Unaccountable Oil: Enbridge Pipeline and "Ethical Oil" PR Pollution

Is this the kind of transparency that would give you confidence in how Enbridge might account for itself in the wake of an out-of-sight oil spill?
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If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?

That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.

We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.

It comes from an interview on the CBC show Power and Politics, in which the host, Evan Solomon, asks current EthicalOil.org manager Kathryn Marshall a question she just can’t bring herself to answer:

Solomon: Some have said that Enbridge, which is building the pipeline, is a funder of Ethical Oil and that they’re using your group to disempower environmentalists that oppose this. Does Enbridge support or give your organization money?

Marshall: Look, we’re a small grassroots advocacy organization. This is about foreign special interests and their puppet groups who are trying to hijack a Canadian process. … This isn’t about our money, this is about foreign special interests who are trying to hijack the process.

We don’t take any foreign money. We take no foreign money. We are 100 per cent Canadian.

Solomon: Are you taking money from Enbridge?

Marshall: We’re a small grassroots organization. Our average donor is a regular hard-working Canadian who gives us 20 or 30 dollars through our website.

Solomon: I am not trying to disparage your donors. I’m trying to understand if the company that is building the pipeline is also funding you. If we’re talking about who is funding and the influence of that, I think it’s fair to be transparent about that.

Marshall: This is about foreign influence. EthicalOil.org is 100 per cent Canadian. Let’s talk about foreign money.”

[Minutes later, the host asks again.]

Solomon: You keep calling these other groups puppet groups. People will ask, are you a puppet group of Enbridge? Let me ask you again. Does Enbridge fund you to have a campaign against these other groups? Does Enbridge give your organization money?

Marshall: Look Evan, I am not going to respond to conspiracy theories, we are a small grassroots organization. (Garbled by interruptions)

Solomon: Just to be fair. It’s not a conspiracy theory. If they don’t give you money, you could say they don’t. If they do, fine.

Marshall: I don’t respond to conspiracy theories. But look, this is about foreign interests trying to hijack a Canadian process.

Solomon: Ok, I can’t get an answer. I don’t know why that’s a conspiratorial question. If Enbridge funds Ethical Oil, I’d love to know.

Is this the kind of transparency that would give you confidence in how Enbridge might account for itself in the wake of an out-of-sight oil spill?

For that matter, do Marshall’s well-rehearsed talking points even make sense? The portion of income that any large Canadian environmental groups receive from foreign sources seldom changes – and seldom tops about 10 per cent. Yet Enbridge, which reports more than double that level of foreign ownership (23%) appears to be accusing others of having “special interests” or “foreign influence.”

Here you have a PR person who is prepared to embarrass herself, painfully and repeatedly on national TV rather than answer a simple question about Enbridge funding. We have a $5.5-billion project that has already attracted huge offshore support; we have a tar sand scar across northern Alberta that is increasingly owned by Chinese buyers (who really want this pipeline). And yet everyone from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to this hapless PR professional is saying it’s the Canadian environmental community that is somehow biased by its diversity of support.

Does this conform to your definition of “ethical”?

Take one more moment to think about what Enbridge is proposing. Northern Gateway would stretch 1,172 kilometres through some of the last untouched temperate rainforest in the world. Bearing in mind that Enbridge pipelines have leaked a recorded 132,000 barrels of hydrocarbons in 610 recorded spills between 1999 and 2008, are we convinced that Enbridge would account for every “little oops” that occurs deep in the BC wilderness? Or, after this incident, do you think they might rather hire Kathryn Marshall to tell us that she had no personal evidence of any spill – and that anyone who says different is probably being put up to it by foreigners?

Worse, what would Enbridge or their PR team say when the first oil tanker does an Exxon Valdez in Hecate Strait?

This whole Ethical Oil dodge is just one more reason to slam the door on this whole project.

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