Ethical Oil Institute

Ethical Oil Institute

Background

The Ethical Oil Institute has been described as a nonprofit “astroturf” organization that started as a joint project of Ezra Levant and Alykhan Velshi.  The Ethical Oil Institute was officially incorporated on March 9, 2011, and has since become a prominent right-wing “echo chamber” that operates the website EthicalOil.org. [1], [2], [3]

Since its formation, the Ethical Oil Institute has advocated the position that it is more ethical to use oil that comes from liberal democratic countries, such as Canada, regardless of environmental or other concerns about how that oil is produced. Ethical Oil is known for campaigns targeting opponents of Alberta's tar sands production industry. [4]

A 2011 study by DeepClimate details the formation of the “grassroot” organization and reveals both Levant and Velshi shared involvement with the Harper-led conservatives. The views portrayed by the Ethical Oil Institute closely follow those presented in Ezra Levant's 2010 book Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands. Alykhan Velshi's successor at Ethical Oil was Kathryn Marshall, married to Hamish Marshall, a former strategic planner in the PMO of Canada. Marshall was later replaced by Jamie Ellerton, a former assistant to Ontario Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudack. [2], [5]

Levant's other partner at the Ethical Oil Institute is Calgary lawyer Thomas Ross, partner at the law firm McLennan Ross. The firm has had numerous clients in the tar sands industry and previously ran the initative OilSandsLaw.com (now-defunct) where the law firm identified itself as “working with those operating in the Canadian oil sands.” Ross's firm was also responsible for incorporating the Ethical Oil Institute. In addition to his legal work, Thomas Ross has been listed as lobbyist for “Achieve Energy Services,” a construction management company that specializes in pipeline construction.  [6], [7]

According to documents at the federal lobbying commissioner's website, Ezra Levant has lobbied on behalf of Achieve Energy Services L.P. (a pipeline company), the cigarette company Rothman's Inc. Mother Jones magazine reports that “During his stint with Rothmans, he successfully convinced regulators to crack down on cigarette smuggling instead of increasing the size of health warning labels on cigarette packages, claiming that smuggling posed the greater public health risk.” [8], [9], [10]

DeSmogBlog has reported the connections between EthicalOil.org, oil interests, and the Harper Government, as well as other conservative leaders and groups. At the core is “GoNewclear,” a communications agency run by Hamish Marshall, husband of former Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall and a former Conservative campaigner. [11], [12]

EthicalOil.org has also been a strong proponent of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, and launched the website OurDecision.ca to push for the project's approval. [11]

Stance on Climate Change

“Canada's oil sands are responsible for a fraction of the country’s GHG emissions; the entire Canadian economy is responsible for a fraction of the world’s GHG emissions; and while emissions from the oilsands fall per barrel, there are many energy sources presenting far more serious climate challenges than the oilsands do, and those other challenges, unfortunately, are only getting worse.” [13]

Funding

According to their website, “EthicalOil.org does not accept any money from foreign donors,” and they “do not accept money from any government agency.” However, they do accept donations from “Canadian individuals and companies, including those working to produce ethical oil” (emphasis added). [14]

Ethical Oil Spokesperson and former manager Kathryn Marshall has refused to answer whether the institute has received money from Enbridge, describing the question as a “conspiracy theory.” An excerpt of the CBC interview between Evan Solomon and Marshall below: [15]

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.

Key People

Connections

  • Tony Clement — Has shared a campaign mailing address with Ethical Oil [19]

Actions

April 7, 2014

Greenpeace issued an official complaint where they asked Elections Canada to probe whether the Ethical Oil Institute is working with the Conservative Party of Canada to sidestep rules that limit donations to political parties. [17]

Keith Stewart, the climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace, also alleges “mirrored messaging” and “multiple crossovers” between spokespeople for Ethical Oil and Conservative cabinet ministers. Stewart contends that there is evidence for a “direct relationship” between Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party of Canada and asks for an investigation of any relationship between the group and the party, as the relationship could be in contravention of Canada Elections Act laws relating to elections campaign financing.

At the broadest level,” Stewart told DeSmog Canada via e-mail, “we are trying to rebalance the playing field between money and people power in Canadian politics. You can never eliminate the influence of money on politics, but you can limit it and make it more transparent.” [20]

The following is an excerpt from Greenpeace's evidence of the Conservative-Ethical Oil connection:  [17]

“There is compelling evidence of a direct relationship and a coordinated communications strategy between the Ethical Oil Institute and the CPC, including mirrored messaging from the Ethical Oil Institute and Conservative Cabinet Ministers, and crossover between the Ethical Oil Institute staff and Ministerial staff.

The Ethical Oil Institute claims that it is an independent, grassroots organization. It states that its website, EthicalOil.org, “began as a blog created by Alykhan Velshi” in July 2011 to promote ideas espoused by journalist Ezra Levant in his book Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands.

However, the organization’s Articles of Association name prominent pro-oil sands lawyer Thomas Ross, and Ezra Levant himself, as its two officers.

As for Alykhan Velshi, immediately prior to “creating” EthicalOil.org, Mr. Velshi was Director of Communications and Parliamentary Affairs for then-Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney. Just months after launching EthicalOil.org, he returned to government, accepting a senior position with the Prime Minister’s Office.

Kathryn Marshall took over from Mr. Velshi as spokesperson for Ethical Oil in September 2011.1 Ms. Marshall also has Conservative Party connections and is married to Hamish Marshall, a former manager of strategic planning in Stephen Harper’s PMO. Mr. Marshall’s company, Go Newclear Productions, both created and hosted websites for both Ethical Oil and Conservative cabinet ministers Joe Oliver, Pierre Poilievre and Jason Kenney. There are indications that these web-sites were programmed by Travis Freeman, who was simultaneously a member of the Go Newclear team and an employee of the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau.

Jamie Ellerton, the next Ethical Oil Institute Spokesperson and Executive Director from January 2012 to April 2013, also has a close association with Minister Kenney, having been his Executive Assistant from July 2008 to September 2010. After working for Minister Kenney, Mr. Ellerton was Executive Assistant to Ontario Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak.

The employees of the Ethical Oil Institute are not the only physical link between the organization and the Conservative Party of Canada. As has been pointed out in the media, the Ethical Oil Institute’s mailing address was previously used by Treasury Board President and Conservative MP Tony Clement’s re-election campaign.

Beyond this apparent coordination of resources, the Ethical Oil Institute and its spokespeople have consistently both anticipated and echoed Conservative Party messaging about the oil sands.”

Below is an infographic produced by Greenpeace outlining the connection between Ethical Oil and the Conservative government. 

August, 2012

The Ethical Oil Institute filed a complaint with the Canada Revenue Agency demanding that the charitable status of Tides Canada “be reviewed for violating Canada’s charities law.” Ethical Oil accused the environmental charity of “laundering' money from contributors to groups engaged in 'non-charitable' political activities.” The letter of complaint (PDF) was filed by McLennan Ross LLP on behalf of EthicalOil.org. [21], [22]

Ethical Oil also set up an automated online form to send emails to National Revenue Minister Gail Shea “to report any radical or environmental lobby group you’ve seen masquerading as a charity so that their taxpayers [sic] subsidy comes to an end!” [23]

January, 2012

EthicalOil.org and allies in the Harper government launched a PR campaign that portrayed First Nations groups and environmental groups who opposed the pipeline as “puppets” of “foreign interests” in the form of an ad campaign and a new website, OurDecision.ca. [24]

Ethical Oil spokesperson and former manager Kathryn Marshall said that “Canadians will be shocked to learn that anti-oilsands lobby groups opposing the project have taken millions of dollars from foreign special interests.” [25]

When Marshall was interviewed on the subject, she refused to answer the question of whether the Ethical Oil Institute received funding from Enbridge and repeated the claim that foreign interest groups were opposing the pipeline project.  [15]

Ethical Oil Institute Contact & Location

As of May 21, 2016 the main contact address was: [27]

P.O. Box 1047 
31 Adelaide Street East
Toronto, ON M5C 2K4
Canada

Related Organizations

  • GoNewClear Productions

The websites of OurDecision.ca and EthicalOil.org have been located on the same server and IP address as Strategicimperativesonline.com (now-defunct), a website originally registered to GoNewClear Productions, a business incorporated in British Columbia to Travis Freeman, Brendan Jones, and Hamish Marshall.

Hamish Marshall is the President and COO of GoNewClear Productions. He is a well-known strategist and activist trainer within Conservative circles, and also served as one of two British Columbia representatives on the federal Conservatives' national council between 2008 and 2010.

Hamish Marshall is married to EthicalOil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall, who took over last fall when her predecessor Alykhan Velshi moved into the Prime Minister’s Office as the director of planning.

Hamish Marshall, through strategicimperativesonline, has registered 32 websites. Nearly all are connected to EthicalOil.org, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the right wing Alberta Wildrose Alliance Party (see below):

DeepClimate has written an in-depth article on the Ethical Oil Instute / GoNewClear connection. *Note that many of the websites referred to below are no longer online. [26]

Conservative Party candidates with websites hosted on Hamish Marshall’s server included Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, a vocal proponent of the tar sands. See the WhoIs profile for www.JoeOliver.ca.

Pierre Poilievre's www.ResultsForYou.ca website is hosted on the strategicimperativesonline server as well. A Calgary-school graduate, Poilievre is Harper's former Parliamentary Secretary, and is currently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Poilievre also worked for Jason Kenney, whose site www.JasonKenney.com is hosted on the same server. 

Former EthicalOil.org spokesman Alykhan Velshi used to serve as the Director of Communications for Kenney. And Velshi's mother, Rumina Velshi, was just appointed by John Oliver to the national nuclear safety commission, raising ethics questions among critics. 

Hamish Marshall hosted both the official party websites for the Wildrose Alliance Party: wildroseallancecaucus.ca (now-defunct) and wildrosecaucus.ca (now-defunct), as well as numerous Wildrose Party candidate websites. This included former leader Paul Hinman, and candidates Doug Cooper, Corrie Adolph, Dave Yager, Heather Forsyth, and Richard Dur. Dur is also the Chairman of Policy for Jason Kenney’s Conservative Party constituency association (note that their respective websites no longer appear to be in operation). Toronto City Councilor John Parker's website was also hosted on Marshall's server. 

Marshall hosted the website of former BC Liberal candidate Kevin Falcon. After working on Falcon’s unsuccessful run for BC Premier, Marshall went to work for BC Conservative leader hopeful John Cummins as his campaign manager. His website was also registered on Marshall’s server. 

Marshall’s server hosted a website that makes campaign signs for Conservative MPs, as well as the website of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Association (OPCCA), the campus youth wing of the PC Party of Ontario (campuspc.ca - now-defunct).

EthicalOil.org, OurDecision.ca, JasonKenney.ca, JoeOliver.ca, GoNewclear.com, the original SunTVNews.ca website, Amerians4OPEC.com, Wildrosecaucus.ca, RichardDur.ca, CalgaryWard14.ca, Cummins4BC.ca, CorrieAdolph.comHeatherForsyth.com, PaulHinman.ca, PierreMP.ca, and DriveOutTheTax.com contained the same CSS Reset.
Go Newclear's Brendan Jones also has the same CSS Reset on his personal website. 
The websites of KathrynMarshall.ca, abingdon.ca, campusPC.ca, JohnParker.ca, DavidYager.ca, DustinNau.com, VoteDougCooper.ca and axethegastax.ca also have the same CSS Reset, and are all listed as authored by Newclear. 

Evan Leeson, the Principal of Catalyst Internet (which is DeSmogBlog's IT team) and a 19 year veteran of website development writes: 

Developers have their bag of reusable tricks to make coding efficient. In this case, all of these sites use precisely the same CSS reset - same elements, same formatting, down to the character. Many sites will use something similar to this one, but this is exact. It's even used on Newclear's own custom home page. It is highly likely the same developer did all these sites.

Resources

  1. “Ethical Oil Institute,” SourceWatch. Accessed November 16, 2015.

  2. The Institute,” Deep Climate, September 1, 2011. Archived November 15, 2015.

  3. Donald Gutstein. “Ethical oil and the right-wing echo chamber,” Rabble.ca, January 26, 2011. Archived November 15, 2015.

  4. “Ethical Oil Institute” (PDF)In Focus (Publication of Canadians for Responsible Advocacy), September, 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog. 

  5. Greenpeace calls for Elections Canada probe of Ethical Oil,” CBCNews, April 9, 2014. Archived November 16, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6d5bUdd90

  6. Driven By Energy and Innovation,” OilSandsLaw.com. Archived February 7, 2011.

  7. Service Alberta Registrar's Periodical, April 30, 2011 (PDF)Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  8. Registration - Consultant: Achieve Energy Services Limited Partnership / Ezra Levant, Consultant,” Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. Accessed November 16, 2015.

  9. Registration - Consultant: Rothman's Inc. / Ezra Levant, Consultant,” Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. Accessed November 16, 2015.

  10. Martha van Gelder. “Meet the Tar Sands PR Wizard,” Mother Jones, October 19, 2011. Archived November 16, 2015.

  11. Emma Pullman. “Cozy Ties: Astroturf 'Ethical Oil' and Conservative Alliance to Promote Tar Sands Expansion,” DeSmogBlog, January 13, 2012.

  12. Ethical Oil political connections, part 1: Conservatives 'Go Newclear',” Deep Climate, January 13, 2012. Archived November 16, 2015.

  13. Mythbusting: Are the Oilsands Major greenhouse Gas Emitters?” EthicalOil.org, July 22, 2011. Archived November 16, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6d5ka06fx

  14. About EthicalOil.org,” EthicalOil.org. Archived November 16, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6d5kiFGsN

  15. James Hoggan. “Unaccountable Oil: Is Enbridge Already Polluting the Canadian (Political) Environment?” DeSmogBlog, January 18, 2012.

  16. Environmental Lobby Group Violating Charities Law,” EthicalOil.org, March 22, 2012. Archived November 16, 2015. 

  17. RE: Questions about the relationship between Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party of Canada that we believe merit investigation” (PDF), Greenpeace, April 7, 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  18. Welcome Kathryn Marshall!” EthicalOil.org, September 27, 2011. Archived November 16, 2015.

  19. Jenny Uechi. “Coincidence: Ethical Oil address the same as Conservative MP Tony Clement's old campaign,” EarthMatters, January 12, 2012. Archived November 16, 2015.

  20. Carol Linnitt. “Greenpeace Complaint Against Ethical Oil Brings 'Corrosive Effect of Oil on Our Politics' to Light,” Desmog Canada, April 9, 2014. 

  21. Peter O'Neil. “Oilsands lobby group accuses Tides Canada of 'laundering' money,” Edmonton Journal, August 8, 2012. Archived December 6, 2012.

  22. “Re: Letter of Complaint Regarding Charitable Status of Tides Canada Foundation (868947797RR0001) and Tides Canada Initiatives Society (130560188RR0001)” (PDF), EthicalOil.org, August 8, 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  23. Time to Investigate: Expose Radical Groups Masquerading as Charities,” EthicalOil.org. Archived November 16, 2015.

  24. Emma Pullman. “Friends with Benefits: The Harper Government, EthicalOil.org and Sun Media Connection,” DeSmogBlog, January 20, 2012.

  25. EthicalOil.org launches ad campaign that reveals foreign interests sabotaging Canada’s economy,” EthicalOil.org, January 2, 2012. Archived November 16, 2015.

  26. “Ethical Oil political connections, part 1: Conservatives 'Go Newclear',” DeepClimate, January 13, 2012. Archived November 16, 2015.

  27.  “Contact,” Ethical Oil Institute. Archived May 21, 2016. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6hfxPPL9a

Other Resources