Tory-linked "Ethical Oil" website slams Canadian enviros over "foreign funding"
Directors from Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence say most of their money comes from Canadian foundations, companies and individuals and that the "Ethical Oil" website is distorting the facts.
Ethical Oil, a well-known pro-oil sands group supported by the industry and linked to the Conservative government, has introduced a new campaign claiming that foreign funding to environmental organizations compromises Canadian oil pipeline opposition.
The site, called OurDecision.ca, lists several major Canadian environmental groups and the donations they’ve received from American funding bodies. Describing these donors as “foreign billionaires” intent on “sabotaging the Canada’s national interest”, Ethical Oil says groups like the Pembina Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law, Ecojustice and Environmental Defence do not speak for Canadians and are manipulated by outside interests.
Pembina Institute's executive director, Ed Whittingham, said this attempt to smear the environmental community constitutes a “spurious and disingenuous argument”.
“It’s an interesting coupling of the ultra-right-wing movement and the anti-globalization movement,” he said of the “splashy” online campaign, which was launched alongside corresponding radio and print ads.
Ethical Oil says the intention was to inform British Columbians ahead of the long-awaited public hearings over Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat. They have even activated a new Twitter handle, @ForeignPuppets, to directly mock and confront organizations speaking out against the project.
The pro-oil sands forum, EthicalOil.org, was originally created to promote the ideas in Sun News commentator Ezra Levant’s book, Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s oil sands. Until recently, it was operated by Alykhan Velshi – former staffer to Conservative Minister Jason Kenney and now director of planning for the Office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Alykhan Velshi and Minister Jason Kenney. Photo from Macleans.ca
Now, Ethical Oil’s major spokesperson is Kathryn Marshall, a political commentator and columnist for 24 Hours Vancouver whose husband, pollster Hamish Marshall was previously manager of strategic planning for the Prime Minister’s office.
Kathryn Marshall debates Elizabeth May during the 2011 Durban climate conference. Screen capture from video.
While the “Our Decision” website may be new, this is not the first time Ethical Oil has criticized “anti-oil sands” groups for accepting foreign money. Marshall wrote a similarly critical op-ed that appeared in the Vancouver Sun in December, blaming Pembina’s foreign funding for “undermining” efforts to expand oil sands production.
In a blog post responding to these allegations, Whittingham both acknowledged and expressed pride in the organization’s sources for funding. Pointing out that Pembina is an advocate for responsible development and not strictly “anti-oil sands”, he suggested that a globalized approach is necessary as Canada’s decisions could have global implications.
“I think Canadians are intelligent. They know that we live in a globalized world,” said Whittingham, confident that citizens will see past Ethical Oil’s argument.
“They’re concerned about environmental protection and sustainable economic growth. And they know that it’s a global endeavour, it’s not just a parochial, small, narrow-minded Canadian one.”
Gillian McEachern is the Program Manager for Energy and Climate with Environmental Defence, one of the other organizations listed on the OurDecision.ca website. McEachern agreed with Whittingham’s sentiments around globalization, suggesting that the Ethical Oil campaign “misses the point”.
“The question from our perspective isn’t which side of the border you’re on, it’s which side of the issue you’re on,” she said.
“We are working to tackle climate change, which is one of the biggest global challenges we’re facing at the moment. Given the scale of the problem and the fact that climate change in itself is a global challenge, and the oil industry is a global industry, we are happy to work with Americans and others who want to help fix the problem.”
McEachern said Environmental Defence is focused on the tar sands issue because of its environmental impacts, its role in driving climate change, and the fact that it’s “holding Canada back” from taking climate change seriously and participating in global agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.
Comparing the donation figures listed on OurDecision.ca to billion-dollar revenues generated by major oil sands producers like Shell and Imperial Oil, McEachern said the scale is “unbelievably out of whack”.
“Big oil companies have always had more resources to fight action on climate change than the people who are trying to fight for action,” she said.
Foreign funding low compared with Canadian donations
McEachern noted that since Canadian charities are required to publicly disclose their funding, it’s no secret than many environmental groups accept donations from foreign bodies. But both she and Whittingham said despite the Ethical Oil argument, the proportion of funding coming from outside of Canada is quite low in comparison to other sources.
“Foreign sources of funding account for less than 10 per cent of [Pembina’s] overall funding,” said Whittingham.
He said the bulk of Pembina’s financing actually comes from Canadian foundations, governments and Canada-based transnational companies – many of which are drawn to the organization because of their clean energy consulting work.
According to McEachern, Environmental Defence is in the same boat, receiving only 10 per cent of their funding from foreign sources. She said that unlike some industry players, the organization makes no attempt to hide where their money comes from.
“It’s bizarre to see it sort of being ‘disclosed’, when we’re transparent about our funding,” she said.