Sierra Club of British Columbia

Sierra Club of British Columbia

What Happened

In September of 2008, Environment Minister John Baird rescinded a $100,000 funding grant to the Sierra Club BC, fuelling speculation that the cuts were motivated by political, rather than budgetary reasons.

In February 2008 the Sierra Club of British Columbia launched a new House Cooling initiative, designed to bring neighbours and community members together in order to discuss climate change and reduce carbon footprints.

On May 16th 2008, the EcoAction Community Funding Program, a federal initiative created by the Chrétien government, approved a $100,000 grant for the for the House Cooling initiative, and a contract was signed.

In September of 2008, Environment Minister John Baird terminated the funding. Sierra Club BC’s Development Director, Jen Hoffman, was told the application had been reviewed after the agreement was signed, and found to be “against the priorities of the program,” and that “sometimes adjustments in priorities occur.”

Sierra Club BC’s Executive Director, Kathryn Molloy, felt outraged and confused by the government’s decision. “I would like clarity as to why the program has been terminated,” she said. “I was told this was the best proposal EcoAction had ever seen.”

To keep the House Cooling initiative afloat, Sierra Club BC was forced to launch a new fundraising campaign to replace the federal grant.

Leaders of Canada’s environmental movement expressed concern at the lack of transparency, and suspect that the decision was a punishment for the Sierra Club BC’s advocacy work, as well its alleged political leanings. Stephen Hazell, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, noted that Sierra Club BC receives almost no money from government, and thought it peculiar that the program “would be singled out for their attentions - after the contract had already been signed.”

Mr. Hazell also questioned the relevance of Mr. Baird’s previous accusations that environmental groups are a support base for the federal Liberal Party. At a meeting in Ottawa in April 2007, which Hazell attended, Minister Baird repeatedly accused various leaders of prominent environmental groups of conspiring with the Liberals. “In meetings with Mr. Baird, the theme of environmentalists being in bed with the Liberals comes up all the time,” recalled Mr. Hazell.

John Bennett, former executive director of the Climate Action Network, also a former senior policy adviser on energy for the Sierra Club of Canada, and now Director of Communications for the Federal Green Party, called the funding cut “clearly a vengeful act” by Minister Baird.

"It's clear in my mind,” said Mr. Bennett “that [Mr. Baird] heard his staff had given the Sierra Club money and he went and punished them." Reportedly, at a meeting in Ottawa in April 2007, Baird oddly accused Emilie Moorhouse from the Sierra Club, among many other environmentalists in attendance, of being “Liberals.” Mr. Bennet recalls sitting “open-mouthed” at such accusations and at the way in which the Minister was dealing with environmental groups.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May remains convinced that the cuts involved political interference, since the circumstances were so unusual. “I’ve known how Environment Canada operates for 30 years and I’ve never heard of a contract, once issued, being cut.” During the 2011 federal election campaign, May warned that Canada’s leading environment groups were being silenced due to fear of retribution from the Harper government, citing Sierra Club B.C.’s funding cut as proof.

The Ecology Action Centre, which was also refused two funding proposals with no explanation, is especially concerned with the transparency of the process. “We can handle being turned down,” said Policy Director Mark Butler, “but we want to know why and we want the process to be fair.”

Since cutting Sierra Club BC’s funding, the government has deemed some environmental groups to be ‘extremists’ and ‘adversaries.’ The Prime Minister’s Office has also called the environmental group ForestEthics, which has opposed the Harper government’s plan for an oil pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific ocean, an “Enemy of the Government of Canada,” and an “Enemy of the people of Canada,” according to a sworn affidavit from whistleblower Andrew Frank.

Relevant Dates:

  • April 2007: Environment Minister John Baird meets with leaders of prominent environmental groups in Ottawa, accusing them of Liberal partisanship.
  • 16 May 2008: Environment Canada signs $100,000 funding contract for Sierra Club of B.C.
  • August 2008: $100, 000 funding contract is rescinded by Environment Canada.
  • 2011-2012: Environmental groups are labelled ‘extremists’, ‘adversaries’, and ‘enemies’ by the Harper government.

Role or Position

Sierra Club BC is a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and conserve British Columbia’s wilderness. Sierra Club BC works with community members to engage them in constructive action to protect ecosystems and wild spaces, and also provides science-based viewpoints and advice on policy decisions that affect environmental issues. 

Implications and Consequences

  • Transparency: The refusal of Environment Canada and Minister Baird to justify the $100,000 cut to Sierra Club BC’s House Cooling initiative, especially after a signed contract, lacks transparency in the Ministry’s and Environment Canada’s decision-making process.
  • Free Speech: The suspicion from leaders of Canada’s environmental movement that the government’s turnaround on funding for Sierra Club BC was politically motivated fits squarely into the pattern of silencing dissent and punishing political adversaries, which has become noticeably more prevalent since 2006.
  • Democracy: The government’s denial of information to the public in this case fits into a general pattern of secrecy, and denial for multiple forms of access to information for Canadian citizens and civil society, all of which has a deep and adverse impact on the capacity of citizens to hold their government to account.


Published: 6 March 2012