The University of Calgary (U of C) is a research-focused public university in Calgary, Alberta.
With an abundance of board connections to major oil and gas companies, the U of C is a prominent connection point for the oil industry’s reach into academia,37 putting it on our list as a top legitimator. Throughout its various schools and departments, the U of C’s pro-oil academic environment supports research agendas tailored to the industry’s needs, supplying it with technological expertise and access to social licence via its academic profile.
In 1944 the U of C began as a Calgary branch of the University of Alberta. In 1966, the University of Calgary became an autonomous school, growing into one of Canada’s largest, with five campuses and 14 faculties with over 50 research institutes and centres.1
The U of C is upfront about its ties to carbon capital, eager to leverage its position at the “core of Canada’s energy industry, benefiting from unparalleled access to corporations, decision-makers and technology receptors.”2 Meanwhile, it simultaneously promotes its image as a climate-conscious institution through a variety of coalitions and action plans. For example, the U of C has publicly acknowledged climate change and its responsibility to take action for the campus’s own use of fossil fuels, and the school became a signatory to the University and College Presidents’ Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada in 2008—a joint statement committing universities to measure their greenhouse gases, set emissions-reduction targets and enact climate plans. The agreement further commits all universities to “work cooperatively with governments, civil society, the business community and other institutions of higher learning to contribute to global climate change actions in recognition of our responsibility for equitable solutions.”3 In 2010, the school instituted a Climate Action Plan, with the aim of “transitioning to a low-carbon campus”4 by setting a number of emissions-reduction targets. Since the plan was put in place, however, the university’s actions have fallen short: it failed to meet its initial 2015 target of a 49 per cent reduction in internally sourced emissions (Scope 1 and Scope 2) by nearly 20 per cent.5
The Climate Action Plan only targets reductions in the university’s corporate emissions, such as those produced through the built environment, fleet transportation and waste disposal. Meanwhile, the U of C has extensive ties to fossil fuel companies—exemplified through research partnerships, corporate-sponsored scholarships and board members who double as executives for fossil fuel companies.
The U of C’s fossil fuel ties become evident through industry-targeted departments such as the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the university’s Schulich School of Engineering. Promotional materials suggest that students benefit from a “strong interaction with industry” throughout the program, and enjoy a number of site visits to major oil and gas extraction sites such as the oil sands.6 In 2016, the department received a $7 million donation from Canadian Natural Resources—the largest single donation in the U of C’s history—to build the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Engineering Complex.7
The U of C’s investment policy further exemplifies its contradictory response to climate change. In 2015 the school publicly refused to divest from oil and gas assets, in which it had invested C$40 million.8 Addressing its refusal to divest, the U of C suggested that the decision was driven in part by its funding ties to oil and gas. Its president, Elizabeth Cannon, stated that “the University of Calgary receives significant philanthropic support from the energy sector that has supported students, faculty, research and capital infrastructure,” and that “the university also receives operational, capital and research funding from the Government of Alberta, which receives a significant portion of its revenue from oil and gas royalties and taxes.”9
Meanwhile, the U of C’s Energy Research Strategy pools the work of academics across its manifold departments to facilitate oil extractive interests, an emphasis that has historically targeted the extraction of unconventional oil sources through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).10 Furthermore, the program receives a considerable amount of government funding: in 2017 the federal government provided $75 million through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.11 Targeted corporate sponsorship provides additional funding for academic staff. For example, geophysicist David Eaton holds the inaugural position as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council/Chevron Industrial Research Chair in microseismic system dynamics—sponsored by a $900,000 donation from its namesake company. Chevron considers partnerships such as these to provide “strategic investments in the economic development of local communities and the future of the energy business.”12 Chevron claims that the chair is “aligned with Chevron’s technology research strategies” to improve its unconventional shale gas extraction processes.13
Positioned as an arm’s-length business school within the U of C, Haskayne hosts students acquiring bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and executive education degrees. The school’s name commemorates a $16 million donation from Richard Haskayne in 2002. Haskayne’s career history is replete with oil ties, including director and chairman positions at TransCanada, TransAlta and Encana corporations, as well as other financial and extractive industries such as CIBC and the logging conglomerate Weyerhaeuser. He is also the past president of the Calgary Petroleum Club.14
The Haskayne School of Business, like the wider university, adopts a similarly paradoxical position on climate change —evidenced by one speaking event titled “Toward Rational Climate Policy” that featured Dennis McConaghy, former executive vice-president of TransCanada Pipelines.15 Haskayne’s academic programming in particular provides an interesting proxy on its relationship with the fossil fuel industry. Through its “executive education” stream, specified faculty work directly with industry to address issues tailored to corporate concerns. As part of the program, Haskayne worked with Calfrac Well Services, a major Canadian fracking company, providing tailored course materials to 60 of their employees. Haskayne credits its services with helping Calfrac move through the transition of rapid growth required to go from an oil sands junior to a “cohesive, global organization.”16
Another executive education program called the “Global Energy Executive MBA” promises to prepare students for the challenges that lie ahead in oil and gas sectors, including “escalating demand imbalances and political instability in key energy producing regions and ever-increasing scrutiny from a diverse array of stakeholders.”17 Alumni of the program include the executive vice-president of Cenovus, Drew Zieglgansberger, and the senior vice-president of Kiewit Energy Group, Dan Lumma. Among its instructors are Daniel Yergin, who serves on the US Secretary of Energy Advisory Board and chaired the US Department of Energy’s Task Force on Strategic Energy Research and Development.18 The program was launched through a $1 million donation from Richard F. Haskayne19 and foundational support from ARC Resources and Talisman Energy.20 Oil and gas companies host field visits during the course, and Haskayne’s promotional materials note that participating companies frequently sponsor their top executives to take part in the program.21
The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (SPP) operates as both a policy school and a think tank, convening academics and business elites to promote neoliberal policies such as deregulation and corporate tax cuts. The school was founded in 2008 by Jack Mintz, Imperial Oil director and former president and CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute, a Canadian think tank. Mintz currently serves as President’s Fellow for the school.22 At its outset, the SPP received a $4 million donation from James Palmer, an oil and gas lawyer who has lobbied on behalf of ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil. 23
On climate change, the U of C SPP favours market-based policies such as carbon pricing and technological fixes to reduce emissions intensity.24 But the SPP’s work on climate policy is outweighed by its many programs, forums and research streams targeted toward expanding Canada’s fossil fuel industry. The “National Infrastructure and Market Access Program,” launched in 2015, “investigates the feasibility” of installing pipeline routes across Canada from east to west as well as through a northern route—shipping oil to the Arctic Ocean through the Northwest Territories. 25 Along similar lines, the “Extractive Resource Governance” program aims to “provide policy education and analysis to regions with newly discovered or evolving extractive industries.”26
The SPP also hosts the Canadian Network for Energy Policy Research and Analysis (CNEPRA), a forum bringing together Canadian academics to create energy policy research. CNEPRA is funded and overseen by the Energy Council of Canada, an industry association with board ties to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Gas Association, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and the Alberta Energy Regulator, among others.27 CNEPRA hosts annual conferences to match its research interests: its 2015 conference looked at “help[ing] regulators and the energy sector understand and manage the social licence phenomena” threatening the energy industry.28 Another report recommends that governments should dispel public distrust around energy projects such as oil pipelines through strategic communication frames of economic self-interest and national security.29
The U of C SPP has deep ties to the Conservative Party of Canada. Tom Flanagan, for example, is a former advisor to Stephen Harper and a Distinguished Fellow at the SPP.30 Its links to Alberta’s provincial conservatives are also cause for concern. In 2012 Jack Mintz asked the Government of Alberta to vet a paper on sales tax in Alberta before it had been peer reviewed, and the same year the SPP received a $500,000 grant from Alberta Energy to produce research “that supports the policy agenda of Alberta Energy.”31
One of the U of C’s most high-profile controversies occurred when its business school, Haskayne, accepted a large donation from Enbridge to create the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability. The centre is targeted exclusively toward industry, promising to “enable best practices that address the key business challenges faced by the Canadian energy sector, with special attention given to social and environmental issues.”32
Controversy was fuelled when the centre’s incoming director, Joe Arvai, resigned in protest of Enbridge’s undue influence. Conflict of interest allegations subsequently followed. During the school’s founding, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon sat on Enbridge’s board of directors, and Enbridge’s chief executive, Al Monaco, sat on the university’s board of governors, the Investment Committee and the Dean’s Advisory Board to the Faculty of Medicine.33 Meanwhile, Bonnie DuPont, Enbridge’s former vice-president, was both a member of the centre’s board and chair of the U of C board of governors. In response to mounting criticism, the centre was renamed the “Centre for Corporate Sustainability.” Despite its rebranding, Enbridge continues to fund the centre as it hosts initiatives such as the Enbridge Research in Action seminar series.34
A subsequent investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers revealed that the Enbridge endowment at the U of C contributed to an organizational culture of silencing and intimidation which compromised academic freedom and integrity.35 The Enbridge controversy has been examined in depth by sociologists Garry Gray and William Carroll, who view it as a textbook example of “institutional corruption.”36
Learn more about University of Calgary at LittleSis.org
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.
The NDP government provided the majority share of $147 million for the project, $19 million was sourced from the federal government’s Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, and individual donations provided the remaining funds to meet the complex’s $174 million price tag. Scott Strasser, “Newly Renovated CNRL Engineering Complex Opens on University of Calgary Main Campus,” The Gauntlet, November 15, 2016, http://www.thegauntlet.ca/newly-renovated-cnrl-engineering-complex-opens-on-university-of-calgary-main-campus/; R.P. Stastny, “A $174-Million U of C Schulich School of Engineering Expansion is Well-Timed’ to Meet Growing Student Demand,” JWN, November 24, 2016, http://www.jwnenergy.com/article/2016/11/174-million-u-c-schulich-school-engineering-expansion-well-timed-meet-growing-student-demand/.
Brendan Boyd, “PPOL 611.16 – Climate Change Politics and Policy Making in Canada Course Outline,” University of Calgary School of Public Policy, Winter 2018, accessed June 19, 2019, https://www.policyschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/PPOL-611.16-W18.pdf; Don Pittis, “Climate Change Politics May Defy Event the Most Rational Arguments” CBC News, March 25, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/climate-politics-flooding-1.5066383.