Foreigners real beneficiaries of oilsands: group

An environmental group that has come under fire for its anti-oilsands work and connection to foreign funding says too many of the benefits from Canada’s energy industry flow outside the country.

An environmental group that has come under fire for its anti-oilsands work and connection to foreign funding says too many of the benefits from Canada’s energy industry flow outside the country.

ForestEthics Advocacy, which recently gave up its charitable status after allegations it was using U.S. money to finance political activities in Canada, says in a report released Thursday that nearly three-quarters of oilsands production is foreign owned.

The report, based on data from Bloomberg and Statistics Canada, finds more than 40 per cent of the profits from oil and natural gas in Canada go to foreign-owned companies. That’s more than twice the average for all Canadian industry.

“We need to ask the question, ‘What legacy are we going to leave?’ ” said ForestEthics spokeswoman Tzeporah Berman.

But Andrew Leach, a University of Alberta energy economist, said it’s not surprising that multinationals dominate the oilsands, with its huge demands for capital and long lead times.

“The only companies which have, historically, had a sufficiently diversified portfolio to take the oilsands risk and finance the upfront capital have been multinationals,” he said.

Berman said the group isn’t suggesting foreign investment is bad, only that its major beneficiaries should be Canadians. She pointed to Norway, where the government has amassed one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world using energy royalties.

Berman said Canada needs to do something similar to ensure that a fair share of benefits from the energy industry remain in Canada to help make the economy less dependent on fossil fuels.

“Today, we’re doing none of those things,” she said.

The ForestEthics report goes on to point out little of the oil from the oilsands remains in the country to add to national energy security — although industry has made some recent moves to ship more of its product to eastern Canada.

As well, it quotes Statistics Canada data to suggest the importance of the oilsands to the overall job market is exaggerated. It says only .8 per cent of Canadian jobs are directly in the energy sector.

“We’re being asked to bear enormous risks, we’re being asked to bear enormous costs, and we’re being told that we should basically shut up and agree,” said Berman.

“The point that we’re trying to make here is that we need to take a closer look at what Canada’s interests are.”

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