Foreign funding of anti-Alberta energy campaigns ended 6 years ago!

Kenney and Savage are too addicted to cheap political theatre like the Allan Inquiry to provide real leadership like oil CEOs, environmental groups did in 2014 and 2015

Foreign funding of campaigns against Alberta oil virtually ended in 2016. What’s more, the cash pipeline dried up because some oil companies and environmental groups briefly became allies. This is a story you won’t find in the report of the Public Inquiry into Ani-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

Giant accounting firm Deloitte, a consultant to the  $3.5 million Inquiry, found that $38 million to $59 million of foreign money funded “Alberta Resources Opposition” from 2003 to 2019. What the report doesn’t say is when that money was paid out.

What we do know from Energi Media reporting in 2019 is that US foundations stopped sending cash north six years ago because some oil companies and environmental groups decided to play nice. That detente then played a big role in Alberta’s first robust climate policy, which in turn caused American charities to rethink their contributions to campaigns opposing the oil sands and Canadian pipelines.

Oil CEOs and environmentalists negotiating over drinks

On a warm September evening in 2014, five oil sands CEOs and the executive directors of five environmental groups, as well as co-chairs Dave Collyer and Tzeporah Berman, enjoyed dinner and drinks at an Italian restaurant in Calgary. This meeting kicked off months of intense negotiations between the bitter rivals.

Energi Media published a series of columns about the meetings that readers can view  herehere, and here. The investigative report about Vivian Krause’s “foreign-funded activists” conspiracy narrative is also relevant to this story. Suncor’s recounting of the meetings can be read in the oil giant’s 2016 sustainability report.

The CEOs tasked Collyer, then a few months from leaving his post as head the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), to set up the first meeting. He reached out to Berman, a well-known climate activist and head of Forest Ethics, for help. CAPP and other oil patch players were deliberately excluded from the talks. Many environmental groups, such as Dogwood Initiative in BC, chose not to participate.

The idea was to negotiate “peace in the valley.” Over the course of about eight months, the group did just that. Ed Whittingham, head of the Pembina Institute at the time, said that the CEOs “exceeded expectations in terms of progressive positions on climate change. They didn’t see it as a hoax, but as a real issue. So with that first meeting, and every subsequent one, a certain level of trust began to build.”

By the spring of 2015, the group had a deal.

The CEOS were looking for a specific concession: no demand by the environmental groups for an oil sands production cap. They got it, in return for agreeing to support carbon pricing, significant methane emission reductions, and a 100 megatonne oil sands emissions cap.

Representatives from the CEOs and the environmental groups trekked to Edmonton in September, where they briefed Environment Minister Shannon Philipps. The emissions cap was eventually included in the NDP government’s Climate Leadership Plan, announced in November.

“It’s clear our discussions had a significant impact on the policies announced, particularly on the GHG emissions cap and the methane reduction targets,” Whittingham says. The Climate Leadership Plan was launched to great fanfare, with four of the CEOs standing on the platform alongside Premier Rachel Notley and several of the executive directors.

The applause was heard in the board rooms of the American charities. With a robust Alberta climate policy in place, the charities quickly pulled back funding for the Tar Sands Campaign. Energi Media confirmed with three of the largest environmental groups that after 2015, foreign funding for pipeline and oil sands campaigns slowed to a trickle.

Many of the environmental groups, First Nations, and community groups that comprised the Tar Sands Campaign carried on, but their activities were funded by Canadians. Energi Media’s interviews with the environmental groups suggests that 80 to 90 per cent of the total funding for “anti-Alberta” campaigning came from domestic, not foreign, donors.

There is no data in the Deloitte documents or the Allan report itself that suggests otherwise. Deloitte’s Schedule 5.1.1 lists all foreign contributions to Canadian charities at great length. This includes a timeline for funding by year from 2003 to 2019.

There is conveniently no timeline for the $38 million to $59 million identified as funding for Alberta Resource Opposition. A reasonable timeline is one provided by Berman during interviews with Energi Media.

Two years of meetings (some of them in Alberta) between environmental groups, communities, and First Nations led to the formation of the Tar Sands Campaign in 2008. Contrary to Krause’s claim, the Campaign was not initiated and controlled by the American foundations. It was always a loose coalition of between 50 and 150 members, depending upon the year, with logistical support provided by Berman and several contractors.

Berman told Energi Media that the total funding managed by the Campaign over 10 years was $40 million, which is consistent with the Deloitte estimates. But the bulk of the funds were dispersed between 2009 and 2015. Krause has never acknowledged that funding dried up six years ago even though she presumably knew it had.

If the upper end of the funding was $58 million, then up to $18 million was paid outside the Tar Sands Campaign and some of that money may have been paid after 2015. But without more certainty from Deloitte, it’s impossible to say for sure. The decline of foreign funding to the three large environmental groups, though, suggests the tally is closer to $40 million than $59 million.

Phantom funding fear mongering

“These campaigns will likely set their sights on these emerging areas in the energy sector,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a press release accompanying the release of the Inquiry’s report on Thursday.” “It is money looking for a cause.”

Savage is exaggerating.

If Canadian environmental groups and their allies have not sought foreign funding for the past six years for campaigns against the extraction of oil sands bitumen, among the most carbon-intense crudes on the planet, it’s hard to imagine they will mount campaigns against producing low-emission hydrogen or mining critical and rare earth minerals for electric vehicle batteries.

But, Alberta can expect the campaigns against the oil sands, new pipelines, new LNG facilities, to continue because Canadians appear quite willing to fund the fight.

Perhaps the better strategy is for Minister Savage, the UCP government, and many of her oil and gas allies to stop demonizing a minor threat – environmental activists – and start addressing the real one: the global energy transition, particularly the electrification of transportation, buildings, and industry that will reduce hydrocarbon demand.

A good start would be drafting an energy transition plan. How will Alberta support and benefit from the emerging clean energy economy? What is the future of the provincial oil patch in a low-carbon world? Etc.

Unfortunately, Kenney and Savage are too addicted to cheap political theatre like the Allan Inquiry to provide real leadership like the oil sands CEOs and environmental group directors did six years ago.

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