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.

Background review

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)

​​International foundation spending on climate by area served. Source: Foundation Center, by Candid. Graphic by Codename Design. *Disclaimer: due to over-lapping grant regions, the regional sum exceeds total spend.

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:

Colorado Green Radicals, June 2014. YouTube

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)

​​Major international grant support to Canada by subject area. Source: Foundation Center, by Candid. Graphic by Codename Design

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)

Breakdown of spending by major foundations supporting the Tar Sands Campaign. Source: Foundation Center, by Candid. Graphic by Codename Design.

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.

CBC's The Weekly, Jan. 20, 2019. CBC screencap

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.

Moore-funded BC coastal marine mapping project YouTube

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.

Keep reading

That's the wondrous thing about conspiracy theories. They do not need to be believable to be believed. No real evidence required. Conversely, no amount of counter-evidence is sufficient to defeat them.
So a "data-based dismantling of Jason Kenney's foreign-funding conspiracy theory" will have zero therapeutic effect on the target audience. The faithful will just double down. As anybody who wages battle in online comment sections with oil industry cheerleaders and climate change deniers soon realizes, FACTS DO NOT MATTER.

People believe what they want to believe. Instead of a Second Coming, Albertans believe in a Second Oil Boom. A quasi-religious response. Which helps to explain its wildfire popularity in bible-belt, rust-bucket Alberta.

Conspiracy theory saves devotees from having to face the facts and think for themselves. The more outlandish the theory, the better.
The same people who call climate science a cult and Al Gore its high priest swallow the Krause/Kenney Konfabulation hook, line, and sinker.
Two sides of the same coin. Reflexive denial of scientific evidence — not to mention any number of visible signs — by supremely selective self-styled "sceptics" (who are anything but) conjoined with childlike acceptance of the absurd and fantastical. Though any six-year old can spot the fallacies that fill the Deniers' Handbook.
I guarantee you that few Krause devotees will read Garossino's analysis. None will be persuaded by it. Their predictable response?
"The National Observer is foreign-funded."

Thanks to Ms. Garossino for her hard work disentangling Krause's and Kenney's web of lies.
But look at who else bought into conspiracy theorist Vivian Krause's absurd fantasies:

Vivian Krause: "I have been working since July 2018 with Notley’s govt to provide information and assist her team in taking the necessary steps to break the pipeline gridlock."

"'I’m frustrated by it, of course,' Notley says of the [anti-oilsands] campaign. 'Vivian Krause (the B.C. researcher) and people like her have done a good job of really laying bare the details of this and really showing us the degree to which this had been going on and building over time.'"

Once AB NDP Premier Rachel Notley endorsed Vivian Krause wacky theories, it was no longer right-wing and no longer conspiracy theory. Notley took it mainstream. Giving Kenney space to shift even further right on climate and energy in Alberta.

What a mess, Rachel Notley. People like her? Are you referring to other former nutritionists that work in salmon farming industry -

I'm not an Albertan, but as a Canadian I feel ashamed of my leaders. :(

Also this -

Reminds me of the time my late grandmother after reading a grocery story rag account of a 20-ft killer salmon terrorizing swimmers cautioned me about dipping my toes into the lake. That really happened. My dear grandmother, not an expert in salmon ecology, believed what she read, hook, line and sinker.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write, Geoffrey.

My hope is not so much that conspiracy theorists will reform, but that influencers like Steve Allan will widen their net, and consider the wider context. That could make a difference, perhaps.

Comments posted online on Postmedia:

"Citing references from the Tides funded Observer makes your arguments invalid....and ridiculous."
"Dimwits that post propaganda and lies from the Tides funded Observer are part of the reason we are in this mess."
"Quoting a Tides funded activist publication isn't an argument ...go away you have no vertacity whatsoever."
"Quoting the Tides Observer is is your nonsense that Krause's research is a "theory"...her data has been corroborated by several other groups both here and in the US such as US Senate Committee on Climate and Public Works."


Geoff...Just to be clear....these are comments you have lifted from Post Media? Unbelievable! Almost thought at first reading they were your own.

The fallacious comments above, from a rabid oil industry booster, are par for the course on Postmedia.

My response:
"Why not read the article and judge it on its own merits? What are you afraid of?
Krause's numbers are not the problem. Krause's conclusions — her failure to put the numbers in context — and her logical leaps are another matter...
Krause's conclusions do not follow from her evidence."

The latest of these comments was posted in an exchange on an Edmonton Journal article. Journal columnist, industry cheerleader, and hockey writer David Staples (he should stick to hockey) is an ardent Krause supporter.
"U.S. foundations and Canadian greens aim to shut down LNG exports, Krause says"

I have to reluctantly agree with you, Geoff. I had a similar experience with a series of in-depth articles I wrote about Manitoba's high-maintenance hog industry. I found little appetite for such journalism in this province's media, esp. the farm press. So, despite the countless downsides of this misguided business, which I did my best to point out, it is doing nothing but expand. But, we can't just give up. Ms. Garassino's article is an excellent piece of investigative research. We must hunker down & press on. I guess.

The good news however, is that they can't spin goes on outside their little bubbles of certainty and outrage. But given that climate disruptions are here, and going to accelerate, that might also be the bad news.

These folks believe might is right; you can make the world conform to your wishes if you have enough power. They have yet to understand how little power any of us have over the forces of nature, especially once you force the natural systems into unprecedented change.

Perhaps that reality will motivate those of us who do understand the climate science, to stand up to Jason and his little band of dreamers. No they won't read this analysis...but those of us who do can learn to disagree with them more often in ways intelligent enough to help convince others if not them.

For too long, conservatives who heart oil have had the floor. Maybe time for some extinction rebellion?

Sandy, you are a national treasure.

Thank you for this spectacularly researched article!!!

Thanks for your kindness, Jerry! Lovely to hear from you.

Thank you!

Thank you for doing this work. We have a long way to go but this kind of research and well-written journalism is very encouraging.

Stunning evisceration Sandy.
Trolls will pounce, but the Alberta inquiry cannot ignore this.
End of story, please!

Outstanding work. Sandy!

Thanks Alex!

Shining a light onto the dark art of fossil fuel propaganda is very satisfying. Empirical evidence may not matter a fig to the believers who will no doubt carry on supporting demagoguery over rationality, but it does count with public policy -- or too often a lack of policy that could benefit the public.

In that light, it has been increasingly evident that Alberta is holding an old-fashioned demolition derby with wrecked old rusty cars when it should be countenancing research into economic diversification designed to accommodate 21st Century challenges. Spectacle over planning. Partisanship over public good. Hubris over intelligence. In practicing this deception Alberta, though its highest level of leadership, is wilfully ignoring the fact that the world is passing it by, and could be defeated by disregarding its own object of self-praise: Sound economic management.

This is illustrated in prescient reports from intelligent people with independent affiliations. One recent article in the New York Times outlines how the oil industry itself it changing from within, mainly through receiving an economic slap in the face and showing signs of decline. You don't have to be a climate activist to see the writing on the wall inherent in the evidence that the undercurrents underpinning the world's traditional fossil energy are shifting and growing stronger.

It is not just Alberta, but Canada that will be forced into wrenching change. The top Canadian banks are heavily invested in the tar sands and are second in line for the big bang on the head should Alberta oil truly become a stranded asset, which would then render it a public liability considering the issue of orphaned wells and existing deep pollution profiles. Constraining that environmental liability to stay in the private realm is necessary with respect to remediation.

Still, even with the billions in investments in black gold, the entire Canadian fossil fuel sector comprises at best nine percent of the Canadian annual economy, with Alberta ringing in at six percent (on a good day), or a titch below four percent with today's lower world prices (source: Bank of Canada).

One could take heart with two conclusions after uncloaking the layers of rhetoric designed not just for corporate subterfuge, but to disguise the rust that has immobilized decision makers into deep inaction on matters that are really important to the public for so long:

* With just single-digit importance to the nation's GDP we can most definitely afford to develop a transition plan to replace fossil fuels with clean electricity;

* At somewhere between four and six percent of national GDP, Alberta does not hold economic hegemony over the nation, and any discussion of "national interest" is rendered mute with the reality that "Alberta's interest" does not smother the interests of other provinces, like BC which really does need to protect its coast from oil spills. In other words, the tail does not wag the dog.

The tail shouldn't wag the dog....but for too long Albertan bullies and industry cheer leaders have been successful in persuading a lot of Canadians that Alberta is the dog....and the rest of Canada the ungrateful tail.

It would be funny, if it hadn't led us to the Jason Kenny war room. Too often in history fanatics with their own version of reality and the world, have done damage far out of proportion to any claims they may have had to reason, good sense, or factual data.

Well, Alberta will no doubt feel itself getting royally wagged once Toyota tips the cart over and shifts half of its entire worldwide production of vehicles to electric by 2025 (that's just five years from now), with a goodly number of the remaining models shifting to full-fledged hybrids (e.g. the popular Sierra mini van). And that's just Toyota. VW is pushing very hard toward electrics too, no doubt as a comeback scheme from their nefarious emissions data fudging known colloquially as Dieselgate, and last summer introduced the electric Beetle in the EU. The ads call this initiative "The New Voltswagen." GM has no less than eight electric models in production or on the boards. There are at least three more of the biggies out there responding to the anti-internal combustion engine policies announced by several EU nations as well as China, with a combined market of 1.5+ billion people.

Alberta needs old school gas tanks to survive. While city planners and urban designers may continue to cringe over the outsized, highly damaging role automobiles have played in our society for 75 years (EVs or not), namely for the horribly expensive road infrastructure and healthcare cost profile imposed by car dependency, the Alberta finance minister will be having ulcers over a worldwide decrease in demand for fuel to put into disappearing gas tanks.

It would be far better to plan for this inevitability now and consider the decline of fossil fuels as an opportunity to diversify. However, that word is not in Jason Kenney's lexicon. I certainly hope Albertans eventually see through the premier's invisible blue uniform at the uncloaked smallness of his ideological impairment.

Thank you Sandy and National Observer for your "investigative reporting" to get to the truth. Dr. Fallon description of cognitive dissonance defines the challenge of trying to educate people with facts so they can do an accurate assessment to define "reality", which is what Sandy did such a great job at. Thank you.

Unfortunately as others have stated it will not change many of the Kenney believers' minds. Dr. Fallon's definition of cognitive dissonance: Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that does not fit with the core belief.

How ever it is so important to make the facts accessible. As the effects of climate change increases the children will begin demanding the truth on the use of fossil fuels. It will not be about who funded protesters. It will be why are we using fossil fuels.

Alberta has been pillaged by the oil and fossil fuel companies as has Saskatchewan and Northern BC. Their combined clean up costs to clean up abandoned oil and gas well, the tar sands and coal mines are nearing $300 BILLION and they have collected less than $4 Billion from the fossil fuel companies. Many of these companies are foreign companies using numbered companies who take the profits and the when the well is no longer producing bankrupt the numbered company and leave the mess to the taxpayers.

Who has an answer for the tailing ponds clean up? Why is no one putting this whole picture in front of the Canadian electorate, many of whom favor pipelines. If they knew the truth, tailing ponds clean up costs, acidification of the air, land and water on over 330, 0000 sq kilometers of land around the tar sands, the genocidal practices of Indigenous People on their own lands. The whole picture points to ongoing ecocidal strategies and practices by successive Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan and Canadian governments. International Monetary Fund just released report that the fossil fuels subsidies in Canada equate to over $1.600 per every person in Canada and Kenney is whining about foreign money. The sound of money being sucked out of Canada by fossil fuel companies is so loud we have all just grown use to the sound. Soon it will stop and we will be left with the biggest pollution clean up that world has ever experienced.

Yesterday, Sandy Garossimo's essay attempting to unpack the rationale behind the Liberal Party's convoluted and suspect calculations of profits from the TMX pipeline being used to support expenditures on sustainable energy for reaching climate change abatement goals - was thoroughly trashed as a propaganda fluff piece for the Grits. Today she is praised for unpacking the ludicrous Kenney/Alberta persecution complex.

Having read both articles in such close temporal proximity I find her methods and her explications not all that different. yet she is damned for the first, praised for the second.

Granted, the assumptions and premises on which the liberals are basing their TMX justification rest on sandy foundations. Uninformed as I am - except from what I read and there's enough hyperbole, and misrepresentation from every direction to flummox the Delphic Oracle - I think there are certainly ambiguities and "known unknowns" enough to throw the Liberal plan into chaos.

Example: even if the government does manage to complete the pipeline;
by the time it is completed there is no guarantee that the oil producers will be in any position to ship anything through it.
It is entirely possible that the global market for bitumen will collapse; it is also possible, though less likely, that public demands for tar sands clean-up of operations - of non-functional wells - of methane emissions - of sour gas toxicity - of stricter rules for the sector's notorious health and safety violations, of greater penalties for its failures, spills, leaks, lethal toxic ponds, the poisoning of nauseum; might make the continued extraction from the tar sands no longer financially viable in the changing world of fossil fuels.

IN which case, Canadians will have to figure out how to turn the white elephant "we've" been conned into buying, into a paying proposition. On top of which the Oil robber barons will be slinking off to their Texas Towers leaving us chumps to not only meet the Paris Goals but to repair the unholy mess the greed of the Oil industry, it's boosters, and apologists have created.

Guess who's going to pay for all this? It won't be the foreign ownership/investors - you can bet your bottom dollar on that. And it won't be the cheated saps who slaved for this despicable business fraud for generations. They will be hunting for work in the green sector. And it also won't just be Albertans, though they will bear the burden of their devastated province. It will be all of Canada, every one of us who hitched our existence and our economy to the treacherous god of poisonous, dangerous, fossil fuels.

Bleak eh?

The current Liberal plan has holes enough for a fleet of mega tankers to drive through , but we need to pay attention to the indisputable fact that the transition period we are entering will be long, existentially challenging and require all the smarts and survival skills we can muster. The rosy promises of the Green future are a long way off. Unfortunately, the nascent, but untested on global scales technologies, the agricultural revolutions, the dismantling of entire industrial systems will be catastrophically disrupting financlally, meta economically, and politically. And that is not even calculating the actual physical devastations climate violence will wreak.

Man proposes, God disposes - if you are religious. Also you reap what you sow. And our chickens/geese have come home to roost but may no longer lay eggs, golden or edible.

It appears that humanity is have difficulty believing in apocalypse now. It seems beyond the scope of our imaginations, beyond our misplaced confidence that we are master of our own little planet - let alone the universe.

Humans need to get a grip. We need to return to first principles, to survive, to put one foot in front of the other, to make survival, not greed/wealth/power our priority. We need some humility here, not hubris. We need to focus on what is possible and perhaps if we are both smart and lucky proceed, step by step - as evolution does, to a future that is fit for purpose.

If you haven’t already Friday’s TheCurrent interview of Mr. Foer might be worth a listen. In particular the last five or so minutes when he talks about gratitude. Though it’s easy to lose sight of in the day to day, we are (collectively) a very entitled bunch.

As an Albertan I have been hoping that we could dispose of the foreign funding myth and get back to discussing reality. The myth provided cover for removing the important voice of environmentalists in the discussion of energy policy in Alberta.

As an ex-Albertan I find it all very interesting. I have no doubt if Peter Lougheed looked down from the figurative clouds he would be appalled by the small-minded political tactics practiced there now.

I don't think Kenney's efforts will much affect the criticism of organizations like the Pembina or Parkland institutes, even with a multi-million dollar public budget to fund his biased War Room. That will certainly not silence the critics from outside the province's borders either. Alberta is just not as big or important as it thinks it is. Alberta does matter, but no more than any other province or legitimate non-extractive economic model, like knowledge-based jobs, innovation, data research and programming, and tech.

I am persuaded that the foreign funding conspiracy theory is baseless, though I was always pretty sure the rhetoric was far away from reality. I would, however, be interested to know what proportion of the Tar Sands Campaign's funding the $40 million or so represents. If the Campaign gets by on $50 million a year, then isn't $40 million significant, even if in the big scheme of things it's a tiny portion of what environmental funders spend on keeping oil in the ground, blocking or delaying pipelines, etc.?

I truly appreciate the article, which I have just read thoroughly. Clearly, it took a lot of effort. I live in BC, and have to admit, I waffle somewhat on the TMX issue. I have many family members who live in Alberta, and gave fleeting thought to sharing this article with them. I did not bother to do so. None of them would read it. It does not support the koolaid version of reality that they want.

Thanks for a balanced, well researched article. The conflict the conservatives have created is based on myth and emotion. Peter Lougheed would be disgusted with many of the policies Alberta has promoted and enacted. Where is their heritage fund? Has Alberta not benefitted from equalization in the past? You asked for and received total control over your resources. That you failed to husband them well is your fault. You do not even contol most of your oil. You are now left with the toal cleanup bill for the defunct, bankrupt companies you never collected resorative fees from. Not many benefitted from the 'boom'! You would have done well to husband your resources better. [ It brings to mind the old biblical parable of the seven years of plenty, followed by the seven of naught.] A bit more research by the media and Albertans would serve us all well. Thank you for yor work in presenting this. Wilma Hewitson.

Thanks for a balanced, well researched article. The conflict the conservatives have created is based on myth and emotion. Peter Lougheed would be disgusted with many of the policies Alberta has promoted and enacted. Where is their heritage fund? Has Alberta not benefitted from equalization in the past? You asked for and received total control over your resources. That you failed to husband them well is your fault. You do not even contol most of your oil. You are now left with the toal cleanup bill for the defunct, bankrupt companies you never collected resorative fees from. Not many benefitted from the 'boom'! You would have done well to husband your resources better. [ It brings to mind the old biblical parable of the seven years of plenty, followed by the seven of naught.] A bit more research by the media and Albertans would serve us all well. Thank you for yor work in presenting this. Wilma Hewitson.