In 2012, federal cabinet minister Joe Oliver, then chief supplicant to Canada’s fossil fuel industry, complained that opponents use funding from “foreign special interest groups” to achieve their “radical ideological agenda.” It was a strange comment from a government that promotes untrammelled development of what Maclean’s Magazine called “Our Chinese oil sands.”
The fossil fuel industry’s noise machine quickly added to Oliver’s claims and CRA tax auditors moved to silence environmental groups. However, Canada’s Conservatives have an inconsistent view about foreigners entering political debates. In May, the Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly wrote Canada’s $207,000 oil sands ad: Putting a price on deception,
“The ad in The New Yorker is pretty, if not quite arresting. The full-page photo on the inside back cover – prime real estate in the United States’ leading upmarket magazine – features a pristine river meandering through a lush mountain valley, untouched by humanity. It is not a tourism ad. It is designed to convince influential Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline is environmentally safe, even desirable.
“What is clever about the ad is not the photo; it is the headline and the succinct lines of copy beneath it. They are slick pieces of propaganda… But this ad is unconscionable because you, the Canadian taxpayer, paid for it. The rate for a full-page ad in that location, according to Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, is $207,000 (U.S.)…”
Long ago, the fossil fuel business learned that when dealing for valuable public assets, the industry could first spend a little to acquire politicians. Returns on those investments may seem unconscionable to us but they are routine for the people on both sides of the bargain. Not just natural resources are in play. A secondary objective is to have taxpayers dollars spent on furthering industrial interests. The costly New Yorker ad, part of Canada’s $25 million campaign in both Europe and the USA, is one example.
The recent LNG in BC conference is another. BC Liberals will not fund public schools properly but they will spend heavily for an industry that has largely stopped making deposits to BC’s tax collection accounts. (As demonstrated elsewhere on this blog, unrecorded credits owed producers exceed natural gas royalties received in the last three years.)
Industrialists have been and will be the beneficiaries of resource policies but it is not entirely a one-way street. As always, one hand washes the other. After LNG in BC, someone sent me a six-page billet-doux to the Liberals that was distributed on the floor of the taxpayer-funded conference. It is by Krishnan Suthanthiran, a self-described American-Indian businessperson who aims for a piece of the action if a sufficiently subsidized LNG industry proceeds. That is uncertain, given the scale of demands by Asian energy companies who are promoting competition between Canada, Russia, Australia and other suppliers, but, even if it does not, Suthanthiran has other plans for the former mining town of Kitsault, BC. He needs provincial support for that so, one way or another, hand washing helps.
However, the Proud American’s convention contribution is cringe worthy, the kind of sycophancy one might expect north of Korea’s 38th parallel. However, as the $11 million Bollywood party demonstrated, Liberals know no boundaries when it comes to celebrating themselves. Or in rewarding friends.