Canada Action is a populist pro-oil advocacy organization that promotes fossil fuel production as a matter of national interest and frequently attacks the environmental movement.
With a substantial following on social media, the capacity to convene rallies, and distribution of free promotional materials (such as online memes, posters and lawn signs), Canada Action builds public support for the fossil fuel industry at a time when the industry’s reputation has hit a record low,21 putting it on our list as a top legitimator. Canada Action brands itself as a “grassroots” movement and avoids formal ties to corporations, but it does not disclose where its funding comes from.
Canada Action promotes itself as a “grassroots” organization representing Canadians who believe the fossil fuel industry is vital to the country’s national interest. The organization does not reveal where its funding comes from. Its main public spokesperson, Cody Battershill, is a Calgary real estate agent who does not disclose any financial benefits from his role in the organization.1 Canada Action positions itself as a community- and volunteer-driven initiative, attempting to galvanize broad-based support for Canada’s fossil fuel industry.
The group claims that without pipelines, Canada “loses out” to American oil that can be shipped internationally. It regularly attacks what it calls “big money” green groups (pointing the finger at organizations like Greenpeace and the Pembina Institute). These attacks routinely target leading environmentalists with social media memes that question their values and motives and amplify the claim that they are funded by “foreign interests” . While the controversial pro-oil writer Vivian Krause helped to pioneer this narrative, Canada Action has played a central role in disseminating it to a broad audience. Meanwhile, this claim has been widely challenged.2 Indeed, in 2013 Kraus admitted that over 90 per cent of her own income came from oil and gas companies.3
Canada Action attempts to brand Canadian oil as an “ethical” fuel. It claims that Canada has a strong regulatory environment and therefore oil produced in the country is morally superior on social and environmental grounds to oil imported from other regions like the Middle East. It often appropriates messaging from left-leaning and environmental groups: at one of Canada Action’s rallies in Edmonton, for example, the speaker’s podium featured a large sign reading: “Canada produces fair trade oil and gas.”4 For founder and spokesperson Cody Battershill, this logic means that “we should produce as much [oil and gas] as we can in Canada.”5
In light of Canada’s history of gutting environmental regulations6 and the historic and continued violations of Indigenous rights linked to Canadian oil and gas industries, the argument that Canadian oil is “ethical” is at best questionable. Further, Battershill’s argument does not address the fundamental contradiction between expanding oil production and meeting Canada’s Paris commitment to steeply reduce carbon emissions in order to help keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
Canada Action’s more recent campaigns exemplify its active attempts to galvanize public support for oil and gas: in 2018, the organization hosted a wave of rallies across Canada to protest BC Premier John Horgan’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project. Many of these rallies have been held in partnership with the group Rally 4 Resources, which similarly has convened pro-oil rallies across Western Canada.7A steady increase in demonstrations over the years illustrates Canada Action’s pivot toward public mobilization and intervention in the political sphere.
In an interview with right-wing Alberta politician Danielle Smith, Battershill explained that Alberta’s resource industry is under attack from a “well organized public relations campaign.” “We need to work together to make sure that Canada, Alberta, we are all getting the best price for our oil,” he added.8 These populist narratives reflect a key strategy among oil and gas advocacy organizations that frames oil and gas advocacy as a movement against political elites and in the interest of the common good.9
While Canada Action rarely references its political and corporate affiliations, its ties to such groups can be seen through its network of supporters and connections to like-minded organizations. Through in-depth coverage of Canada Action in 2015, journalist Carol Linnitt and researcher Donald Gutstein traced the organization’s many ties to Conservative political figures and fossil fuel industry players.10 One of Canada Action’s inaugural directors, Matt Gelinas, worked for conservative think tanks such as the Manning Centre and studied with Tom Flanagan, Stephen Harper’s former mentor and advisor and a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute. Gelinas was also the owner of Alberta Blue Strategies, a company that carried out automatic calling services on behalf of the federal Conservatives and was embroiled in the 2011 robocalling election scandal.11
Canada Action is known for its social media presence, releasing a steady stream of memes and tweets that aggressively target Canadian environmentalists and frame Canadian oil and gas as a climate solution. One tweet suggests that because environmental activist Tzeporah Berman is against the Trans Mountain pipeline project, she therefore “doesn’t oppose foreign oil tankers coming to Canada without carbon pricing.” 12 The article cited in the tweet does not include any statements from Berman supporting foreign oil tankers.13 In another tweet, Canada Action uses a colourful meme to suggest that if five LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals are built in the country, “these plants would equate to reducing Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.”15 Cody Battershill’s financial campaign contributions further indicate Canada Action’s willingness to engage in highly sensitive political arenas. Battershill is the top donor to the Go Fund Me page for the “Chiefs Council Against C-48,” a group of Indigenous leaders raising legal funds to fight Trudeau’s offshore oil tanker ban (created following opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline) and the Great Bear Rainforest agreement.16 The Council’s legal action is aimed at realizing Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings’ proposed pipeline project to ship oil from Alberta to British Columbia’s north coast.17 While the proposal has support from some First Nations leaders in BC and Alberta, Indigenous associations such as the Yinka Dene Alliance, Coastal First Nations, and Lax Kw’alaams hereditary leaders have spoken out against the project.18
Canada Action’s affiliation with Canada’s Energy Citizens, an initiative funded by the oil and gas industry, further reveals its association with corporate interests. Energy Citizens—run by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the most powerful oil and gas lobby group in the country—posts similar memes and retweets some of Canada Action’s content.19 Canada Action’s model closely parallels that of Energy Citizens. Both initiatives were galvanized in 2014, coinciding with a particularly steep drop in oil prices. The two groups co-hosted a 2018 rally in Ottawa promoting the Trans Mountain pipeline project.20
There is insufficient publicly available information to create a map for this case study.
The intent of the Corporate Mapping Project database is to engage Canadians in a conversation about the role of the fossil fuel sector in our democracy, by “mapping” how power and influence play out in the oil, gas and coal industries of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.