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Hill Dispatches: Cut their money and maybe nobody will stand up for the environment...?

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It should come as no surprise that the Conservative government decided to cut funding to the Canadian Environmental Network. Back in the early days of the 21st century, when the Alliance and Conservative Parties feared they would be consigned to the opposition benches for a very long time, ideologues  of the right such as Tom Flanagan and Tasha Kheiriddin suggested that if and when the right ever got into power a first order of business would be to de-fund all of those government-supported civil society organizations they perceived as "friends of the Liberals."

Oddly, many of those organizations were hardly uncritical of the Liberal government. However, for whatever their reasons, the Liberals were willing to provide a small amount of money to the cause of advocacy and dialogue. The fact is that private corporations can afford to lobby for their interests. The poor, the socially disadvantaged, minority groups -- and, of course, the environment -- do not have the same resources. That's why it makes some sense to use some public funds to create some semblance of a level playing field for public discourse.

"Taxpayer" funds will never give the environmental movement the capacity to match the media advertising the oil and gas industry can afford. But they do allow for the dissemination of some information not bought and paid for by corporations.

The argument of those ideologues of the political right was pretty simple. If we stop funding groups that disagree with us, they said, those groups will, for the most part, disappear, and our side will have greater control over national debates. That is why the government de-funded the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the Canadian Council on Social Development and the Canadian Policy Research Networks, just to name three.

In addition to an aversion to advocacy, networking and information sharing, the government has said that it has little interest in providing core funding to organizations. Its current practice is to put out calls for various kinds of projects and then fund organizations that can prove they can implement those specific, defined projects. That way, the government keeps total control of the agenda.

The message is: if you want to advocate, criticize, share information at variance with government policy (even if scientifically based), or establish grass roots networks, that's up to you. Just don't expect government money to do so.

After all, the tobacco and resource companies do not need government handouts (aside from generous tax provisions for the latter) -- why should groups of simple citizens?

The government does continue to fund lots of things,  of course, and we will be looking at what those are, in this space, in due course.

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