We've all seen a chart like it: logos of corporations connected by thin lines to other logos, linking dozens of subsidiaries to spin-offs of even larger companies.
But such diagrams -- whether they attempt to illustrate the concentration of media ownership or linking music record companies to arms manufacturers -- rarely involve Canada or the fossil fuel companies that dominate lobbying and other political efforts.
The Corporate Mapping Project, co-directed by Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and William Carroll of the University of Victoria, aims to remedy that.
"We need to have a conversation about how these forms of concentrated power can be problematic for democratic processes in terms of decision-making and the citizenry collectively determining its future," says Carroll, sociology professor at the University of Victoria.
"To the extent that you have very strong concentrations of corporate power in key sectors of the economy, it limits the boundaries of permissible discourse: what can be said, what can be discussed openly."
Project Maps 238 Fossil Fuel Companies in Canada
The Corporate Mapping Project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, just concluded the first of its six years.
In that time, the project analyzed more than $50 million in corporate assets and "mapped" 238 Canadian corporations centred in the fossil fuel sector (which linked out to a total of 1,258 total corporations based in Canada and abroad).
Going far beyond simply connecting, say, Suncor and Syncrude, the project examines companies at the level of governance, tracking what Carroll dubs the "elite networks" of corporate executives and directors.
The project features another three strands that will be explored over the course of the next half-decade.
One will examine the reach of corporate influence into civil and political society, impacting and helping shape entities like think tanks, foundations, industry groups, lobby groups, universities and research institutes. A subsect of that will explore how corporations push certain discourses via advertising, corporate social responsibility reports and press releases.
Another will look at commodity chains, how power is organized within chains of production and the "flashpoints" of protest such as anti-Northern Gateway blockades and less place-specific movements such as fossil fuel divestment campaigns.
Corporate Connections to be Posted on Wiki Community
Rounding out the quartet will be the actual collection and transmitting of the learnings.
Carroll says an online interactive tool will be developed with a wiki community to keep it up to date, similar to how data is presented by the Public Accountability Initiative (a U.S. nonprofit that research connections between corporations and government).
There are a dozen or so co-investigators that form the core team for the Corporate Mapping Project. Partners include Unifor, the University of Alberta, Simon Fraser University, the University of Lethbridge and the University of Regina.
It's a sizable project. As Carroll notes, such resources are much needed given the changing landscape of new provincial and federal governments, the collapse in the global price of oil and the recent Paris climate change agreement.
Then there's the fierce debate over TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, pitting Alberta's NDP government against Indigenous communities, climate activists and the provinces of Québec and Ontario.
TransCanada used 'Bullying' and 'Attempts to Buy People Out'
It's a situation that well represents why the Corporate Mapping Project is so necessary and why its organizers are bringing Éric Pineault -- sociology professor at Université du Québec à Montréal and author of the recently released "The Energy East Trap" -- to Vancouver and Victoria for a series of free lectures titled "Extreme Oil: Corporate Power, Tar Sands Expansion, and the Capitalist Pressure to Extract."
Pineault says TransCanada started its pitch for Energy East to local residents with "bullying and trying buy people out."
Documents leaked to Greenpeace show TransCanada hired public relations giant Edelman to concoct a fake grassroots advocacy campaign designed to persuade the public to support Energy East. The scandal led TransCanada and Edelman to eventually part ways.
Since the federal Liberal government was elected, the company has entered a "seduction phase," according to Pineault. But the underlying intentions of the company -- which also owns the proposed Keystone XL pipeline -- is the same: to increase shareholder value.
Such an ownership structure means the "progressive extractivism" agenda that suggests increased hydrocarbon production is required to fund the transition to a "greener economy" is almost doomed to fail.
"It ties you in and can co-opt... your transition." He added, "I think [Alberta's] Notley government is going in that direction."
Private Ownership Makes Transition to Renewables Far More Difficult
Pineault argues that pipelines such as Energy East will likely be around for many decades and suck up investment, research efforts and competent workers that could otherwise be directed to renewable projects. In addition, efficiencies may be developed to "green" hydrocarbon production instead of cutting down on emissions from heating and transportation.
"If it was a publicly controlled sector, then you could plan this phase-in, phase-out approach," he says. "You can't do that with private capital: they consider they're sitting on assets that are worth billions and the value of these assets must be realized on a 60- or 70-year cycle."
"They're going to do everything they can to keep that cycle going as long as they can."
Which is why it seems fairly important to know who's calling the shots, what kind of tactics are being deployed and what entities are being potentially harnessed to promote a company's agenda.
That's where the Corporate Mapping Project comes in. After all, it's pretty difficult to break those thin lines if you don't even know they exist.
Tickets to Pineault's free lectures are available online. RSVP details below:
Wednesday May 18, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
SFU Harbour Centre (Hastings & Seymour)
Free but you need a ticket: http://www.ccpabc.ca/extreme_oil_van
Friday May 20, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Legacy Gallery (630 Yates St)
Free but you need a ticket: http://www.ccpabc.ca/extreme_oil_victoria
- James Wilt, DeSmog Canada
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Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., the company behind Keystone, plans to build a pipeline that would ship mostly light oil, but also heavy crude, from oil rich Western provinces across the country the East Coast. The Energy East Pipeline could have the capacity to transport as many as 850,000 barrels of crude oil per day beginning in 2017. The plan is to convert about 3,000 kilometres of an existing natural gas pipeline and add an additional 1,400 kilometres of new pipeline.
Oil from Western Canada is essentially landlocked, making it difficult to move to international markets, which drives down its price by as much as $40 a barrel compared to the world standard. It is also difficult to ship Western crude across the country to Atlantic Canada, which instead relies on foreign sources of oil, a situation that is less than ideal in a country that has so much of its own oil waiting to be sold. TransCanada says the pipeline could reduce the need to import foreign oil to process at refineries in Eastern Canada, while Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver argues that the Energy East Pipeline could deliver Canadian oil to large energy consumers in Asia, in addition to making the country less dependent on foreign oil. In addition, a lack of pipelines to export oil has left a glut of oilsands crude sitting in a bottleneck in the U.S. Midwest, which has depressed Canadian oil prices compared to the U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, which in turn trades at a discount to the cost of Brent crude. Those low prices have cost the Canadian and Alberta governments millions in lost royalties.
(Pictured: Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada Corp.)
In October, 2014, TransCanada formally applied to the National Energy Board to make the Energy East pipeline a reality. The NEB has 15 months to review the project and make a recommendation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The exact route will be determined after a public and regulatory review, but the starting point would be a new tank terminal in Hardisty, Alta. Three other terminals would be built along the line: one in Saskatchewan, another in the Quebec City area and a third near Saint John., N.B. The line would be about 4,400 kilometres long, including the segment already built for TransCanada’s natural gas line. New sections will need to be built in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
Crude from the pipeline would be shipped to energy-hungry markets in Asia and elsewhere, as well as to refineries and eventually consumers in the Atlantic provinces. The proposed terminals in Quebec City and Saint John would include facilities for marine tanker loading for export. The project would also include delivery to existing Quebec refineries in the Montreal and Quebec City areas, as well as a large Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.
Environmentalists argue the pipeline could put waterways and communities along its route at risk as well as add the potential of a major oil spill on the east coast from export tankers waiting to take the crude abroad. Because oilsands product emits an estimated five to 15 per cent more carbon than conventional oil, refining more of it in Canada would likely increase the country's total carbon emissions. However, the U.S Defence department recently determined that emissions from transporting and using fuel from oil sands was not significantly different from those made with conventional oil.
Technical issues include relatively small refineries on Canada's east coast that have only limited capacity to refine tarry bitumen and a short-term potential overcapacity if all three proposed pipelines are completed on schedule between 2015 and 2018. But the more immediate obstacle is from environmentalists who warn, among other potential risks, that the plans to convert a gas pipeline to oil could pollute Canadian sources of waters. Vocal criticism from environmentalists and First Nations groups have held up the approval process for both Northern Gateway and Keystone. The project will be subject to public and regulatory reviews.
Politicians appear to be lining up behind the idea of a west to east pipeline. Potentially because 3,000 kilometres of the project is already in the ground, the proposal suggests refining at least some of the oil at home, which could reduce high gas prices in Atlantic Canada. The project has the support of the federal government as well as the provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick and support in principle from Quebec. Federal Liberals have also expressed support, and even NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who is staunchly opposed to Northern Gateway, has voiced support.
According to the industry, all three lines are necessary if Canada wants to meet its export potential in the coming decades. The west-east pipeline would complement, rather than replace, the other two pipelines and build capacity to ship oil west east and south, the industry argues.
Drivers in Atlantic Canada currently pay as much as 20 per cent more to fill up than those in the Western provinces. Among other factors driving prices higher, they are paying a premium to import foreign oil, while Canadian oil sits ready for use. Proponents say the pipeline will create a new domestic market for Western Canadian oil, as well as potentially open a new door for international export. In addition, the project could contribute to job creation and economic growth, with some estimates saying it has the potential to create thousands of jobs during construction and a few hundred permanent positions.
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