As long as the foreign funding conspiracy theory was a lone researcher’s crusade, this thing had a great run.
Underdogs are popular, and suspicion of foreign plotting is a guaranteed box office winner.
Now that it’s official Alberta government policy, however, things are about to get a lot trickier.
The foreign funding conspiracy theory is a house of sand, where every pillar crumbles to the touch.
At its core, this theory, which Jason Kenney has adopted as the Alberta government's, is that the province has been targeted by a cabal of American foundations led by the Rockefellers in a deliberate campaign of economic sabotage.
By directing money and influence to an anti-pipeline movement called the Tar Sands Campaign, these foundations seek to advance American energy interests by landlocking Canadian oil.
As I wrote earlier in September, the sham outrage over foreign money is just a cynical ruse. Unscrupulous governments are employing it around the world to discredit, silence and intimidate environmental dissent, and ultimately to choke off resources to activist groups.
Nobody cares about foreign money, least of all Jason Kenney.
No sooner did the premier release the terms of his foreign funding inquiry than he set off for New York, cap in hand, to raise more foreign money for the oil industry.
The Canadian oil and gas industry, jauntily waving the maple leaf, is loaded with over a hundred billion dollars in foreign ownership. It sells millions of barrels of oil to foreigners every day, and now wants a pipeline to increase the foreign markets it can sell to.
And all of this is cheered on daily in a foreign-controlled national newspaper chain.
That's just by way of a little perspective.
The claim of conspiracy is an accusation of fraud
The direct or indirect claim of conspiracy, at its heart, is an accusation of fraud and breach of trust, based entirely on circumstantial evidence. It's the suggestion that charitable dollars are diverted for a covert purpose and that multiple organizations are colluding in that deception.
A scheme like this would necessarily involve senior foundation leadership acting in concert, and with malice, to subvert the bona fide charitable objectives of their organizations.
That's a serious claim that has inflamed public opinion, and damaged reputations and community trust within Canada. It should not be made lightly or on thin evidence, and should be treated with special skepticism when advanced by government leaders.
Not least because we're in a climate emergency and have better things to do than discredit those working hardest to address it.
Curiously, Kenney's public inquiry terms of reference are far more cautious than his fiery rhetoric. Despite tarring foundations and environmentalists as "anti-Alberta," they sidestep entirely the issue of motive or intent, which is central to the allegation of conspiracy or bad faith.
The public, having been led to believe that charitable foundations are corruptly working against the public interest, is entitled to a deeper analysis of motive than the inquiry will examine.
That's what we'll look at here.
To assess the conspiracy theory's veracity, I reviewed data from Candid, America's most comprehensive foundation and charitable monitoring site.
With a $29-million budget and staff of 140, Candid gathers and maintains detailed data and statistics on hundreds of billions of dollars in grants by 155,000 U.S. and international charitable foundations, non-profits and all U.S. federal agencies. Public tax returns recorded and accessible. Most, but not all, major international funders are included.
The material is cross-referenced, tabulated and readily searchable.
So I searched it.
For the last nine months.
I surveyed tens of thousands of grants totaling well into the billions of dollars, looking for patterns, practices and organizational cultures. I double-checked for errors in coding and data entry (yep, found some). Looking for the network effect, I examined partnership constellations, funding pathways and changes over time.
A lot of superficially significant data often turns out to be just noise. It's only with exposure to high volumes of data that one begins to discern materiality.
Candid's data is not a substitute for detailed grant reviews — it's best employed for detecting large patterns and trends.
My research took me further, to reviewing the backgrounds of directors and key employees of multiple foundations, and examining years of financial statements. I was looking for indicators of weak governance or undue influence within each of the impugned organizations. Family foundations have a tendency toward having family members in lead governance roles, whose priorities and biases can show up in granting patterns.
I checked whether the founder is alive and active in governance and oversight (two major funders are). I reviewed for direct or indirect evidence of impropriety — for instance, claims of misconduct by former employees or independent witnesses. I studied media reports, scholarly and industry research, and spoke to experts in the non-profit world, as well as to parties directly involved or who had personal knowledge of the circumstances.
I then reviewed the oil and gas sector.
What follows below is a distillation of that research.
Overall, there are variances in culture between philanthropic organizations and some steadfast consistencies. Some are very conservative and apolitical, even among the most environmentally committed. Others are more supportive of activism.
In reviewing thousands of grants, these patterns become more evident over time.
The foundations funding the Tar Sands Campaign bore no markers of fraud or unscrupulous conduct within leadership. All of them appeared to be transparent and fully compliant with all legal requirements. There is no direct evidence of misconduct.
But there were surprises.
Every core tenet of Kenney's conspiracy theory is false
So how do you test a conspiracy theory, anyway?
The same way you tell if your income is high or low. You find the normal range and run comparisons. You check proportionality and look for deviations and irregularities.
After all these years, the most striking feature of the foreign funding conspiracy theory is what isn't there.
In the absence of comparables, the near endless recitation of international grants to Canadian pipeline opponents is virtually meaningless. Selected samples of raw data don't reveal more than random pixels in a photograph.
Once these data points are placed in their proper context, i.e., in relation to more complete data and other evidence of surrounding circumstances, the fuller picture emerges.
At that point the theory just collapses.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but every core tenet of Kenney's conspiracy theory is flatly and demonstrably false.
Reviewing years of grant history, broad patterns and missing context are immediately apparent. For the sake of simplicity, unless otherwise stated, all figures represent the period from 2009 to the present, measured in Canadian dollars.
These are the nine key myths embedded in the foreign funding conspiracy theory.
Spoiler alert: They're all false.
Myth 1: Powerful American foundations have subjected Alberta to a targeted campaign of economic sabotage, turning the province into a 'whipping boy.'
To know whether Canadian oil production is unduly targeted by large foundations, it's essential to compare funding between countries and regions. Is funding to Canadian environmentalists disproportionately high?
That data has never been presented until now.
Here it is.
According to Candid’s data, since 2009 over 100,000 charitable foundations and non-governmental funders have granted some $700 billion to recipient organizations worldwide.
Of that number, roughly 1,800 private foundations committed more than $4.9 billion specifically to climate initiatives. Just five foundations granted half of that figure.
Of that nearly $5 billion, American-based recipients received an overwhelming $2.9 billion — or 59 per cent — of all climate grants. Almost $2 billion was divided between the European Union, China and India.
$51 million went to Canadian climate projects, of which roughly $40 million was granted to dozens of small organizations organized as the Tar Sands Campaign, and most of the balance went to the Montreal-based Global Campaign for Climate Action
This chart, assembled from Candid data, shows that all Canadian climate grants combined garner just one per cent of all foundations' climate grants around the world.
Foundation spending on climate change by area served (2009-2020)
Considering that Canada is the world's fourth-largest producer and exporter of crude oil, and holds 10 per cent of the world's known oil reserves, almost all of which are in the Alberta oilsands, it's actually quite remarkable how little international climate funding we attract.
In any event, there's no rational basis to argue Alberta is a "whipping boy," as is colourfully claimed so often.
This one set of data should really put an end to any conspiracy theory, but let's continue.
Myth 2: Environmental funders give a free pass to U.S. oil and gas projects, allowing American production to soar while Alberta stalls.
Despite dedicated, disruptive and hotly contested environmental campaigns in each country, output in both Canadian and American oil sectors grew dramatically more than anywhere else in the world over the last decade.
And it's false that environmentalists have given a pass to the American fossil fuel industry. There's a multi-front battle royale going on across the U.S., involving many of the same or similar players as in Canada.
For example, using the identical narrative to Jason Kenney, ExxonMobil is claiming it's the victim of a Rockefeller-hatched conspiracy, while being locked in a fierce legal melee with authorities in New York and Massachusetts.
If the Rockefeller family is attacking Exxon and the American fossil fuel industry, and they are, how can they be working to help American oil interests while exclusively targeting Alberta?
In fact, environmental activists have so enraged the American oil and gas industry that it spent tens of millions of dollars successfully lobbying multiple state governments to criminalize their protests.
This video, produced for the Colorado fracking industry by the industry front group Environmental Policy Alliance, attacks coastal elite environmentalist outsiders, using a narrative that sounds awfully familiar:
That messaging was crafted by industry PR consultant Richard Berman, who was recorded in 2014 advising American oil executives that they were in an "endless war" against environmentalists, and to succeed they had to be prepared to "win ugly."
That battle has been joined. Environmental groups have targeted all U.S. coal; fracking in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado; oil development in California, offshore drilling in the Arctic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, West Coast coal ports and pretty much all pipeline and transportation projects anywhere in North America, including Texas.
In Texas, where protesters could face 10 years in prison, 31 Greenpeace activists were charged earlier this month after protesters suspended themselves from a Houston bridge to block tanker traffic.
The claim that environmentalists or funders are letting American producers off the hook is baseless.
Nor can it be argued that environmentalists have suppressed oil production anywhere in North America.
Despite Kenney's protests that American productivity has far outstripped Canada's, those numbers don't hold up either.
According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, American production more than doubled between 2008-18. Yet, according to Natural Resources Canada, so did Alberta's oilsands production. Overall, Canada's oil and gas production has grown by 67 per cent over the same period.
By comparison, according to BP's numbers, the rest of the world’s production flat-lined.
As Jason Kenney knows, Alberta’s problem isn’t productivity, it’s pricing.
Myth 3: Pipeline opposition grants dominate foreign funding in Canada.
According to Candid's data, international foundations, almost all American, have granted roughly $2 billion to Canadian non-profits and institutions over the last 10 years. Only $40 million, or about two per cent, has gone to pipeline opposition.
The great majority of international grants, almost 80 per cent, support scientific research, health, education, Canadian international aid programs and other civil society objectives.
For example, Alberta universities and their associated foundations have received over $40 million from foreign funders in that period, about the same amount as the Tar Sands Campaign. More than half of that funding comes from American government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense.
An additional 25 per cent of foreign grants support large land and marine conservation projects like the Canadian Boreal Forest Initiative and the Great Bear Rainforest, usually with matching grants by various levels of government, including the Harper government.
At two per cent of all foreign grants, the Tar Sands Campaign is a purely marginal play on the Canadian non-profit landscape.
Major international grant support in Canada (2009-2020)
Ironically, the most dominant foreign funder of Canadian non-profits and institutions by far is the United States government. With grants exceeding $660 million over the last decade, the U.S. government accounts for about 33 per cent of the $2 billion Canada received in foreign funding.
Oddly, this has never come up in foreign funding conspiracy talk. If anyone were looking for a prime suspect in foreign interference to benefit American interests, they could do a lot worse than the actual U.S. government.
The next largest funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributing $537 million — much of that funding research at the University of Manitoba.
By comparison, the infamous Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), that notorious bête noir of the Canadian non-profit world, is one of the smallest contributors of all, at just $4 million.
Rockefeller environmental grants amount to just two dollars per thousand in Canadian foreign grants.
Myth 4: U.S.-based foundations, led by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, have made Alberta a central focus of their strategy.
This theory suffers from Alberta-centric self-absorption, as do others.
Even with the funders of the Tar Sands Campaign, Alberta and Canada are very low priorities. They're just not that into us.
Over the last decade, the Tar Sands Campaign got a whopping 0.3 per cent its major funders' total grants budget. That number barely counts as a rounding error.
And it's falling.
Today, the largest American funder of Canadian pipeline opposition contributes a mere $400,000 a year on average. For perspective, $400,000 barely covers a week's income for Calgary’s top paid executive.
Here are the true facts.
Since 2009 the campaign's three anchor foundation funders, the Hewlett and Oak foundations and RBF, granted fully $7 billion worldwide in all categories. They granted more than $750 million to American climate projects, and just $22 million to Canadian anti-pipeline groups.
Global budget of major TSC funders by subject (2009-2020)
From what can be discerned from Candid's data, the remaining funders appear to be a plethora of smaller, socially progressive American foundations, granting intermittently in five and six figure amounts.
And while the RBF was an early supporter of the Tar Sands Campaign, it was never a financial leader.
The campaign's largest and most influential donor is — or more accurately, was — the philanthropic giant, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The pre-eminent climate philanthropy in the world, Hewlett is distinguished by highly professional arms-length management and governance. Its president, Larry Kramer, is the former dean of Stanford Law.
Hewlett pursues a multi-pronged strategy of promoting climate solutions. As outlined by climate strategy grantmaker Erin Rogers, Hewlett seeks to build political will through support of grassroots citizen movements with political advocacy expertise. The foundation has granted pipeline opponents approximately $8-9 million between 2008-12, or almost $2 million a year.
Significantly, they've granted a further $460 million to American climate projects since 2009, and $4 billion worldwide in all categories. Hewlett's grants to pipeline opponents since 2009 comprise just 0.25 per cent of all its funding.
Tellingly, Hewlett concluded its pipeline opposition funding with an exit grant in 2016, after Rachel Notley introduced her climate plan.
The second largest Tar Sands funder isn't a Rockefeller, either.
Even worse for the conspiracy theory, they aren't even American. With annual grants of about $1 million over the last decade, the Geneva-based Oak Foundation partnered with Hewlett to provide almost half the funding of the Tar Sands Campaign over the last decade.
Like Hewlett, with whom they collaborate on major international climate projects, Oak ranks in the top five climate funders in the world. Like Hewlett, they allocate very substantial funding — $250 million — to American-based climate initiatives, out of $2.6 billion in total grants since 2009.
The Oak Foundation is the most closely held family foundation among major climate funders, with a board dominated by environmentalist family members. Founded by British billionaire Alan Parker and his wife, Jette, who remain active on the board, its chair is their son Dr. Kristian Parker, a marine biologist who holds a doctorate in environmental sciences. Interviewed in 2016, he outlined the importance of shifting public opinion on climate change as a key driver of Oak's funding strategy.
To find the Rockefellers, supposedly the masterminds of this conspiracy, you have to go all the way down to a distant third-place funder. The Rockefeller group of foundations make an interesting case, because family members in leadership positions have taken an unusually activist stance specifically relating to fossil fuels and climate change.
They consciously point to the source of their family wealth as the founders of Standard Oil, originally the largest oil company in the world and the parent of today's ExxonMobil, as a motivating factor.
As Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, the chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund puts it, their family members "all have a moral obligation. Our family in particular — the money that is for our grant-making, and what we are doing now, and that helps fund our lifestyles, came from dirty fuel sources.”
RBF has granted an average $400,000 annually since 2009. That's a total of $4 million out of $400 million in all categories worldwide. RBF granted $75 million to American climate projects.
Further, though the Tar Sands Campaign has not disclosed its full financial picture, fund advisor Tzeporah Berman reports that since Canada signed onto the Paris Accord, grant levels declined by about 65 per cent from their peak.
Extrapolating from known volumes, this suggests the international sources of campaign revenues have fallen below $2 million annually.
That’s frankly immaterial to American energy interests.
As should be plain, these are not the profile of scheming conspirators.
The only rational explanation for this spending pattern is that international foundations supporting the Tar Sands Campaign are exactly what they present themselves to be: philanthropic organizations deeply motivated to support legal challenges and grassroots action on climate change.
Here's the part that's true: Canadian environmentalists do unapologetically seek to suppress Alberta oil, driven by the unforgiving math of carbon emissions. If we exploit all known carbon reserves, the climate impact will be catastrophic. Consequently, some known reserves must stay in the ground, while others should be minimized and phased out over time.
Activists everywhere are pressing this cause, though as we can see in North America, to little effect.
Nothing about this initiative disproportionately targets Alberta — the effort is global and co-ordinated.
Myth 5: The Tar Sands Campaign is directed out of San Francisco by an organization called CorpEthics International, and its principal, Michael Marx.
An example of how a false story is repeated and amplified through media coverage is the CorpEthics saga.
It’s been repeatedly claimed that CorpEthics, a registered U.S. charity run by Michael Marx, has directed the Tar Sands Campaign from San Francisco for the last decade, even influencing the 2015 Alberta and Canadian elections.
In fact, CorpEthics is not a large organization secretly manipulating Canadians; it’s the website of a home-based consulting business.
Candid's data and publicly available tax returns reveal that it has no employees, no associates and no office. CorpEthics has been inactive as a charitable enterprise for several years, and has had nothing to do with the Canadian Tar Sands Campaign since 2011.
It's a shell that Michael Marx appears to use as his billing entity for his consulting business.
The controversy started when Marx treated the CorpEthics website something like a Tinder profile, posting grandiose claims that it had successfully blocked the approval of all major pipelines in North America and influenced elections in Canada.
This blatant self-promotion suckered a gullible researcher, then was picked up nationally by the CBC, Postmedia and talk radio across the country.
The CBC aired the claims on the national broadcast, The Weekly with Wendy Mesley, as if they were true, complete with ominous music and dramatic visuals.
That CorpEthics’ claims were false would have been plain to anyone who took the time to check their online tax returns or even talk to Michael Marx himself.
Reached by telephone, Marx confirmed that CorpEthics had a significant role advising and distributing grants to the Canadian Tar Sands Campaign only in its early days, from 2008-2011. Berman has occupied the role of fund advisor since 2011, and Marx has had nothing to do with the campaign since that time.
The Tar Sands Campaign is Canadian and Indigenous-organized and run. According to Berman, she co-ordinates grant allocation in consultation with dozens of Indigenous and Canadian environmental organizations, then directs distributions from pooled funds hosted at Tides or the New Ventures Fund.
Myth 6: Tides is the 'funding and co-ordination juggernaut' behind anti-pipeline activism.
By the way, have you noticed how many secret juggernauts there are? This one doesn't work either.
The U.S. Tides Foundation has not donated a dime to the Tar Sands Campaign.
You read that right, here it is again.
Tides U.S. has not donated a dime of its own money to the Tar Sands Campaign.
This is confirmed by Berman, who possesses all campaign financial data. Nor, according to Berman, does Tides U.S. co-ordinate, control or have any role directing the campaign.
Its alleged role in pipeline opposition funding is literally the stuff of myth. Tides U.S. is a perfect example of statistical noise. Here's why.
In reality, Tides is not a conventional granting foundation, but acts largely as a donor-advised-fund manager, administering and processing funds of other charitable foundations. It's true function relative to the Tar Sands Campaign is effectively that of a bank, where it facilitates fund transfers on behalf of other foundations. Essentially, it's a conduit.
Tides routinely manages funds and distributes grants for a platinum A-list of global philanthropies, such as the Gates, Ford and Susan Thompson Buffett foundations. This is a wholly standard industry practice in the philanthropic world, where, according to Candid, almost 90 per cent of large international gifts are processed on this model.
DAFs are employed where funding is pooled from multiple foundations or sources, for time-limited initiatives, or to avoid the prohibitive cost of setting up a standalone charity.
Think of it this way. If your employer pays you out of their RBC account, does that make you RBC-funded?
That's basically the extent of Tides' relationship to the Tar Sands Campaign.
Although it's administered millions in Tar Sands Campaign grants, Tides hasn't donated any of its own funds to the campaign or had any oversight role at all.
The expression "Tides-funded," which has for years been a form of disparagement in Canada, is grossly inaccurate.
So, to sum up, nothing whatsoever is out of the ordinary in pipeline opposition.
No one is targeting Alberta. No one is focused on Alberta, not even the biggest funders of the Tar Sands Campaign. The most that can be said is that they haven't excluded Alberta.
Myth 7: Land and marine conservation grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation are a hidden part of anti-pipeline efforts.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is the third largest international funder in Canada, and has granted hundreds of millions of dollars supporting Canadian coastal rainforest and marine habitat preservation. According to sources with knowledge of this funding, Moore's involvement in Canada goes back to at least the year 2002.
In unpacking this wholly uncorroborated speculation, it's important to know that the Moore Foundation is not viewed as political or partisan, did not participate in the Tar Sands Campaign, and indeed partnered with the Harper government in the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Uniquely among environmental funders, Moore expressly excludes climate change as a funding priority, preferring to sharply focus its efforts on a small range of projects for impact on a globally important scale.
As one such example, since the foundation's inception, Moore has committed $600 million to preserving some 170 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest.
Most significantly, Moore is an unparalleled leader in North Pacific ocean health and marine habitat preservation. It has developed unique expertise in protecting the wild salmon ecosystem along the entire North Pacific, from California through British Columbia to the Arctic coastline, and across to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Including its Amazon initiative, since inception the Moore Foundation has granted over $2 billion dollars on highly localized environmental conservation.
Moore's considerable Canadian grants, administered through a DAF managed by Tides Canada, have particularly focused on protecting the coastal waters of Great Bear Rainforest, with the goal of preserving the largest remaining intact temperate rainforest and one of the most pristine wilderness environments in the world. In collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and other funders, Moore's grants support the development of a conservation economy generating sustainable employment for First Nations coastal communities and local residents.
Those original funding efforts were matched by the Harper government in 2007 by then-environment minister John Baird.
Because many of the First Nations and environmental groups funded through the Moore Foundation also opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, on the strength of this correlation alone, it's now claimed that the true purpose of Moore's grants was not environmental protection but protection of the American trade monopoly on Canadian oil.
This, notwithstanding that Moore was engaged and focused on marine habitats years before there was a whisper of a pipeline.
Just five years after John Baird partnered with the Great Bear Rainforest funders, his successor Peter Kent would be attacking Moore and other foundations as money-launderers, while senators and other government leaders compared them to criminals and terrorists.
Undeterred by politics and headlines, the Moore Foundation continued its work of prioritizing ocean health, supporting the Canadian government-led Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) process, as well as the Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP), a co-led process between 16 First Nations and the B.C government.
As should be obvious, given its focus on Pacific salmon habitats, it would be odd for the Moore Foundation to exclude the British Columbia coastline. It shouldn't need pointing out that charitable foundations are not prone to granting hundreds of millions of dollars on speculation that environmental funding can stop pipelines.
It's important for Canadians to know that Moore is also one of the world's most illustrious scientific philanthropies, having funded major mathematics and physics research facilities at Cambridge, Stanford and Caltech universities.
Its co-founder, Gordon Moore, is still alive at 90. A technology giant and pioneer, respected the world over, Moore co-founded Intel, authored Moore's Law, and co-invented the semi-conductor. Gordon Moore is a globally important philanthropist in both scientific research and environmental conservation. As a marker of its integrity, the Moore Foundation seeks regular independent review of the its practices by credible outside experts.
The Moore Foundation president, Harvey Fineberg, is the former provost of Harvard University, former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, and former president of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine. Other notable trustees include a former president of U.S. National Academy of Science, a former president of Stanford and the chair of Alphabet (Google), the former director of NASA's space centre, and other highly credible figures, in addition to family members.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation sets a gold standard in governance. Its highly respected founder remains engaged with the foundation, has secured internationally credible independent leadership and maintains independent checks and balances on program funding.
Canada will benefit for generations from the scientific and environmental dividends of the Moore's generosity in preserving an ecologically vital pristine wilderness that most Canadians will never see.
One of the most disgraceful episodes of Canada's recent political history is the casual and baseless besmirching of stellar reputations like the Moore Foundation's in pursuit of tortuous and convoluted conjecture by a single researcher, now elevated to official government policy.
Myth 8: Foreign money made all the difference.
It's not foreign foundation money the Alberta oil and gas sector has run into, it's the power of public opinion and the strength of Indigenous and B.C. environmental expertise and culture. Their leaders and activists are seasoned veterans who've been honing their skills for decades.
Above all Indigenous nations' mastery of court challenges cannot be overstated — and court is the ultimate battleground where the fate of the TMX pipeline will be determined.
A straight line can be drawn from the landmark jurisprudence in Sparrow, Delgamuukw and Tsilhqot’in cases to the Federal Court of Appeal's decisions on pipelines.
The Tar Sands Campaign wasn't invented by Rockefellers in a Manhattan boardroom, although a supportive funding model may have been approved there.
Every single technique pipeline opponents have used comes straight out of dog-eared playbooks that First Nations and activists wrote themselves, decades ago.
British Columbians are good at this.
Anyone who forgets that British Columbia is the birthplace of Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Society, the Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest (a joint project with Indigenous nations, industry and local communities) does so at their peril.
Foreign money or no foreign money.
Myth 9: The Canadian oil sector is a victim, out-funded by large foreign foundations.
Canada's oil and gas sector is not being bullied and victimized by huge American foundations.
For one thing, it's not that Canadian. According to the federal government, the oil and gas sector has among the highest foreign control of Canadian assets in the country, at 43 per cent. And while that stake has declined with the departure of major players in recent years, it was valued at $180 billion in 2017 and still pays billions in dividends a year to foreign owners and institutional investors.
Over the last decade, ExxonMobil shareholders earned more than $16 billion in dividends from holdings in Imperial Oil, while the Alberta public was being whipped up by alarming rhetoric that the Tar Sands Campaign had raised some $40 million outside the country.
Once again, the fatal flaw of the foreign funding conspiracy theory is its failure to ground data in context and provide the public with meaningful perspective.
Or perhaps that's its chief victory, as the theory is so widely accepted in Alberta.
There is no foreign conspiracy
Without a hint of irony, the same week that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney released the terms of reference for his inquiry into foreign funding of environmentalists, he announced his trip to the United States to seek increased foreign investment.
Which returns us to where we started. Like other right-wing leaders around the world, Jason Kenney cares more about the politics than the truth.
He's trotting out the bogeyman of foreign funding as a scare tactic to distract the public from climate change and to discredit, silence and intimidate environmentalists.
It's one thing for lone commentators to pursue untested theories online. That's fair game. It makes all the difference in the world when governments use them as a rationale for employing state powers against citizens lawfully exercising their right to peaceful dissent.
The stakes could not be higher.
We shoulder no graver responsibility as citizens than to trust science and press governments to act on climate change with the greatest possible dispatch.
As citizens, we'll disagree, sometimes heatedly, over strategy and methods.
But we must all understand this. Jason Kenney's campaign to discredit the environmental movement and personally attack its leaders is designed to undermine the political will we need to meet the most urgent challenge humanity has ever faced.
These are not just cynical politics, they are profoundly wrong. The public can't be distracted by these methods, nor should we excuse them.
The hour is upon us. There isn't a moment to spare.
Canadians must act today on climate change, and we must unreservedly reject, condemn and cast aside Jason Kenney's war on democratic freedoms.
It belongs in the dust heap of history, where it will soon reside if our young marchers have their way.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:31 p.m. ET on Oct. 8, 2019 to clarify that the myth involving Tides refers to the U.S. Tides Foundation, not Tides Canada. The two organizations are distinct with no financial or legal links.