Alberta Politics
Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The oilsands’ other dirty little secret — Canadians barely own ’em

Posted on May 12, 2020, 1:34 am
8 mins

It’s the other dirty little secret of the oilsands: Foreign companies and their shareholders are benefitting from the huge dividends produced by Alberta’s vast bitumen sand deposits while Canadians are stuck with the vast bill for the cleanup.

It’s like a latter-day update on one of those Country & Western hurtin’ songs we love so much out here in Wild Rose Country: They get the goldmine, we get the shaft.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So while it’s shocking, the facts released in a report yesterday by three prominent environmental organizations aren’t exactly a shock.

The report by Stand.earth, Environmental Defence and Équiterre — Who Benefits? An Investigation of Foreign Ownership in the Oil Sands — indicates that the money is going exactly where you’d expect it to go when more than 70 per cent of Alberta’s oilsands production is owned by foreign corporations. To wit, into foreign pockets.

So it’s time, argued Stand.earth International Program Director Tzeporah Berman in an online news conference, that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party Government “stop wasting time and money on war rooms and propping up oil companies like Suncor and CNRL who claim to be Canadian but are sucking this country dry.”

“Premier Kenney has used his bully pulpit to attack Canadians that are concerned about the climate and the toxic mess being left behind by the oil and gas industry of somehow being unpatriotic,” Ms. Berman said. “This research shows clearly that the majority of revenues from the oilsands are going to foreign investors while Canadians are left paying for the cleanup.”

“Oil and gas companies are delivering lower and lower social benefits to Canadians, with jobs, corporate taxes, and royalties all plummeting even as the industry expands production,” agreed another participant in the newser, Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager of Environmental Defence. “Even before COVID, oil and gas companies were getting rid of workers through mechanization. Those jobs are never coming back.”

Of course, the fact foreigners are reaping most of the gains from the oilsands is a dirty little secret because basically everyone in the oilpatch knows it’s true. It’s just not the sort of thing you’re supposed to say in polite company in Alberta.

Environmental Defence National Climate Program Manager Dale Marshall (Photo: Screenshot of news conference video).

And that includes journalistic company, apparently. Y’all remember how upset Mr. Kenney got on April 24 when some reporter asked a question at a news conference about renewable energy and said the three little words every good Albertan is supposed to hate? You know, Green New Deal …

“When you talk about the Green New Deal, listen, our focus is on getting people back to work in Alberta, not pie-in-the-sky ideological schemes,” Mr. Kenney harrumphed. “That kind of question, in the middle of an economic crisis, from a Calgary-based media outlet, really, frankly throws me for a loop. Sounds like you’re reporting for The Tyee or something!”

Just last week, Mr. Kenney was accusing former Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May of being “un-Canadian” for channeling oil industry voices that have privately conceded the market for Alberta’s heavy oil is all but dead.

So we know where Mr. Kenney thinks the limits to acceptable speech in Alberta ought to be.

Still, it won’t make him happy to hear one of Canada’s most prominent environmentalists using her bully pulpit to note that in the first three quarters of last year, the Big Five oilsands corporations — Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd. and Husky Energy Inc. — shipped $8 billion out of the country to their mostly foreign shareholders.

U.S. interests alone own more than half the oilsands’ production, she said. “If any one group is calling the shots in Alberta … it’s American.”

Former Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“Even before the world was turned upside down by the first global pandemic in history, the oil and gas industry in Canada, despite rising production levels, was cutting jobs and paying less than royalties while demanding higher and higher subsidies,” Ms. Berman said. “The majority of profits from the industry are leaving the country.”

Now these are the sort of facts the UCP used to angrily dismiss as a “misinformation campaign of defamation.” As Mr. Kenney said in his huffy Green New Deal riposte, “we are actually not trying to amplify, but to fight back against the political agenda of the green left that has been trying to landlock Alberta energy. So we’re not going to cooperate with the folks that are trying to shut down Canada’s single largest sector.”

This is a misrepresentation, of course. Ms. Berman obviously understands that whatever the future holds, “Canada will produce oil for some time.” The real question about the oilsands, she said, “is whether we should expand them.”

“Whatever happens with the price of oil over the next 18 months, what’s clear is that it doesn’t make sense to be expanding this industry making workers and their families, even more vulnerable. … It doesn’t make sense to shovel Canadian tax dollars to U.S. shareholders. We need a plan.”

The report’s conclusion — the opposite of Mr. Kenney’s, naturally — is that “the oilsands are no longer in our national interest.”

This is certainly outside the limits of respectable conversation as defined by Mr. Kenney. It’s supposedly what the eerily silent inquiry into foreign funded environmental campaigns and the COVID-shuttered War Room were set up to counter.

These days, though, other than occasional outbursts from Premier Kenney when some reporter pushes his buttons, it’s hard to hear much over the sound of the crickets. There was very little news coverage of the Stand.earth-Environmental Defence-Équiterre report last night.

Maybe it’s that the coronavirus pandemic is sucking up all the oxygen in the newsroom.

Or maybe the UCP and its allies in media are realizing discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to a truth all but universally acknowledged.

25 Comments to: The oilsands’ other dirty little secret — Canadians barely own ’em

  1. Bill Malcolm

    May 12th, 2020

    So now thought and expression control is part of Alberta life. As if it weren’t before, of course. The premier’s as touchy as the Donald if one dares utter anything his fascist little autocratic mind deems doesn’t meet his horsesh!t delusional standards of unreality. The meat from Cargill and Brooks heads south, and as expected, my and other Canadian tax petro subsidy money also heads south. What’s the use of Alberta to this country if all it does is bleat for money to prop up Americans? Americans have shown that they give not one ratsass about us as a country, but all the bleating about “send money” to Alberta is the America elite demanding, near enough, reparations in all but name. Soon as our new money is in their grubbly hands, they’ll be off the hell out of Alberta and the tarsands will croak — what will kenney do then? Pretty obvious: blame those Greenies slinking about destroying Alberta. You cain’t fix stoopid, and Jason is at least as tenaciously idiotic as those trolls who infest the internet for years with the same old nonsense, never ever seeing anyone else’s point-of-view.

    Now what will US billionaires do with the extra money? Treat it the same way they do with all the extra loot they’ve skimmed off the average American. Whoop it up in exclusive retreats well away from the hoi polloi suffering through the virus and who have to return to work too soon just to eat. Read this and feel the bile rise into the back of your throat:

    https://truthout.org/articles/billionaires-are-social-distancing-in-super-yachts-as-tens-of-millions-lose-jobs/

    You just couldn’t stop reading that, could you? Fascinating but barf-worthy.

    Yeah, Canadian taxpayers. You’re helping this put down of regular people by the genius super DNA superior human species known as billionaires. Well, they must be superior, right? They’re rich, we’re not. What more proof do you need? Oh how Jason would love to kick off his traces and join this crowd as a staffer where rubber chicken and shoe-leather burger barbecues have been banned even for pets. He continues to diligently work away to be noticed by those who actually matter in this world — harper is further along the path and kenney wants to catch up. A Davos invite would be just so swell right now, and a Bilderberg invite heaven on earth.

    Think there’ll be a change in the way our Western society works after the pandemic? Not a hope. These people have everyone and everything covered, the US population with inculcated chest-beating patriotic masochism, and Albertans bought off by no PST and high-level political bullsh!t swallowed hook line and sinker. I daresay Albertans feel socially superior to the rest of the country, so entitled have they become. Just a lower-level version of the billionaire attitude – Alberta has been remarkably uninterested in the rest of the country for decades in my jaundiced view. Wakey, wakey! Want education for your kids and healthcare in the future? Sure, the middle man between subject and deliverer of service will be happy to take your money and send a small commission to kenney.

    It stinks, but it’s reality.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      May 12th, 2020

      I think it’s grossly bigoted to stereotype billionnaires. The entire Covidmania phenomenon, which is bringing us together via Nivea, the Bank of Nova Scotia, and Delivery Boys r US, has been brought to us by Bill Gates and the folks who got together this year in Davos. The US Fed has piled on some $6 trillion in the effort to manage the collapse that became apparent by 2006. The Fed took ninety years to take on $1 trillion, and has added $3 trillion since Autumn 2019.
      https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/bst_recenttrends.htm
      But you know, conspiracy theories and such.
      The oil biz, as revolting as it is, is not going to go away any time soon. There is a dismantling of the global economy currently underway in order to facillitate the dual goals of smashing China’s efforts toward the Belt-Road integration of the Eurasian land-mass, and the management of the populations in the developed world as automation, miniaturization, digital communication, etc. remove the capacity of the great unwashed to actually earn a living in the traditional manner that arose and spread from the time of Arkwright’s mill. Universal basic income is on the way, as a permanent unemployed unterclass is fostered in the “Green New Deal”.
      The original New Deal was a great load of flatus that served to forestall the National Security State, which is the only thing that “saved” capitalists. Oil will come back at some point because there is no real substitute for it. It won’t be burned up in the caveman fashion in which it has been for the last 150 years, but it’s here to stay in some form. But short-term, as the population gets accustomed to reduced consumerism while China is smothered and work to topple that Russian Hitler, the Iranian Hitlers, the Venezuelan Hitlers, and any new Boys From Brazil that the CIA identify along the Belt-road continues unabated, oil demand will likewise continue to be squashed flat.
      It’s not often talked about anymore, but the Golden Triangle Narcotics Fun Fair was a by-product of the efforts to destroy the state of the People’s Republic of China. When Peanut Kai Shek headed for Taiwan after Mao’s triumph, some of the other Freedom Fighters from the Kuomintang went to Burma, where they converted the Shan and other indiginous folks to full-time opium cultivation. These opium warlords existed to act as the spear-point in the reclamation of China for episcopalianism and Wall Street, and despite the waning interests of the opium warlords in pursuing the invasion of China, the dream of toppling those evil reds reamains very much alive in the minds of the heirs to the China lobby.
      But you know, conspiracy theories.
      With regard to Tailgunner Jay, there is clearly no such thing as a functioning democracy in this province when some carpet-bagging demagogue is parachuted in to provincial politics and walks away with the election, in a landslide.
      But you know, conspiracy theories.
      Meanwhile, keep the kids in the back yard and bang your pots for the “front-line workers” struggling to manage those eighty-five Covidians currently occupying the 8400 acute care beds in Alberta. And buy some Nivea.

      Reply
      • Mandamus

        May 12th, 2020

        Lampshading the conspiracy theories doesn’t make you less of a nut. Jesus. that’s some grade A tinfoilhattery going on right there.

        Reply
        • Athabascan

          May 13th, 2020

          Jesus? Did you just refer to THE Jesus? Now who is a tinfoil hat wearing apologist for the kenney corrupt party?

          Reply
        • Murphy

          May 13th, 2020

          By all means, pick any aspect of the post and point out the “tinfoilhattery”. The term “conspiracy theory” is a thought-terminating cliché when used in the context in which you did. It’s a cornerstone of what Robert Lifton called the “totalist environment”. So you have the use of that tactic in common with Red Guards and the CIA. High-five!
          There is currently a single over-arching trend in geo-politics and that is the aforementioned strategic goal of preventing the rise of a rival to uni-polar US power on the Eurasian landmass. It was spelled out very clearly by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book “the Grand Chessboard”, and it is an adaptation of the theory espoused by Halford Mackinder one hundred years ago. Now I think Brzezinski was crazy as a proverbial shithouse rat, but he had the ear of every US president from Carter to Obama, both GOP and Democrat, so if you want to call the strategy “tinfoilhattery”, I can’t say I disagree with you.
          If you’re referring specifically to Tailgunner Jay, the manifestation of that creepy little ball of self-loathing and ego as Alberta Premier is nothing if not the product of conspiracy. A “man” who never lived in Alberta, never went to school or held a job or operated a business here, and yet he goes from dropping out of school in the US right into Saskatchwan politics and from Saskatchewan becomes head of the Alberta Taxpayers’ Association. Despite having paid not a cent of tax in Alberta. And then he’s off and waddling in the Alberta John Birch fan club. Was it his brilliant body of work that caught the eye of whatever Great Calgarians decided to pay to install the Oswald Cobblepot doppleganger in Ottawa?
          If you’re talking about Covidmania, while there is evidence to support almost any claim made about the bug,from it’s potential origin at the notorious Ft. Detrick bio-weapons lab to the role of super citizen billionaire Bill Gates in promoting the panic, there is scant evidence to support the claims that it is a highly dangerous pathogen, save for those over eighty who are stuck in private care homes while waiting to succumb to some combination of dementia, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or COPD.

          Reply
    • Political Ranger

      May 13th, 2020

      What he said … in spades!

      Reply
  2. Farmer Brian

    May 12th, 2020

    Interesting article on global news about who owns the oil produced daily out of the oilsands: globalnews.ca/news/5851229/foreign-ownership-alberta-oilsands-canada/.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 12th, 2020

      Thanks, Brian. The error in this article, I think, is that it takes Canadian head offices as prima facie evidence of Canadian ownership. When I have a moment, I will do a deeper dive. Right now I need to focus on my day job. DJC

      Reply
      • Rocky

        May 13th, 2020

        You are correct. The measure used by the environmental organizations is share ownership, the true indicator of who owns a publicly traded company and benefits from it. The measure used by the earlier article is head office location, which is a guide of which country’s laws the corporation is supposed to obey. We all know how that works.

        Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        May 14th, 2020

        David certainly we have no control who owns shares in publicly traded companies. The oil industry isn’t the only industry dominated by publicly traded companies. If you look at the lumber industry in B.C. or the Canadian Aluminum industry, who owns the shares in the publicly traded companies that dominate these industries?

        Reply
  3. Dave

    May 12th, 2020

    There is a huge debate about the future of the energy industry going on now in the world and elsewhere in Canada.

    I don’t think Albertans are very well served if our current provincial government and some accomplices in the media try to impose a cone of silence over us. Particularly, if those in our media mostly just regurgitate the provincial government’s talking points.

    Nature abhors a vacuum and if our established media doesn’t give adequate scrutiny and coverage of information that doesn’t suport the government’s party line or official views, other sources will come to replace it and do the job they will not.

    Reply
  4. Abs

    May 12th, 2020

    Jason Kenney has obviously never taken the LRT in Calgary, where workers for actual oil companies discuss reality. For example, the oil accountant telling his colleague that his son had just graduated with a geology degree that he would probably never be able to use. Why? Because the American oil companies have figured out that they can hire all their geologists in Texas, and the work can be done remotely at head office by far fewer employees. So aside from a few field geologists to go on site, Canadian geologists are going to be out of luck, he said, and even those will be working on contract, not full-time with benefits. Here was a father, very much concerned about his son, seeing the writing on the wall. Technology isn’t just mechanizing the drilling process. The white collar jobs are disappearing. This conversation took place five years ago.

    Jason Kenney can’t seem to get it through his head. This province needs diversification more than it ever did. Alternative energy is one source of diversification, but there are many other possibilities. Why do we continue to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, well into the 21st century? We deserve better. Our children deserve better. The rest of the world has moved on, but here we are, pining for Leduc #1, children who drop out of school to work on the farm, and slates and chalk. Yes, let’s wash our dirty laundry down at the river on the rocks and hitch up the horses and wagon to drive back home to our sod huts, where we cook dinner on the cast iron stove, powered by coal. Well, the rest of us. Jason Kenney is far too good for getting his hands dirty.

    Reply
  5. Just Me

    May 12th, 2020

    The biggest lie is that Alberta’s O&G is owned by Alberta. Nonsense. It was given away decades ago for foreign interests and is being striped away wholesale and will minimal compensation to the province.

    Ken-DOH’s claims of “Alberta’s resource” and Alberta’s contribution to Canada” is an utter lie. The transfer of wealth from the O&G sector has been single largest theft than human kind has ever seen. Even the Saudis sought to nationalize their resources. Alberta shares more with Putin’s Russia, where the O&G industry was parcelled off to various oligarchs on Putin’s word.

    Reply
  6. Mandamus

    May 12th, 2020

    You’ve got to patrol these comments on the regular to get rid of the nutters that gravitate to small sites like yours. They come here because they know their BS wouldn’t make it past the filters on the big sites. I know traffic is traffic, but being frequented by conspiracy theorists isn’t something you’ll be enthusiastically putting on your business cards.

    Reply
    • Magda

      May 13th, 2020

      +1,000 from me. What’s even worse is smug nutters whose incoherence is testimony to their intensity.

      Reply
      • Murphy

        May 13th, 2020

        Did you confuse this site with Candy Crush?

        Reply
    • Athabascan

      May 13th, 2020

      Mandamus? Really! Is that you Matt Wolf?

      Reply
  7. David in Sask

    May 12th, 2020

    We just don’t want to know how foolish we have been in Canada and Postmedia newspapers being American owned are glad to keep us in the dark. Granted the columnists who spew the bullshit have to do so in order to keep their jobs. Editor’s likewise don’t allow anything contrary to get into print for the same reason.

    We don’t have objective reporting but we get propaganda full time.

    Sadly our politicians have been bought off just like south of the 49th.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    May 13th, 2020

    People can claim whatever they want, but it was the Alberta PCs who let corporations from other countries take our oil, and the vast majority of the revenue. This happened when Ralph Klein was in his early stages as premier. When Jason Kenney says it’s Alberta’s oil, he is wrong. Another fact, is that when Don Getty first became premier, he changed Alberta’s oil royalty regime for the worst. Ralph Klein further worsened it. It was a permanent change, and it cannot be undone. The amount of revenue Alberta gets from the oil it has is such a pittance. Also, there is not going to be oil prices at $100 bbl, or greater anymore. Nor will there be oil prices in the $50 – $90 bbl range anymore. That’s a reality. Oil prices will remain very low like the prices we now have for the future. What will Jason Kenney and the UCP do for revenue? The UCP have already left Albertans $50 billion in the hole. Unfortunately, things will not get better.

    Reply
  9. Ab

    May 13th, 2020

    Oh, great. Now we’re going to get it. Norway dropped oil sands product from their pension holdings, while retaining Saudi product. We’re going to hear the line about “dictator oil” a lot in the coming days. More foaming at the mouth, and the question must be asked, is it the ranting and the raving that drove the Norwegians to the edge of reason with “our” oil?

    Reply
  10. John Reader

    May 13th, 2020

    The report referred to by Stand.earth trots out the same old nonsense that has been promulgated by Berman, Press Progress and others respecting the oil sands and the hydrocarbon energy business in Canada over the years. It’s hard to know where to start in any type of critique since it is all distorted nonsense. Let me just say that if any Canadian wishes to participate in these projects they are quite free to invest in any of the major oil sands players as they are global-scale, publicly-traded companies. They return excellent long term dividends as a result of their excellent projects.

    Reply
    • Rocky

      May 13th, 2020

      Actually, you are trotting out the same old nonsense used by U.S. dominated Canadian corporations to pretend that they serve the interests of the country in which their head office of convenience is located. The measure used by the environmental organizations, share ownership, is a more accurate reflection of in whose interests the company is being operated. As for how long-term their dividends will be, these companies are contributing to the destruction of our planet, so there is a limit to that. Mostly these days they seem to be lining up for public subsidies, which are then pocketed and shipped Stateside.

      Reply
  11. David Grant

    May 15th, 2020

    Oil is the sacred cow that Albertans can’t bear to have criticized and it only get worse. This won’t be resolved by Wexit and can only be resolved by a cold acceptance of the facts as they are. While renewables aren’t perfect, they can provide a way to reduce greenhouse gases and by some time in order to redesign our society.

    Reply
  12. Peter Wilson

    May 17th, 2020

    Just read that the Saudi Sovereign Wealth fund invested in Suncor and CNRL.
    With the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund owning Nova at Joffre, Alberta it would appear that, even after the repeal of the Bill 10 suspension of environmental oversight and reporting, that it gonna be real hard to put the ethical back in “ethical oil”.
    Also those Alberta oil execs might be a little more cautious about remuneration and bonuses since theft sometimes means amputation to some of these owners!

    Reply

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