Calgary

Kenney accused of 'trying to demonize' environmental groups while ignoring foreign-owned business influence

A group advocating for democratic reform says Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney's vow to fight foreign spending by the "green left" is unrealistic.

Democracy Watch calls Jason Kenney's vows to fight 'green left' unrealistic

UCP Leader Jason Kenney vows during his hour-long speech to delegates at the party's policy convention in Red Deer on Saturday to fight the 'green left' if he becomes Alberta premier. (Dean Bennett/The Canadian Press)

A group advocating for democratic reform says Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney's vow to fight foreign spending by the "green left" is unrealistic.

"It's not really possible to stop foreign money," said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.

In a fiery speech Saturday, Kenney promised to cut off the foreign money he says is being spent by "anti-Alberta" groups.

"For over a decade," Kenney told a cheering crowd of United Conservative Party members, "our energy industry has been targeted by a foreign-funded campaign of defamation to land lock Canada's oil. 

"The cost to us is staggering."

At the UCP's founding convention in Red Deer on the weekend, Kenney also pledged to establish a legislature special committee to investigate foreign funding behind "the anti-Alberta special interests."

"If I am elected premier of Alberta, I will not relent. I will go to the wall. I will form alliances. I will go to court," said Kenney during a lengthy speech that often had UCP members on their feet. 

Kenney also vowed to set up a "fully staffed, rapid response war room" within government to defend the resource sector and, "effectively rebut every lie told by the green left."

"We are going to be on a war footing as a government in opposing this well-resourced, strategic campaign," Kenney told reporters.

Kenney also pledged that a UCP government would head to court in hopes of forcing the federal government to strip groups such as Tides Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation of their charitable status.  

Realistic pledge?

But getting foreign money out of Canadian politics isn't as easy as Kenney suggests, according to Conacher, a longtime lawyer.

Conacher said Kenney focuses his criticism on citizens' groups — and not foreign-owned corporations that also spend money on politics.  

Duff Conacher says Kenney's pledge to stop foreign money spent on criticizing Alberta's energy industry is unrealistic. (Victor Modderman/CBC)

"If Jason Kenney wants to stop big money, he should be aiming at all the sources of big money, not just citizen and environmental groups that he's trying to demonize because he favours the foreign-owned big businesses that are operating in the oil patch."

Last week, the federal Liberal government proposed legislation barring organizations from knowingly accepting election ads from "foreign entities."

Foreign entities will also be prohibited from spending during the official campaign period. As well, third parties can't work with other organizations to circumvent the rules against foreign spending.

But the proposed law won't stop foreign spending by advocacy groups outside of the four months leading up to — and during — federal election campaigns.

NDP calls Kenney hypocritical

The NDP called Kenney and the UCP's pledges to fight foreign spending on Canadian politics "a little rich."

"After all, it was their party that wrote the book on pay-to-play politics and backroom deals that hurt ordinary working families," said Labour Minister Christina Gray in a statement emailed to CBC News.

"Our government is committed to ensuring that we have a transparent and healthy democracy where elections are won on the size of ideas, not bank accounts."

In another emailed statement to CBC News, a UCP spokesperson said the party will do everything it can to stop foreign money in politics, and added the party will provide "more specifics" in its platform.