Koch brothers hold lease in tar sands the size of Delaware

Turns out billionaire American oil tycoons and Tea Party founders Charles and David Koch are major lease holders in Alberta's tar sands.

Alberta's ministry of energy confirmed to the Washington Post this week that the Koch brothers own 1.1 million acres in tar sands region in Northern Alberta, through a subsidiary of Koch Industries, "the privately-owned cornerstone of [their] fortune."

That's "an area nearly the size of Delaware in what "appears to be a long-term investment that could produce tens of thousands of barrels of the region's thick brand of crude oil in the next three years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of barrels a few years after that," the Post reported. (Here's an update from the Post.)

But is this the only other Koch connection to Canada? Alas, it appears no. 

First, let's start with all Koch cash that flows to conservatives groups in the U.S.

Funded America's wacky political movement: the Tea Party and their climate-change denying friends.

The Koch brothers have poured hundreds of millions of dollars to help build up an expansive network of conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, super PACs and shell groups connected to the Tea Party. Most notably, these include FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, two groups credited with starting the Tea Party movement.

"What they don't say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens' movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires," former Obama adviser David Axelrod explained in an exposé in the New Yorker magazine

A separate investigation, conducted recently by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, found that Koch-affiliated groups have donated tens of millions to climate change denial groups, with the Koch cash accounting for 9% of all traceable funding sources to these groups in 2006. Brulle also noted that the Kochs are "no longer making publicly traceable contributions" and "funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources."  

The decline in traceable Koch funding coincided with a "dramatic" influx in funding to Donors Trust, an anonymous fund that doles out cash to conservative think tanks, advocacy and climate change denial groups, according to the study, released last December.

The Canadian connection

Turns out Koch brothers have been showering Canadian conservatives with cash for a long time.

The Vancouver Observer reported in 2012 that the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank based in Vancouver, had been receiving funding from the Koch brother for "years and years." The media outlet received confirmation from the institute's co-founder Michael Walker, who said the large grants went towards the institute's international work.

And how about since 2012? PressProgress asked, but the Fraser Institute won't say.

"We are not interested in participating in this story," institute spokesman Dean Pelkey told us.

Students for Liberty, a conservative group that provides "a unified, student-driven forum of support for students and student organizations dedicated to liberty" with a presence on 11 Canadian university campuses, was more forthcoming. Koch foundations or businesses have donated to the organization, but not this fiscal year, director of marketing Frederik Cyrus Roeder told PressProgress about its North American operations.

"We used to get some funding from Koch in the past, but are not receiving any Koch-donations any more."

According to IRS records compiled by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, the Charles G. Koch Foundation was the third largest funder of Students for Liberty between 2009 and 2012, contributing over $100,000. (Donor Trust Fund was the student group's top donor in this period.)

Students for Liberty publications include the book "The Economics of Freedom: What Your Professors Won't Tell You" and "The Morality of Capitalism: What Your Professors Won't Tell You."

Photo: Wikipedia.

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Booya! This union just clobbered Target in the video outreach department

Target Corp., third-largest retailer in the United States, is making a big play in Canada.

Following its $1.8 billion deal in 2011 to take over up to 200 Zellers leases, the company plans to have 133 locations in Canada by the end of the year.

The discount retailer is likely busy these days, trying to figure out how to dig out of a hole after posting a $941 million loss last year related to its Canadian operations.

But after the leak this week of its latest anti-union video (you've got to watch it, courtesy of Gawker, because it's just so bad), the retailer should take the time to check out what unions actually do to fight for fair wages and shared prosperity.

Watch this cute kitty, courtesy of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario. 


Photo: YouTube

New Finance Minister supports tax loophole that 86% of families won't benefit from

Joe Oliver has never really been the type to paddle against the current. 

So it's not super surprising that Stephen Harper's new Finance Minister has come out in favour of family income splitting, even though the $3 billion Mad Men Giveaway has been criticized by think tanks across the ideological spectrum.

For all the knocks against Oliver's predecessor Jim Flaherty, who resigned from cabinet on Tuesday, at least he wasn't afraid to rock the boat when he thought Harper was dead wrong.

"I could usually get him to come around to a position I could live with," Flaherty told CBC News recently.

That's why it was encouraging last month to see Flaherty speak out about a 2011 Conservative election promise to bring in income splitting for families with children under 18.

"It benefits some parts of the Canadian population a lot and other parts of the Canadian population virtually not at all," Flaherty said.

"I'm not sure that overall it benefits our society," Flahery added.

Too bad it looks like the most radical change Oliver intends to make as Finance Minister is to stop challenging Harper when he's wrong. 

Here are key stats for Oliver to consider to help him reconsider:

  • 86% of families would gain no benefit at all from the tax loophole.
  • The bottom 60% of families (those making $56,000 or less) would receive, on average, $50. Most families in this group would receive no benefit whatsoever.
  • The richest 5% of Canadian families — those making over $147,000 — would see an average benefit of $1,100, with one in 10 of this elite group gaining more than $5,000 from this loophole.
  • The top 5% of families would see more benefit than the bottom 60% of families.
  • 4% of families would gain less than $500.
  • 1% of all families would get more than $6,500. Most of those $6,500 gainers are already among Canada’s richest."
  • Only 16% of Canadians believe income splitting would be a significant benefit for them.
  • 52% of Canadians believe there would be no benefit to them
  • 23% of Canadians think the Conservatives should go ahead with the idea income splitting, compared to 73% who would opt for other priorities.

Photo: Facebook

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What's with all this praise for Jim Flaherty's record?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was written and published on March 19, 2014, immediately after Jim Flaherty's resignation.

If you listen to the way some pundits are describing the close of Jim Flaherty's long tenure as Finance Minister – how he used his "steady hand" to "steer Canada through some very challenging times" – you can be forgiven if you thought he paddled a canoe through a hurricane rather than drive a car into a ditch.

So let's correct the record, now that he's resigned.

Here are 10 things you need to know about Flaherty's real record:

#1 Didn't realize a recession was happening when the recession happened

In the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, Flaherty released a fiscal update in 2008 that made no mention of stimulus spending and calmly projected a modest surplus. The rest of the world was freaking out, descending into financial chaos and taking unprecedented action to stabilize the global economy.

Flaherty's reaction to the global financial crisis nearly triggered a vote of non-confidence. Harper prorogued Parliament instead.

#2 Mr. Fiscal Conservative ran record deficits

Flaherty is a "fiscal conservative" focused squarely on balancing the budget, but tabled seven deficit budgets and racked up $150 billion in debt.

#3 The one million jobs man? Nope

Flaherty talked repeatedly that "one million net new jobs have been created since the depth of the recession in July 2009" -- the depths of the recession.

But how about looking at the Conservative record since the beginning of the recession in September 2008 – instead of from the extreme low point – to judge how well the Conservatives do?

Between September 2008 and September 2013, 653,400 jobs were added to the economy, and more than half of those new jobs (53.4%) were in sales and services, the lowest-paid occupational category. 

Meanwhile, the employment rate, which is a better indicator of labour market performance because it measures the proportion of working-age Canadians with a job, is worse today than before the recession (standing at 66.5% compared to 68.3% in 2008).

#4 The top economy in the G7? Nope, again

Flaherty talked a lot about Canada's economic recovery as a success story, topping all G7 countries.

In actual fact, Canada's real GDP per capita growth puts us in the middle of the pack, behind Germany, Japan and the United States. And among 34 OECD countries, Canada stands at 16th spot when population growth and purchasing power are taken into account.

#5 "Skilled workers shortage" never existed

Conservatives have been telling everyone that Canada doesn't really have an unemployment problem, it has a skilled workers problem. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs left unfilled because, well, Canadians just don't have the skills.

Turns out that's not quite accurate. New Statistics Canada data show that the "skilled workers shortage" is actually much smaller than claimed, and for every available job, there are six unemployed workers.

#6 Flaherty raised the retirement age, close the door on expanding CPP

Flaherty ruled out a modest expansion of the Canada Pension Plan, even though pension experts consider it a no-brainer.

This followed a decision to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67; the Conservatives failed the mention this nugget on the campaign trail in 2011.

#7 Slashed corporate tax cuts, companies hoarded the cash

The corporate tax rate has been slashed from 22% in 2006 to a record low 15% today. That's the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7. Since 2011, when the corporate tax rate stood at 18.5%, we've lost $6.1 billion in revenue.

During this same time, the amount of "dead money" (profits held by companies and not reinvested) has skyrocketed. Standing at $626 billion, Canada's mountain of dead money is now actually larger than the federal debt.

#8 Spending a lot of cash on the wrong kind of tax cuts

Rolling back the GST by two percentage points – "among the worst possible tax cuts to boost productivity" – ended up costing the government $14 billion in revenue per year.

And many of the Conservatives' so-called boutique tax cuts, packaged as good for ordinary people, actually see the largest portion of the benefits go to the wealthiest taxpayers and virtually nothing to those who are struggling the most.

#9 On a relative note, let's talk about Canada's massive revenue problem

These tax cuts mean Canada has lost billions in revenue.

In fact, our revenues haven't been as low as they are right now since the 1940s. Canada doesn't have a spending problem, we've got a revenue problem. 

#10. Speaking of a revenue problem

Did Flaherty figure out boutique tax giveaways for the wealthiest are a bad idea? Or did he conclude that Canada has a revenue problem?

Who knows, but at the end of his run as Finance Minister, Flaherty spoke out loudly and clearly against family income splitting. Kudos!

"There are some people who benefit and lots of people who don't in that world of income splitting," Flaherty said, adding: "I'm not sure that overall it benefits our society." He's right on this one: an analysis shows the Mad Men Giveaway plan is skewed heavily in favour of the wealthiest, with 86% of families receiving no benefit at all.

Too bad he lost this internal fight inside the Conservative family.

Photo: dok1. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.