I did ask the question.
Problem was, the question didn't dig deep enough into the story that lay beneath, like a labyrinth of crude oil pipelines. In fact, precisely like a labyrinth of crude oil pipelines.
Which is why, last week, after my column lauding University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy for co-founding the Eco-Kids Summer Camp for inner-city children, the Free Press received a letter from a group of U of W students who noticed something was missing. The rest of the story.
The letter began:
"Gordon Sinclair's article, (Inner-city kids hungry to succeed, July 20), praises Lloyd Axworthy, Kevin Chief and the Eco-Kids program at the University of Winnipeg for providing indigenous and inner-city youth with environmentally conscious educational programming. Conspicuously absent from the article is any mention of the program's main sponsor: Enbridge, the Calgary-based corporation that operates the longest crude oil and liquids pipeline network on the planet.
"Enbridge has a disastrous environmental record, racking up over 800 spills between 1999 and 2010. These spills have resulted in nearly 20 million litres of crude oil being released into the environment, and include the 2010 spill on the Kalamazoo River, the largest and most costly inland oil spill in U.S. history, which, three years later, has yet to be fully cleaned up. It is unacceptable that the University of Winnipeg has ties with Enbridge at all, never mind the irony that the program they fund gives children the opportunity to measure their own ecological footprint. Surely, the University of Winnipeg can find a more appropriate source of funding."
The letter was signed by Mathieu Paille, Robert McGregor and Rachel Dunsmore.
Actually, Enbridge doesn't sponsor the Eco-Kids Summer Camp, which was the focus of the column. I asked who the sponsors were before writing the column and Enbridge wasn't mentioned. But, as the letter suggested, Enbridge is a primary sponsor for the Eco-Kids On Campus, a related program run during the academic year that offers Grade 6 students from the inner city a chance to study science and the environment and hopefully aspire to post-secondary education.
All very impressive.
Except for Enbridge's oily involvement.
So what kind of money is Enbridge paying the U of W it can't possibly replace from another source?
The energy giant donates $25,000 annually to Eco-Kids On Campus program. That $25,000 for the U of W is a financial pittance for a corporation involved in that massive oil spill three years ago on the Kalamazoo River that, by one estimate, could cost nearly $1 billion to clean up.
So why does the U of W administration persist with its Enbridge partnership, even after being confronted in the past by the leaders of the students' union? An emailed answer from the university's communications department pointed out that Enbridge's School Plus Program, from which the Eco-Kids program was created, was initiated with the blessing of the Assembly of First Nations. That was in 2009, mind you, just as Phil Fontaine was leaving office as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Enbridge was sponsoring his farewell gala in Calgary.
The email from the U of W went on to offer another answer from a question I hadn't even asked yet: "Programming content is not directed by the initiative's supporters."
Perhaps not, but I doubt Enbridge would continue its funding if the Eco-Kids wanted a course on the tarsands and how it has resulted in Canada becoming a dirty word among many environmentalists around the world.
In any event, without a direct answer to my question, I was left wondering why the U of W can't say no to such a small amount of money from such a big environmentally controversial corporation. Until, that is, I was directed to an article in The Uniter from nearly 18 months ago, wherein Jennifer Rattray, a former CBC journalist who is now the U of W's associate vice-president of indigenous, government and community affairs, was quoted as saying without Enbridge's donation, the Eco-Kids program wouldn't exist.
Having dispensed that bunk, she got down to what serves as her best answer for why the university has sold its integrity for money from dirty oil.
"Bottom line, it helps those kids. Anything I can do to help those kids, I will do."
There you have it.
The fundamental life lesson the U of W is really teaching all you Eco-Kids out there.
The end justifies the means.