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Alberta oil and gas millions fuel BC Liberal machine PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Posted by Joan Russow
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 13:00

By Elizabeth McSheffrey

Jul 8th, 2015



The numbers are out and critics are questioning the priorities of the BC Liberals, whose pockets are full of oil and gas cash.  



As Premier Christy Clark recalls the B.C. legislature to expedite a controversial LNG project, aVancouver Observer special investigation reveals that the BC Liberal Party has received millions from Alberta-based oil and gas companies over the last 10 years, significantly more than the industry’s donations to the Alberta PCs. 


Encana, BC Liberals, Christy Clark, oil and gas, legislature, Pacific NorthWest


In October 2012, Premier Christy Clark famously attended a BC Liberal Party fundraising dinner at the Calgary Petroleum Club hosted by Murray Edwards, the chair of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL). While many believed the premier’s Alberta financial overture was the first of its kind, investigation reveals that the BC Liberals have raised millions from Alberta-based oil and gas companies for more than a decade.

In fact, according to data compiled by Elections BC and Elections Alberta, corporate oil and gas donations to the BC Liberals have significantly outstripped comparable gifts to the then-ruling Alberta PC Party. Since 2005, the industry donated more than $3.1 million to the BC Liberals, relative to a mere $1.8 million to the Alberta Conservatives.

Pie chart comparing donations by oil and gas giants

Pattern of oil and gas donations to B.C.

Over 10 years, Calgary-based energy giant Encana and its oil sands spinoff Cenovus donated more than $1 million to the BC Liberal Party, in stark contrast with donations of less than $300,000 to the Alberta Progressive Conservatives within the same time frame.

Similarly, CNRL donated at least $162,480 to the BC Liberals, more than double what it gave to the Alberta Conservatives, while the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, also headquartered in Calgary, gave nearly $100,000 to the BC Liberals and nothing to the Alberta PCs over the same time period.

The pattern extends to individual donors. Calgary oil sands titan Allan Markin donated $200,000 to the BC Liberals since 2009, compared with only $34,500 to the Conservatives in his home province. Markin has ties with CNRL, Amoco Petroleum, Poco Petroleum Ltd., Merland Exploration Ltd. and Calgary’s Penn West Petroleum Ltd.the latter of which gave nearly $60,000 between 2009 and 2013.

Also of interest are Encana founder Gwyn Morgan and his wife Patricia Trottier, who personally donated at least $175,000 to the BC Liberals since 2009, and nothing to the Alberta PCs back home. Morgan and his wifenow reside in B.C., where he has become one of Clark’s closest advisors.


Other provinces don't come to B.C. to raise funds

“You don’t see other provinces coming into British Columbia (to fundraise),” said Dermod Travis, executive director of watchdog group Integrity BC, which tallied the oil and gas donations in B.C. and Alberta. “The fact that they’re going to a private exclusive club in the City of Calgary to pull out millions of dollars should be of concern to all British Columbians.”

When corporations aren’t based in B.C. or have little to no business in the province, he added, the numbers become suspect.

Oilsands giant, Suncor for example, which has no B.C. operations, gave just under $40,000 to the BC Liberals.


“It leads to one potential conclusion,” said Travis. “They’re trying to influence overall energy policy in the province.”

The numbers don’t sit well with the province’s other political parties, either.

'Absolutely scandalous'

“It’s absolutely scandalous,” said Andrew Weaver, Green Party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. “If this were anywhere else other than B.C., it would be a gratuitous conflict of interest — you cannot receive millions of dollars and then be perceived to be impartial.”

For many years, critics have accused the BC Liberals of favouring corporate interests over the environment, from their lack of involvement in reviewing the Kinder Morgan pipeline to signing a deal on the controversialPacific NorthWest LNG terminal at the end of May.

Is it coincidence that the Clark government has put energy projects at the forefront of its economic strategy?

That’s impossible to say, said Gary Holman, democratic reform spokesperson for the BC NDP, but the idea that it might be more than coincidence is a real problem.

“The consequences of those (pipeline) decisions are enormous for British Columbia with very, very high stakes on both sides,” he explained. “So to have that kind of decision being tainted by the perception or possibility there could be undue influence — we just need to get it out, and that’s a non-partisan comment.”

While the NDP does accept donations from corporations, oil and gas giants have donated less than $300,000 to the party over last five years.


Influence on B.C. politics

Even the oil and gas corporations admit to investing more in political parties whose goals align with their own; Encana spokesperson Doug McIntyre told the Vancouver Observer that his company supports parties that share its mandate of “increased economic and employment opportunities” in B.C.

“Over the past 12 years, in our view, that has by and large been the Liberal party,” he explained. “Given the fact that we have very extensive operations (in B.C.), we obviously want to communicate with both government and opposition to ensure understanding of our industry and its continued competitiveness.”

Responding to Vancouver Observer questions concerning its political donations in B.C., a communications advisor for the pipeline giant Spectra Energy said, "Spectra Energy believes it is important that all stakeholders engage constructively in the political process. We participate… to help inform the development of public policies that may affect our employees, company and industry."

The Houston-based pipeline corporation donated  $215,275 over 10 years to the BC Liberals compared with a $16,500 gift to the Alberta PCs.

Pie charts comparing donations by oil and gas giants

Major political contributions:

Chart comparing donations by oil and gas giants

Response from the BC Liberal Party

Calls for comment on this story from Premier Christy Clark’s office were forwarded to the BC Liberal Party, which would not answer questions about corporate donations, conflict of interest, public perception norobjectivity.

In an email statement, a spokesperson simply replied:

“B.C. has clear rules around political donations, and we follow them. Corporate, union, and individual donations are disclosed to the public for all to see on Elections BC.” 

Numbers not enough

The donations are available for public scrutiny online, but some say that the interests of democracy require more transparency. SFU political science professor David Laycock said there’s no way to know what goes on behind closed doors, particularly with corporate and union lobbying.

“Unless you have micro-details of a policy development process, you can’t know just how influence is being applied to elected officials and senior bureaucrats,” he explained. “Knowing amounts isn’t really enough.”

To prevent undue influence on B.C. politics, Integrity BC, the Green Party and the NDP have all called for a provincial ban on union and corporate donations to parties.  

Last month, Alberta became the fourth province to implement such a policy, the first flagship bill of its new NDP government.

When the ban passed in Edmonton, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said it “puts the power back in the hands of Alberta citizens, rather than those with the deepest pockets.”

When asked if B.C. would ever consider such a law (joining Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and the federal government), B.C. Attorney General and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton skirted the issue.

“We know it’s important that the public knows who’s contributing to election campaigns, which is why we included full disclosure of political contributions in our Election Act,” she said in an email statement. “These provisions support democracy by ensuring information about donations is publicly available to all.”

Pacific NorthWest LNG, Christy Clark, LNG, pipeline, Prince Rupert, BC Liberals

Michael Culbert, President and CEO of Pacific NorthWest LNG / Progress Energy shakes hands with B.C. Premier Christy Clark at an LNG royalties agreement signing in Vancouver in May. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

Tip of the iceberg

According to Travis, the BC Liberal Party’s actions appear incriminating.

“I don’t see them stopping accepting donations from the oil and gas industry until the law is changed to ban donations from corporations and unions altogether,” he said. “If you’re going to fix the problem of people feeling that there’s too much corporate or union influence with the government, you’re going to have to get rid of their donations.”

How has the BC Liberal Party machine outstripped its counterparts in the much richer province of Alberta?

One theory, said Laycock, is that the oil and gas companies already have a secure grip on energy policy in Alberta, while the B.C. outlook is more uncertain.

“In Alberta there hadn’t been a change in government in something like 43 or 44 years… the oil and gas industry was never in doubt,” he explained. “If on the other hand, there is quite a competitive party system, especially one that’s polarized like B.C... whichever side you favour is going to require more cash, whether it’s on the union side or the corporate side.”

Whether the BC Liberals have become a pawn of oil and gas companies is a link we’ll never be able to prove, said Travis, but the circumstances reflect poorly on government.

“I don’t think there’s a soul in British Columbia who would not say the BC Liberal Party is favourably disposed to oil and gas companies,” he said. “… And if the B.C. government wants to hide behind email responses, well that’s quite frankly in character for every policy decision that they make.”

As Liberal MLAs return to Victoria next week to debate a major LNG proposal, critics question whether they represent the public interest or an industry that has paid them millions.




Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 July 2015 13:15

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