Jason Kenney’s inquiry to call to account foreign interests attacking Alberta’s oil sands sector is a tried and tested populist ploy.
Ever the political wonk, Kenney pulled a page from the dusty Alberta political past to craft this $2.5 million attack on what many would say is legitimate dissent.
The Social Credit party blamed the banking system for Alberta’s poverty in the 1930s, going so far as to try to institute a homegrown financial system to counter centralized banking it said was hobbling the prairie farmer.
Outside forces are handy targets. Us against them. The David and Goliath scenario, in which brave Alberta stands up against forces bent on keeping the province down.
But in 2019, the cracked and deeply flawed conspiracy theory fuelling Kenney’s inquiry should be a red flag to Albertans about whether he respects their common sense and sophistication.
His inquiry, to be conducted by Calgary Economic Development chairman Steve Allan, will supposedly get to the bottom of the foreign money flooding into the coffers of powerful environmental lobbyists against the oil sands. Allan will do research, hold public hearings and have subpoena power.
The rather tortured scenario underpinning the inquiry, stemming from the writings of pro-oil researcher Vivian Krause, is that international interests bent on keeping Alberta’s oil wealth in the ground are bankrolling the drive to stymie pipeline progress in Canada and keep Alberta oil at a price disadvantage on the international market.
Kenney has named organizations including Greenpeace and the Pembina Institute as beneficiaries of the plot and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Tides Foundation as funders.
The Pembina Institute has disputed the charge, pointing out it receives only about 15 per cent of its funding from non-Canadian sources. The organization is a pretty middle-of-the-road source of information on the environmental impact of resource development in Alberta, not an active intervenor in pipeline hearings.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has issued a statement fairly quivering with disbelief at how far off the charges are.
The conspiracy claim is pretty far out and it fails to account for the other side of the equation. If foreign actors have much to gain from keeping the oil industry in Alberta down, are there not just as powerful foreign actors who need to defend the sector for their own benefit?
The members of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers account for revenues of $101 billion a year. Several of those members include the Canadian subsidiaries of huge multinational firms. For instance ExxonMobile Canada, Koch Oil Sands Operating ULC, PetroChina Canada Ltd., ConocoPhillips Canada and Imperial Oil (69 per cent owned by ExxonMobile) are all members of CAPP.
Surely that well-funded, high power lobby can defend the interests of the Alberta ‘patch.
Yet for some reason, Kenney feels the government must step in with its inquiry and a $30 million “war room” to dispute misinformation about Alberta’s resource industry.
Most Albertans know the basic facts about current pipeline woes. Yes, large projects like the Trans Mountain expansion and Gateway ran smack into environmental and First Nation protests. But to suggest that foreign funding fuel all of those protests just doesn’t reflect the very real concerns of people on the B.C. coast who fear tanker spills, or First Nations who’s land would be traversed by the pipelines.
It also ignores the fact that Canada isn’t the only jurisdiction facing these kinds of protests. Keystone XL is mired in environmental and indigenous court challenges and political push back on U.S. territory.
Albertans also know that there are a host of economic issues facing Alberta’s resource development, including declining oil prices and how that balances with the more expensive process of extracting and refining the oil sands product.
The idea that money from out of country oil sands foes is having a major impact on that much bigger picture just doesn’t stand up. Devoting so much public money and political capital into simplifying much larger issues doesn’t add up.
In the end Albertans can think for themselves and the Alberta oil patch can tell its own story. Kenney’s attempt to crush opposing views just looks like a cynical “us against them” strategy pulled from a tired old playbook.
Photo Credit: CBC News
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