Government Cash Skews Greens’ Lobbying

Worth A Look, Environment, Frontier Centre

As Prime Minister Jean Chretien moves to ratify the Kyoto Protocol this autumn, Canadians will hear a variety of arguments from economists and environmentalists for and against his position. But if recent history is a guide, Canadians will see also see a plethora of activity from activist greens that not coincidentally – are funded by the federal government.

Case in point? Environment Canada gave the Sierra Club over $175,000 in “grants and contributions” to that lobby’s British Columbia and Alberta branches in 2000 and 2001. According to ministry lists, much of the money Sierra received was “to support activities which contribute to the objectives of the Climate Change Action Fund.” (The Sierra Club also received over $213,000 from the BC government when New Democrats were in charge.) In another example, the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, recently critical of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein for his Kyoto stance, received at least $230,000 in 2000 and 2001 from Ottawa to push the federal government’s view of Kyoto.

But those two examples are the tip of the funding iceberg for green activists. Environment Canada’s category dedicated just to pro-Kyoto activists (the “Climate Change Action Fund”) disbursed $6.7 million in 2001. A complete accounting of how much money such groups receive from taxpayers is impossible to calculate; other federal ministries and every level of government in Canada also subsidize such activism. But Environment Canada itself handed out $51 million in grants and contributions last year. Some money probably goes to worthy environmental projects but much also goes to fund green activism. Thus, instead of federal politicians seeing a true indication of what Canadians think on environmental issues, the letters, faxes, e-mails and calls are driven in part by Environment Canada’s agenda which just happens to support advocacy organizations which see issues in the same way as the federal bureaucracy.

A fair debate on Canadian environmental policy is also twisted by another source of easy money for Canada’s greens: U.S. greenbacks. In an analysis published last year by University of British Columbia professor Bill Stanbury, he noted that 18 Canadian environmental groups that lobby on forest issues received at least U.S.$3.5 million between 1998 and 2000 from various American foundations. Recipients included two well-known green organizations: the David Suzuki Foundation which received U.S. $635,000 and the Sierra Club which took in U.S.$367,000.

The effect such foreign money has on Canadian policy and employment was amply demonstrated recently in British Columbia. For several years, the Sierra Club and others busily promoted a worldwide boycott of British Columbia lumber products over logging in the so-called “Great Bear Rainforest,” a name that appears on no map but was chosen by the environmental lobby for fundraising and boycotting purposes. By 2001, in exchange for forest companies staying out of 440,000 hectares chosen by the environmental lobby, the worldwide kneecapping campaign against major forestry companies was temporarily suspended.

Earlier this year, (and the following points raised earlier this year by Vaughn Palmer) the new B.C. government was informed that US$20 million was spent on the original campaign and up to another US$100 million was available from American backers to restart the fight if necessary. Seeing the deep pockets of the environmental lobby’s backers, the B.C. government cried “Uncle” and dropped its fight against the greens’ misinformation campaigns. Instead, forestry and mining are permanently banned in the lobby-created preserve that is over 12,000 times larger than Vancouver’s well-known Stanley Park. One can argue the various merits of more parkland v. logging and mining in British Columbia, but the raw fact is that another 750 forestry jobs will evaporate because of it.

Given past tactics, Canadians should expect more of the same in the debate over the Kyoto Protocol. Already, the Suzuki Foundation, with tax deductible status in Canada, spent the summer and chunks of its money on newspaper ads and its web site pressing Canadians to “contact your Liberal MP” to push them to support the Kyoto Protocol. Given the Prime Minister’s stated intent to ratify Kyoto, such blatant lobbying apparently worked.

It is quite proper for scientists and economists to debate the various pros and cons of signing the Kyoto treaty, and the environment is something every Canadian cares about, but when green activists raise millions in the U.S., their claim to speak for Canadians is weak. And insofar as funding for green activists originates with the Environment ministry in Ottawa, it is not spontaneous; it is one-sided government-funded propaganda at the expense of taxpayers. Governments, especially Jean Chretien’s grant-disbursing machine in Ottawa, should cut off the flow of taxpayer cash.

Mark Milke is author of Barbarians in the Garden City – The BC NDP in Power. and Tax Me I’m Canadian – Your Money and How Politicians Spend It