An influential environmental organization battles to save its reputation and charitable status
The charity that had its humble beginnings in Vancouver early last decade, with an organic farmer named Gregor Robertson as one of its founding board members, is now the focus of intense scrutiny by the Canada Revenue Agency, according to a report by the Globe and Mail. On the matter of Tides Canada being audited, the Globe labels the process as a "Tory attack", rather than a process to ensure that a well-funded public policy influencer lives by the rules set out for all charities. The national newspaper went even further last weekend, using the term "smear" three times in their editorial blasting Conservative Cabinet Ministers for publicly raising concerns about the funding of environmental charities.
The style of "donor-advised giving" used by Tides Canada is described by critics as a "pass-through funding vehicle [which] provides public-relations insulation for the money’s original donors". In other words, Tides is meant to shield the original donor by taking their money, applying the grants on the donors' behalf, and taking a ten per cent commission for managing the funds. In spite of their public boasts of 'transparency', it's not hard to see why Tides Canada is perceived as being opaque.
Tides' work has apparently been very profitable. According to a report by Canada's leading researcher and writer on the subject of environmental charities Vivian Krause, Tides Canada has ballooned from 37 up to 250 employees since 2005. The nearly seven-fold increase in size of the organization in as many years seems to conform with the increasing intensity of environmental activism in Canada. Increased scrutiny of Tides Canada's activities has also grown, mainly because of Krause herself. For years Tides' strategy was to ignore her 'fair questions'. Then when Krause began to get noticed by mainstream media, Tides thought they could slow her down using legal threats. Rather than stopping her, these tactics seemed to embolden Krause's work.
After the Conservative government won a majority last spring, Tides Canada decided to try a different approach by appointing Conservative Jodi White to their board, even making her Chair. White was former chief of staff to Prime Minister Kim Campbell. Tides Canada supposedly undertook intense lobbying efforts in the hallways of the House of Commons to counter the federal government's concerns, but it appears to have been to no avail. There could have been no clearer indication of that after Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the following during a holiday broadcast of GlobalTV News Hour.
Well, [Americans will] funnel money through environmental groups and others in order to try to slow it down but, as I say, we'll make sure that the best interests of Canada are protected.
Less than two weeks after the PM's comment, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver released his now famous open letter referencing "radical and environmental groups". Oliver stated that standing up to these groups was "urgent matter of Canada’s national interest."
The Prime Minister's words and subsequent statements by members of his Cabinet reflect the growing influence of the work of Vivian Krause. We've once labeled Ms. Krause as Canada's most influential blogger, and given the scale of activity by both the federal government and the response from environmental groups, "influential" would be an understatement.
The reason for this is simple: what Krause has in spades that others do not is credibility. She even reveals who is paying her and how much on her blog. Despite the attempts to smear her reputation and question her motivations by groups and individuals directly linked to Tides Canada, Krause continues to confound her opponents with her earnestness and openness. Recently environmental activist Tzeporah Berman, perhaps out of her frustration, hashtagged a Twitter post with #krauseshillingforbigoil. It was a hurtful remark that Krause quickly responded back to:
Hey @Tzeporah, I'm kinda offended by your hashtag. I'm not shilling for anybody. I'm concerned for my country like you. Lets talk?
With this high stakes public relations war on environmentalism ongoing, you surely do not see these two sitting down for tea anytime soon, despite Krause's invitation.
Since ignoring Krause, sicking lawyers on her, appointing a Conservative to lead their cause, and attempting to smear the blogger all have not improved their fortunes, Tides Canada seems to be trying yet another strategy. They're playing the victim card trying to win in the court of public opinion. Tides Canada president Ross McMillan makes this surprising claim when speaking to Globe and Mail:
“It is really, really difficult to know where the audit came from.”
If McMillan spent even five minutes over the past three years on Vivian Krause's Fair-Questions.com website, he might have seen this train coming. Just one post alone titled The $11.4 MILLION QUESTION for Tides Canada should have tipped the Tides president off that his organization has some major transparency challenges. Add the fact that the ENGOs' efforts are colliding with tens of billions of economic development in Canada, and you can surmise why CCRA auditors have been encamped in their offices for months.
Canadians' bottom line: U.S. influence
The bottom line for this debate is whether American interests are driving an environmental campaign to stop or significantly delay energy and mining projects in Canada. Is the federal government correct to assert that they are, or is it true to say that environmentalists are only mounting a campaign to save the planet, regardless of US involvement? Neither side has entirely proved their case yet.
Nonetheless there are significant indicators that the increasing intensity of environmental activism has its roots in the USA. In June 2009 a nine-member Canadian environmental delegation visited Washington, DC to lobby for American support to end oil sands development. According to a Montreal Gazette report, after their visit with various members of the US government, these delegates met separately with representatives of the American environmental movement.
Tomorrow the Canadians will meet with the heads of more than 30 American environmental groups, where they will also discuss the upcoming climate-change conference in Copenhagen in December where a new global-warming treaty is to be negotiated.
US-based public affairs expert Robb Rice, who works with mining industry clients, described what he claims happened at this meeting in a recent Mining.com op-ed:
In June 2009, there was a monumental meeting in Virginia where powerful and extremely well-funded U.S. environmental groups met with their Canadian counterparts to discuss and plan how to defeat (or significantly delay) energy and mining projects they didn’t like. Reports indicated that U.S. environmental groups were willing to fund Canadian environmental groups on the condition that they would be able to dictate what projects to fight, and what projects would get funding.
This quietly arranged and historic meeting led to the exportation of the U.S. Environmental Movement’s grassroots and communication tactics to Canada.
Rice claims that several Canadian environmental groups are marching to an American drummer, providing tactics and support to campaigns north of the 49th parallel. The burden of proof is still on the writer, however, as he gives no direct evidence that this happened. Rice does describe a tactic that sounds familiar to anyone trying to get a mining permit or pipeline expansion underway:
One of environmentalists’ favorite mantras is that “a delay is as good as a denial.” Tie up a project long enough and the project developer will give up and go away. In the U.S., this tactic has been used successfully in all 50 states. Companies facing long delays are going to look to where the approval process is not long, arduous, and stacked against them.
The "delay is as good as a denial" strategy echoes the instructions of a Rockefeller Brothers Fund Vice-President who met with Vancouver political representatives in April 2010. A July 2008 PowerPoint presentation* authored by RFB's Michael Northrop explains how to stop the oil sands:
- Raise the Negatives
- Raise the Costs
- Slow Down and Stop Infrastructure
- Enroll Key Decision-Makers
Northrop's plan was to involve a group of "leading Canadian NGOs" in this campaign, which he budgeted at $7 million per year. It's a brilliant example of how for a relatively small sum, a website and a media strategy, you can set back corporations with billions in the pot.
It is a fascinating struggle, and it is a long way from being over.
See the following links for some additional reading on this subject:
- Vivian Krause: Damage control
- Terence Corcoran: BlackOutSpeakOut but first WhiteOut
- Allegations of charities laundering money ‘desperate’: Tides CEO
- What the heck were Gregor Robertson and Mike Magee doing in New York?
- Fair questions about Renewal Partners, Vision Vancouver's biggest donor
- Know Your Donor: Convergence Communications Inc.
– post by Mike. *RBF PowerPoint revealed by Ezra Levant in January.