Budget’s new rules unfairly target environmental groups

The Globe and Mail, April 30, 2012

The Conservatives are continuing their dishonourable attack meant to intimidate environmental groups, in a budget item that stands out for adding a needless new cost.

Non-profit groups will be required to “provide more information on their political activities, including the extent to which these are funded by foreign sources,” budget documents say. And somehow the government has found $8-million, at a time of restraint, for the Canada Revenue Agency to spend on “education and compliance,” $3-million of which is for extra audits to ensure the existing 10-per-cent rule is maintained (no more than 10 per cent of funds can be spent on advocacy). Witch-hunts don’t come cheap.

Foreign sources? It’s not illegal for Canadian charities to take money from outside the country. And why should it be? If a Canadian cancer researcher, or a program to keep inner-city youth in school, receives money from a foreign foundation, is anything wrong with that? Why, then, is it wrong for an environmental group?

We live in a globalized world – the phrase is nearly as ubiquitous as what it represents. The Canadian government is only too happy to solicit foreign capital, foreign students (it has special scholarships for them), foreign culture, foreign labour. But foreign charitable donations for advocacy? Why, they’re a threat to the Canadian way of life!

The real target is obvious – environmental groups, especially those opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed to run from Alberta through British Columbia, to take oil-sands bitumen to ocean tankers for delivery to Asia. In January, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued a public letter – diatribe, more like – denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” who “hijack” regulatory bodies and “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

Environmentalists have every right to seek out foreign donations, just as foreign oil companies have every right to make their views known on the perceived benefits of the Gateway pipeline. The pipeline may turn out to have great benefits for Canada, but the environmental risks need to be discussed, and the federal government ought to respect the rights of Canadian charities to raise money abroad and express, in a non-partisan way, their concerns. Who is the hijacker here?

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