The global conspiracy to make Canada's energy debate sound ridiculous

Why Jacques Cousteau had a boat instead of a Paris Métro pass

JD Hancock/Flickr

Surely the only reasonable reaction to allegations that some Canadian environmental groups receive cash and instructions from beyond our borders is “Gee, I sure hope so. Otherwise they’d be doing it wrong.”

If you’ve looked at a photo of the Earth lately, you’ll notice what I did in 1970: somebody forgot to draw in national borders. Clouds and currents don’t have passports; nor should anybody expect a movement dedicated, as environmentalists see it, to protecting the whole planet to colour within national lines. I’m not sure how to make this clearer, since it should be pretty obvious, but it’s why Jacques Cousteau had a boat instead of a Paris Métro pass.

Similarly, I would have thought it’d be obvious that commodities are often traded among different countries. I don’t know a lot of mom-and-pop oil companies that pump the crude at one end of town and sell it to consumers at the other. And finally, it’s less shocking that broad political movements consult across international boundaries than it would be if they didn’t. (Here’s a wonderful piece of reporting on three French students of the 2008 Obama campaign who helped get François Hollande elected in France. Americans have sought to influence Canadian elections, and vice versa, forever.)

And yet here we are stuck in a crossfire of complaints that the environmental movement, the oil industry and Canadian conservatism, in the guise of the Fraser Institute, are receiving “foreign money.” 

This all started when Stephen Harper complained last autumn about “significant American interests” seeking to “funnel money through environmental groups” to block the Northern Gateway pipeline project. That led to the very-semi-arm’s-length-from-government website, which I chronicled in the article to which I just linked, and to the language about foreign-funded charities in the recent budget. That led to the counter-charges from environmentalists and to the other stories cited here.

I can’t conceive of changes to legislation that would hamper foreign-funded environmental groups without also harming Conservative-friendly organizations as well as others that have nothing to do with commodities exports. The whole mess is likely to end up in the courts, where the Harper government has had a rough go of things lately.

Still, Harper doesn’t necessarily lose politically if he loses, someday, eventually, in court. In the meantime he’ll have given supporters of oil exports something to rally around, and he is constantly on the lookout for such issues. Tom Mulcair, by the same token, can hope to increase NDP support even if a lot of Canadians find his critique of the oil sands misguided. Both men need the support of a little more than one-third of voters. Each can get it on this issue and still leave a little left over for Liberals.

But it’s all so petty. Canadians are as active across the world as anyone from any country. It’s sad when our politics turn into a battle of competing isolationisms.

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