News | Demonizing Environmental Groups

13 March 2012

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Honourable senators have to admire the Finley-Eaton tag team — they are good at politics. They are sitting together, and they punch above their weight, one has to say, on ethical oil. However, they forget, of course, that by saying the U.S. should buy our ethical oil, what are we saying about the Maritimes who buy the same oil from the Middle East and from other countries that some construe as less than ethical? That is a facile and transparent argument, and that is why it did not work.

The freedom of speech argument was to let Ann Coulter talk and to defend her right to speak while not defending the right of people in this country to stand up and fight for issues that are absolutely within the context of public policy debate in this country.

Let me go on. The other side's arguments go like this: First, there is some kind of tax advantage or tax expenditure implicit on behalf of the Canadian taxpayer when international foundations are allowed to help fund foundation activities in Canada. Of course, there is no tax expenditure because the foundation here does not pay tax and the foundation there does not pay tax. There is no tax expenditure, period. In fact, where there is tax expenditure is on the other side — the companies that hire the government relations firms and the heavy-duty law firms to fight their case through the process on environmental issues. They get to write that expense off and that saves them tax money and, in effect, costs the Canadian taxpayers.

If honourable senators want to talk about tax savings, it is not the foundations and not the charities, but the businesses. I am not against that, but they get to write off their expenses against money that they make in Canada. Of course, the rest of the money goes out of Canada — and we are not talking about that — along with many jobs.

Second, when that does not work because they kind of twist off that argument — that is, the people who make this case, the Conservatives — and they say, "No, the problem is that at least some charities simply should not be allowed to participate in political activities." They morph "political" and "partisan." "Partisan" is different, and they do not participate in partisan activities — that is, supporting a political party — or they lose their charitable status, period.

Let us talk about participation in political or public policy debate. Which dictator would decide which groups can participate, with their charitable status, on which issues to influence which public policy debate? I wonder how many churches get funding from international foundations on issues so that they can participate directly in the public policy debate on issues like abortion or gay marriage. How many gun advocates and gun advocate groups in Canada receive charitable foundation money from gun advocates and gun advocate groups in the United States? I wonder who is doing the research on that. Let us have an inquiry.

Let us talk about the Fraser Institute. Their entire reason for being is public policy intervention in the public policy debate. How much money do they get from international foundations? Honourable senators, do you know what they say in their annual report? They say that 9 per cent of their contributors are international. They do not say what percentage of the $10 million that they raise every year is international. Conceivably, it could be $9.99 million. Some 99 per cent of what they raise could come from international foundations. However, they do not declare that. Let us talk about the Fraser Institute and what kind of money it gets from abroad.

Which dictator would say that it is okay for this group with its charitable status to participate in public policy debate, but it is not okay for that group to participate in public policy debate? What would the difference be? The difference would be whether or not that group takes the position that the government likes. Which dictator would decide? That dictator, and that would be a fundamental problem.

The third position is that they fall back to the idea of openness. Senator Wallace is a very capable lawyer, obviously, from capable of the legal presentation that he made the other day. I do not think many environmental groups in this country would be opposed to declaring. In fact, I have one here. In its annual report, the Pembina Institute already does. It lists who gives it money. One of them is the Natural Resources Defense Council, an American group. It is one of the single biggest contributors.

Honourable senators, go to the Fraser Institute's annual report and you get a disingenuous "9 per cent of our contributors." They do not tell you how much of their money in total comes from abroad. Therefore, yes, if you want to go there and open it up and have disclosure, excellent. I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. I certainly do not think that environmental groups are concerned about it. I can go on. They also get money from Suncor, Shell Canada and Cenovus. It is not like the energy industry itself is not funding these groups such as Pembina, which does participate on the environmental side to protect the environment.

Then, when all else fails, they fall back to innuendo and aspersion. We heard the minister talk about how PACs, political action committees, are now surreptitiously investing in Canada. He did not mention any particular cases and was not able to tell us which PACs. Senator Eaton talked about how these groups, the foundations in the States, fund — what are they? — front foundations in Canada, yet there was no mention any of these front foundations. Now we hear about shady money. If there was ever an effort to intimidate, to attack and to cut the legs out from under them, that is exactly what it is. We now see money-laundering. This is hot on the heels of one of the ministers over there comparing environmentalists to white supremacists.

What is becoming of this government and its inability to accept freedom of speech, and debate, and so on? You are with us or you are against us, absolutely.

The other thing that they have to keep in mind is this: What cost is there in the message they are sending with this particular activity in Canada? Hot on the heels of the public relations disaster of Durban, the Keystone project is delayed for a good deal of time. What kind of message do the people in the United States who want to stop that — environmentalists, coal interests and others — take from a trumped-up debate in Canada by this government that says, "We do not even want to talk about the environmental side of things. We do not even want to demonstrate that we are open to public discussion and policy debate about the environmental side of things."

Honourable senators, let us look at some of the substance of their argument. The premise is that if one does the environment, then one wrecks the economy. How yesterday is that? How 19th century is that? I will tell you what will wreck the economy —

An Hon. Senator: Old school.

Senator Mitchell: Yes, old school. You just keep doing what you are doing on climate change and you will wreck the economy absolutely, infinitely. In many ways, environmental groups are saving the economy and opening up possibilities for new economic endeavours. Do you know what? Dealing with climate change and greenhouse gas emissions will not hurt this economy one iota. It will promote this economy in many different ways, make us competitive and creative, reinvigorate us, create jobs that we have not imagined, and sustain international markets for our oil and gas and natural resources industries.

Then, honourable senators, you start to say, well, if it is that there is not really a tax advantage for anyone on the environmental side, and if it is that charities have a right to participate in the public policy debate — because, if environmental ones do not, then neither would church ones, the gun control ones, the Fraser Institute, and the other economic right-wing think tanks have a right, so that does not work — then the fallback position is that we have to get disclosure. Well, no one is arguing against disclosure; let us have disclosure. Let us get the Fraser Institute in there to tell us who, exactly, is funding them.

None of those things work. Innuendo and aspersion, I know, does not work; we all know that. Why is it that we are doing this? Well, I do not want to be cynical about it, but I am thinking that the government, the governing party, is so effective at raising money on hot-button issues. However, the crime agenda has passed on its way, because we passed that bill; and gay marriage and abortion are off the radar, apparently. What is the other one that has just been dealt with? Oh, gun control. Those hot-button issues are gone. I do not want to cast aspersions, but I am wondering if, perhaps, we are looking for another hot-button issue in the emails and letters that are going out right now saying, "Give us some money so that we can defend our economy against the vagaries and the power of those environmental groups."

You know what is really at stake here, honourable senators? What is really the issue here is a government that is intimidating the democratic process. They are taking, I believe, surreptitious, aggressive, intimidating and bullying tactics to put the chill on people who want to disagree with them. These people have every right to appear before a process that has been set up by their government to review economic projects, and this government is saying that somehow there is something improper about that. Here is a government that has 1,500 communications experts — 1,500 probably cost them well over $100 million a year. They have the advantage of the Prime Minister's office, of his pulpit, which is now, of course, by definition, a bully pulpit. They have the advantage of his level of exposure and of the public purse, billions of dollars. They have an oil industry that gets more funding in a single day than these foundations have ever received in the last 10 years. Yet, they are saying that, somehow, they are at a disadvantage in that debate. Why can they not just stand point for point, argument for argument, and debate for debate against these groups and allow the strength of their message and of their case, such as it is, to win on its own merits?

That is what democratic debate is. That is what freedom of speech is. One of our colleagues in this house, former Senator Taylor, once said to me, when we were in the house in Alberta together, "Often, you have to be really, really careful because the cure can often be worse than the disease." I know that there have not been excesses in the way we have handled our environmental review of projects and that our economy has been developed very, very aggressively. It is not as though there is a shortage of jobs in Alberta. There are so many jobs we cannot fill them. I am looking at a government that somehow, at some level, is so insecure that it has to bully and intimidate.

If I can go back to my Monty Python examples, in Life of Brian, the poor knight has just had all four limbs chopped off. He is there on what is left of his legs, and he is saying, "Come back and fight, you coward! Come back and fight!" In a sense, you are cutting the legs out from under these environmental groups. They do not have anything like the resources that you have, and they have an absolute right to raise legal money wherever they want, to fight this fight and to debate this debate. You are trying to intimidate them, in spite of the fact that you would stand here and talk about freedom of speech.

I will close with a quick statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who said that a Conservative government is an organized hypocrisy. If ever there was an example of that, it is this debate right here.

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