May 7, 2015

Besides the obvious surprise of a complete flip in control in Alberta from the Conservative Progressives to the NDP, there's also an Easter egg of a gift involved. That election was a complete repudiation of Charles and David Koch's meddling ways in Canadian politics.

Both brothers might claim their political expenditures are purely altruistic and an expression of their patriotic belief in America's free enterprise system, but the truth is something else. They don't invest solely in American politics -- they've been pouring money into Canada, and specifically Alberta, for years. One of their big investments is in the Fraser Institute, a climate-denying "think tank".

Bruce Livesey, writing for the National Observer, has written an excellent piece on how deeply entrenched the Kochs and their corporate interests are in Alberta's political landscape:

Greenpeace’s most recent research shows that since 1997, the Kochs have spent a total of US$79-million to groups that deny climate change science.

Some of that cash has come north to Canada – specifically to the Fraser Institute. As first revealed by the Vancouver Observer, tax records show that since 2007, the Fraser Institute, one of Canada’s oldest conservative think tanks, has pocketed a total of US$765,000 from one of Charles Kochs’ foundations.

“Multiple generations of Fraser Institute staffers and donors and board members have had links to the federal Conservative Party,” says Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, a liberal think tank. “There’s no doubt that the Fraser Institute’s aggressive denial of climate change, you can see resonating in Harper government policy.”

Given that the Kochs’ companies generate huge quantities of greenhouse gases, this expenditure is no surprise. But it also has a direct bearing on their plans for the oil sands.

For instance, the Kochs’ Dunkirk project will be using in situ technology – whereby the bitumen is steamed out of the ground. Yet Erin Flanagan, an oil sands analyst with the Pembina Institute, says “when you compare in situ drilling and open pit mining, in situ is actually 2.5 times more greenhouse-gas damaging per barrel than a barrel through mining.”

And then there is the Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect the oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Koch Industries claims they have no financial stake in, or party to the design and construction of Keystone – even producing a YouTube video to this effect. And it’s true the company has booked no capacity on the pipeline, should it ever be built.

These denials ring a little hollow to some: after all, the tar sands are the world’s third largest source of oil and the Kochs control at least 1.1 million acres of it. “The Koch brothers are very interested in the Keystone XL pipeline going through,” insists Mike Casey of NextGen Climate. “They'll tell you that they're not, but the reality is that they understand that it’s a key piece of enabling infrastructure for tar sands development. Without a major pipeline, the tar sands do not get developed.”

What the Kochs do is promote corruption. And corruption was one of the major reasons for the complete rejection of the Progressive Conservatives in Tuesday's election.

Now, after three years of Tory scandals — and the ruling party’s stunning annexation of most of the Wildrose caucus — the same anger, trapped and preserved in a sea bed, has been polished to a shine and brought out for show: This government is just not being run right. Lewis and his friends talk of big business pulling the strings, backroom deals, and dirty politics.

Tuesday's turnout was the highest in decades -- 59 percent.

Turnout really does make a difference. Let's hope Albertans learned our lessons from 2008. Hope and change elections are great, but we've got to keep showing up.

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