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Cameron Fenton

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Harper Government Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Posted: 05/08/2012 11:35 am

I've started to have a repetitive nightmare.

The light in the hearing room is bright, hot and pointed right at me. The heat is suffocating, and I am visibly sweaty, the senator leans over, taps his microphone and begins to read questions from a typed sheet.

"Mr. Fenton, Have you ever donated to or been a member of the Sierra Club of Canada?"

"Do you own a book or books written by Dr. David Suzuki?"

"Did you or did you not write blog posts that were critical of the oilsands?"

That's usually about the time I wake up, but instead of relief that my nightmare is over, I make the mistake of turning on the radio or picking up the paper to find my speculative fiction becoming more and more real.

Environmental groups in Canada are in the crosshairs of the government, not simply under investigation for fiscal mismanagement, but the targets of criminalization, misinformation and a smear campaign.

Most recently, Canada's environment minister started to use the term "money laundering" to criminalize the acceptance of foreign funding by Canadian organizations.

At first I was taken aback by this, but the more I think about it, it's a great idea. If you will permit me to change metaphors for a moment, it's high time that we find our own Elliot Ness and unleash a Canadian team of Untouchables to root out this corruption, to find those charitable groups using foreign money, to hijack our legislative processes and hold my generation's future hostage.

Let's start with the Fraser Institute.

A recent investigation by the Vancouver Observer showed that the Fraser Institute received half a million dollars from the U.S.- based Koch Foundation. As the philanthropic arm of Tea Party darlings and fossil fuel industry billionaires Charles and David Koch, this foundation has been linked across the globe to campaigns that promote climate denial, lobby against clean energy legislation and stand in the way of global progress on curbing emissions.

Closer to home, a subsidiary organization of Koch Industries, Flint Hill Resources, used its intervenor status to push for the Keystone XL pipeline to be approved through the Canadian review process -- the exact same thing that Canadian environmental charities are being demonized for doing.

The Fraser Institute, itself a charity, has used this funding, along with direct funding from foreign oil and gas giants, like Exxon Mobil, to engage in similar activities at home. They have published and promoted climate denial education modules aimed at children and teens across Canada, lobbied and worked to prevent clean energy legislation at the federal level and even tried to prevent the phase-out of dirty coal in Ontario -- coal regulations being a cornerstone of our federal government's climate strategy.

The recently passed budget implementation act cites that foreign funding for charitable groups needs to be used to specifically support activities that are in Canada's "national interest." Polls of people across Canada routinely reveal an overwhelming majority of people supporting action on climate change, even calling on Canada to do more when it comes to cleaning up our act. That number spikes even higher among young people, and thus it would stand to reason that belief in, and action on, climate change is in our national interest.

Since the Fraser Institute uses foreign money to feed their point of view to children with education modules, undermine national and global climate action and block shifts away from the most carbon-intensive energy on earth, all under the charitable umbrella, they should top the list of groups under investigation.

If the Fraser Institute and organizations like them -- with close ties to Canada's majority government -- aren't investigated, and if it is simply environmental groups under attack, we are closer to my nightmare than I thought.

 

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