Today I share an article I read here on the star.com:
Hard time to be an environmentalist: Goar
A new survey on charities shows decline in public trust for environmental organizations.
David Suzuki, Canada’s most prominent environmentalist, resigned from the board of the charity he founded, fearing he had become a lightning rod for government censure.By: Carol Goar Canada, Politics Government, Published on Thu Nov 07 2013
Frustrated by his failure to make Canada a global energy superpower, Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned on the environmental movement with a ferocity never before seen in Canada.
He and his ministers blamed charities that opposed their mass sell-off of unprocessed bitumen for jeopardizing Canada’s economic health. They accused them of laundering foreign money. They warned that eco-terrorists were afoot in the land.
The government’s smear tactics did not get Alberta’s heavy oil moving to export markets. But they did damage the credibility of charities working to protect the environment.
The first piece of evidence is now in. A report released by the Muttart Foundation this week showed a distinct drop in public trust for environment organizations. Five years ago, 72 per cent of Canadians expressed confidence in charities focused on the environment. Today the number is 67 per cent.
It is still a much higher level of public trust than the federal government (45 per cent), the media (53 per cent) or big business (41 per cent) enjoy. But it is below the average for the charitable sector (79 per cent) and well below the levels for hospitals (86 per cent), children’s charities (82 per cent) and organizations focused on health (80 per cent).
The Edmonton-based Muttart Foundation, which steers clear of politics and partisanship, did not draw a link between Harper’s attack on the environmental movement and its slippage in public confidence. Its executive director Bob Wyatt merely pointed to the decline as a “warning sign.”
He is right to be cautious. Any number of factors could be responsible for the fall-off: weariness over the long fight to get policy-makers to act; doubts about the effectiveness of protests, rallies and blockades; donor fatigue; economic stress; or the conservative tenor of the times.
Environmental groups themselves could be responsible. In their passion to preserve forests, lakes, wildlife and the ecological balance, they may not have paid enough attention to communicating with Canadians. In their desire to stand together, they may have given legitimacy to zealots such as Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society.
But none of these factors is enough to account for a five percentage point drop in public trust.
The government has not followed through on its threat to strip environmental groups of their charitable status, although Revenue Canada is doing intensive audits of a few foundations. (One organization,Physicians for Global Survival, did lose its charitable status for excessive political activity last May, but that investigation began under the Liberals.)
What Harper and his colleagues have accomplished, however, is to send a chill through the environmental movement. David Suzuki, Canada’s most prominent environmentalist, resigned from the board of the charity he founded, fearing he had become a lightning rod for government censure. Ross McMillan, president of the Tides Canada, one of the charities targeted by the Harper government, released a detailed accounting of its donors and environmental projects to combat charges of money laundering. Hilary Pearson, president of the umbrella group for Canada’s charitable foundations, urged the government to cool its rhetoric, pointing out that the law allows charities to speak out on public issues, provided their activities are non-partisan and don’t represent more than 10 per cent of their spending.
The real — hard to quantify — harm lies in the philanthropists who have quietly stopped funding environmental causes, the charities that have quietly cancelled projects that might be controversial and the volunteers who have quietly fallen away.
Harper’s techniques have been insidiously effective in the past. He has reduced his political adversaries to objects of ridicule (Stéphane Dion) or contempt (Michael Ignatieff). He has portrayed his critics as everything from airheads to enemies of the state. He has silenced federal scientists and starved public laboratories. He has punished conscientious bureaucrats and vilified former allies. And he has walled his government off from public scrutiny.
He hasn’t won his latest battle. Environmentalists are a hardy lot.
But he has made it riskier to speak out, get involved in public affairs and pass on a clean green Canada to future generations.
Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.