The Transparent Hypocrisy of Ethical Oil – who is really laundering money

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?

4 thoughts on “The Transparent Hypocrisy of Ethical Oil – who is really laundering money

  1. Sara Ehrhardt

    David Eaves yet another great article! Thanks for this.
    I have been living in a cave and hadn’t heard of ethical oil or how serious the comments around environmental funding (‘money laundering’) have become.
    When I worked for a non-profit in an advocacy role (was not a registered charity) I accepted foundation funding from the US, worked on an issue what was partially funded by an organization based in the Philippines and mostly organized by Canadians, and also advocated (lobbied?) for Great Lakes protection in the United States. I though that all just made my organization part of the whole globalization thing though….

    I agree transparency is useful for all sides (foreign donations and foreign direct investment). I find the debate very interesting…if we think foreign donations are ‘money laundering’ what of international aid? What of organizations with international fundraising and fund transfer models like the YMCA or Focus on the Family? I contribute to organizations that advocate political views (often about transparency and human rights) in developing countries… and I also make business investments in other countries… does that make me part of money laundering?  

    Thanks for sparking an interesting discussion!

    PS – the ethical oil website says they don’t accept money from corporations…see from their website accessed May 17th below. But the executive director in the article you referenced said they did. Also the median size of a donation (rather than average) is an unusual metric to have used. Hundreds of donations at $38/contribution will not buy many Ontario-wide radio announcements.

    We do accept donations from individuals and companies, including those working to produce ethical oil. Since launching our website in July, hundreds of Canadians from all walks of life have donated through our PayPal button. The median size of our donations to date is $38. Even one dollar helps to get the word out. We believe that by using our blog, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube we can spread the word about Ethical Oil even without the money and professional staff that the anti-oilsands activists have at their disposal.

  2. JDrolet

    I heard about those “foreign” oil ownership figures last weekend on CBC.  The problem is not so much that we do not owe the oil, honestly…, nor that the oil industry skews the discourse, that is in their nature. The problem is that our governmental elected leaders do not only allow it but support it.

    I fail to understand that this does not get some traction with the public, even as CBC gets out one major story of corruption every other day for weeks and directly correlated with these elected leaders (e,g, fighter planes, UN report on diet, Baird’s grant, MacKay’s long list, contaminated sites, destruction of most basic environmental safeguards, getting at NGOs funding, postponing the review of the Integrity commissioner, etc. ) and that is just in the last two/three weeks!).

    So, we have an incredibly high level of wrongdoings, along with a high exposure (CBC), so, so to speak the perfect storm…. and yet, no public impact nor actions/strategy from the Opposition.

    I am starting to believe that we really deserve what is coming to us.

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  4. Pingback: Greenpeace calls for Elections Canada probe of Ethical Oil - Page 2

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