01/06/2012 03:42 EST | Updated 03/05/2012 05:12 EST

Looming Northern Gateway Pipeline Smackdown


On January 10, the federal government opens public hearings to determine whether to approve a new pipeline to deliver oil from Alberta's oil sands to the B.C. coast, where it can be shipped to new markets overseas. More than 200 groups have registered as interveners in the hearings and more than 4,500 people will testify before the panel: Every single one gets a chance to make a case to the environmental and regulatory review panel, where they can argue for, or against, the Northern Gateway project.

One of those registered interveners is a group called ForestEthics. They're the hardcore, San Francisco-based environmentalists that pressured Chiquita bananas to boycott Canadian oil sands oil. The group says it plans to argue that the pipeline, which could ship more than half a million barrels of Canadian oil a day to a port in Kitimat, B.C., "is not in the national interest." Read that again: Activists from San Francisco and California want to convince our government that a significant energy project is not in our national interest. Since when did Canadians choose to let foreign groups make those kinds of decisions for us?

Yet, in the campaign against Northern Gateway, a horde of foreign and foreign-backed groups are teaming up to try to tell the government we elected that Canada shouldn't go ahead with this project. They'll pretend to speak for Canadians. They sometimes even claim to be Canadian. In reality, they use money from powerful foreign interests to sustain their campaigns against our oil sands and projects, like Northern Gateway, that help us develop that important resource. These groups don't answer to us -- they answer to their rich, foreign paymasters.

The Ecojustice Canada Society is one group fighting oil sands development. It has a Canadian name, but has actually relied on more than a quarter-million dollars from the multi-billion dollar U.S.-based Hewlett family trust to fund its fights. And between 2003 and 2009, the Pembina Environmental Foundation cashed cheques worth more than $2.8 million from backers outside Canada to oppose development of Canadian oil.

It's true that the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation represents the West Coast: the U.S. West Coast. Its campaign against oil tankers in B.C. waters is backed by nearly $100,000 in grants from the Wilburforce Foundation in Seattle. It also gets paid by the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund to "prevent the development of a pipeline and tanker port" in British Columbia, according to U.S. tax returns. That Rockefeller money comes from a vast family fortune made in oil production. Prospering from energy resources is apparently just fine if the Rockefellers are doing it, but their fund is using the power that wealth brings to keep Canada's energy prosperity down.

Between 2009 and 2010, the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation paid $2.2 million to a group called Corporate Ethics, which in 2010 ran an ad campaign urging tourists to boycott Canada (definitely not in our national interest) over our oil development. Tides also paid a quarter of a million dollars in 2010 to Environmental Defence Canada, which calls the oil sands "the dirtiest project on earth" and is fighting to have them shut down.

Letting foreign groups buy influence in our national affairs isn't something to take lightly. Elections Canada actually prohibits foreign money being used for federal campaign promotions, to stop non-Canadian interests from manipulating our vote. When it comes to important decisions about Canada's future, we all recognize that Canadians should be the ones making the call.

Federal natural resource minister Joe Oliver has said that, by opening up oil sands exports to sizeable energy-hungry markets beyond the U.S., the Northern Gateway pipeline promises to deliver Canada "hundreds of thousands of new jobs, trillions [of dollars] in economic benefits," and billions more dollars in taxes and royalties.

There's a lot riding on this. And whichever way the Northern Gateway decision goes, Canadians will be the ones to realize the consequences. Foreign billionaires don't care if we create thousands of jobs for Canadians, or if we improve our education and health care systems. And countries that compete with Canada for export markets might well prefer to see our national ambitions frustrated.

But Canadians have worked too hard setting this nation up for success to give outsiders veto power over our plans for our future. The Northern Gateway panel has already agreed to let foreign-funded groups intervene in their hearings; our federal government -- elected by us, to represent us -- should do whatever necessary to ensure it doesn't let these foreign-backed groups interfere in our decision.