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Alberta Sovereignist Group Backing Danielle Smith Funded by Wealthy Business Elites, Filings Show

Former Imperial Oil chairman among top funders of third party group that is running billboard attack ads ahead of Alberta’s next election

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A sovereignist group that is running third party attack ads ahead of Alberta’s provincial election is funded by wealthy business people, including the former chairmen of Imperial Oil and Potash.

The Buffalo Project, a group launched by disgruntled business elites with help from former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Calgary millionaire W. Brett Wilson, has advocated for greater autonomy for Alberta and praised Danielle Smith during the 2022 UCP leadership race for putting forward her controversial Sovereignty Act.

In a 2022 letter to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the group called on Saskatchewan and Alberta to “exert sovereignty over provincial affairs like immigration, trade, transportation corridors and taxation.”

Buffalo Project

Buffalo Project

On the group’s website, which lists no contact information or names of staff, the Buffalo Project claims that Alberta and Saskatchewan’s “identity is under attack.”

“Just like the Buffalo, we will walk into the storm and fight those wishing to kill our identity and heritage.”

The Buffalo Project is currently running a billboard campaign titled “Alberta’s Not Going Back.” The campaign echoes Smith’s frequently repeated messaging tying NDP Leader Rachel Notley to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Photo: Robb Aishford

The Buffalo Project, which formally registered with Elections Alberta as a Third Party Advertiser, recently released financial disclosures that offer a glimpse at who is behind the group.

According to Elections Alberta filings, the Buffalo Project has raised $62,500 this year alone from just seven individuals.

At $10,000, one of the Buffalo Project’s top donors is Tim Hearn.

Hearn is the former Chairman of Imperial Oil, the Canadian subsidiary of the multinational ExxonMobil Corporation, one of the largest stakeholders in Alberta’s oil industry. He has held a number of executive positions with Exxon over the years.

Hearn has a history of donating to right-wing causes over the years through The Hearn Family Foundation, a private foundation he runs with his spouse Gracie. According to CRA records, these include donations to The Fraser Institute, The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and controversial anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centres in Calgary.

Another $10,000 backer of the Buffalo Project is Rafi Tahmazian, a portfolio manager with Canoe Financial, a firm chaired by celebrity millionaire W. Brett Wilson.

Other names on the donor list include former Potash chairman Dallas Howe ($10,000), Calgary philanthropist Sharon Siebens, spouse of oil executive Bill Siebens ($10,000), oil executive Stan Grad ($7,500) and WestJet co-founder Don Bell of Airdrie ($10,000).

Both Hearn and Howe previously served on the board of Viterra, an agri-business that boasts it is Canada’s largest grain handling company.

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The Buffalo Project did not respond to a request for comment from PressProgress.

According to CBC News, the Buffalo Project’s founding members included:

  • Bill Turnbull, Calgary real estate developer
  • Don Chynoweth, former SNC Lavalin executive
  • Brad Gustafson, wealthy Calgary investor
  • Stan Grad, Alberta cattle producer
  • Dallas Howe, former chairman of Potash
  • Grant Fagerheim, CEO of Whitecap resources.

In advance of the 2019 Federal election, Fagerheim sent an email to employees of his Calgary-based oil company warning them that Alberta could separate from Canada if Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives failed to win the election.

 

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Stephen Magusiak
Reporter
Stephen Magusiak is PressProgress’ Alberta reporter. His reporting has a focus on public accountability, public services and privatization, and the right-wing war on environmentalists.

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