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Environmental groups push Ottawa council to ban fossil fuel ads

A photo of pumpjacks at work pumping crude oil near Halkirk, Alta., in 2007. Environmental groups are asking the City of Ottawa to ban fossil fuel ads. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A photo of pumpjacks at work pumping crude oil near Halkirk, Alta., in 2007. Environmental groups are asking the City of Ottawa to ban fossil fuel ads. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Environmental groups in Ottawa are calling on city council to ban fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships in city facilities.

Fifteen advocacy groups have signed a letter asking for the city to implement the change in the upcoming review of its corporate sponsorship and advertising policy, which will come before the finance and corporate services committee on March 5.

The groups are calling for a ban on misleading ads that promote oil and gas, or market the industry as offering a solution to climate change.

"It's in direct conflict between the city's commitments on climate and public health and equity," said William van Geest, program co-ordinator with Ecology Ottawa, one of the signatories of the letter.

"They're promoting the use of fossil fuel products, which we know have, you know, deleterious effects on people's lives [and] on our economy."

The city has made several big climate commitments, including declaring a climate emergency in 2019, and setting a goal of being net zero by 2050. Scientists have been clear about the negative effects of fossil fuels on the environment as well as human health.

Recently the federal NDP tabled a private members bill requesting a similar ban on a federal level, asking the government to take the same approach to fossil fuels as it did to cigarette ads in the 1990s.

Van Geest said he's in support of that bill, and thinks the city needs to do the same.

William van Geest, Program Coordinator with Ecology Ottawa says allowing ads and sponsorship by fossil fuel companies goes against the city's values.
William van Geest, Program Coordinator with Ecology Ottawa says allowing ads and sponsorship by fossil fuel companies goes against the city's values.

William van Geest, program co-ordinator with Ecology Ottawa, says allowing ads and sponsorship by fossil fuel companies go against the city's values. (Francis Ferland/CBC )

Some members in support 

One former councillor witnessed fossil fuel advertising in a city space first hand, and thinks something needs to change.

David Chernushenko was recently playing hockey at Brewer Arena when he saw an ad that said the fossil fuel industry is part of the climate solution.

"Here was this false, misleading lie on a paid ad in a municipal arena," said Chernushenko, who was the former chair of the city's environment committee.

"There is a responsibility to ensure that the city is screening any advertising that is bought ... that it's actually true."

Chernushenko also agrees that it goes against the policies that the city has committed to uphold.

Shawn Menard, chair of the city's environment and climate change committee says a phase out of the ads would make sense.
Shawn Menard, chair of the city's environment and climate change committee says a phase out of the ads would make sense.

Shawn Menard, chair of the city's environment and climate change committee, says a phase out of the ads would make sense. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Shawn Menard, the current chair of the environment committee, thinks phasing out the ads and sponsorships would be a good idea.

"If we're gonna meet those targets that we've set as a city, then we need to make sure we're doing all we can. It doesn't make sense to be advertising the very things that we say need to be phased out," said Menard.

"You see what the effects are in the city of Ottawa — we've seen derechos, windstorms, massive power outages, continued flooding."

Dan Chenier, general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News that the proposed policy specifies that ads in city facilities must comply with federal and provincial statutes and standards set out by the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

"The policy provides that advocacy advertising on City assets will include a clear indication of who is paying for the ad to ensure clarity that the ad message is the advertiser's and that it is not an endorsement by the City," said Chenier.