Note: My investigative reporting took serious critical thinking and research skills. Learn more about my process.
Published via The Canadian Press, July 28, 2013.
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.”
The charity was to handle tasks related to distributing grant spending on research and stakeholder participation. The PNCIMA steering committee managed the money and directed Tides Canada.
A majority of committee members are from federal government departments and north-coast First Nations. It also includes an official from the B.C. government and a representative from a north-coast port authority.
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.
Enbridge believed those groups would also slant the consultations, and fail to ensure Tides Canada acted transparently, the slides suggest.
“The funding by Tides Canada of the Coastal First Nations and other participants in the PNCIMA initiative raises serious questions about the objectivity of those parties in regards to the process and their oversight of Tides Canada in its administrative role with the PNCIMA initiative,” says one company slide.
“The PNCIMA process is too important to allow it to be hijacked by parties with clear and specific motives beyond the creation of an oceans management plan.”
The company, a stakeholder in the talks, said in another slide that it and other unidentified industry representatives “may need to reconsider their participation in the PNCIMA initiative in these circumstances.”
A draft briefing note on the lobbying circulated between Fisheries Department officials in January 2011 noted that “several industry groups have also expressed the concern that any non-government funding may unduly influence the decision-making process.”
Another stakeholder, the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, has criticized the Tides Canada deal, saying in a trade publication published in September 2011 that the charity would use the consultations to block oil tanker traffic.
Ottawa dropped its support for the grant agreement eight months after the Enbridge lobbying, a move that cut out the Moore Foundation funding and ended Tides Canada’s involvement with PNCIMA.
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.
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said the company would not comment on the Fisheries Department’s reversal.
“Enbridge played no part in that decision,” he said. “We are a regulated industry and we have regular contact with federal government officials.”
Documents show that ending the agreement countered the advice of public servants in the department, who continued to back the grant deal in the wake of the lobbying.
“This funding arrangement is not driven by corporate or ideological interests,” the draft briefing note from January 2011 said.
“It will allow DFO to better engage with all stakeholders and build an integrated oceans plan that is based on the best available scientific and technical knowledge and expertise.”
More than 30 representatives from marine-related industries, local governments and environmental organizations are stakeholders in the planning talks.
A spokeswoman for the department says the agreement was cancelled to “streamline” the consultations to meet their December 2012 deadline, and align the process with other federal ocean plans.
“We believe that working toward a more focused PNCIMA management plan, as envisioned under our new approach, is the best way to achieve these goals,” Melanie Carkner said in an email.
Carkner said “no other departmental officials” aside from the director general attended the Dec. 16, 2010, meeting with Enbridge lobbyists.
However, the federal lobbyist registry shows Enbridge communicated with two aides to then-fisheries minister Gail Shea that day. The registry does not record the director general being lobbied.
It shows Enbridge was in contact with Shea’s chief of staff, Louise Girouard, and senior policy adviser, John Morris.
What the ministerial staffers were lobbied about is unclear.
Shea, now the minister of national revenue, declined an interview request.
A spokesperson said Shea would not comment on whether the minister was briefed on Enbridge’s opposition to the Tides Canada agreement.
Girouard and Morris currently work in other ministerial offices, according to a government directory, and did not respond to telephone calls and emails about the lobbying.
Nathan Cullen, the New Democrat MP representing B.C.’s north coast, said that in his view the documents prove Ottawa killed the agreement in response to the Enbridge lobbying.
“Talk about the tail wagging the dog,” Cullen said. “The government is explicitly doing anything that the oil companies want them to do without question – against the advice of federal government officials.”
“They’re absolutely mirroring each other’s language down to the very word,” he said.
Environmental groups have said the loss of the grant critically weakens the ability of the ongoing PNCIMA initiative to conduct marine research and send recommendations to the Fisheries Department as it creates a single set of rules and procedures governing the north-coast ocean.
The department has spent more than $6 million on the ocean-planning process since 2002.
Photo credit: Dogwood BC/Flickr CC