Funding think tanks, the Kochs are poised to influence debate on oil policy and shift the social fabric of Canada.
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: This is The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in Baltimore.
Last week on the Canadian panel, we talked about Canada’s shift to the right. This week we’re looking at some evidence of this, mainly the Koch brothers’ reach into Canada. The Washington Post recently reported that the Koch brothers hold the largest foreign leases on oil sands, but not only.
To discuss this and more we’re joined by Linda Solomon Wood. Linda Solomon Wood is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Observer, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news site with a readership across Canada and the United States.
Thank you for joining us, Linda.
LINDA SOLOMON WOOD, PUBLISHER, THE VANCOUVER OBSERVER: Thank you, Sharmini.
PERIES: So, Linda, how is the Canadian landscape changing as a result of Koch brothers spreading their wings over Canada?
SOLOMON WOOD: Yes, they are one of the region’s largest leaseholders, rivaled only by Shell and perhaps Canadian Natural Resources company. They are thought to have at least 1.1 million acres in the tar sands. And some industry insiders speculate that they actually have 2 million, but the Alberta government has confirmed the 1.1 million number. So that makes them the largest foreign owners of tar sands land.
PERIES: Are there any resistance to this kind of political and, you know, ownership of the oil industry in this way in Canada?
SOLOMON WOOD: There is–I think people are disturbed about it when it’s brought to their attention. But part of the problem is that there is an ever-decreasing number of journalists around to bring that to people’s attention. And so a lot of people, I think, you know, they hear it and then they forget about it. But when they hear it, it upsets them, yes.
PERIES: How do you think this is going to influence the social fabric of Canada?
SOLOMON WOOD: There’s been a lot of talk in Canada about foreign influence in our debate around oil and energy and how oil moves through the country. And that’s very ironic, because so much of the–so many of the companies that are controlling and are exploiting the oil sands are multinationals.
It’s hard to shed light on a very closeted and somewhat shadowed area, but I can shed a little light on it. I think that there’s probably a lot more to the story than what I’m going to tell you. But we do know that the Koch brothers have been donating to the Fraser Institute, which is a free-market privatization proponent that has a lot of influence in Canada and that is a charitable organization and kind of a think tank. And many leaders at the national level have spent time studying at the Fraser Institute. And, well, Ezra Levant, who is the founder of the ethical oil movement, and Ethical–is at the center of the Ethical Oil website, after his book on ethical oil, which makes the argument that buying oil from Canada is actually a better moral choice because other countries in the Middle East that sell oil don’t treat their women well, they have, you know, bad human rights records. So Ezra Levant has made this argument. And Ezra Levant spent a summer studying at the Koch institute, you know, in the United States and, you know, is very proud of that.
So the Koch brothers also had donated to a student group that is considered to be pretty right-wing. And, yeah. So we were able to find that they were able to put 500,000 into the Fraser Institute. We uncovered that in 2012, and we found that from just looking at U.S. tax records. And that was over a three- to four-year period that they had put that money in. But we were pretty sure that we were only able to find some of where the money has gone into Canada. And if we were able to find that, we’re pretty sure there was more. There are some reporters now looking at the–I believe it’s called–well, there’s a conservative, right-leaning institute in Montreal that is thought to perhaps be getting Koch money as well.
PERIES: Linda, is this all legal for a foreign corporation to influence a Canadian–. You know, these are really nonprofit organizations. Are they allowed to do that? Is this legal?
SOLOMON WOOD: I cannot speak, really, to the legality of it, but I can tell you that there is a double-standard going on in Canada, for sure, and that it is not legal for a charity in Canada to be doing political advocacy. If–you can do it with about 10 percent of your resources if you’re a charity. You’re allowed to do a little political advocacy. But if you go beyond that, it’s not okay, it’s not legal. And so the federal government has used this to go after seven major progressive environmental charities in Canada, from the David Suzuki Foundation to the Pembina institute. And they are–these charities are now the subject of very long and very detailed audits. In fact, the federal government even budgeted an extra $8 million in 2012, I believe it was, just to do these auditing–just to audit environmental charities. So, again, I’m not a lawyer, I can’t speak to the legality of it, but there is a really extreme double-standard going on.
PERIES: Right. Is this different from what the Canadian government normally budgets for this kind of activity in Canada?
SOLOMON WOOD: Well, this was just, you know, specifically put into the federal budget for going into looking at these charities. So, yes, it is different. And it is–there’s never really been, you know, this kind of–well, some people call it an attack on charities. And many in the charitable sector are worried about this, because, you know, if they’re going after these charities, what does it really mean? You know, they could go after other charities who are doing, like, AIDS work or work for women, or right now it’s environmental work. But what happens? You know, what does it really mean for the federal government to use its power to target people that disagree with their policies? You know, that’s disturbing.
PERIES: So I gather that the Fraser Institute is not one of the ones being audited.
SOLOMON WOOD: Despite calls that they should be audited, it is not being audited, absolutely not.
PERIES: So this seems to be a particular target of more left-leaning organizations that are doing charitable work.
SOLOMON WOOD: Yes. It has been targeted at organizations that were working to provide people with information about the kinds of environmental impacts that were going to happen from building the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, the Kinder Morgan Expansion–these are proposals; I’m sorry–you know, the proposed Kinder Morgan Expansion, and, you know, even Keystone XL. These groups were providing information. Their mandate is to protect the environment, and that was what they were doing. And that got in the way of the government’s plans.
PERIES: Very good. Thank you so much for joining us, Linda.
SOLOMON WOOD: Thank you, Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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