Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Enviro-activists knew what was meant

December 13th 2021
Article by Mark Milke published by the Financial Post on November 30, 2021     

The plan has always been to hobble Canada’s various resource industries nationwide

RCMP in northern British Columbia were recently forced to break up a blockade to arrest “protesters” blocking Coastal Gas Link pipeline construction, this to ensure 500 workers stuck behind the illegal barriers could receive deliveries of food and water.

Blockades that attempt to shut down Canada’s resource sector are nothing new. What was telling about this latest one was how yet again foreign individuals were involved. As RCMP Chief Superintendent John Brewer remarked in his November 18 statement , “We have serious concerns that a number of individuals from out of province and out of country have been engaging in illegal activities in the area.” Brewer referenced stealing or vandalizing heavy machinery and equipment and causing major destruction to the forestry road leading to the site.

Foreign funding for anti-resource activism has gone on for decades. That fact should have received greater attention in last month’s report from Calgary accountant Steve Allan’s official inquiry into the foreign funding of anti-oil and gas activism in Canada. Allan’s report usefully documents that organized campaigns against Canadian oil and gas do exist, but it missed some crucial context, including the long history of such funding against other resource sectors.

For example, in 2000, the late William Stanbury, then a UBC business professor, wrote a book about British Columbia’s famous 1990s “war in the woods,” fought by environmental activists who targeted B.C.’s forest industry and “sought allies in other countries,” as Stanbury wrote. By today’s standards, the dollar amounts were small but the activists were just getting started. Many names from that “dry run” campaign showed up in later foreign-funded campaigns against other Canadian resource sectors. They included the David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club of BC, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, all of which later received substantial funding from American donors and foundations that enabled them to agitate in Canada against fish farms, mines, and oil and natural gas.

Next up was British Columbia researcher Vivian Krause, who famously discovered foreign funding for anti-fish-farm campaigns in British Columbia dating from the early 2000s. She then found significantly more money flowing from U.S. funders to anti-oil and gas activism in Canada. For instance, the U.S.-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s gave US$7 million in 2008 alone to various groups waging an anti-tar sands campaign. Another $75 million later came from other institutions supporting the same goal.

More broadly, as Krause has catalogued, just one U.S. foundation gave $200 million to B.C. environmental groups between 2003 and 2018, while between 2000 and 2019, ten U.S. foundations gave $750 million to environmental activist groups targeting Canada. To that, we can now add the Allan report’s finding of $1.3 billion flowing to environmental groups for a variety of purposes. His numbers confirm what Krause found years ago.

Allan’s report sends an ambiguous message, however, when it tries to distinguish between donations with an explicit anti-oil and gas advocacy campaign “ask” and other, more general funding for environmental causes.

That approach probably comes naturally to accountants and lawyers. But it mistakenly focuses on the contractual trees, as it were, and not the forest of cash supporting anti-oil and gas advocacy. It gives various groups and their echo chambers in the media and politics the chance to deny that foreign-funded anti-resource advocacy is a problem, since explicit anti-energy advocacy supposedly runs only in the tens, rather than the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Allan’s “tree” approach has allowed apologists to argue that foreign cash flows were all “money for nothing”: American philanthropists supposedly spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Canadian environmental groups since the 1990s but never expected any impact upon policy, public discourse, media perceptions or politics in Canada.

The core mistake of this “nothing to see here” claim is not understanding how think tanks and advocacy groups fundraise. Over 25 years, I’ve worked for several think tanks and one advocacy group. I never saw a grant application or a cheque that tightly linked a donation to a specific policy outcome, i.e., “end bracket creep taxation” or “add property rights to Canada’s constitution.” People and foundations usually give money because they agree with your more general goals — reduce taxes, defend property rights, advance a green agenda, and so on — and leave the specifics up to the advocate or policy paper author.

Anyone who thinks that the torrent of cash that has flowed from foreign funders over the past three decades to attack Canada’s resource sector would always come with a sticky note — “attack the oil sands” or “destroy B.C.’s forestry sector” — is either naïve or disingenuous. Such activism was always understood to be part of the bargain without anyone saying so explicitly. The plan has always been to hobble Canada’s various resource industries nationwide. If the illegal Coastal Gas Link pipeline blockade is any evidence, that is still the plan.

Mark Milke is an independent author and policy analyst. His newest book, just released in the U.S., is The Victim Cult: How the grievance culture hurts everyone and wrecks civilizations.

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