Weve all seen the ads by now. You know, the ones that the feature the goofy guy in dark-rimmed glasses, interviewing people on the street about Prime Minister Harpers promise? No, not Harpers promise to allow Atlantic Canada to keep its offshore resource profits without tampering with its equalization payments. And not his promise to stay away from taxing income trusts. This promise had to do with ethanol. The advertisements are made to look like they are coming from an environmental group, praising Harper and the current Conservative government for their newfound green priorities, particularly the pledge to boost the amount of ethanol mixed into all Canadian gasoline to five per cent by 2010. But what these ads really are is a laughable attempt by the Conservatives to label themselves as environmental champions, positioned clearly as a pre-election maneuver. The ads are from the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA), but what exactly is it? According to a government website, it is a non-profit organization mandated to promote renewable bio-fuels (ethanol, biodiesel) for automotive transportation through consumer awareness and government liaison activities. The membership includes representatives from fuel marketing, fuel producing/processing, energy, agriculture, agri-business, forestry, engineering and environmental organizations, researchers and individuals who all share a common interest in developing alternative fuels from renewable resources. The CRFA is also a loyal right-wing Astroturf organization. Its executive director is Kory Teneycke, a former Reform Party youth activist who worked in the Conservative Party war room in the last election. The group is also involved with public relations consultant Phil von Fickenstein, who also works with another right-wing Astroturf organization, the Fraser Institute, and was Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Days director of communications when he was leader of the Canadian Alliance Party. He also served as senior media officer for Preston Manning. One of the CRFA ads also features Peter Kent, a former broadcaster who ran unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the last election. But what is perhaps worse about these ads is the way they try to push ethanol, an energy derivative of corn, as the next great environmental breakthrough. In fact, research has shown that the product could create as many problems as it solves. Check out this article in the Washington Post for a more in-depth explanation: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/23/AR2007032301625_pf.html Would the sale of corn as fuel not increase the cost of corn feed for cattle, thereby resulting in increased costs for both farmers and consumers? Sure, ethanol produces less greenhouse gases than gasoline, but it also has environmental drawbacks, according to a recent study by the University of Minnesota. Those drawbacks include markedly greater releases of nitrogen, phosphorous and pesticides into waterways as runoff from cornfields. Ethanol, especially at higher concentrations in gasoline, also produces more smog-causing pollutants than gasoline per unit of energy burned, the researchers said. The CRFA may be a non-profit organization, but it is funded by large companies and organizations such as Shell Canada and Sunoco. To purchase high-rotation ads on national television is not something your average environmental group could afford. And while the Conservatives Accountability Act bans corporations and organizations from contributing to political parties and candidates, it does not stop puppet groups like the CRFA from spending oodles of cash to forward their right-wing agenda. It is one thing for a party to blatantly attack another with its advertising. But to spread its message behind the mask of an independent organization is insulting to our intelligence.
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