Retribution for furore over foreign funding of environmental organizations
By Markham Hislop
Most of Alberta oil sands production is owned by foreign companies. Who knew? Well, most of Alberta knew, it’s hardly a state secret, but apparently other parts of Canada didn’t get the memo.
A report released Thursday by ForestEthics Advocacy detailing foreign ownership of Alberta oil sands is big news in British Columbia, where proposals to build two new pipelines to the West Coast (the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion) are generating a lot of controversy. Not only will the pipelines run through some pretty pristine wilderness, but the bitumen will be transported to Asia in behemoth oil tankers and the thought of an ExxonValdez-style spill has British Columbians fretting.
Fuel was poured on the fire a few months ago when reports by pro-industry supporters accused environmental organizations, including ForestEthics, of being funded by American charities. There were accusations of “radical activists” paid for by lefty billionaires like the oil-soaked Rockefellers (oh, the irony!) interfering in Canada’s sovereign environmental review processes. The green groups defended themselves, partly by pointing out that the oil sands are mostly owned by foreigners.
Why is it ok to demonize foreign funding to protect the environment while foreign capital is polluting northern Alberta and emitting significant amounts of greenhouse gases, they asked?
Tit for tat in a very high profile and nasty public relations war, methinks.
This may come as a surprise to many Canadians, especially a few in BC, but the national economy is pretty much wide open to foreign investment. Ever since Brian Mulroney gutted Pierre Trudeau’s Foreign Investment Review Agency in 1985 and renamed it Investment Canada, the agency’s primary mandate has been to facilitate investment in Canada by foreign companies like the ones named in the ForestEthics report.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2011 foreigners invested $22.4 billion in Canada, bringing their total investment in the national economy to $607.5 billion.. You can bet that much of last year’s total found it’s way into the Alberta oil sands. But before Canadians get up on their high horse about other people owning our resources, let’s not forget that last year Canadian direct investment abroad was up $44.6 billion to $684.5 billion, leaving Canada ahead by $77.0 billion.
Somewhere in West Virginia or Wyoming (most of Canadian direct investment is in the United States), oppressed American workers are cursing their greedy capitalist Canadian overlords.
The consequence of an open economy is that non-Canadians have a stake in what we do and how we do it. The days of Trudeau’s aggressive nationalism are long gone. Modern Canada has no interest in nationalizing the oil and gas sector or erecting barriers to foreign investment (barring the odd political intervention, such as the Harper Government’s refusal to allow an Australian company to buy the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan).
So, to recap. About 71 per cent of the oil sands are owned by foreign companies. Even supposedly Canadian companies, like Suncor or Husky Energy, have a high percentage of foreign ownership.
“The tremendous amount of foreign ownership in the tar sands far exceeds industry standards and should raise alarms for every Canadian. With the majority of profits from tar sands operations flowing to foreigners, the question all Canadians should be asking is whose interest is Harper’s government serving?” says Tzeporah Berman, co-founder of ForestEthics.
Frankly, Harper and the oil sands companies are just getting back some of their own and they deserved a public slap. They cheered on the sidelines will Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver railed against foreign charities and environmental organizations. And they’ve supported, either with money or politically, proxy organizations like EthicalOil.org that have waged public battle with the environmentalists.
That said, both sides can cry me a river. I refuse to feel sorry for ExxonMobil, Shell Canada and their ilk; giant international energy companies with huge communications budgets are quite capable of advancing their side in a public debate. As, too, are the greens, who over the past three or four decades have mastered public advocacy and public relations.
The clash of ideas leads to truth.
So, let’s move on shall we? There’s serious work to be done.