Rich American foundations are not only footing the bill for opposition to Canada's oilsands.

Tax returns show the Canadian government has also been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in largesse from some of the wealthiest private organizations in the United States.

And some of that money came from the same U.S. groups that helped fund Canadian environmentalists.

The grants to the federal government come to light as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the pro-oilsands website EthicalOil.org take Canadian environmental groups to task for accepting money from big American foundations to finance their campaigns against the oilsands.

mi-oliver-01232640

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has accused foreign "radicals" of interefering with Canada's environmental review process to work against Alberta's oil sands. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accused "environmental and other radical groups" of trying to use money from "foreign special-interest groups" to hijack hearings on a pipeline that would bring Alberta oilsands bitumen to a port on the British Columbia coast.

But the Canadian government seems to have no qualms accepting grant money from private U.S. foundations — including some of the same organizations that gave to Canadian environmental groups.

For example, U.S. tax records show the California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave $750,000 to the David Suzuki Foundation and a whopping $40 million to the International Development Research Centre, a federal Crown corporation.

Tax records show the Hewlett foundation gave the International Development Research Centre $40 million in 2007 for "general support of the Think Tanks Program," and another $275,000 in 2008 for "general support of the African R&E Bandwidth Consortium."

The Hewlett Foundation has also given $1.3 million to the Pembina Foundation for Environmental Research and Education, $400,000 to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and $275,000 to Ecojustice Canada.

A spokeswoman pointed out that the International Development Research Centre is a funding organization that supports researchers in the developing world.

"Our goal is to bring choice and change to the people who need it most," Isabelle Bourgeault-Tasse wrote in an email.

"This means that funding received from donors such as William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department For International Development (DFID), among others, are not intended for IDRC, but rather for projects that are administered and run by IDRC.

"With the exception of administrative costs (i.e.: grant administration, human resources, etc.), and direct project costs (i.e. salaries) attributable to the specific project or program, the funding received by donors is intended for researchers and innovators in the developing world."

The Illinois-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation gave $695,000 to the World Wildlife Fund Canada and $300,000 to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The purpose of the grant to Foreign Affairs was to support "regional meetings in Africa on the responsibility to protect," the foundation said in its 2003 tax filing.

The department did not immediately respond to questions.

Millions to federal departments, Crown corporations

An analysis by The Canadian Press of thousands of pages of U.S. tax filings found American groups have showered millions of dollars on federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations in Canada.

Details of the grants are contained in annual filings to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service from tax-exempt and non-profit organizations, called Form 990s.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office was asked if there is a difference between environmental groups and the federal government when it comes to accepting money from private U.S. foundations.

"The government encourages charitable donations and philanthropy," wrote Andrew MacDougall, the PMO's associate director of communications, in an email response.

"But the government believes that regulatory decisions dealing with the responsible development of Canada's natural resources should be up to Canadians. After all, development of these resources generates tax revenue that funds critical services that Canadians rely on, like health care and education.

"That's why decisions regarding these projects should be made by Canadians and should be based on Canada's interests."

Some grants came from U.S. foundations that did not give money to environmentalists.

Documents show the Carnegie Corporation of New York gave $36,000 to the Canadian Polar Commission in 2003 to help fund an international conference on Arctic and circumpolar issues.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative gave $92,000 to Health Canada in 2003 for translation software for a global public-health network.

The J. Paul Getty Trust gave $24,000 to Library and Archives Canada in 2004 for treatment and research.

The Alcoa Foundation gave $200,000 to the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City in 2010 for a "program to offer educational kits in Quebec primary schools" and an "aqua exhibition, bicycle rack stations and the outdoor urban design furniture projects."

Alcoa also gave the museum $15,000 in 2009 for a "cultural history program for school children," and $100,000 in 2006 for unspecified reasons.

Corrections

  • This story has been edited from an earlier version, in which The Canadian Press erroneously reported that the Alcoa Foundation gave $200,000 to the Museum of Civilization in 2010, as well as money in 2009 and 2006. In fact, the money went to the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City.
    Jan 24, 2012 12:36 PM ET