MPs want to hear from Suncor CEO in parliamentary committee

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada’s National Observer

MPs on the federal natural resources committee want Suncor CEO Rich Kruger to answer questions after Kruger indicated the oil giant must lessen its focus on energy transition to ensure maximum profitability.

On Sept. 18, NDP MP Charlie Angus introduced a motion to invite Kruger before the committee “to explain why he believes that the only ‘urgency’ facing the oil sector is to make as much money as possible while increasing production and abandoning their responsibility to help meet Canada’s international climate commitments.”

During a conference call with investors in August, Kruger said the company has a “disproportionate emphasis” on the long-term energy transition and needs to refocus on the fossil fuel giant’s money-making oilsands operations.

The motion was passed by the federal Standing Committee on Natural Resources on Sept. 18. All MPs except the Conservatives voted in favour.

“We have a right to know if Suncor is going to be a good corporate citizen at this time of climate crisis,” Angus told Canada’s National Observer in a phone interview on Sept. 18.

Suncor did not respond to Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment by publication time.

“Suncor hits up the Canadian government all the time in meetings and backroom meetings. They hit us up for huge tax credits and incentives to do the work that I think they should be doing,” said Angus. He says the least Kruger should do is be willing to come and explain his vision for the company and fossil fuel burning and how he sees Suncor and other oil companies playing a part in addressing the climate crisis.

Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs said in general, they support Canadian energy company executives appearing to inform committee members “who sometimes seem woefully uninformed” that Suncor and other energy companies have driven the development of renewables and alternative fuels. Nonetheless, she voted against the motion asking Kruger to speak.

Another Conservative committee member, Alberta MP Earl Dreeshen, said it’s misguided to “poke the finger at one of Canada’s largest employers” when “forestry issues” and the global energy situation are also in play.

Angus said this is a public interest issue because oil and gas companies are looking to the Canadian government and Canadian taxpayers to subsidize carbon capture technology.

“Talking about the urgency of making more money at a time when people were being burned out of their homes” on the August investor call demonstrated “complete indifference or disconnect,” said Angus.

Suncor is far from the only oil and gas company failing to walk the talk on climate change. Earlier this year, BP swapped out its pledge to cut emissions 35 to 40 per cent by 2030 for a less ambitious promise of a 20 to 30 per cent reduction and Shell will not be increasing spending for renewables this year.

The fossil fuel industry has a well-documented history of denying the existence of climate change and delaying climate action. California is currently suing five major oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute (the U.S.’s largest oil and gas lobby group) over the sector’s decades-long efforts to delay climate action. The lawsuit seeks compensation for damages caused by extreme weather events — like wildfires, droughts and extreme heat — made more frequent or intense by climate change.

This has been Canada’s worst wildfire year on record. As of Sept. 15, more than 17.6 million hectares of land have been burned and more than half of the 923 active fires were classified as “out of control,” according to data published by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

Screenshot of data from Sept. 15 published on the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre dashboard.

So far, nearly 200,000 people have been forced to evacuate during the 2023 fire season, Reuters reported in mid-August. Indigenous communities were disproportionately impacted by the wildfires, with over 90 First Nations evacuated since May, more than the previous four fire seasons combined, data analysis by Canada’s National Observer revealed.

While Canadians choked on smoke and fled their homes, oilsands companies continued to record handsome profits, according to Pembina Institute’s Sept. 14 update on industry profits and investments in emission reductions.

The Pembina Institute’s 2023 mid-year update shows oilsands companies — Canadian Natural Resources, Suncor, Imperial Oil, Cenovus and MEG Energy — are on track to record their second-highest profits, just behind what they raked in in 2022. The Pembina Institute says there have been no new investments in reducing oilsands emissions since its last update was put out six months ago.

The oil and gas industry is consistently the country’s highest-emitting economic sector, responsible for 28 per cent of national emissions in 2021, according to Canada’s annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

Suncor tripled its profits in a single year and announced it will lay off 1,500 workers this year, the motion points out.

Angus told Canada’s National Observer he expects Kruger “will take us up on the offer” to testify before the committee.

“If Mr. Kruger is not interested in coming to speak to parliamentarians, I would be willing to call for a subpoena,” said Angus, referring to the committee’s ability to issue a summons for witnesses who decline an invitation.

“The Canadian public is living with huge levels of climate uncertainty, climate fear, and they need to know that everybody — from corporations to public figures to politicians — everybody is taking this seriously,” said Angus.