By Roy L Hales
Fossil fuel companies pumped more than $5.1 million into British Columbia’s elections between 2008 and 2015. 92% of that money was given to the BC Liberal party, which was in office through-out that period. The remainder went to the leading opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP). A new report from the Centre for Policy Alternatives, MAPPING THE POLITICAL INFLUENCE examines the funds and lobbying data to get answers. So what do BC’s Fossil Fuel Companies Get For their Campaign Contributions?
What BC’s Fossil Fuel Companies Get For their Campaign Contributions
One of the most obvious conclusions is they gain access to decision makers. During the years studied, lobbyists from the province’s top 10 fossil fuel companies contacted office holders around 14 times a day. By way of contrast, environmental organizations would call once.
“Twenty-eight per cent of lobbying by the top 10 most active lobbyists is with cabinet ministers — an unrivalled level of access. Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development (and Responsible for Housing), is the most targeted minister with 733 reported contacts by the top 10 rms. This amounts to an average of nearly three contacts per week for Coleman alone. The next most contacted are Premier Christy Clark (618 contacts), Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett (437), Environment Minister Mary Polak (354) and Finance Minister Mike de Jong (330).”[1. Nicolas Graham, Shannon Daub and Bill Carroll, Mapping Political Influence: Political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in BC, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives & the Corporate Mapping Project, p 5]
Contacting the Future Government
Any suggestion that the fossil fuel industry is investing time and money in the government for altruistic reasons is hampered by their track record with the NDP.
For example, 77% reported contacts with Adrian Dix occurred prior to the 2013 election – when it looked like he might be the next Premier of British Columbia.[2. ibid, p 24]
The volume of corporate donations to the NDP more than quadrupled at this time.[3. ibid, p 16]
Thus I must conclude that the authors of MAPPING THE POLITICAL INFLUENCE are correct, most fossil fuel companies make political contributions because of:
- Ideological reasons – i.e. – they are favouring political parties who who further their “corporate needs and wishes.”
- Pragmatic reasons – particular to the “interests of the corporation.”[3. ibid, p 4]
Climate Action Team
Despite a well publicized carbon tax – implemented in 2008 – the government’s credibility within the environmental community was suffering by 2015.
Then Premier Christy Clark’s administration pulled off a publicity coup. They appointed two well known environmentalists – Matt Horne, of the Pembina Institute, and Tzeporah Berman, Co-founder of ForestEthics – to B.C.’s Climate Leadership Team. Their presence loaned her administration the moral authority it otherwise lacked.
Only the government failed to embrace the resulting Climate Action Plan.
As Berman subsequently noted, “Had the government been serious about addressing these issues, it would have met with the Climate Leadership Team and industry in the nine months since we tabled our recommendations and worked to identify and address any other competitiveness or affordability concerns. It did not. Of the 32 recommendations from the Climate Leadership Team, not a single one was accepted in full. The government press release notes that its new “plan” “works on” 18 of our recommendations.”
The Clark administration’s reluctance to embrace the Climate Team’s recommendations may arise from 201 “contacts” the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (#9 in the list of the province’s top 10 fossil fuel contributors) made “in relation to the plan.”[4. Ibid, p 26]
The LNG Industry
Graham et al wrote, “Current policy in the province primarily reflects the interests of domestic and foreign extractive corporations, which can most clearly be seen in the government’s strong advocacy for the development of an LNG export industry.”[5. ibid, p 8]
(The only thing Premier Christy Clark’s administration lacks, as cheerleaders for the LNG industry, is pom-poms.)
LNG operators contributed $110,650 to the BC Liberals in 2014-15 and (hedging their bets?) $15,500 to the BC NDP.[6. ibid, p 5]
More important, at least four of the BC Liberal’s top ten fossil fuel contributors have actively lobbied for LNG development. This is one of the topics of interest to Enbridge. TransCanada seeks “the BC government’s support or regulatory approvals for the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline.” The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has both proposed “the government review the royalty programs for unconventional oil and gas drilling” and promoted “the establishment of a new LNG export industry in BC.” Spectra Energy wants to see the government “Improve scal and regulatory competitiveness for natural gas gathering, processing and transmission pipelines, including pipelines to export liquid natural gas.”[7. ibid, p 16]
Five of the other top 10 companies also have interests in gas development. Encana, FortisBC, Chevron, Pristine Power and Imperial Oil are all concerned with some aspect of gas production, pipelines or distribution.[8. ibid, p 15]
So far, market forces have intervened:
“Despite the government’s aggressive pursuit and promotion of LNG, only one of the approved export terminals—the relatively small Wood fibre LNG project in Squamish—is currently slated to move ahead with development. Beyond this terminal, companies have postponed locking in nancial decisions in the face of highly unfavourable market conditions. The low prices for LNG are expected to stagnate for years or to become as volatile as oil. Moreover, new LNG terminals already developed in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Angola have created an oversupply, while demand is falling in key markets like Japan, South Korea and China.”[9. ibid, p 10]
Kinder Morgan’s Proposed Trans-Canada Pipeline Expansion
Aside from the fact Kinder Morgan’s lobbyists contacted the government, or government agencies 462 times between 2010 and 2016,[10. ibid, p 24] MAPPING POLITICAL INFLUENCE does not have much to say about the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline “expansion” through British Columbia’s most populated area.
Kinder Morgan’s name has been in the headlines so often that we tend to forget there are other backers. Two of them, “the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) are central to the network of lobbyists and are far more active than other resource and manufacturing associations in the province.”[11. ibid, p 10]
For five years Clark’s government maintained that five conditions must be met before any pipeline was approved. These include the development of World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and addressing Aboriginal and treaty rights along the route.
Dogwood explains the Premier’s otherwise inexplicable policy reversal, last January, in terms of campaign donations:
“Prior to greenlighting the Trans Mountain expansion, the BC Liberals also accepted at least $771,168 in corporate donations from Alberta-based backers of the project — including Kinder Morgan, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and oil sands producers contracted to ship oil on the new pipeline.”
Coal & Coal Port Expansion
MAPPING POLITICAL INFLUENCE does not mention British Columbia’s coal terminal expansion in the densely populated Greater Vancouver area. The Fraser Surrey Docks Coal Export Proposal was designed to provide American corporations with access to the Pacific. Teck Resources is both “the world’s second-largest exporter of metallurgical coal.”[12. ibid, fn 3, p 9] and a 46% owner of Neptune Bulk Terminals in North Vancouver. While most of the top 10 are either based in Albertans or a foreign country, Teck is a British Columbian company and:[13. the other British Columbian company is FortisBC – Ibid, p 5]
“43 per cent of Canadian coal production occurs in BC. The majority of this is metallurgical (steel-making) coal, most of which is exported, especially to Asia. Prices for metallurgical coal have, however, steadily decreased in recent years due to oversupply in coal and steel markets. In the face of shrinking markets, rates of coal production have slowly decreased in the province, and exploration expenditures in 2015 were less than half that of 2012.”[14. Ibid, p 9]
However the BC Liberal’s largest campaign contributor is Teck Resources.
This may explain Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett’s press release suggesting that British Columbians stuff their children’s stockings with B.C. coal at Christmas. He explained:
“Most people don’t think of coal when they go shopping for gifts, but the fact is without the coal that is mined right here in British Columbia, we wouldn’t have access to things like smartphones, cars or even shopping malls. British Columbians can take pride in knowing that no matter the product or where it was made, it probably wouldn’t exist without B.C. coal.”
Acting Against The Public Interest
The authors of MAPPING POLITICAL INFLUENCE conclude that the “disturbingly close relationship between industry and the provincial government … not only contradicts the province’s stated aim to fight climate change but also undermines democracy and the public interest.[15. Ibid, p 4]
“THE SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS HOLDS that to remain within 1.5 to 2 degrees of warming and thus avoid catastrophic climate change, a rapid shift away from fossil fuels is required over the next three decades. Despite Canada’s ratifying of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2016, and its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, plans to signi cantly expand fossil fuel development continue apace. While the Alberta tar sands represent one of the world’s largest stores of fossil fuel reserves, BC is also home to significant reserves, in particular coal and natural gas. If proposed lique ed natural gas (LNG) processing and export facilities come to fruition, they would represent a major new source of emissions. BC is also traversed by numerous existing and proposed oil and gas pipelines, including Kinder Morgan’s highly controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, which it is seeking to expand in order to facilitate export of Alberta tar sands oil.
“At this climate crossroads any realistic strategy for tackling climate change must involve a gradual wind-down, rather than expansion, of fossil fuel industries, leaving the majority of oil, gas and coal reserves in the ground and fully transitioning to renewable energy sources.”[16. Ibid, p 8]
Getting Fossil Fuel Money Out of Government
“The purchasing of access to key politicians is complemented by and often works in concert with the lobbying process, which seeks to establish close links with government of cials and torque policy and political decision-making in favour of the fossil fuel industry. Reelecting the concentration of corporate power in a small number of entities, most of the lobbying in the sector occurs within a tight network of top corporations, industry groups and government bodies. The same holds for political donations, which are fun- nelled toward the BC Liberals, with the NDP collecting what amounts to chump change. As top lobbyists and political donors, the fossil fuel industry enjoys access to provincial decision-makers that everyday citizens and public-interest organizations can only dream about.”[17. ibid, p 8]
There are several steps that can be taken to restore a democratic process:
- Ban all corporate and union donations to political parties
- Limit individual donations to those whose primary residence is in BC, and put a cap on the amount individuals can donate
- Strengthen the Lobbyists Registration Act, so that lobbyists must describe the date and type of contact that occurred,
- Make lobbyists disclose the fees they receive from clients[18. ibid, p 47]
Top Photo Credit: The reigning BC Liberal party’s benches in the provincial legislature – Roy L Hales photo; All diagrams taken Nicolas Graham, Shannon Daub and Bill Carroll, MAPPING THE INFLUENCE: Political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in BC, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives & the Corporate Mapping Project