Government deal with charitable group scuttled after Enbridge pressure
OTTAWA - The Conservative government cancelled an agreement with a charity that supports environmental causes eight months after energy firm Enbridge Inc. lobbied against the deal, The Canadian Press has learned.
The federal Fisheries Department said last September it would no longer use an $8.3-million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a U.S.-based environmental trust. The foundation donated the money through charity Tides Canada, which was to distribute the funds with federal oversight to support a departmental marine-planning initiative.
The reversal came almost a year after Ottawa accepted the deal, and scrapping the arrangement went against the advice of public servants, documents show.
The grant was to provide the bulk of funding for consultations launched by the department, paying for scientific research and to gather advice from stakeholders on balancing conservation with economic use of ocean waters on British Columbia's north coast.
The public-private consultations are helping the department draft a plan to govern the marine area, which includes waters oil tankers would travel on to reach a marine terminal for Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The Harper government recently targeted Tides Canada and other groups it says are trying to block the pipeline by stacking regulatory hearings. The pipeline would carry Alberta oilsands crude to a northwest B.C. port for export.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver singled out Tides Canada in January, saying the charity funnels foreign cash to pipeline opponents who "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda."
Enbridge lobbyists used a similar argument to criticize the department's deal with Tides Canada in a December 2010 meeting with a senior bureaucrat in the Fisheries Department, according to documents obtained via Access to Information.
Lobbyists argued in a slide show presented to the department's director general for oceans that the charity opposed the Northern Gateway project, and that Tides Canada's involvement in the consultations would see the process "hijacked" against the pipeline.
Enbridge denies any part in the decision to end the agreement, while the Fisheries Department says the deal was cancelled to conclude the consultation process by the end of 2012, as scheduled.
In its presentation, Enbridge raised concern about Tides Canada taking an administrative role in the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) initiative as part of the grant deal.
"The PNCIMA administrative support role of Tides Canada in areas such as stakeholder engagement and information gathering while actively working to stop expansion of the Oil Sands, prevent a west coast oil terminal from being developed and stop tanker traffic on the PNC (Pacific North Coast), will seriously impact the credibility of any PNCIMA plan which recommends zoning restrictions on tankers in the region," says one slide.
The consultations are partly to advise the department on the creation of marine-protection areas that would likely be declared off-limits to oil tankers.
The slides indicate Enbridge worried Tides Canada would influence suggestions on location of the zones as a way to choke tanker traffic to the proposed pipeline terminal.
Another slide cited an unspecified report that Tides Canada-distributed funds had previously gone to " 'mobilizing' First Nations against oil sands development."
Enbridge lobbyists pointed to previous Tides Canada and Moore Foundation grants to First Nations groups on the committee, including co-chair Coastal First Nations, an alliance of local bands that has opposed the pipeline project.
Sarah Goodman, a vice-president at Tides Canada, said the lobbyists mischaracterized the organization's stance on the pipeline and oilsands expansion.
"Tides doesn't have a specific position on the oilsands," she said.
"It's clear that there were narrow corporate interests lobbying the government behind the scenes to undermine the process," Goodman added, "and with it the ability of all the stakeholders, including other economic sectors, to participate in a robust planning process."
She said about three per cent of its grant money goes to groups involved with oilsands campaigns, some of which publicly raise concerns about the possible environmental impact of the Enbridge pipeline project.
Tides Canada funds a wide range of social and environmental projects picked by donors, and partners with major corporations and governments, including federal government agencies.
Government deal with charitable group scuttled after Enbridge pressure - Winnipeg Free Press