The other week the Canadian Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent accused Canadian Charities of “laundering money” because they accept some funds from outside the country. This has all been part of a larger effort – championed by Ethical Oil – to discredit Canada’s environmental organizations.
As an open government and transparency in politics advocate I find the whole conversation deeply interesting. On the one side, environmental groups have to disclose who funds them and where the money comes from. This is what actually allows Ethical Oil to make their complaint in the first place. Ethical Oil however, feels no need to share this information. Apparently what is good for the goose, is not good for the gander.
The media really only touches on this fact occasionally. In the Globe an Mail this hypocrisy was buried in the last few lines of a recent article:
Ethical Oil launched a radio ad Tuesday that will run throughout Ontario flaunting the proposal as a way to lower oil prices and create jobs.
Mr. Ellerton said he couldn’t immediately provide an estimate for how much the group is spending on the campaign. He also refused to reveal who funds the lobby group, other than to say: “Ethical Oil accepts donations from Canadians and Canadian businesses.”
The group has supported the Conservatives move to end foreign funding of environmental groups, including those that oppose the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline projects. Mr. Ellerton has campaigned to expose the funding behind those groups but said he could not shed more light on his own organization.
“We have an organizational policy not to disclose who are donors because we’ve faced lawsuits in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said, “and we don’t want to expose our donors to that kind of litigation.”
Of course, the the notion of what a “Canadian Business” means is never challenged. It turns out that many of the large “Canadian” players in the oil sands – those with corporate headquarters in Canada – are barely Canadian. Indeed, a recent analysis using Bloomberg data showed that 71 per cent of all tar sands production is owned by non-Canadian shareholders.
Consider the following ownership stakes of “Canadian” businesses:
Petrobank Energy Resources: 94.8% foreign owned
Husky Energy: 90.9% foreign (this one really surprised me!)
MEG Energy: 89.1% foreign
Imperial Oil: 88.9% foreign
Nexen: 69.9% foreign
Canadian Natural Resources Limited: 58.8% foreign
Suncor Energy: 56.8% foreign
Canadian Oil Sands: 56.8% foreign
Cenovus: 54.7% foreign
I think it is great that Ethical Oil wants greater transparency around who is funding who in the Oil Sands debate. But shouldn’t they be held to the same standard so that we can understand who is funding them?
If Ethical Oil and the government want to call it money laundering when a foreign citizen funds a Canadian environmental group, should we also use the term if a foreign (often Chinese or American) entity plows money into Ethical Oil?