for energy going forward.”

“If officials are saying we’re going to ban (natural gas), then the people who are using it need to know,” Egan said, adding he wants to make sure governments are thinking of the implications of limiting a resource which currently powers more than seven million homes across the country.

Egan acknowledged “a certain amount of backlash” in the media around the campaign but added it isn’t “shady,” noting the articles have stated CGA Enterprises is the organization running Voice for Energy.

“It’s not as if anything’s being hidden there,” Egan said.

He said a major complaint is that the ads aren’t “a grassroots campaign.”

“I guess, insofar as the funding isn’t coming from you and me, as it were. The fact is it speaks to the grassroots needs of those millions of Canadians who may lose the ability to heat with natural gas.”

“The annoyance that I’ve seen comes from the environmental community. Does that surprise you?”

Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

B.C. has targets to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by 75 per cent by 2030.

Egan called them “aspirational targets.”

“Greenhouse gases are not, you know, posing a direct health risk to you day-to-day, unless you determine that any impact on climate is posing a health risk to you day-to-day,” he said.

'Disinformation,' says environmental group

Local community environmental groups like Force of Nature Alliance and For Our Kids Burnaby have supported the changes that will reduce natural gas in homes, in part due to the impact climate change has on health.

Sunil Singal, director of Force of Nature Alliance and climate campaigner with, said the campaign is spreading “disinformation.”

He recalled the 2021 heat dome, which killed 73 people in Burnaby and 619 people across the province, which “would have been virtually impossible without the added effects of climate change,” according to the province.

“They’re saying you won’t be allowed a gas fireplace or a gas barbecue,” Singal said. “These things are allowed, even though we know that they’re bad for your health.”

He said it was frustrating to see Voice for Energy ads “undermining a decision that the community has been advocating for, because we want to see climate action, and the city, again, has already voted on it.”

He called Voice for Energy ads an “astroturf” campaign, which means an orchestrated marketing campaign that presents itself as grassroots.

“I think it’s easy for a national oil and gas company to hire a lobby group to bully local governments, especially when they don’t see other levels of government taking as much bold action as they are.”