University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper wrote a piece for the Calgary Herald last week, in which he humorously derided British Columbians for their opposition toward a pipeline that would carry Alberta bitumen to the B.C. coast.
B.C. is full of "sybaritic scatterbrains," Cooper wrote, "soft consumers and rent collectors, drinking lattÃ©s in the rain. Many believe in spirit bears and water sprites and require grief counselling when trees blow down in Stanley Park."
Cooper is expressing a widespread Alberta frustration with public opinion on the left coast, which has forced the federal Conservatives to quietly sideline a publicity campaign that attempted to portray anyone opposed to the pipeline as a foreign-backed radical.
The campaign opened another front on Wednesday, though, when Ethical Oil sent a legal brief to the Canada Revenue Agency, urging auditors to go after Tides Canada, a charity that collects tax-exempt donations and provides grants to environmental groups.
This is money-laundering, Ethical Oil says, echoing a comment from Environment Minister Peter Kent this spring.
Ethical Oil is not a branch of the Conservative government, but it resembles one. It was founded by Alykhan Velshi, who left Jason Kenney's office to set up the organization and now works in the prime minister's office. The current executive director is Jamie Ellerton, another former Kenney staffer.
The organization and the government work hand in hand, aggressively countering opposition to the oilsands through diplomacy, public advocacy and legislation.
In the budget this spring, the government moved to starve environmental groups by empowering the CRA to withdraw the charitable status for any group that spends more than 10 per cent of its budget on political activities.
Tides Canada announced in May that it is being audited and other charities have voluntarily reorganized or deregistered to avoid audits.
I find this chilling, not because environmentalists should be allowed to shut down the oilsands and force us all to wear Birkenstocks and eat tofu, but because they have a valid role to play in public life.
And the tactics that the critics decry - using charitable status to shelter donations from tax, and using foreign money - are familiar to these critics.
Cooper is an ally of the prime minister from the days when the University of Calgary political science department was laying the intellectual groundwork for the conservative movement that now runs Ottawa.
In 2004, Cooper collected $507,975 from donors and kept them in sheltered trust accounts at the university, which meant donors could receive tax receipts. Talisman Energy was the biggest donor, contributing $175,000.
The university set up the trust accounts at the request of a group of climate-change skeptics called the Friends of Science, whose name should be uttered with a theatrical wink.
And the Vancouver-based think-tank the Fraser Institute, which has produced videos and lesson plans that cast doubt on climate change, has received $500,000 in donations from the Koch Foundation, an American organization funded by the Koch brothers, who spend millions backing studies and campaigns disputing climate change.
Last month, in an unexpected setback to their campaign, a study they funded - by University of California physics professor Richard A. Muller - concluded that "global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct."
The skeptics are losing the public relations battle, helped along by a calamitous drought and melting icefields.
But it is hard to look at this government's record and conclude that it believes the threat is real.
It is right that the Conservatives fight for the oilsands, given all the jobs and money the industry produces. We would be fools to kill the goose that produces such beautiful golden eggs.
But the Conservatives are doing little to minimize its environmental impact.
Oil producers have done a lot to reduce the intensity of their emissions. They could do a lot more, though, if they have financial incentives, either through a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax, which doesn't need to kill the industry.
The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy repeatedly recommended the government introduce a cap-and-trade system and warned that the government will not meet its targets without new measures.
The government killed the organization's funding in the budget this spring.
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