News commentary in the wake of the United Conservative Party’s decisive election win in Alberta last week is skewing in two equal and opposite directions, with some stories pointing toward a more moderate, somewhat middle ground for UCP leader Jason Kenney, while the climate groups he spent much of the campaign vilifying prepare for the worst.
In the Globe and Mail, columnist Gary Mason echoes some of analysis that circulated during the election, suggesting Kenney’s extreme rhetoric against Alberta’s perceived enemies played better on the campaign trail than it will in the real world of governing.
“We can only hope that the softer, less bellicose tone that Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney struck a day after his impressive victory is one that becomes more common—for the sake of the country,” Mason writes.
“There is little question that the often caustic, combative style that Mr. Kenney forged as a candidate for the premier’s office was highly effective. It certainly echoed the anger and resentment that is palpable in his province at the moment,” he adds. “But baying at every dark shadow that moves does not a leader make. Nor does it create the kind of calm, stable environment that investors crave.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t confrontation ahead, with Mason predicting the Trudeau government will push ahead with the controversial pipeline in which it so lavishly invested taxpayers’ dollars last year. With C$15 billion in play if Ottawa is stuck completing the Trans Mountain expansion on its own, “that’s a lot of money for a government to spend to help out a province we’re told it cares little about,” Mason writes. “But this is where things get interesting.”
Kenney has vowed to scrap Alberta’s climate plan, at just the moment when Canada’s latest emissions inventory report shows national emissions on the rise in 2017—driven largely by the Alberta oilpatch. For the rest of the country to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement targets, “other provinces in Canada are going to have to carry a much bigger share of the load than Alberta. In fact, the rest of the country already does,” he notes. But “that isn’t something you hear people like Alberta’s premier-designate talk much about. Instead, it’s all about equalization and how much money Alberta gives to the rest of the country. Well, people are making sacrifices on Alberta’s behalf every day.”
Mason adds: “I would hope and expect that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would deliver this message to Mr. Kenney at their first face-to-face meeting. And I would hope that he would also convey the fact that in these times in which we live, with the massive financial risks that climate change poses to not only Canada’s economy but economies around the world, enacting policies to pollute even more isn’t the smartest thing to do.”
So far, the only public word from the federal government is a short delay in its decision on the Trans Mountain expansion, with Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi indicating Thursday that consultations with Indigenous groups would require more time. “The government has consistently said that a decision would only be made on the project once we are satisfied that the duty to consult has been met. Through this process, Indigenous groups have told us that more time is needed,” Sohi said. “To meet this obligation, to respond to what we have heard from Indigenous groups, and with advice from Federal Representative Justice Iacobucci, the Governor in Council has extended the deadline so that a decision on TMX can be made by June 18, 2019.”
That announcement was an occasion for some of the newfound moderation the Globe’s Gary Mason discovered in Kenney. “I agreed with the prime minister that they need to make sure that they cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ when it comes to discharging the federal government’s duty to consult,” Kenney reportedly said, following a transition meeting with outgoing Premier Rachel Notley. “We certainly don’t want them to have to go back to the drawing board a third time on this. And we will continue on our part to build an alliance across the country that supports TMX and other pipelines.”
Industry outlet JWN Energy places the cost of the additional delay at $58 million per month, citing a January, 2019 Parliamentary Budget Office report on the declining value of the pipeline project, in a post that makes no mention of Kenney’s conciliatory comment. It cites a release from former Kinder Morgan Canada CEO Ian Anderson, now the president of publicly-owned Trans Mountain Corporation, stating that “while we await that decision, we will continue doing what we can to be poised to restart the Expansion Project and ultimately deliver on our commitments to Canadians.”
Trans Mountain isn’t the only file where Kenney’s job is already starting to look more complicated post-election than it did before the votes were counted. Alberta fossils were decidedly split on the UCP leader’s plan to cancel Notley’s $3.7-billion oil-by-rail program. And Quebec Premier François Legault quickly poured cold water on Kenney’s election night plea that he consider reopening discussions on TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Energy East pipeline. While the request, delivered in French, was an “elegant gesture,” Legault said, “there is no social acceptability for an additional oil pipeline”.
But one area where Kenney has been sounding no less uncomplicated since the election has been his promise to pay for a public inquiry into “the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to landlock Alberta energy”, initiate legal action, and assemble a $30-million “war room” to counter what he claims are the myths besetting Alberta from climate campaigners.
In response, Climate Justice Edmonton has launched a GoFundMe campaign for a “war room” of its own. They’re hoping to raise $30,000 for “face-to-face conversations with other Albertans about the need for a just transition to 100% renewable energy, training other organizers, and staging creative direct actions for Indigenous rights and climate justice.”
The need for those conversations was crystal clear to anyone who heard or read Kenney’s election night speech.
“And now I have a message to those foreign-funded special interests who have been leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province,” he said. “To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, Leadnow, the David Suzuki Foundation, and all the others—your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended.”
He added that “we Albertans are patient and fair-minded, but we have had enough of your campaign of defamation and double standards. Today, we begin to stand up for ourselves, for our jobs, for our future. Today we begin to fight back. From this point forward, when you lie about how we produce energy, we will tell the truth assertively, and we will use every means at our disposal to hold you to account. When multinational companies like HSBC boycott Alberta, we’ll boycott them.”
Kenney’s rhetoric neatly sidestepped two inconvenient realities: that the deep troubles facing the Alberta oilpatch trace back to competition from U.S. shale oil and plummeting renewable energy and energy storage costs, and that homegrown opposition to out-of-control fossil fuel development and the greenhouse gas emissions it produces far predated the arrival of any foreign funding.
“The Tar Sands Campaign is a real effort by dozens of advocacy groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the oilsands, and it has received some funding from U.S. groups,” The Star Calgary reports. “But David Tindall, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia who researches environmental movements, says there’s no evidence that any such campaign has played a role in Alberta’s current pipeline woes, and that there are foreign dollars on both sides of the pipeline battle.”
“The way that some people have been framing this is a little bit incorrect, from my point of view,” Tindall said.
Despite the findings of Vancouver-based attack blogger Viviane Krause, who freely admits that 90% of her funding comes from mining and fossil companies, it’s “ridiculous” to adopt Krause’s view that anti-fossil campaigns in Canada were intended to help the U.S. fossil industry, said CorpEthics Executive Director Michael Marx, who served as the Tar Sands Campaign’s grant advisor from 2008 to 2011.
“The campaign did not start in the U.S. or at the request of U.S. foundations,” Marx told The Star Calgary. “Rather, it started in Canada, well before our engagement, and the U.S. foundations responded to Canadian groups’ requests for support to address the climate threat.”
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of Krause’s and now Kenney’s favourite targets, said it “supports climate change mitigation efforts to reduce oil and gas emissions across the world” and has divested its own fossil holdings, the Star Calgary notes. “This body of work stems from the fund’s long-standing commitment to the environment and conservation over more than 75 years,” the foundation said in a statement. “The Rockefeller Brothers Fund does not, in accordance with the law, engage in or support political activity in any country.”
Tindall added that anti-pipeline groups operate on minimal funds and skeleton staffing, propelled by grassroot support. “There have been a lot of mass demonstrations and mass protests with many thousands of people,” he added. “It’s kind of difficult for me to imagine that those people are really just actors that are getting paid by some foreign entity.”
Fossil journalist Markham Hislop agreed that other factors—like opposition from Indigenous groups and the province of British Columbia—go a lot farther toward explaining the political problems the Alberta fossil industry has faced. “However, those explanations are complicated, and have troubling implications for the viability of Alberta oil and gas,” The Star Calgary notes, citing Hislop. “It’s much easier for people to latch onto a simpler explanation—one with a clear villain.”
In testimony earlier this month before the Senate Committee on Bill C-69, Stand.earth International Program Director Tzeporah Berman called the emphasis on foreign funding a “red herring, intended to distract Canadians from the real issues like the climate crisis and mass extinction,” and “a very troubling development in public policy discourse.” At a time when the fossil industry and its lobbying are both heavily supported by foreign funds, she said, “attacking environmental groups on the basis of their funding sources shakes the very foundations of democracy and the principles of fundamental justice.”
Berman compared the $162 billion in foreign direct investment for mining, oil, and gas extraction in 2017 against the estimated $40 million environmental groups received from other countries over the last decade—much of it devoted to wetlands conservation and other non-political activities. That support was “a drop in the bucket compared to the non-Canadian funds used for pro-industry lobbying,” she said. “Investment in Canadian companies and Canada’s non-profit sector comes primarily from the outside of the country, just as the majority of our economic revenue comes from exports, and the majority of most of our goods are exported. That is the nature of Canada’s economy.”
But “the ‘foreign-funded environmentalists’ argument ignores this fact, just as it also ignores the fact that the environment doesn’t recognize political boundaries,” Berman continued. “Catastrophic climate change is a global crisis that requires a global response. Foundations from around the world are trying to help address it by donating to groups everywhere.” So “to suggest that foreign funds can drive that discourse so long as it is in favour of pulling Canada’s carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere, but not to keep Canada’s carbon in the ground, is to apply different rules to different people just because you don’t agree with their policy positions.”
“What [Kenney] is framing as an attack on foreign influence, with respect to Leadnow, is in fact an attack on hundreds of thousands of Canadians,” agreed the organization’s co-executive director, Sonia Theroux. “That’s who our membership is, that’s who we’re funded by, that’s who we’re led by.”
“Non-profits and charities have a long and trusted history of working toward positive, meaningful social change in Canada and around the world,” said Stephen Cornish, CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, which passed an audit for political activity instigated by the Stephen Harper government in which Kenney was a senior minister. “By attempting to revoke our statuses as charities, Mr. Kenney is attacking a fundamental pillar of the modern democracy we in Canada value so much.”