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The World According To Krause

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Another instalment appeared in the
Vivian Krause conspiracy saga
about shadowy Americans bent on shutting down Canadian oil sands development via the Financial Post on Nov. 29.

It's a lengthy tract -- much of it recycled -- and in the end it's not easy to pin down Krause's point. Her logic is often hard to follow and prone to hairpin turns, but one thing's clear, she's really good at making us hyper-ventilate about a conspiracy by American environmentalists to Do Something Bad. Apparently "they" have put huge areas of Canada off-limits to development as de facto trade barriers that enforce a U.S. monopoly on our exports, while at the same time they want to drop our exports to the U.S. to zero. Or something.

The recitation of numbers and data from widely disparate years and sources, the 12-year-old quotes about long ago parties, and the dots that don't quite connect -- all of this only adds up to a confusing welter that makes the most sense if you don't read very closely. Try to tease out and scrutinize real evidence, and the whole thing unravels.

Consider Krause's focus on CGBD (the Consultative Group for Biological Diversity), an apparently shady umbrella group of American environmentalists convened out of the U.S. State Department 25 years ago. With annual expenditures of $3.2 billion in 2010, Krause intones darkly, "They can't be out-spent."

Reading that, you probably thought that an American environmental superpower is aiming a blasting gusher of cash directly at the Canadian oil sands. Ah, but facts are funny things.

As it happens, the CGBD isn't a granting body at all, but a professional association for foundation executives and trustees in the conservation field. Its participants include the Gates Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Bloomberg Philanthropies, and many other trusted household names.

And as long as no one asks how much of that $3.2 billion actually made it to Canada, the vast environmental conspiracy theory sorta works. But it's best not to ask that question.

Because the answer is: almost none of it.

FOREIGN DONORS TO CANADIAN CHARITIES

According to the widely respected Canadian charity lawyer and tax expert Mark Blumberg, the Canadian Revenue Agency reports that 2010 revenues to the Canadian conservation movement from all foreign sources totaled just over $48.5 million in 2010.

At most, only about 1.5 per cent of that ominous multi-billion dollar CGBD budget slipped across the border into Canada. Pretty much all of it went somewhere else.

And you would be forgiven for thinking that the supposedly infamous Tides Canada was the recipient of most of those millions from the U.S. Oops, wrong again. Roughly 70 per cent of the total went to Ducks Unlimited, leaving $15 million donated from worldwide sources to organizations like Tides Canada, the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Federation and all the others.

The David Suzuki Foundation, cited repeatedly by Krause for its supposedly suspicious foreign influence, received a mere $553,560 from foreign sources in 2010.

To give perspective, in 2010 alone, foreign donors contributed a total of $831 million to Canadian charitable institutions, and conservation organizations received about six per cent of it. Tides Canada, the subject of such intense scrutiny from Krause, received less than one per cent of all foreign grants, and distributed grants not only to the conservation sector, but also to service organizations like the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Ottawa Food Bank, the Toronto YWCA, Pen Canada, and a host of other highly respected institutions.

It goes on. Over the last 15 years or so, according to Krause, U.S. foundations have donated some $425 million to Canadian conservation groups.

While it's true that the two land conservation projects she mentions are the main beneficiary, these were not imposed on an unwilling Canada by American environmentalists. The Harper government actively championed both of them, and actively sought millions and millions in donations from the American conservationists that Krause now vilifies.

None of this was secret, just conveniently forgotten.

'POLITICALLY USEFUL'

John Baird, then the environment minister, triumphantly announced the Canadian government's financial partnership in the GBR with American environmental foundations at a press conference in 2008. Immediately following the 2008 federal election, Baird accepted a Boreal Award for his "far-reaching vision, diligent work, and collaborative initiatives to protect land within Canada's Boreal Forest."

In his acceptance speech, Baird expressed great pride in the Harper government's achievement, saying:

"Canada's government has demonstrated its commitment to the Boreal Forest and Canada's North. In protecting over 30 million acres of our pristine Canadian wilderness, our Government has taken real action to ensure that these lands and their legacy are preserved for generations to come."

Or maybe just so long as it was politically useful.

Suddenly those massive environmental projects -- so vital to the Harper minority government in 2007 and early 2008 -- are terribly inconvenient. Gone from the web is the 2008 Conservative Party election platform, which committed to the preservation of ecologically sensitive lands. And those major American endowments, once so prized by the federal government, are a millstone around its neck.

If there are any deceptive practices going on here, it's the Harper government's disavowal of its own conduct and its pretense that it never met its own partners.

Krause's literary pursuits will come in very handy should the federal government wish to unwind its own contractual commitments to preserve Canada's environment, in order to drive oil pipelines and Arctic drilling projects.

This supposed scandal has been hiding in plain sight for almost a decade, and almost none of the key claims hold up to scrutiny. A veritable cottage industry has grown up promoting one of the most politically convenient conspiracy theories in recent memory.

But the entire thing could be put to bed with just a few hours of homework by journalists endowed with a working Internet connection, a calculator, and Hemingway's indispensable gift: a built-in, shock-proof, um, "nonsense" detector.