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Greenpeace asks Elections Canada to investigate Ethical Oil

Greenpeace energy policy analyst Keith Stewart

Greenpeace Canada has asked the commissioner of Elections Canada to examine whether the Conservative Party is colluding with the pro-oil Ethical Oil Institute in violation of the measures in the Canada Elections Act that prohibit donations to federal political parties from corporations.

"It's clear there's cooperation (between Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party) there," Greenpeace Canada energy policy analyst Keith Stewart said. "What we're asking Elections Canada to investigate is whether there's been collusion, which would be illegal under the Elections Act." 

He added that he hoped for increased scrutiny to happen before the 2015 election, rather than have people "complain about it in 2016".

"We're hoping the commissioner will investigate, and that we can get a pre-emptive ruling against an oil patch-financed ad campaign through Ethical Oil for the Conservative Party," he said.  

Staff crossovers between Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party

Stewart said in a news release that Greenpeace compiled "troubling evidence" on the relationship between Ethical Oil and the federal Conservative Party. The connections, which are detailed in a letter on the Greenpeace website, outline a number of ties between the Conservatives and the institute, which has campaigned for the development of Canada's oil industry since 2011.

Ethical Oil Institute was founded in 2011 by Alykhan Velshi, former communications director for then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. A few months after setting up the organization, he returned to a senior position in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Velshi's successor at Ethical Oil, Kathryn Marshall, was also found to have Conservative Party connections. She is married to Hamish
Marshall, a former manager of strategic planning for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Further, the Ethical Oil mailing address was found to be the same as a mailing address once used by cabinet minister Tony Clement. Clement's office said at the time that it was "sheer coincidence".

Ethical Oil fired back on its website, saying that "Ethical Oil does not give any money to any political party, nor has Ethical Oil campaigned in any election."

"Greenpeace’s chief campaign tactic is to break the Criminal Code. They have conducted a long-running crime spree of vandalism, break-and-enter and mischief, putting the lives of their own young and naive volunteers at risk, as well as others working in industrial sites," Ethical Oil spokesperson Amanda Achtman said, noting that the Greenpeace (International) budget of $400 million was far larger than that of her organization.

Mirrored messaging

The letter also detailed a 'mirrored' messaging between the Conservative Party and Ethical Oil. After Ethical Oil began attacking environmental charities on its website in January 2012, and specifically called for an audit of the David Suzuki, an environmental charity, which it accused of accepting 'foreign funding' to engage in political activities. Shortly after, the Conservative government announced it would devote 8 million dollars over two years for the Canada Revenue Agency for extensive audits of environmental charities.

When the Vancouver Observer questioned then-finance minister Jim Flaherty over the reason for the audits, he said the government doesn't choose which organizations specifically to target for auditing, but that it does give direction.

Stewart stressed that Greenpeace was not a charity, but said the Conservative government appeared to be taking cues from the Institute when auditing prominent environmental charities, such as Environmental Defence, that have been critical of projects such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. 

"One of the things we're pointing to is a tag-team between Ethical Oil and the Conservative government," Stewart said. "Ethical Oil would ask [the government] to 'please audit this group' and the Conservative government would say, 'yes we will'. It's coordinated messaging, staff people moving back and forth, and co-ordinated attacks." 

Acthman said Ethical Oil "not accept any money from foreign sources", though she did not comment on whether there was any communication with the Conservative Party.


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