The environmental 'plot' against Canada over oil sands?

Radical U.S. environmentalists are out to get Canada! And seize the energy, oil, and wood businesses for the U.S.! Or, so a hypocritical government says.

Crosscut archive image.

Canada's Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Radical U.S. environmentalists are out to get Canada! And seize the energy, oil, and wood businesses for the U.S.! Or, so a hypocritical government says.

OK, my American friends. Take down these names. You have to do this to help Canada. Call these people and take them to task for funding surreptitious campaigns against the Canadian economy: Paul Brest, CEO of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation; Carol Larson, CEO of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation; Rebecca Rimel, CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts; Jim Simons and Nathaniel Simons, the major donors behind the Sea Change Foundation; and Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

That’s what blogger Viviane Krause would like you to do. This list of people and their purported sins come directly from a recent Vancouver Sun article by the now-infamous blogger, a Vancouver freelancer who has been doggedly digging up details on U.S. funding of environmental campaigns in Canada.

Krause became a front-page sensation in Canada earlier this month after Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeated her conspiracy theory about U.S. interference in Canadian domestic affairs. “Growing concern has been expressed to me about the use of foreign money to really overload the public consultation phase of regulatory hearings just for the purpose of slowing down the process,” Harper said this week. Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver then went over the top in an open letter that set the online and mainstream media afire: "Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade," Oliver said.

He was referring to federal regulatory hearings on whether to approve Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline application to build twin 1,200-km oil pipelines from the Alberta oil sands (or “tar sands” to their detractors) to the head of a small inlet on the B.C. coast at Kitimat for shipment in giant bulk tankers to China. It’s the largest private investment in B.C.’s history. China will pay a premium price for the half-million daily barrels of diluted raw bitumen compared to current U.S. customers, generating a purported $270-billion of GDP over 30 years, which includes an additional $2.6 billion in government tax revenue.

Oliver went on, no doubt cheered by a tweet from a prominent national columnist that “never in history has a Canadian politician so forcefully taken on green ‘radicals.’ ” "Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth,” wrote the minister. “No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams."

Oliver says the groups "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda," by stacking the 18-month hearings (4,500 signed up at last count), by attracting "jet-setting" celebrities and using funding from "foreign special interest groups." Those are the people listed above, outed by Krause on her Fair Questions blog. Krause’s research revealed $300-million has been given to Canadian non-profits over the past 10 years by what she describes as activist U.S. charitable foundations with radical agendas aimed at crippling Canadian industry.

Their goal, according to Krause and now the prime minister, is to help Americans take over the international market — for oil, wild salmon, forest products, whatever — by pushing sustainability and environmental concerns, which in the Canadian government’s view are largely obstructionist and irrelevant.

The leading jet-setting celebrity opponent is Robert Redford, who referenced the pipeline in a Globe and Mail opinion piece ("Stand together against the tar-sands scourge") while he was filming in Vancouver in November: "Crossing the territories of more than 50 First Nations groups, slicing through rivers and streams that form one of the most important salmon habitats in the world and putting at risk the coastal ecosystem of British Columbia".

Another American organization, San Francisco-based Forest Ethics, is open, adamant, and unabashedly opposed to the pipeline. Its Canadian arm is run by the Tides Canada Initiative.

While no nation likes foreign interference in its domestic affairs, it doesn’t take a minute to puncture this pipeline of hypocrisy about foreign involvement in these hearings. Foreigners have been having their way with Canadian resources since two French traders approached a group of Boston businessmen to finance a trip to England to set up the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1688. It was only a few months ago that our prime minister was personally weighing in on the U.S. Keystone XL pipeline decision, campaigning for it in the U.S., calling it a “no-brainer.”

Oil sands producers — at least a third owned by foreign companies  from the U.S., Thailand, the U.K., Norway, Korea and, notably, China — are spending unaccounted millions lobbying on behalf of the Enbridge pipeline. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), international companies have invested nearly $20 billion in the oil sands in the last three years. The $5.5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline is being financed in part by the Chinese state-controlled company Sinopec, which can decide where the exported bitumen will be upgraded and refined (hint: it probably won’t be in Canada or the U.S.). Ten oil companies with headquarters outside Canada are among the 216 registered intervenors.

But the meddling American funders, including “billionaire socialists … people like George Soros,” are different, according to Minister Oliver. What the Chinese and other foreigners are doing is characterized as valuable foreign investment in economic development, compared to insidious interference by the radical Americans “trying to block projects which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in government revenue and trillions of dollars in economic development,” as Oliver puts it.

The palpable short-term economic benefits from this pipeline are impressive. Proponents are promising 4,100 person-years of direct on-site construction employment in B.C., then 1,150 full-time jobs across Canada, in addition to the government revenues. Opposition is mainly focused on the potential risks of a terrestrial pipeline break, and possible oil spills from massive supertankers plying the narrow, storm-tossed fjords leading into Kitimat. Those costs are less certain, more long-term, and much harder to quantify than the immediate economic returns of the pipeline. Even so, even the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce and B.C. Premier Christy Clark are staying neutral.

Describing all opponents of the pipeline as duped radical puppets of American industrial interests is a massive slur on the scores of First Nations people desperate to protect what’s left of their traditional food sources, especially the shellfish and seafood that still form their staple diet. Because B.C. is the only place in Canada without treaties with First Nations, the legal rights of the aboriginal communities along the route are probably the biggest impediment to a speedy approval, or perhaps any approval. Enbridge knows this, and says 40 percent of the First Nations along the route have signed on as partners, with more to come. 

The Canadian foundations and NGOs involved, many who see their role as facilitating solutions that respect the environment and the economy rather than outright opposition to all industry, are both outraged and frustrated at Minister Oliver’s accusations.

Ross McMillan, CEO of Tides Canada, one organization getting intense scrutiny from Krause because of the $60 million she says it has received from U.S. foundations, insists, “Tides Canada is not against the oil sands or other resource development projects. The organization does, however, support a comprehensive public policy discussion about the true benefits and costs of these activities, the pace of development, and about alternatives that could create jobs and prosperity for all Canadians."

Tides has an exemplary record in bringing together diverse interests to forge a new economy that will last well past the current oil boom. Its recently vilified U.S funders were actually in partnership with the B.C. and Canadian governments to implement the ground-breaking Great Bear Forest agreement for sustainable resource extraction from this treasured temperate rainforest adjacent to Kitimat.

Any efforts to work towards a future without oil seem to be considered near-treasonous by Alberta-based Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative majority government. His government pulled its funding from a federal-provincial oceans-management plan, the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area plan, because of purported links between the San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and groups supporting an extension of the current 30-year moratorium on oil-tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast.

This was to be a Canadian-led, science-based plan for a marine area where multiple uses would be balanced with conservation. Here too, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provided a grant to supplement B.C. and federal government money. Innovative marine conservation would preserve and enhance B.C.’s wild seafood jobs and the economic sustainability of First Nations communities along the coast — but this has been seen as another nefarious U.S.-based plot to undermine Canadian interests.

These are high-stakes times. Notwithstanding immense environmental, economic and social costs of extraction, many of them impossible to measure, Canada’s oil reserves are second or third largest in the world, depending on who’s counting. China wants that oil, the U.S. wants it, and Alberta-based producers, foreign and domestic, are eager to ship it out as fast as possible to the highest bidder. With billions of dollars in the balance, every attack strategy has become fair game. The discussion about whether the costs and dangers of squeezing out ever-less-accessible oil outweigh the payoffs has been pushed out-of-bounds by the U.S.-conspiracy believers.

Even arguments from David Hughes, a veteran geologist and prominent energy analyst, are included in the foreign-subversion category because his report received funding from San Francisco-based Forest Ethics. Hughes says the highly questionable tripling of Alberta oil sands production to feed the pipeline to China is not in Canada’s long-term energy security or environmental interests.

My guess is that majority of Canadians want a full discussion of all the costs and benefits of this proposed pipeline. Judging by the flow of money so far, they’re happy to take donations from any country to make sure all views are heard — no matter what side they’re on.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors