Canada's Hub for International Affairs


Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The live discussion begins at 4:00pm EDT

The Canadian brand, which used to consist of the four Ms – moose, mountains, mounties, maple syrup – is under a lot of pressure these days, and our increasing reliance on natural resources in the economy is at least partly responsible. In a world where being low-carbon and green is the goal of many countries, Canada appears to be out of step. The negative headlines garnered by Alberta’s oil sands, especially in the US and the EU, have dealt a considerable blow. So too has Canada’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto agreement. There are other negative connotations to being an oil producing nation. Although energy production is increasingly a high-tech endeavour, involving sophisticated information technology, automation and the latest in biochemistry, there is still a stigma attached to being a resource economy.


Discussion Questions

  • How can Canadians improve our energy brand at home and abroad?
  • Should Canadian oil companies change their behaviour, or just improve their marketing? Australia has higher per capita carbon emissions than Canada, yet still retains a better international image. What can we learn from their experience?
  • How does Chinese investment in the oil sands impact Canada’s “America’s best friend” brand?
  • How can Canada develop a brand that doesn’t hurt – but helps – our non-resource sectors?
  • What can we learn from other countries’ branding experiences? Should we follow the example of energy-rich Norway, for example, which held a national conversation and decided to mitigate the impact of its oil riches on the economy by setting up a savings fund and investing the proceeds abroad? Should we look to Australia, which has embedded mining in its foreign policy and is in the process of passing a carbon tax?



Ezra Levant is a columnist for Sun Media newspapers and the anchor of a daily news commentary show on the Sun News Network. Ezra was the publisher of the Western Standard magazine and has written for Sun newspapers going back to his days as a student. A lawyer by profession, Ezra is also the author of several best-selling books including 2009’s Shakedown about Canada’s human rights commissions and 2010’s Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oilsands.

Read his opening statement >>


Bev Tudhope is the former chief executive of Interbrand Canada where he oversaw the business and strategic direction of the company. A member of the Canadian Marketing Association and the Toronto Board of Trade, Bev is an internationally recognized leader in brand strategy and design, and has provided thought leadership, strategic planning and creative counsel to leading corporations for more than 25 years.

Read his opening statement >>


Dan Wicklum is the Chief Executive of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. He previously worked at Environment Canada in various senior science management roles including Director General of Wildlife and Landscape Science and Director General of Water Science and Technology.

Read his opening statement >>



Other Recommended Reading

Saudi Arabia. Nigeria. Venezuela. Canada?: Is our neighbor to the north becoming a jingoistic petro-state?
Will Oremus | Slate

What is Canada’s Brand?
Simon Houpt | The Globe and Mail

Bad Media is Better than None
Jennifer Jeffs | OpenCanada

Quitting Kyoto: Un-Canadian
John Hancock | OpenCanada

Dirty Oil Diplomacy: The Canadian Government’s Global Push to Sell the Tar Sands
Climate Action Network Canada

The “Dirty Oil” Card and Canadian Foreign Policy
The Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute




Alex Wood

Senior Director, Policy and Markets at Sustainable Prosperity


“Dirty Oil: Rebranding Canada’s Energy Sector” is a topic chosen to imply that the biggest thing Canadians have to worry about with regard to our energy sector is that it is sullying Canada’s good name internationally. Even if that were the case – and the evidence is pretty slim of any such impact – what Canadians really should be thinking about and discussing is what the current single-minded focus on oil sands means for our economic future.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that both the federal government and the government of Alberta see the oil sands as the proverbial golden-egg laying goose, and are moving heaven and earth to facilitate its development.

What a goose! And what a golden egg! But if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor, it is rarely prudent to have just one egg – as golden as it might seem – in one’s economic basket. As the good people of Alberta well know, there is no business like a commodity business to turn on you in an instant. The dangers extend beyond Alberta, though, especially if the pitch to have the country’s manufacturing centres feed the large infrastructure needs of the Fort McMurray region takes hold, and we all become dependent on the global price of oil. A mature nation and economy like ours needs to pursue a deliberate policy of diversification, and to seek out and develop markets for services and products that reflect the full range of our people’s genius and hard work. To do otherwise is to accept a substantial downside risk on our economic future. 


  • Emily

    I want to emphasize that Canada’s newfangled reputation as a petro-State has been earned by the actions of this government and those of the oil industry. That reputation is (some would argue) a legitimate and appropriate byproduct of the choices that were/are still being made. Changing that reputation isn’t as simple as rebranding the country (otherwise known as greenwashing). It’s about envisioning a future that we can be proud of, asking ourselves tough questions about the type of economy we want and what the consequences of those choices are. A bad rep is far from the worst consequence of oil sands exploitation. After all, the oil sands are stigmatized for many valid scientific and empirical reasons.

    The panel questions raise some interesting issues but I’m weary that the participants aren’t well chosen to have a balanced debate. Who will provide insight into why the oil sands are stigmatized (a scientist would be great)? How can you have an informed conversation about Norway or China or the US without giving them an opportunity to speak? What about a depoliticized discussion about what our options are and what our economic resilience might look like if we (gasp) did pursue a low-carbon economy?

    Giving voice to pundits like Ezra Levant does little to raise the national dialogue on these key issues (as per CIC’s mission). It simply gives a stage to an actor who shamelessly inserts noise into debates that he’s unqualified to enter (see his ridiculous echo chamber, Ethical Oil, whose spokeswoman is frankly an embarrassment and affront to any kind of informed dialogue).

    I commend CIC for wanting to take these issues on, but true to its mission, I would encourage due diligence when choosing your speakers. The disintegration of public discourse and dialogue in Canada on these issues is astounding and I think it’s crucial to hold ourselves to an ever higher standard.

  • Canuck Chuck

    I was very surprised to see EthicalOil pundit Ezra Levant given a platform here. Through out the discussion he used fabricated numbers and failed to address many of the issues related to Oil Sands Production. Simply trying to “rebrand” Canada in the wake of international rebuke to our environmental policy blunders speaks to the second stage of Ezra Levant’s strategy.

  • Dave from Alberta

    Any forum with Levant just can’t be taken seriously.