THE BLOG
11/01/2011 04:24 EDT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 EST

Is Canadian Oil Less Ethical When Unethical Nations Invest in It?

The fact that investors from unethical countries have stampeded to Canada's oil patch anyway is proof that the ethical way we do business is the right way. They recognize that Canada's oil can be produced profitably when businesses -- and governments -- adhere to the strictest ethical codes.

AP

A few weeks ago a company with a not particularly ethical reputation, controlled by a very unethical government, purchased a major stake in Canada's oil and gas industry. Sinopec, whose largest shareholder is the Chinese communist government, has faced allegations of illegal activities and flagrant polluting overseas.

Now, it's buying Calgary-based oil and gas exploration firm, Daylight Energy for $2.1 billion. Chinese-controlled companies have sunk billions into Alberta's energy patch in recent years, much of it into the oil sands. That's in addition to investments in Western energy resources from state-owned companies from the Middle East. Canada's energy stakeholders, including Alberta and Ottawa, meantime, are eager to open up shipments of our bitumen to China. Given that Canadians take pride in the ethical way we produce our oil, these events raise an interesting question: Is Canadian oil suddenly less ethical when it's produced, and used, by unethical countries?

We've seen unethical countries invest in Canadian enterprises before. The Saudi royals purchased major stakes in two of Canada's most illustrious hotel chains, the Four Seasons and Fairmont, for instance. They're actually attracted to Canadian-run businesses specifically because they've been run so well by Canadians, and have lived up to Canada's leading standards of corporate rectitude and responsibility. The Four Seasons is worth the billions that Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (along with Bill Gates) paid to take it private in 2007 because Canadian entrepreneur Isadore Sharp built it into a world-class, quality brand. Investors from unethical countries would only damage the very value they're paying for if they later foolishly corrupted their Canadian investments with the unfamiliar and unethical practices common in their home countries.

While some investment in Canada's oil patch may come from unethical countries like China and the United Arab Emirates, those investors know that in coming here they must play by Canada's rules. Our oil resources are publicly owned and any producer, foreign or Canadian, earns the privilege of tapping them only if it lives up to the behaviour our public insists upon. Our second-to-none standards protecting workers' rights, worker safety, and the environment, are the same for any operator with a license to produce oil in Alberta. The codes of conduct are just as high for Sinopec as they are for Suncor.

The fact that investors from unethical countries have stampeded to Canada's oil patch anyway is proof that the ethical way we do business is the right way. They come here from countries where they're free to pollute the environment and abuse workers with impunity, while their governments deny people even the most basic human rights. And yet they recognize that Canada's oil can be produced profitably when businesses -- and governments -- adhere to the strictest ethical codes. Canada's leadership in upholding the highest standards, in commerce and society, can only serve as an enlightening lesson to foreign businesses that come here. Canadians demonstrate to the world every day that good ethics and good business can, and do, mix.

More than just exporting ethical oil, Canada's energy industry provides the world an ethical example, too. We may not cure Middle Eastern or Chinese oppression anytime soon, but as we grow stronger as an energy power, Canada's voice -- speaking out for peace, human rights and equality -- grows stronger as well. For too long, OPEC countries have used their dominance to bully the international community into tolerating their tyranny, terrorism and repression. As an emerging ethical energy superpower, Canada finally offers the world an alternative.

And it's an alternative capable of bringing change to even the most benighted corners of the globe. Not every country that might buy Canada's ethical oil will satisfy the high standards that we set for ourselves. Should energy-hungry China someday become an importer of oil sands oil, it won't improve the lot of the average Chinese dissident overnight. What it will do is ease one more customer -- even an unethical one like China's Communist Party -- out of the direct orbit of OPEC's conflict oil oligopoly. Even better, when a major buyer like China chooses ethical oil, it means less money going to prop up the dangerous regimes in Iran and Russia supplying it with oil today. That alone will make our world just a little bit better a place.