Vivian Krause felt her heart sink when she read the open letter issued by federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver on the eve of the first community hearings of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) assessing Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
After all, it looked as though Oliver and the federal government had taken a page from Ezra Levant's Ethical Oil Institute and their "our decision" campaign, which, according to Krause, has misused her research into how American non-profit foundations have been providing funding grants to Canadian environmental organizations to fight Alberta's oil sands development and the Northern Gateway pipeline that would transport that oil to the west coast for export to foreign markets.
Krause's issue with the "our decision" campaign is represented by an image on their website that shows an apparent businessman with organizations such as Corporate Ethics International, West Coast Environmental Law Foundation and the Pembina Institute dangling from his puppet strings. The businessman is saying, "See how they dance once they get a taste of my foreign money?"
"I don't like the puppet," said Krause. "I don't like mocking anybody. I think this campaign lacks class and tact. And far from contributing to the success of this pipeline, which Ezra Levant supposedly believes in, I think it's going to make it more difficult. Because it will further polarize people and make people angry. And I think we should look for common ground. And we should try and build on that. It shouldn't be a question of whether or not we do it. It should be a question of how. And hopefully the companies will offer the local communities a fair deal. And then that deal will hopefully be worked out without the interference of foreign interests."
Krause emphasizes that she never accused any organization of being a puppet of those foreign interests, but only questioned the role of American foundations in the debate.
"All I'm trying to do is raise what I think are fair questions," she said. "Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers."
However, she feels that Ethical Oil and the federal government have jumped to conclusions based on her research, as indicated by Oliver's open letter, and that their rhetoric is only going to hurt Enbridge's side of the argument.
"Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade," wrote Oliver. "Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams."
"These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda," he continued. "They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources."
"The Americans are going to be laughing all the way to the bank if they get Canadians fighting each other," said Krause, reacting to Oliver's letter. "Nothing better than have us all scratch each others' eyes out and the pipeline will take five years longer or never get built.
"And, meanwhile, all our oil, costing us billions of dollars a year, will just keep flowing south. So, I don't want the thing polarized. I want this to be a time where we come together, where there's empathy, there's understanding, we try to put ourselves in each others' shoes. And that won't happen if we're calling each other nasty names."
Krause, a native of Kitimat, British Columbia, began researching the link between American foundations and Canadian environmental organizations in the context of the Northern Gateway proposal because of her experiences with the salmon farming industry in B.C.
"There was a $5 million public inquiry going on into salmon farming and sustainable aquaculture because there was so much controversy," said Krause. "And I felt that the whole issue was misunderstood because it really wasn't about technical problems and environmental risks. It was about how people were being treated and how the local people felt they had been dismissed, ignored, belittled, trivialized.
"They felt that there were double standards being applied to the companies and to the communities. They felt that there were secrets that were being kept. And so people were angry. But it wasn't actually about how the environment was being treated. It was about how people were being treated."
Krause sees a correlation between that inquiry and the debate over Northern Gateway.
"If you follow the discussion on the pipeline," she said, "you find very much the same situation, that people feel that this is being forced on them. And of course they'll all cite the risk of the Exxon Valdez. But, more importantly, people are upset about feeling that they're being railroaded into this."
As Krause was looking into the salmon farming inquiry, she found information about funding that suddenly put the aquaculture controversy in the context of a marketing campaign.
"Nobody was looking at the controversy from a marketing perspective," said Krause. "Nobody was seeing how the funding of the controversy, and, in fact, the creation of the controversy, over one industry was creating the market for the alternative. So, because they created all this controversy over salmon farming, it was propping up the market for the wild fisheries, because everyone was being scared away from the competition."
"That's exactly the same thing that's happening with coal and oil right now," she added.
Krause believes that American entities such as the Tides Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are contributing funds to campaigns that oppose Alberta's oil sands as part of a strategy to create the market for renewable energy.
"The campaign against Canadian oil is funded as a small part of that much bigger strategy to, in fact, foster the energy security and in fact the economic security of the United States," said Krause.
"So, that's what we need to understand. That it's not so much that they're against Canadian oil. If you only see that, then you miss the forest for the trees. Because the bigger forest here is the energy and economic security - the national security - of the United States. And locking down our oil and creating the renewable energy market are two ways of doing that.
"People often say to me, 'Well, the fact that the American foundations are funding the fight against Keystone, well, that would appear to contradict my theory that Americans are doing this to further their own energy security.' No. Not at all. That's missing the point.
"The point is that the campaign against Keystone serves a purpose of stigmatizing oil in a negative way. And, of course, they're picking on Canadian oil because we're so nice. It's much easier to pick on Canadian oil than pick on Middle Eastern oil or Venezuelan oil."
However, she doesn't like how Ethical Oil is trying to stick up for Canada in this battle, particularly their persecution of five specific organizations: West Coast Environmental Law Foundation, Corporate Ethics International, Environmental Defense Canada, Pembina Institute and Ecojustice Canada.
"It just doesn't make sense on any note," said Krause. "He's targeting five environmental organizations. Well, one of them is American. It's not even Canadian. Corporate Ethics. How can you blame an American organization for getting American funding?"
"Secondly," she continued, "he's got another organization that has reported zero foreign funding. Pembina. So, if you actually look at Pembina's Canadian tax returns, they've reported zero foreign funding."
That reduces that list to three Canadian organizations that have actually received foreign funding.
"The percentage of foreign funding that they reported ranges from 7 [per cent] to 13 [per cent]," said Krause. "I don't know how you can call somebody a puppet of foreign paymasters when less than 15 per cent of their money is coming from that foreign source. "The bigger issue, which he misses completely, is that, first of all, the two top foreign funded environmental groups are Tides Canada and Ducks Unlimited. Both of those receive more than 30 per cent of their total revenue from foreign sources. So, he's completely missed the target here. If he was trying to highlight the worst offenders, he's missed it."
According to Krause, Tides Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) received $73 million in foreign funding during the same period that West Coast Environmental Law Foundation, Environmental Defence Canada and Ecojustice only received $1.4 million from foreign sources.
"And the real issue here isn't these small groups that are foreign funded," she continued. "It's what do Tides Canada and Ducks Unlimited do with the $73 million. Because my theory is that they're re-granting it. Because these other smaller groups, they actually reported about 40 per cent of their funding from other charities."
Tides Canada declined to comment, but DUC issued a news release on January 11, 2012 in response to all the speculation about foreign funding for those organizations opposing the oil sands and Northern Gateway.
"Since waterfowl conservation is a continental activity, DUC receives funding from DU (Ducks Unlimited) Inc. in the United States, U.S. federal and state governments. We also receive funding from corporations, foundations and individual contributors. These resources are delivered through Canadian partnerships to key threatened landscapes where they will have the greatest impact on wetlands and associated habitat," said Henry Murkin, National Director of Conservation for DUC, in that news release, which also noted that DUC has many project partners, including energy sector companies.
"The majority of our funding - so, over 95 per cent of our funding - is through membership donations," said Mike Hudema, Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. "So, through mostly small monthly donors is where the majority of our funding comes from. And then we get five per cent of our funding from foundations, some of which are in Canada, but some of which are not."
Krause contends that Greenpeace Canada has received grants from the Oak Foundation to "create controversy over coal and oil." She has also pointed her finger at the Dogwood Initiative, which she claims has received funding from the Brainerd Foundation to "promote opposition to Enbridge" and a grant from the Wilburforce Foundation to "devolve control of land on B.C.'s central coast to First Nations and communities."
Emma Gilchrist, Communications Director with the Dogwood Initiative, was unable to find any record of that Wilburforce Foundation grant, but admitted that the objective mentioned in that grant description does align with the Dogwood Initiative's goals.
Regardless, she doesn't seem to have much patience for the foreign funding controversy.
"I think that point is really being brought up as a distraction to the real issues that are to be debated here," said Gilchrist.
"If the federal government were really concerned about foreign money in Canada, foreign investment in Canada, they'd be looking at the Chinese state-owned oil company, which is funding Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal. They've provided at least $10 million. And Enbridge has $100 million from a variety of different oil companies to get through the review process.
"And then you have the intervenors. When you look at the intervenors, you have, again, China's state-owned oil company, Sinopec Canada, you have Korea's Daewoo, you have Japan Canada Oil Sands, you have British Petroleum, ExxonMobil, Imperial Oil. You have all of these huge foreign oil companies registered as intervenors in the public hearings. And you have Joe Oliver talking out against regular Canadians who've registered for the hearings."
Gilchrist mentioned that statistics provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) show that $20 billion of foreign money was invested in the oil sands between 2007 and 2010.
"And then you look at the research that Vivian Krause has done about environmental organizations," said Gilchrist, "and she has said that over the course of ten years, all of the American funding that all of the Canadian environmental organizations have received on all causes is $300 million, which is less than 1.5 per cent of that massive amount of foreign funding into the oil sands. So, we're up against the biggest oil companies in the world with literally tens of billions of dollars, and then you have organizations like mine who receives a $100,000 grant here and there. It's really a drop in the bucket if you want to talk about foreign money."
"If you look at the big picture," she continued, "it's kind of absurd to be talking about that money. We're proud to get that money. It's in all of our annual reports. There's no secrecy around it whatsoever. We set our mission. We set our strategic direction. And we look for people who share our values to support our work. And if anybody who supports our work wants to give us money, we're happy to accept that money so long as there are no strings attached."
"This is funding that has strings attached," insisted Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall. "So, there are puppet strings there. These foreign interests are paying groups to represent their interests."
Marshall has nothing but good things to say about Krause and her research, but she makes no apologies for the characterization of Canadian organizations as puppets of foreign influences, despite Krause's objections.
"Our goal with this campaign is to just shed light on the reality that many of the environmental [non-governmental organizations] who oppose and fight against the Northern Gateway and the expansion and development of Canada's oil sands are getting a lot of their funding from foreign interests," she said.
"And we launched it a week ahead of the Gateway hearings because we also want to expose the fact that a lot of these groups are also involved in the hearing process and that this should be a Canadian decision that isn't being manipulated and hijacked by foreign interests and their paid front groups."
Marshall was also quick to defend the inclusion of organizations who receive little or no foreign funding, as well as the American group Corporate Ethics International, in their campaign.
"It's not even just about Canadian organizations," she said. "It's about foreign interests in general. I mean, there are foreigners who are registered to speak at the hearings. People from Uruguay and Europe and the [United Kingdom]. There are foreign groups that are based in foreign countries that are registered to speak. Hugo Chavez's state-owned oil company, Citgo, is testifying.
"So, it's not even just about these front groups. It's about foreign interests, period, that are infiltrating the system. These are just five groups that we picked and there's plenty others out there. I mean, people can look on Vivian Krause's website and there's been a lot of coverage of it in the media. But I think what's important about these groups is they are doing work in Canada and they are getting funds and targeted funding to oppose the Gateway pipeline and to oppose the development of Canada's oil sands."
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, International Program Director with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is based in the U.S., counters that accusation with the fact that there are foreign interests on the other side of the debate as well.
"It's interesting when you actually look at who has signed up to go to the community hearings," she said. "Of the over 4000 people that have signed up, I think there's a little over 20 that are foreign nationals. I don't know that they'll actually all go to the community hearings. And when you look at the oil companies that are intervenors in the process, most of them are foreign oil companies."
Marshall is accustomed to hearing that argument.
"The majority of oil sands companies are Canadian," she replied. "And all oil sands companies operating in Canada pay Canadian taxes, they employ thousands of Canadians coast to coast, they contribute billions of dollars to our economy here. They are part of this decision."
Ultimately, the environmental groups just appear to be irritated by the implication that they receive their agendas along with the foreign funding, as well as the suggestion that their concerns can just be dismissed as a result.
"They are," said Marshall. "They're taking money from foreign interests to fight against the development of Canada's energy and to fight the pipeline."
"They can say whatever they want," she continued. "It's right there in the grants. The money that they're getting comes with strings attached. It is for these specific purposes. And the questions I would be posing to these environmental [non-governmental organizations] is why do you need foreign interests to pay your bills? And do you honestly believe that foreign interests know what's better for Canadians than Canadian people do?
"And if you speak for Canadians, why don't you rely on Canadians to fund your work and your advocacy. Why do you have to take foreign interests' money to do so. I think I'd like a little bit more transparency as well. I mean, the other questions I'd say is how often do you communicate with your foreign donors and do they tell you what to do? Do they dictate all the terms of your campaign? I think these are all questions we need to start asking that haven't been asked before."
"That's the egregiousness of the argument," said Gillian McEachern, Deputy Campaign Director for Environmental Defense Canada, one of the organization identified on the "our decision" website.
"Environmental Defense has been around for a couple of decades now," she continued.
"We've taken on major environmental issues of the day from the time we've began. We've obviously evolved in what issues we take on depending on what's happening around us. But we've fought to make sure that the Canadian environment and that Canadian health is being protected. And we've pushed government of different levels and of all political stripes all along on these issues.
"Canadians are concerned about issues like water quality, the air that they breathe, and whether they're putting toxic chemicals on their face when they wear their make-up. And they're concerned about climate change. And so those are the type of issues that we work on."
"Her research is information that is publicly available by organizations like us that are charities," McEachern added, referring to the work done by Krause. "We're transparent with it. It's something that has been on our website for years. We've received, at times, donations from American foundations to work on a range of different issues. So, it's nothing new.
"So, it's been interesting to see it portrayed as a scandal or a revelation when charities at least have had to disclose that all along. I'd note that Ethical Oil doesn't disclose their funding source in any type of annual report. So, it's there.
"We work with American foundations that are concerned about addressing climate change. Climate change itself is global. And we work on cross-border issues related to the tar sands, like the Keystone XL pipeline.
"Our government has invested a lot of time and money, as has the oil industry, in trying to interfere in the U.S. process around Keystone XL. But they're not bringing that up now when they talk about the fact that environmental groups are receiving, basically, a minor amount of money."
Krause's fear is that the funding is skewing the debate by only going to one side of the argument and that the voices of those who don't receive any funding are getting lost in the fight between big oil and big environment.
"It's distorting the debate," said Krause. "Because people with one particular point of view, they are practically given a loudspeaker, because they have so much money, they can hire professional staff, they can pay for advertisements and billboards and demonstrations, they can pay their people to travel around, they can pay people full time to mobilize the media, whereas the other people, who often are from smaller towns, they don't have access to that.
"That's my concern, is that what's happening is this foreign money is creating an unfair disadvantage for some Canadians over others. And when it comes to a big decision like a pipeline or a mine, every Canadian has a right to have a say. And no group or individual should have secret foreign money that gives them an unfair advantage over others. That would be my biggest concern."
"My other big concern, of course, is that American foundations are on track to spend half a billion dollars in our country over the next ten years," she continued.
"And I disagree with that. Because there are other countries in the world where that half a billion could go a long way. And, of course, having worked in those kind of places - I worked in the slums of Guatemala for six years - I can tell you, I've seen firsthand that there is a desperate need in the world for environmental problems and expertise and resources to address them.
"That's where American billion dollar foundations should be spending their money, not in Canada."