Foreign donors backing opposition to Alberta energy sector

An investigation launched by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government found that foreign donors provided nearly $1.3 billion in funds for Canadian environmental campaigns between 2003 and 2019.

“It cannot be suggested that all funding designated for Canadian environmental initiatives was intended to support anti-Alberta energy campaigns, although most certainly some of it was,” the report notes.

The report was an election promise by Kenney’s United Conservative Party and lays out the "extensive network of environmental organizations, and some of their funding sources, that have sought to limit the growth — or shut down entirely — Alberta’s oil and gas sector."

“From my perspective, I was surprised at how much we found, how co-ordinated and sophisticated and well-funded these campaigns were,” said Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage in an interview. “It was a lot of money, coming from across the border, from foreign jurisdictions that came in to influence domestic policy, to influence legislation and regulatory matters, policy, and we should care about that.”

The inquiry, launched in June 2019, faced opposition (ultimately unsuccessful) in an Alberta court and has been described as a “smear campaign,” a “political witch hunt,” and, per NDP leader Rachel Notley, “a complete waste of money.”

Yesterday, Notley reiterated her criticisms. “Our provincial government must be focused on finding jobs, not looking for enemies. Instead, they are deliberately lying about the funding being provided to charitable groups and the intended purpose of that money."

Savage retorted: “It’s about finding and documenting a piece of history — an important piece of history that harmed Alberta — and understanding what the tactics were, what happened. I’m more interested in looking to the future and making sure we learn from that.”

Simon Dyer, deputy executive director of the Pembina Institute, a Canadian energy think tank, also commented.

“In general, it just goes to show a costly and wasteful exercise that I think is going to continue to damage Alberta’s reputation,” Dyer said in an interview.

Of the $1.3 billion donated by foreign groups, $897 million went to 31 Canadian environmental non-governmental organizations, nearly $22 million to six environmental legal organizations, and a further $6 million to other anti-Alberta resource organizations. A further $352 million, the report says, remained within the United States, but “focused on Canadian-based environmental initiatives.”

The inquiry identifies just 21 groups that have been engaged in anti-Alberta energy activities, deemed “participants” by the report. It includes organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace Canada and Sierra Club Canada Foundation, all of which continue to oppose energy projects in Canada.

However, the inquiry notes that it is unknown whether or not activism from said groups actually led to the end of Canadian energy projects.

“While anti-Alberta energy campaigns may have played a role in the cancellation of some oil and gas developments, I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays or cancellations,” writes one of the investigators in the report.

This report comes amid Ellis Ross's leadership for the B.C. Liberals in the neighbouring province, who has sought to rephrase the narrative towards how energy aids indigenous Canadians (himself being one).

“We were right on the cusp of First Nations in my region being able to look after themselves,” said Ross, who ran on helping get the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry off the ground.

Speaking towards the unraveling of oil projects in his home province, he says: “We were just starting to turn the tide on that opposition to everything. For the first time, since white contact, we were ready to take our place in B.C. and Canada. Instead, B.C. is not going to exist pretty soon in terms of investment. That is how worried I am.”

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