Anti-Energy Activism

Canada’s Stockholm syndrome

Mark Milke
October 12, 2018
Canada has been singularly successful in offering up its natural resource sector to its enemies. In the 1980s and 90s, foreign-funded eco- and aboriginal activists teamed up with Canadian politicians, public sector unions, and even some corporate sell-outs to bully the B.C. forest industry into submission.
Anti-Energy Activism

Canada’s Stockholm syndrome

Mark Milke
October 12, 2018
Canada has been singularly successful in offering up its natural resource sector to its enemies. In the 1980s and 90s, foreign-funded eco- and aboriginal activists teamed up with Canadian politicians, public sector unions, and even some corporate sell-outs to bully the B.C. forest industry into submission.
Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter

If Albertans and especially those employed by energy companies want someone to blame for the blocked pipelines, project cancellations, and return of higher unemployment rates to a once-flourishing province, here’s a suggestion: look to (some) corporations in downtown Calgary, and also to Canadian governments. Both businesses and governments have funded the most radical anti-energy work and activism over the past decade.

While the price of (West Texas Intermediate) oil has long since rebounded from its 2016 lows, and while Americans are producing record amounts of not only oil but also natural gas (the latter reducing emissions from coal-fired power in the United States), Canadian energy firms are still in the fire-sale dumpsters with Western Canadian Select and local natural gas prices both at depressed lows.

Canada, the world’s eco-activist playground

First, some history on anti-resource activism in Canada, as it began not with energy and the oil sands but in British Columbia and with the most renewable resource imaginable: trees.

American donations to harm Canada’s resource sector, starting with attacks on the forest industry, date back to at least the late 1980s. As detailed by the late Bill Stanbury in a book on foreign funding, the then-business professor at the University of British Columbia chronicled how B.C. environmental groups, between 1989 and 2000, sought allies in the United States in fights against forestry companies.

In the 1990s, the Canadian groups helped by American cash included Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Greenpeace Canada, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club of B.C. and the Sierra Legal Defence Fund among others.

More recently, many of Stanbury’s “environmental interest groups” are today known for their opposition to Canada’s oil and gas sector and have been joined by newer American-funded players.

For example, in 2008, the Calgary-based Pembina Institute received some funding from a $7-million Rockefeller Brothers Fund to help thwart Canada’s oil sands development. In a then-secret document, since found by Macdonald Stainsby, the Rockefeller Fund highlighted the Pembina Institute’s key role and listed a staffer as a key Canadian contact.

And they lived up to the Fund’s hopes. Over the years, Pembina has repeatedly called for endless government foot-dragging and halts to multiple resource projects, including the Keystone XL and Trans Mountain pipelines . For instance, in 2008, one of its directors called the oil sands “a nasty and dirty business”. Just recently, the same group decried the $40-billion liquified natural gas export terminal proposed to be built at Kitimat, B.C. “The LNG Canada project would take B.C. in the wrong direction,” is how one Pembina spokesperson characterized the early October decision by Shell Canada and four other partners in the joint venture.

Public sector enablers

Public sector unions (with union dues) and governments (with taxpayer dollars) also support this anti-energy activism. Recall the recent invitation by the Alberta Teachers Association to Tzeporah Berman, a one-time fashion designer turned anti-forestry and anti-energy activist, to speak at their upcoming educators ’ conference. Berman isn’t the only anti-oil and gas activist fawned over by educators. Earlier this year, the ATA also invited lifelong resource development scold David Suzuki to speak to teachers; and of course, the University of Alberta – my Alma Mater for two of my degrees – awarded Suzuki an honorary doctorate.

Educators and academics can invite whomever they want and I’d defend their independence to do so. The ATA belatedly invited a Berman rebuttal from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, but the premier opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline while in opposition and once called for no new approvals in the “tar sands”.

In 2016 Alberta’s NDP government appointed eco-activist and pipeline opponent Tzeporah Berman to the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group.

As for governments, Pembina was once handed a $340,000 consulting grant from the City of Calgary, and the Alberta government, under the Progressive Conservatives, also gave Pembina $88,000. Natural Resources Canada – under the federal Conservatives in 2009 – offered up a grant of between $50,000 and $99,000. Calgary Economic Development – the  agency tasked with strengthening Calgary’s economy – gave a grant to Pembina in 2010. Even the gas-friendly B.C. city of Fort St. John gave Pembina a consulting contract. In 2016, before its political deathbed conversion into a pipeline and oilsands cheerleader, Alberta’s current NDP government hired Berman to advise it on oil sands policy. This was part of the NDP’s effort to win a “social licence” for the province’s energy sector. It didn’t work, and Berman, who got her start in the B.C. anti-forestry campaigns of the 1990s, today remains an uncompromising opponent of the oilsands and pipelines.

Private sector enablers

Public sector enabling of activists opposed to natural resource development is neither new nor surprising, especially for left-leaning governments and civil service unions (though it hardly explains the City of Calgary or a federal department under the Conservatives). What is surprising is how many private sector companies and business leaders – including in Alberta’s energy patch – help contribute to anti-energy advocacy.

In 2016, Shell Canada’s president Michael Crothers and Dragon Den star and Calgary businesswoman Arlene Dickinson locked arms with Pembina to applaud using $645-million in taxpayer subsidies to help Albertans retrofit their homes and install energy efficient lightbulbs.

That was ill-considered, not just because the subsidies were a costly and wasteful attempt by the NDP to bribe Albertans with their own money, but also because it put Crothers and Dickinson in bed with a foreign-funded group dedicated to wrecking the Canadian energy sector. But Crothers and Dickinson were not alone. Over the years, before the Pembina Institute stopped publicly listing its benefactors, the energy companies listed as supporters or clients of Pembina read like a who’s who of the Calgary energy patch: Suncor, EnCana, Imperial Oil, Cenovus, Talisman, Alberta Oilsands Inc., Precision Drilling, Statoil, and TransCanada Pipelines.

Just three years ago the four Canadian CEOs of Canada’s biggest oilsands companies negotiated a deal with Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley and the Pembina Institute to cap the growth of oilsands emissions. One of the CEOs was oilsands giant Suncor’s Steve Williams, whose company, at least until 2012, regularly gave Pembina annual grants worth somewhere between $100,000 and $199,999.

As recently as June of this year, Williams still appeared to be onside with the people and the ideology opposed to the business he runs for the benefit of his shareholders when he characterized those who disagree with current government policy on carbon dioxide emissions and carbon taxes as  deniers of the science of climate change. (Some are, but certainly not all, and not this author: I favour longer-term remedies including technological change over artificial halts to existing energy usage.)

Three months later the Suncor CEO informed investors in New York that Suncor will not sanction further expansion of crude oil production in Canada until it becomes clear when pipelines will be built. “There is clearly a question of confidence in Canada,” he said. Indeed there is and Williams contributed to it.

Economic self-destruction by design

Here’s the reality: anti-energy activists have long been funded not only by foreign money, but also by Canadian governments and companies in Canada’s energy sector. They have all amplified the minority voices who have polarized the domestic political and policy debate over resource development and environmental protection.

To say this is regrettable is an understatement. Canadians have built and operated oil pipelines safely since 1862, when the first one was constructed to deliver crude from an Ontario oil field. The national economy was largely built on energy exploration, development and export. Yet modern-day opposition to the industry, which is choking off investment and growth, has been substantially funded and encouraged by the very companies and CEOs who inherited that legacy.

CEOs and politicians who directed shareholder and taxpayer money to anti-energy activists might be more to blame than the three Federal Court of Appeal judges who blocked the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. They are key enablers of the poor public policies hurting Alberta and Canada. One can only hope their blind faith in buying “social licence” has ended. Some of those same politicians and CEOs are now clamouring for more investment, which suggests the Canadian policy environment governing resource extraction might have, finally, hit bottom. But the effect of such past, funded anti-energy advocacy from foreign and domestic donors is a long way from being fully played out.

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

The Greedy Ones: Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation in Canada

Scientists may never trace the origin of our sudden contagion of shameless posing, credit-grabbing and self-pity – yet this strange syndrome proliferated throughout the pandemic. And it lingers still. The most recent outbreak can be found within the leadership of those who suffered the least during Covid-19 – unionized public sector workers. Now these unions are demanding extra compensation for… well, it’s not clear for what exactly. As the demands from this comfortable class grow, the gap between them and the rest of the economy becomes ever-wider. Gwyn Morgan lays out the facts and fundamental injustice of the expanding gulf in compensation between Canada’s public and private sectors – and the harm it is doing to societal cohesion.

Rodney Clifton pictures standing in the snow with a large group of Inuit children

My Life in Two Indian Residential Schools

Canadians seem to think they know all about their country’s discredited Indian Residential Schools. They’ve certainly been made painfully aware by governments, Indigenous organizations and leaders, academia and the mainstream media of the official narrative – a litany of sheer horror. But what was life at and around these schools actually like? At a time when “lived experience” is all the rage, the voices of the dwindling surviving number of the many thousands of people who once worked in them have fallen silent. Rodney Clifton is one, and his lived experience includes falling in love with and marrying a Siksika woman. In this clear-eyed and deeply humane account, Clifton bares his heart in recounting his times working as a young man in the residential schools system in Alberta and the Far North.

Journalists and photographers standing in a large crowd.

Objectivity: What Journalists Hate but the Public Still Craves

Democracy, Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of government – except for all the rest. Objectivity may have a similar relationship to journalism. It’s hard to achieve, bothersome, limiting, at-times disingenuous and often plain boring – but what are the alternatives? We are now seeing what happens when a discipline dominated by practitioners who reject the very idea of objective truth discard journalism’s formerly animating idea. Newspaper publishing veteran Peter Menzies links the traditional news media’s advanced state of decay to its willful abandonment of objectivity. Yet Menzies also finds glimmerings of a renewed commitment to objectivity in some unlikely places.

More from this author

Not So Beautiful Minds: Conspiracy Theories from JFK to Oliver Stone and Donald Trump

Shocking events that plunge a country into chaos or destroy a beloved leader are hard for anyone to process. The evil done is so towering it bends the human psyche to accept that the evildoer is utterly banal, a loner walking in ordinary shoes. The cause simply must befit the outcome; thus can a conspiracy theory be hatched. At other times, the cold hope of political or financial gain or simple mischief might be the source. There certainly is no shortage of conspiracy theories. Mark Milke revisits one of history’s most famous political assassinations and the conspiracy theories it spawned to illuminate the ongoing danger this toxic tendency poses to us all.

Picture of Thomas Hobbes frontispiece of Leviathan. A renowned pieceof political work on liberty

Future of Conservatism Series, Part VII: Memo to Politicians: We’re Not Your Pet Projects

Canadian conservatives have most of the summer to ruminate on what they want their federal party to become – as embodied by their soon-to-be elected leader, anyway. Acceptability, likability and winnability will be key criteria. Above all, however, should be crafting and advancing a compelling policy alternative to today’s managerial liberalism, which has been inflated by the pandemic almost beyond recognition. Mark Milke offers a forceful rebuttal against the Conservative “alternative” comprising little more than a massaged form of top-down management.


So Much for Diversity: The Monochromatic Moderators of Monday’s Debate

Canada is a big, diverse country by virtually any measure, from our no-longer-so-sparse population to our epic geography to the ethnic makeup of our people. Diverse in every way, it seems, except in our elites’ aggressively progressive official-think. Consistent with this is the otherwise bizarre decision to have Monday’s federal leaders’ debate hosted by five decidedly similar female journalists. Mark Milke briefly profiles the five and, more important, advances a positive alternative: five distinguished women diverse in background, hometown and, above all, thought.

Share This Story

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on print


Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

* indicates required
By providing your email you consent to receive news and updates from C2C Journal. You may unsubscribe at any time.