CALGARY - The Alberta government will be rolling out initiatives over the next few weeks to combat "propaganda campaigns" against the oilsands, the province's energy minister told a business audience Wednesday.
"We have seen our province and our industry under attack from well-funded international groups and that's not going to lessen. I think it's just going to simply escalate," Ron Liepert told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
"Our biggest challenge will be the one where outsiders attack our credibility, where well-funded international groups paint us as uncaring of the environment during a time of international environmental correctness."
The oilsands have been the target of fierce criticism from environmental groups, who say the industry guzzles too much fresh water, harms wildlife and emits huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Some of the most ardent opposition has been in the United States and Europe.
"We will not sit idly by and let those propaganda campaigns happen," Liepert said. "Our future success lies not in what we do within our own borders, but rather how we develop markets and sell ourselves outside of the province."
Canadians outside Alberta need to understand how development of Canada's oilsands positively affects their own finances through equalization payments and the creation of manufacturing jobs, he said.
"There's not a lot of product that goes into the construction of an oilsands plant that comes from Alberta," Liepert told reporters.
"A lot of them are manufactured in Ontario or Quebec and I don't think those provinces realize that as Alberta goes, they go."
When pressed on what precisely the new initiatives will entail, Liepert said: "You'll have to wait."
However, engaging youth is a key strategy, as the government works with the education department to incorporate more "energy literacy" into school curricula.
Liepert also said youth should be encouraged to provide balance in social media, where a lot of the criticism is focused.
Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema said the province is "missing the point" in its attempts to improve its public image.
"It's not about increasing the amount of public relations that the province does but it's actually addressing the growing environmental and human rights problems associated with tar sands development."
To paint the oilsands industry as the underdog in the debate is misleading, Hudema added.
"The folks on the tar sands side are some of the richest companies on the face of the planet with multibillion-dollar budgets. So to try and suggest that we are the Goliath in the tar sands battle I think is another failed public relations attempt," he said.
The minister's combative remarks on the oilsands came a week after the province announced new measures meant to help Alberta's conventional oil and natural gas producers compete against other jurisdictions.
Liepert says the announcement reducing provincial royalties was a "turning point" for the relationship between the government and the industry.