As the muscle behind pro-Alberta oilsands web site EthicalOil.org, 26-year-old Kathryn Marshall in December organized a national boycott that damaged Chiquita’s market share north of the 48th parallel. Marshall believes it is hypocritical for the company to not use oil products originating from Canada while publicly supporting oil-producing nations with deficiencies in their environmental practices and human rights policies. “Going to school in Alberta you just start thinking a lot more about the oil and gas industry because it’s all around you,” the London, Ont., native said as we sat in a downtown Calgary hotel restaurant full of people in suits likely discussing said lifeblood of Canada’s richest province. “You start to also see through some of the myths and stereotypes and misconceptions of the oil industry in Canada.”
Marshall’s interest in the movement was piqued after reading conservative pundit Ezra Levant’s book Ethical Oil. Levant then asked her to get involved in his new grassroots advocacy organization Ethical Oil Institute, for which she now serves as spokeswoman. “She doesn’t seem to follow the norm of a person who is only 26,” says Levant. “In other words, she doesn’t seem like an ‘Occupier’ or a passive protester, but someone who instead works toward forging change.”
Like anyone of her generation, Marshall is fully immersed in social media. She blogs regularly (kathrynmarshall.com) and tweets constantly (@KVMarshall). Plus, she writes a regular column for 24 Hours, Vancouver’s free daily newspaper.
Marshall has also become a regular face on various television political panel discussions on all three major news networks. Back in December she debated Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on CTV about the oilsands and the role of Canada at the United Nations climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.
Because she was already adept at both traditional and social media, Marshall was able to get the Chiquita boycott pumping at full capacity in a matter of days.
While all this advocacy work is going on, Marshall is completing her law degree. She will begin articling at 14-lawyer Vancouver firm Webster Hudson & Coombe LLP this spring, with a goal of becoming a litigator.
Those who have dealt with Marshall, however, see a political career in her future. She completed a degree in political science/women’s studies at the University of Western Ontario in 2008. In the summer of 2007, she began getting to know the workings of Ottawa as a communications intern for Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Monte Solberg. As well, Marshall spent the summer of 2010 working as an intern in the Vancouver office of Minister of Heritage James Moore.
Marshall’s political gene comes from her mother, who was a city councillor for the town of Westminster near London when Marshall was growing up. “I was 16 and going to political meetings where it was all 50-year-old men there,” she says.
After her stint in Ottawa, Marshall moved to Vancouver and spent just over a year as a development associate at the Fraser Institute think-tank, where she worked on major fundraising projects and learned even more about public policy. “Watch out for Kathryn Marshall, who will one day be prime minister of Canada!” the institute’s vice president of development, Sherry Stein, declared in an e-mail to 4Students, probably only half-kidding.
Before that seemingly fated-in-the-stars political career takes shape, Marshall declares she will have a career in law. “I’ve always been interested in advocacy and policy and law. I think law is a great career if you want to be an advocate for a whole bunch of issues,” she says. “You can have effective change when you are a lawyer. That’s why I chose to go to law school.”
Marshall targeted Webster Hudson & Coombe as a desirable employer because of its size and because it does a lot of litigation work. The firm was not planning to hire a law student this year, but that changed when the lawyers met Marshall. “Once we met her, we realized right away that we were going to hire her,” says Jack Webster. “The thing we like about her is she has another life. She’s not your typical law student. She’s not just in it for the money.”
In Webster Hudson & Coombe, Marshall says she saw a firm that was the best fit. “They do interesting work. They do a lot of litigation, which is what I want to do. It’s important to find a firm that’s a good fit because you’re spending so much of your time there. You want to make sure that these are people you can work with and that it’s an environment that fits your personality.”
Marshall also says she feels the West is a good fit for her, though she prefaces that by saying her heart will always belong to Ontario. Marshall loves the spirit of Alberta. “Calgary attracts this young, go-getter personality. Not that there aren’t people like that all over the country, but I think it is very much part of the western mentality. You come here to make something of yourself.”
Marshall is already doing that. Leading the boycott of Chiquita bananas raised her profile considerably in short order. “She already has a very important nonpartisan political career: defending Canada’s oilsands against those who, for whatever reason, prefer conflict oil instead,” says Levant. “I do not know what her partisan plans may be in the future, but I have no doubt she will be involved in public policy, given her talents.”
Part of what drew Marshall to EthicalOil.org is her interest in women’s rights. As much as she seems to be fighting to protect Canada’s oilsands, she is battling countries like Saudi Arabia and their attitudes towards women. “I care about human rights. Gender apartheid is happening in Saudi Arabia and just because they are a giant oil-producing nation doesn’t mean the world should ignore their human rights record,” insists Marshall. “Let’s start’s talking about it.”
One of the reasons Marshall moved west was to get a look at life from a part of the country where perspectives differ from Ottawa, which she said operates in a bubble. If a political career is in the offing, the experience that comes with viewing the country from other areas will come in handy.
Everyone 4Students talked to about Marshall agreed Ottawa likely hasn’t seen the last of her. “I think a career in politics is something that goes through her mind. She clearly has a strong interest in politics, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that one day she makes that jump,” says Solberg. “Whatever party she decides to work for — the Conservatives or whoever — I’m sure they would welcome her.”
The Christmas holidays were barely over when Marshall and EthicalOil.org found themselves in a fresh battle, this time with those opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline project for northern British Columbia. On Jan. 3, EthicalOil.org began a six-week radio and newspaper advertising campaign to contest “foreign special interest groups,” which it says are interfering in the project that would link Alberta to the West Coast. The pipeline proposal was scheduled to go before public consultation on Jan. 10.
Just like with Chiquita, Marshall isn’t shying away from the debate over foreign funding for environmental groups. In fact, the opposite is true. Even before the two campaigns began, Marshall spoke of how she was not afraid of arguments. “When people tweet me, I tweet back. I don’t care if someone doesn’t agree with me,” she explains. “When someone doesn’t agree with me that’s great. It means I can have a debate with them and try to persuade them. It’s fun for me. Some law students — some people — aren’t comfortable doing that. But I love it.”