The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) may rue the day they made foreign funding a public issue. Three years ago, CAPP head Tim McMillan launched a crusade against “foreign-funded, anti-pipeline” activists. “We have been the victims of a very well-orchestrated, well-planned foreign-funded attack,” he charged.
CAPP is the apex oil and gas lobby group in Canada, wielding enormous influence in Alberta and the rest of Canada. McMillan’s call was heard loud and clear by Jason Kenney, then-leader of the UCP which went on to win the April 2019 election, partly on the promise to create a war room and public inquiry against “anti-Alberta energy campaigns.”
Did it not dawn on CAPP that crusading against a pittance of foreign funding of environmentalists trying to block the transportation and carbon pollution of oil sands oil would blow back and reveal just how foreign funded CAPP and Big Oil in Canada are?
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
To find out how foreign funded CAPP is, I researched the extent of foreign ownership of the corporations on CAPP’s board of governors. Foreign-owned means foreign-funded.
The Allan inquiry found that the annual trickle of foreign funding so small, it was less than the cost of the inquiry itself. Nevertheless, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said that regardless of size, it’s a “real concern” when any group is “influencing political and regulatory change using foreign funding.”
Agreed. If so, why did her government not direct the public inquiry to examine the far greater sums of foreign oil money that massively intervene in our energy and climate debates? Size matters.
Although the majority of oil corporations operating in Canada list their headquarters in Calgary, my research shows that their Canadian-ness is an inch deep. Of the 48 corporations on CAPP’s 2020 board of governors, 30 were confirmed to be fully or majority foreign-owned. There was insufficient data to definitively confirm the ownership of seven more corporations on CAPP board members, but the available data shows that they too are very likely foreign-owned. Combined, that makes 37 of 48 CAPP’s corporate board members—77 percent—that are fully or majority foreign-funded.
They produce about 97 percent of the oil by corporations on CAPP’s board. In contrast, majority Canadian-owned corporations produced less than three percent of it and are small players engaged in the declining conventional oil sector.
Furthermore, most of CAPP’s revenue comes from foreign-funded corporate members. Although CAPP refuses to make its revenue public, their site shows that their fees are based on each member’s oil production. The greater the production, the higher the fees. Since 97 percent of the oil produced by CAPP’s corporate board members came from fully or majority foreign-owned corporations, those fees must account for about 97 percent of CAPP’s revenue.
That doesn’t stop CAPP from gaily waving the Maple Leaf flag and claiming to speak for Canada’s national interest. Yet CAPP is but a copycat of its American big brother oil lobby group — the American Petroleum Institute (API). CAPP represents many of the same oil corporations as the API and shamelessly copies its brand of American petro-nationalism.
The API started a front group titled “Energy Citizens” in 2009. It promotes Big Oil’s interests, fights climate change legislation, appears to be citizen-based but is fully funded by the API. Five years later, CAPP started a similar front group and simply added the word “Canada“ to become “Canada’s Energy Citizens.” CAPP funds the grass-roots seeming group that oozes an ersatz brand of Canadian nationalism. What a fraud.
The deception evokes the ancient saying: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
CAPP massively intervenes in Canadian elections. The federal government must close a loophole in the 2018 Election Modernization Act that bans foreign-owned corporations from participating in, and incurring expenses for election activities. The ban includes foreign-owned corporations headquartered abroad, but inexplicably allows election meddling if they list their headquarters in Canada. Closing the loophole would block CAPP, and all big foreign-funded corporations from interfering in our elections.
Gordon Laxer is a political economist and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta
This article originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.