Green Titanic: How Big Green Money’s Political Power was Unleashed

Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2019

Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant who worked as a public servant for 27 years and as a diplomat for ten years prior to that service.


This is the third and final in a series of articles on the funding and activities of large environmental organizations in Canada, many of which play major political roles in opposing resource industry development and pipeline construction based on the thesis that this will address global warming.

LINK to report: Green Titanic FINAL RevA April 29 2019

This article describes how recent changes in the Income Tax Act and regulations governing charities and a recent court decision have freed activist environmental organizations with charity status from previous constraints on their ability to conduct and fund political activities.

Federal and provincial governments in Canada now provide $170 billion per year in grants and contributions to registered charities.

Charities then raise an additional $80 billion per year based on private contributions, some of which are stimulated by their registered charity status; the cost to the federal treasury alone of this is $5 billion per year; the cost to provincial government treasuries is unknown.

Until recently, the Income Tax Act barred registered charities from spending more than 10 per cent of their revenues on political activities, which were defined narrowly to include only partisan support for candidates or political parties seeking election. They allowed charities to spend more on other political activities such as lobbying of politicians, publishing information, launching public advertising campaigns to oppose energy developments, mobilizing supporters to oppose certain laws, or organizing public demonstrations and blockades. Today, only about 5,000 charities, or 5 per cent of those in Canada, report being involved in political activities.

The Trudeau government passed legislation as part of the Omnibus Budget bill in 2018 authorizing charities to carry on unlimited “public policy dialogue and development activities” to influence laws and policies. In July 2018 Justice Edward Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the Income Tax Act’s 10 per cent limitation on partisan political activity was unconstitutional. The Trudeau government decided to not appeal the ruling.

As a result of this legislative change and court decision, registered charity status now gives an organization, including activist environmental organizations, the freedom to spend up to 100% of its revenues on political activities, so long as these are consistent with its “charity” objectives.

The Trudeau government has directed CRA to stop requiring charities to report on how they spend on political activities, so it is unclear how anyone will be able to judge in future whether the activities carried out are consistent with charity status.

These developments open the door wide to potential abuses of political spending by radical ENGOs and other organizations that want to get heavily into political funding and can afford to do so.

The impact on the alignment of forces supporting and opposing resource development in Canada could be profound. The environmental organizations opposing development have enormous and probably permanent funding advantages, far greater than any political party could match. The long-term economic effects of this funding advantage could be especially damaging for provinces and regions whose prosperity depends on resource-based development.

Previous Reports in this series:

Dark Green Money



Big Green Money


Money Matters – The ENGO Political Advantage


Money Matters: The ENGO Political Advantage



Manufacturing a Climate Crisis


  1. Robby McHenry

    Participation in any political activities should be grounds for downgrading charitable organizations to non-profit status. Non-profit organizations which receive any government funding should have that funding removed for participating in political activities. Non-profit organizations that are funded entirely by voluntary contributions from private sector sources are the only non-profits which should be allowed to participate in political activity.

  2. Andrew Roman

    This is an excellent series of articles, but could be improved with a bit of editing.

    I think it is important for you to make some necessary distinctions. When you talk about “billionaires” I think about individuals, private corporations or charities established by billionaires that fund in the billions. I don’t think about the Canada Pension plan as being in the same category. All governments and their pension plans are necessarily billionaires. When you paint with too broad a brush you lose credibility.

    Similarly, when you provide the total of government contributions to charities, this may include charities like the United Way or other organizations to alleviate poverty, etc. If you mean charities that champion carbon taxes and other climate change remedies you need to specify that the numbers you are quoting are limited to those kinds of charities.

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