U.S. environmentalists are meddling in B.C.’s election
National Post February 17, 2011 – 8:15 am
By Vivian Krause
On Feb. 26, members of the B.C. Liberal party will choose a new leader who will immediately become the provincial premier, replacing Gordon Campbell. But who will those Liberal members be? The party’s membership has recently tripled, from 30,000 to 90,000, in part due to a major questionable campaign by environmental activists to stack the membership and shape the leadership choice.
The membership situation itself, including a cat on the list, is so troubling that some are calling for Elections B.C. to take over the party’s membership lists. But the environmental campaign has also prompted outrage from veteran B.C. leftists such as Murray Dobbin. In his Vancouver Sun column, he called the strategy “profoundly dishonest” and “an insult” to progressive activists everywhere.
The strategy he’s talking about is the campaign by a coalition of environmental organizations to encourage voters across the province to join the Liberal party to vote on the leadership — even if they have no intention of voting Liberal in an election. “It is essentially political fraud,” wrote Mr. Dobbin recently.
The plan is clever. “If you received this message, you live in a provincial riding with very few Liberal Party members, probably less than 400,” says an email from Organizing for Change (OC), the umbrella group backing the campaign. In emails to environmental group members, organizers have been telling people to join the Liberal party temporarily, even if they would actually vote for the NDP or the Green party.
According to Mr. Dobbin, “that progressive groups would do this is truly disgusting” and a betrayal of the “highest possible ethical standards. What on earth were these groups thinking?”
But it’s not what these groups were thinking that is most worrisome — it is what the funders of OC are thinking that is cause for concern. While OC encompasses local environmental groups such as the Dogwood Initiative, Ecojustice, Georgia Strait Alliance and Wildsight, my research into U.S. tax filings shows OC also comes with massive support from unlikely sources south of the border.
OC is a project of Tides Canada, a U.S.-funded charitable foundation. In practice, OC explicitly aims to influence the leadership picks of both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP. The campaign is directly funded by the Wilburforce Foundation, based in Seattle, through the U.S. Tides Foundation (“Tides USA”), based in San Francisco. Since 2003, Wilburforce has paid Tides USA a total of $329,000, specifically designated to support Tides Canada’s Operation for Change project, or its predecessor, the Environmental Resource Centre. In 2005, Wilburforce granted funds specifically for a “youth voting initiative” that would “give B.C. environmental groups access to a segment of the population that they are otherwise not usually exposed to,” according to the organization.
The member organizations of OC are paid well over $1-million per year from five U.S. foundations: Wilburforce, Brainerd, Bullitt, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. All five foundations fund projects that would block Canadian oil exports to Asia and give the U.S. a virtual monopoly on Canadian oil exports.
Wilburforce is funded by James Letwin and his wife, Rosanna, friends of Bill Gates, and part of the original group that gave rise to Microsoft. Since 1999, the Letwins have given $80-million to Wilburforce. Rosanna Letwin has been the chair since 1999.
At its own website, Wilburforce doesn’t say that OC aims to sway the political process in a foreign country — which is against the rules. Wilburforce says that this project is “to support and promote collaboration among environmental organizations.” Back in 2002, Wilburforce paid Tides Canada “to construct an ongoing entity similar to the League of Conservation Voters or the Washington Environmental Alliance for Voter Education that would enhance the effectiveness of B.C. environmental organizations through enhanced membership lists, targeted messaging and capacity building.”
One of the members of OC is the Dogwood Initiative, based in Victoria. Wilburforce specifically paid Tides USA for the Dogwood Initiative “to work with First Nations to increase leverage to expand conservation and local control of land in the Great Bear Rainforest.”
When the Dogwood Initiative tries to sway the Liberal and the N.D.P leadership nominations through OC, Canadians need to ask where this support is coming from — and why. The Dogwood Initiative has 70,000 members in its “No Tankers” campaign. It wants those members to join the Liberal party to vote for a new leader who will “support a federal legislated tanker ban on BC’s north coast,” says Eric Swanson, the executive director of the Dogwood Initiative. “The initial response has been very positive and the number of No Tankers supporters within the (B.C.) Liberal Party is growing,” Swanson writes.
Elections B.C. should be looking into the Liberal membership in British Columbia, not only because of the ethical issues raised by Mr. Dobbin but also because there is evidence of a foreign-funded campaign to meddle in our political process for reasons and motives that, while open to speculation, may not be in Canada’s interests — and certainly not in the interests of democracy.