Catching the Tories in Bambi’s headlights

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Canada’s freshly cobbled Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the nation’s laws oughtn’t transform charitable foundations, which pay virtually no income taxes, into shelter accounts for fraudsters, money-launderers, terrorists, and organized criminals.

To which, the proper response might be: “Well, duh.”

In advance of today’s federal budget, Mr. Flaherty – his new shoes dutifully acquired from Toronto’s Mellow Walk Footwear – declared to media, “There are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations, that launder money through charities and that make donations to charities and that’s not the purpose of charitable donations in Canada. We are being increasingly strict on the subject.”

What’s more, he said, “If the critics of the government (policy to close the apparent loophole) are terrorist organizations and organized crime, I don’t care.”

Sure, but that’s not really the nontaxable sixty-four-thousand dollar question.

If it were, then citizens of this country would have every right to demand what, exactly, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Communications Security Establishment Canada – not to speak of America’s Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the co-dependent operations of Britain’s Secret Intelligent Service – have been doing in the authentic age of surveillance.

I mean, are we or aren’t we fully, bloodily and bodily exposed? And if the critics of the government are, in fact, terrorist organizations, then shouldn’t our “friendly” spies and spooks care rather deeply, even if our finance minister does not?

No, this is not about terrorists or money launderers or organized criminals. This is about that hemp-clad, plackard-waving, fossil-fuel hating, trust-fund baby boomer (and his millennial acolytes) who has roundly peeved Conservative office-holders, lo these many years.

According to the Toronto Star and other news organizations, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is systematically auditing environmental charities that continue to make a connection between fossil fuel production in Alberta and global warming.

It wants to know whether the organizations – Pembina Foundation, David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada and Environmental Defence, among others – are running afoul of the 10 per cent rule, which refers to the percentage of a charity’s time and money that may be spent on political or advocacy work as long as the activities are non-partisan in nature (that is, not aligned to particular parties).

John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada calls this “a war against the sector.”  Marcel Lauzière of Imagine Canada laments the “big chill out there with what charities can and cannot do.”

All of which may be true, but CRA’s government-sanction audits illustrate, if nothing else, that the sector has struck a nerve in Ottawa. Who knew that Bambi’s tree-hugger brigade would scare the scat out of the establishment fat cats in Ottawa?

In fact, it’s been a pretty good past couple of years for environmental groups bent on countering the federal government’s fondness for the oil sands. The effects of coordinated and aggressive publicity campaigns are especially noticeable in the United States, where the Obama administration continues to drag its feet on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

One recent poll by USA Today indicates that only a slight majority of Americans surveyed supported imports of oil sands crude from Alberta. “About 56 per cent say they favor the northern leg of the billion-dollar, Canada-to-U.S. project and 41 per cent oppose it, according to the poll of 801 U.S. adults completed last month by Stanford University and Resources for the Future (RFF), a non-partisan research group,” the newspaper reported last month.

Still, any government that deliberately targets for censure organizations with which it doesn’t agree, and whose growing influence it fears, runs a perilously close risk of trampling on some very hallowed democratic ground.

After all, if you name your organization “Environmental Defence”, apply for and receive charitable status, do you not also assume that your right to criticize official policy   on said environment is protected?

And what utter nonsense is the 10 per cent rule, anyway. All charities fill the gaps in the public and private sector’s attention to social detail. They exist to do precisely what their critics and detractors revile: advocate.

By all means, go after the evil-dowers who distort our charities for larcenous ends. But for the rest of the sector, let’s holster our six guns.

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