November 9, 2011
Over the past several months, there has been increasing attention in the media on the role of US foundation funding of groups active in the Canadian environmental movement, including those involving the oil sands and associated pipelines such as the Northern Gateway pipeline. I believe these concerns are important, but it is time to bring some greater balance to the discussion.
Much of the information on US foundation funding has been uncovered by researcher and blogger Vivian Krause. According to Krauses’ blog, “since 2000 USA foundations have poured at least $300 million into the environmental movement in Canada.” Prominent mainstream media columnists have picked up on this research and used it to question the credibility of Canadian environmental organizations. This week, Calgary Herald business columnist Deborah Yeldin questioned the authenticity of opponents who have signed up to speak at the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, and blasted US foundations for interfering in these Canadian disputes. She asks “whether the involvement, nay, interference, by U.S. foundations in the development of Canada’s natural resources constitutes a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement or of Canadian economic sovereignty.” She concludes with what sounds like a call to arms for Canadian nationalists: “At a minimum, Canadians should be outraged there are organizations based outside this country that feel they have the right to interfere in the development of Canada’s natural resources.”
A month ago, Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe made a similar argument in a column entitled “Cash flow from U.S. to ‘green’ initiatives often hides private interests – Financial contributions sometimes thinly veiled attempts to help American industries gain unfair advantages over Canadian counterparts.” Yaffe argued “Canadians need to be aware that the long arm of American interests is behind many of the so-called grassroots protests taking place in Western Canada.”
I have a number of thoughts about these arguments. One is that the apparent dependence of the Canadian environmental movement on US foundations is dismaying. I wish more of their funding came from donations from members or charitable foundations in Canada. Second, there is little question that funding from US foundations has increased the capacity and influence of the Canadian environmental movement. Third, I find the arguments made by Krause and Yaffe that there is some kind of illicit commercial interest behind US foundations support for the Canadian environmental movement far-fetched.
We need to bring some perspective into the discussion of US and foreign influence in Canadian environmental and resource policy. The notion that foreign influence is on the side of environmentalists and in opposition to corporate interests in resource development is bizarre. Foreign ownership of the Canadian resource sector has been significant and long-standing. Statistics Canada keeps statistics on foreign ownership. The table below shows foreign ownership statistics for the 2009, the most recent year for which data are available. More than a third of assets in the Canadian oil and gas sector are foreign owned, and foreign-owned companies received 51% of all revenues in the sector. Here’s the membership list for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
|% under foreign control (2009)|
|Assets – all industries||19.6|
|Assets – oil and gas extraction and related activities||35.3|
|Operating revenues – all industries||28.5|
|Operating revenues — oil and gas extraction and related activities||51.1|
|Profits – all industries||20.1|
|Profits — oil and gas extraction and related activities||41.3|
These foreign-owned companies are certainly highly active in attempting to influence Canadian natural resource policy. Here is just one example of Chinese pressure being felt by Canadian policy-makers. Yedlin argues we “should be outraged organizations based outside this country that feel they have the right to interfere in the development of Canada’s natural resources.” Let’s just be sure when considering foreign influence, we are not only talking about US philanthropic foundations, but foreign-owned oil companies as well.
The Northern Gateway pipeline is proposed by Enbridge, a Canadian company, to ship diluted bitumen from Canadian and multinational oil companies in Alberta to Chinese or Californian refineries. It seems remarkable that media attention has been focused on US foundation influence on the Canadian environmental movement and ignored foreign influence of oil companies with billion dollar stakes in the issue.