This article originally appeared in The Hill Times on June 18 titled “Ethical Oil is ethical, says Ellerton.”
Sensible Canadians understand there’s a big difference between the virtual enslavement of women in Saudi Arabia and the hanging of gays in Iran on one hand, and a new budget rule here in Canada that, as accounting firm KPMG explains it, is aimed at “enhancing charities’ transparency and accountability.” Rick Smith, the head of the lobby group Environmental Defence (ED), doesn’t see that difference.
In his June 11 Hill Times op-ed, Smith claims Ottawa’s new budget “cracks down on liberal freedoms.” In reality, the Canada Revenue Agency will better enforce the law to ensure charities aren’t using their special privilege to issue tax credits to engage in prohibited political activity.
No doubt Smith is worried. Ethical Oil has written to the Canada Revenue Agency detailing the political and partisan activity we believe Environmental Defence has done in violation of charities law. Examples include campaigning against Peter Kent in the lead up to the last federal election, lobbying the Ontario government, and having a stated purpose to challenge government policy. This is not charity. Smith makes a mockery of true human rights causes — to empower persecuted minorities in the Middle East, to bring democracy to repressed autocratic nations — by comparing his accounting issues to those true horror stories.
Still, it’s good to see that Smith is finally realizing that ethics are an important matter when it comes to energy. He’s published a list of questions for us, primarily asking how we can support the Northern Gateway pipeline project to take ethical, Canadian oil to the coast for export, when some of it might end up in China. As Smith rightly points out, China’s own human rights record is seriously wanting.
These questions are actually pretty rich coming from an organization that relentlessly attacked the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Smith’s organization was an early part of the coordinated campaign with American anti-oil sands groups to pressure Washington to block the Keystone project. Smith doesn’t prefer we sell our oil to ethical countries, as he now disingenuously pretends; he prefers we didn’t sell our oil at all.
What Smith still doesn’t get is that even if Canada stopped producing oil tomorrow, OPEC would only grow more powerful. He asks why Canadian oil going to China is preferable to Iranian oil going to China. Having access to — or even refining — Canada’s ethical oil won’t suddenly convince Beijing to stop censoring the internet, or jailing dissidents. But it will at least ensure that Chinese money doesn’t help perpetuate human rights crimes in the conflict oil countries eager to take market share from Canadian energy exports.
Those who are serious about the ethics of oil know that this is the heart of the issue: We can’t compare Canadian oil exports to some fantasy energy source free of any environmental impact whatsoever and that turns its buyers into liberal democracies overnight. We can only compare Canadian oil to the alternatives: dirtier, bloodier crude from conflict oil producers.
Rick Smith apparently doesn’t consider our oil to be ethically superior to that of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Iran. When multinational corporations do business in Canada, they abide by our standards. They heed our unparalled protections for the environment and workers. That’s why Canadian oil workers are among the most privileged in the world. It’s why Alberta is the first Canadian jurisdiction to impose carbon emission taxes. It’s why oil sands oil has reduced its carbon footprint per barrel by nearly a third in the last two decades, to the point where oil sands oil is already less carbon intensive than conflict oil from Russia and Nigeria.
It’s also why our aboriginal people are a big part of our oil industry, with aboriginal companies having done nearly $4 billion worth of business with oil sands companies between 1998 and 2009, and the oil sands employs more aboriginals than any other sector. Contrary to Smith’s claim that First Nations “overwhelmingly” oppose the Northern Gateway, Enbridge, has the support of a majority of aboriginal groups along the proposed pipeline route. Far from having their rights trampled on, these aboriginals will enjoy an equity stake in the project, helping them build their communities and prosperity for future generations.
Of course the rise of Canada’s oil production won’t make the world instantly ethical overnight: no energy source can do that. But Canada is the only country that has both enormous oil deposits, and an unwavering commitment to advancing peace, environmental responsibility and human rights. China, the U.S., and every other major oil importer are going to buy their energy from somewhere. Most Canadians understand that it’s better they buy it from us, than from the brutal, oppressive and environmentally reckless conflict oil producers at OPEC. Hopefully, if he asks enough questions and starts listening carefully to the answers, Rick Smith will eventually understand that, too.
Jamie Ellerton is executive director of EthicalOil.org.