It’s Annual General Meeting season, that annual spring ritual when publicly traded companies hold meetings with shareholders that are so staged and so predictable that it’s also known as silly season.
This week, one AGM stood out for its silliness, thanks to the orchestrations of anti-pipeline activists to embarrass Kinder Morgan Inc., proponent of the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, at its meeting in Houston.
SumOfUs, an online advocacy group, has been in Kinder Morgan’s crosshairs for a while. It has put pressure on Wall Street and other investors to block what it calls “one of Canada’s most notorious extreme energy projects.”
It has inundated the internet with scary things about the proposed pipeline expansion to create the impression it’s a disaster waiting to happen. It’s instigated protests.
It has also worked the political angle. Recently, it said it would “double down our campaign targeting vulnerable Liberal MPs in B.C., keep the pressure on Prime Minister Trudeau, and plan a major plash (sic) at the Kinder Morgan AGM.”
Meanwhile, it’s raising funds through small donations and the usual United States-based suspects: the Tides Foundation, Packard Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, all of which have been greasing the wheels of like minded anti-oilsands groups for years.
The SumOfUs campaign against Trans Mountain has followed a now familiar pattern – it recruited British Columbia Indigenous leaders as frontmen to get people’s attention. Other Indigenous leaders that support development are outraged at the practice, which they say creates the false impression there is a united First Nations front against natural resources. Many of Canada’s Indigenous leaders in fact see their development as their ticket to financial independence from government handouts.
One of them is Chief Nathan Matthew of the Simpcw First Nation in British Columbia, one of 33 bands in B.C. that want the project to go ahead. Another 10 bands in Alberta also support it. One third of the pipeline traverses the Simpcw traditional lands in the B.C. interior. The band has a long history of looking after the pipeline through maintenance work and environmental monitoring. “If oil is going to be needed from Alberta, and it has to be moved to the coast of B.C. through our territory, I believe … that pipelines are probably the safest alternatives,” he said in an interview last month.
But that didn’t stop SumOfUs from distributing news releases to get media exposure for the “emergency trip” to the Texas AGM by Chief Judy Wilson, of the Neskonlith Indian Band, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and Rueben George, representing the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative. Press conferences were organized. Photo and video footage were provided. (SumOfUs brags about its earned media on its website).
Much was made about Chief Wilson getting into the AGM thanks to a proxy provided by the New York State comptroller, who manages the state employees’ pension fund and holds shares. She could have bought company shares herself and dumped them if she didn’t like the company’s performance.
At the meeting, she said: “We are here to tell you that no matter what the Canadian government does to minimize political or financial risks, we will not stop fighting the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion because it threatens our culture, spirituality and identity. This means further delay, risk and uncertainty for the project.”
Shareholders ended up voting in favour of non-binding resolutions asking the energy company to improve its sustainability disclosure.
“It’s very encouraging,” SumOfUs campaign manager Emma Pullman said to a Vancouver newspaper. “This is one way to democratize these institutions.”
And yet it’s activists like SumOfUs that make the state of Canadian democracy look scary.
The group is a foreign operation with two staff in Canada, both in Vancouver, out of 35, according to its website, that is exercising outsized influence by fomenting chaos and spreading misinformation. It appointed itself to destroy the TransMountain expansion despite wide Canadian support. It claims to fight for people over profits. Instead it attacks free enterprise. Amazon, Boots, Loblaws, Wells Fargo, Facebook, PepsiCo., are among its other targets.
Kinder Morgan has suspended all non-essential spending on the expansion due to ongoing opposition in B.C. and the threat of legal delays. The company has picked May 31 as the deadline for the federal and provincial governments to reach an agreement to reduce risks so construction can proceed.
If it doesn’t, Canada will be stuck with a political and economic crisis that will further scare away capital, while groups like SumOfUs get to brag: “We Win Campaigns.”
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