By Lindsey Dillon, ...
As tensions continue to rise between Cuadrilla, police, and anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire, Cuadrilla continues looking for ways to buy local people’s support.
One of its main targets for advertising? Young children.
Throughout Lancashire, shale gas company Cuadrilla is promoting its brand and putting its logo in front of hundreds of children through the sponsorship of sports clubs and school competitions.
Cuadrilla-sponsored sports teams pose a unique ethical dilemma as fracking has been linked to air pollution. A 2016 study found that young children and infants’ lungs, hearts and immune systems especially were at risk if they lived near a fracking site.
On March 25, 2012, the Compliance Division of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) received a letter from Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP (aka JSS Barristers). In 11 detailed pages, JSS Barristers lodged a complaint against Environmental Defence, a charity registered with the CRA, on behalf of Ezra Levant’s brainchild, the Ethical Oil Institute. A month later, on April 24, the JSS-Ethical Oil team sent the CRA a second, similar letter, this one a 44-page imputation that the David Suzuki Foundation, like Environmental Defence, was “in contravention of the CRA rules surrounding registered charities and political activity.”
According to the CRA, and as echoed in the Ethical Oil Institute’s complaints against Environmental Defence and the Suzuki Foundation, a charity may not be created for a political purpose, and it can't “take part in an illegal activity or a partisan political activity.” Specifically, the CRA states that charitable organizations must devote “substantially all” (i.e. 90%) of their resources to charitable activities, and that any political activity is “subordinate” to its stated purpose.
That's not to say that charities can't promote their work and educate the public about issues that have political implications. But in doing so they must ensure that public awareness campaigns aren't their “primary activity, and their information must be “well-reasoned.” It goes without saying that they don't connect their views to specific political parties or candidates.
As an example, the CRA states that “a purpose such as improving the environment by reducing the sulphur content of gasoline would very likely require changes in government regulations. Generally, any purpose that suggests convincing or needing people to act in a certain way and which is contingent upon a change to law or government policy (e.g., “the abolition of” or “the total suppression of animal experimentation”) is a political purpose.”
Given all of this, and given the Ethical Oil Institute’s obvious concern about registered charities flouting CRA rules — namely, engaging in partisan political activity, or spending too much time and money influencing public opinion about laws, policies, or government decisions — it’s surprising that Ethical Oil didn’t send a third letter complaining about perhaps the most politically partisan of all Canadian charities — the infamous Fraser Institute.
ForestEthics Advocacy released a game-changing research brief today documenting the massive foreign control of Alberta's tar sands oil industry. Publicly traded oil companies with active tar sands operations have a very high level of foreign ownership – 71 per cent.
Some supposedly “Canadian” oil companies including Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Imperial Oil and Husky are predominantly owned by foreign interests. More than half of Canada’s oil and gas revenue goes to companies under foreign control.
This revelation stands in stark contrast to the talking points of the Harper administration and its media echo chamber, which insist that there is too much foreign influence over Canada's resource decisions from environmental groups. In fact, the evidence shows overwhelmingly that foreign interests are influencing tar sands and other resource decisions - chiefly Chinese and other foreign oil companies.
Cue Ezra Levant's outrage at this foreign influence in Canadian interests! Where's Vivian Krause when you need her? Surely the Ethical Oil Institute will agree that this level of foreign intervention is a dangerous threat to Canada's future?
Recall that when the Ethical Oil Institute launched its allegedly “100% Canadian” OurDecision.ca website, this was the statement by spokesperson Kathryn Marshall: “We’ll never take foreign money to undermine our country’s national interests.”
The group admits that it receives funding from companies active in the tar sands. Now that it's been revealed that all these companies are predominently foreign-owned, the group's claims to be 100% Canadian are highly misleading. We await their statement correcting the record.
Anticipating that someone, perhaps from the 'ethical oil' team, will quickly attempt to do damage control by claiming that this is just some ginned up report by ForestEthics, let's be crystal clear that the data underlying the report are all from independent sources including Bloomberg Professional and industry journals.
Just over a week before the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings began, EthicalOil.org and its allies launched a pre-emptive PR offensive on environmental and First Nations groups who oppose the pipeline. Their new website, OurDecision.ca, and ad campaign are an attempt to invalidate opposition to the pipeline by pointing to the small amount of American funding going to some environmental groups, and claiming that pipeline opponents are actually the “puppets” of “foreign interests.”
Sun News was first to promote the campaign, and by the end of the week, numerous papers across Canada were repeating the story. After mentioning last November that “significant American interests” would line up against the pipeline, Stephen Harper eagerly picked up where he left off, touting EthicalOil.org's cause, decrying the foreign influence attempting to “overload” the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Review. By Monday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver had penned a letter to Canadians denouncing the foreign interests trying to “hijack” the review process “to achieve their radical ideological agenda”. The same ominous tone and divisive talking points were parroted over and over by EthicalOil.org, Harper, Oliver and the credulous media, driving an entire week of news coverage.
The OurDecision.ca campaign was timed to hit national news just as many Canadians were tuning into this issue for the first time, and this frame (“foreign interests” vs. a “Canadian decision”) could have a lasting impact on how people view one of the most important debates in a generation.
So how did a small industry front group with secretive funding sources manage to have so much impact on the national conversation? Well, it looks like the Harper government, EthicalOil.org, and Sun Media have coordinated with one another to create an echo chamber that turns industry talking points into national news. We'll show how one digital communications company intimately connects EthicalOil.org, the Harper Government and Sun Media.
If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?
That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.
We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.
It comes from an interview on the CBC show Power and Politics, in which the host, Evan Solomon, asks current EthicalOil.org manager Kathryn Marshall a question she just can’t bring herself to answer:
We are living in difficult times. The ongoing economic crisis started by the 2008 Sub-Prime Mortgage Scandal has all of us thinking about our future. We are vulnerable to unethical appeals to our anxiety in the form of quick fixes and easy profits. The promise of “Ethical Oil” is the worst of these appeals. We have to resist. Even more, we have to take decisive actions that the current leadership will not. To quote a famous man, we have an ordeal before us of the most grievous kind and we need a new generation of leadership to tackle it. We need the next Great Generation.
In 2008, world financial markets collapsed in dramatic fashion due to unethical investment practices, particularly in the previous five years. Toxic subprime mortgages had been injected like a virus into securities like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). Investment banks around the world were in on this scam and kept pushing it far beyond the point where it was obvious something had to give. Last year, the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded:
“the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.“
As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline.
OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline.
The controversial Northern Gateway project is opposed by 70 First Nations and a majority of British Columbians, who fear the inevitable oil spills that will accompany tar sands expansion, and in particular the threat of offshore tanker accidents on BC’s coast.
Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.