NDP MP Nathan Cullen condemns Harper’s 'witch hunt' on environmental charities
As industry and environmentalists line up for battle at the start of the long-awaited Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, Cullen said the ongoing discussion around charitable funding is proof of a much deeper political conflict – one that could be described as a war on Canadian nonprofits.
- Unethical oil and its Canadian friends
- Harper concerned about “hijacked” Northern Gateway hearings
- Enviros question methodology of Enbridge poll disputing Northern Gateway pipeline opposition
- Tory-linked “Ethical Oil” website slams Canadian enviros over foreign funding
Ethical Oil recently launched an aggressive new campaign, which claims that Canadian environmental nonprofits are being manipulated by “foreign paymasters” pouring money into tar sands opposition. On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper fueled this argument, voicing concerns that the upcoming Joint Review Panel hearings could be “hijacked” by foreign interests.
Then, in a CBC interview today, Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver said environmental "radicals" backed by foreign billionaires were attempting to derail the Canadian economy. According to CBC reports, all this talk may result in political action as the House finance committee intends to target environmental groups when they review charitable funding regulations next month.
To Cullen, MP for the northern BC district of Skeena-Bulkley Valley, these “hypocritical” attacks from the Conservative government are a return to McCarthy-era political tactics.
“It’s a witch hunt,” said Cullen, noting the potential impacts on free speech and democracy if any group opposing federal policy can expect this sort of attack.
He laughed dismissively at the group's claims to be “non-partisan”.
Although Ethical Oil maintains that they don’t accept funding from any government agency, several factors raise suspicions about its ties to the Harper government. For instance, the online forum EthicalOil.org was developed by former Conservative staffer Alykhan Velshi – now director of planning for the Prime Minister’s Office – and current spokesperson Kathryn Marshall is married to Harper’s former manager of strategic planning.
Cullen said the Prime Minister has made his position quite clear with regard to the tar sands and Northern Gateway. And with a majority government and a powerful industry lobby, it seems now only public opinion stands in Harper’s way.
“He has surrounded himself with ‘yes men’,” said Cullen. “But they aren’t going to win this thing.”
Cullen’s confidence in the pipeline opposition – from within his constituency as well as across the province – is echoed by other naysayers in environmental and First Nations communities. Despite a new survey that suggests a majority of British Columbians support the new pipeline, tar sands critics maintain that most residents share grave concerns about tanker traffic and oil spills on the coast.
In response to the foreign funding argument, B.C. environmental groups released a poll Monday showing that few British Columbians are actually worried about American donations to environmental nonprofits. According to the poll, only 15 per cent of residents are concerned about charitable funding provided by U.S. philanthropic foundations, while almost 75 per cent have concerns about foreign investment in Canadian natural resources.
"These poll results suggest that the oil lobby’s attacks against environmental groups are out of touch with the true values of British Columbians,” said Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, one of the organizations behind the poll.
“The real issue is the unacceptable risk of a foreign-funded pipeline-oil tanker project that would ram pipe through unceded First Nations lands to ship some of the world’s dirtiest oil across thousands of fragile salmon-bearing rivers and streams.”
From the environmentalists’ perspective, critiques based on foreign funding are the height of hypocrisy. Dogwood spokesperson Emma Gilchrist noted that while Harper complains of foreign influence on the environmental side of the Northern Gateway debate, politicians have kept their mouths shut about oil companies intervening from China, the United States, Japan and the UK.
“If the Prime Minister is truly concerned about the influence of foreign money, why not raise the alarm about the millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising spent in Canada by foreign oil companies? Why not talk about the big oil money in politics?” Gilchrist asked in a media release.
Before Ethical Oil took up the cause, conservative blogger Vivian Krause popularized the foreign funding narrative over a year ago, publishing research that showed the US-based Tides Foundation gave $6 million in funding to tar sands opposition. But in a recent post, Krause actually criticized Ethical Oil's "Our Decision" website for shamelessly mocking environmentalists as "puppets". While she takes credit for the research, she emphasizes to readers that she has no part in the new campaign.
Just as people have questioned Ethical Oil's financing, Krause’s ideological attacks led to questions about her own funding. In response, she disclosed that she had not been on anyone’s payroll but was living off her savings and subsequently sold her house.
“It’s quite interesting when you start really following the money,” said Guujaaw, president of the Haida Nation Council and a vocal opponent of the Enbridge project.
“You know, Vivian Krause has done all that work to try to discredit environmental groups, but who’s paying her bills?”