Opportunistic Conservative attack on green charities highlights tax abuses by Tory cronies

Charity: Right-wing think tanks and Ducks Unlimited are most certainly not exactly as illustrated. Below: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea.

Supporters of the Harper Government’s campaign to use tax laws to de-fund its opponents need to be careful what they wish for. They might just get it!

Consider Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent reflexive attacks on the environmental charities that dared to oppose the petrochemical pipeline projects desired by the Conservative Party’s energy industry financiers.

Mr. Harper spotted a momentary advantage in squawking about the fact some of these charities had received donations from abroad – never mind that this activity is both perfectly legal and quite common – but forgot in his enthusiasm for the first available cheap shot where a lot of his own favourite political charities’ money comes from.

What’s more, when Tory insiders hatched a plan to use the Canada Revenue Agency to put environmental charities out of business for engaging in too much political activity, they momentarily forgot that some of the malignant market fundamentalist think tanks they rely on for intellectual succour have been getting away with much worse.

Moreover, they were so noisy about it that even the normally compliant corporate media is starting to shine a spotlight on the activities of charities the Harperites never intended to pay any attention to whatsoever.

And these guys are supposed to be the Big Schemers of Canadian politics! Has it occurred to anyone that, until now, they looked good only because they were facing an opposition that wasn’t all that good at its job or particularly committed to it? No wonder the NDP under Thomas Mulcair has been edging past them in the polls despite their hysterical response to his factual observation that our pumped-up petro-Loonie is hurting the economy in other parts of the country.

Well, whatever. When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea limply asserted not so long ago that tax laws apply to everybody – apparently meaning this as some kind of a shot at environmental groups with charitable status – a lot of Canadians were thinking, “by God, they’d better!”

The question of U.S. funding for charities will likely go away quickly enough, since it’s legal anyway and an analysis by the Canadian Press has now revealed only one of the Top Ten charities significantly funded by foreigners can be defined as a conservation group. That group was Ducks Unlimited, moreover, which is not the kind of environmental charity the Conservatives had in mind when they started spewing their aggressive anti-green propaganda.

Nos. 1 and 2 for foreign donations were CARE Canada and World Vision Canada, groups whose supporters will speak up if the Harper Conservatives’ loose lips start discouraging Canadians to donate to them.

Moreover, screeching about this kind of stuff tends to draw attention to the fact that more than two-thirds of Alberta’s oil sands production is owned by foreign operators, who send their profits directly out of the country and leave Canadians to pay for cleaning up the mess.

Meanwhile, the question of organizations with charitable status operating in violation of the Canada Revenue Agency’s limits on political activities is becoming more interesting.

For example, it was recently reported on the Internet – though not in the mainstream media, interestingly – that a registered charity called Physicians for Nuclear Sanity, which opposes nuclear proliferation, had been informed by the CRA that it is losing its charitable status for engaging in too much political activity. CRA told PNS that “promotion of nuclear disarmament” was considered to be an unstated political activity.

Now, in fairness to the Harperites, this investigation began when the Liberals were still in power – no doubt because certain foreign friends of most Canadian political parties are hostile to the idea of giving up their country’s nuclear weapons, especially when they haven’t signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Meanwhile, however, the Fraser Institute, which purports to be a research “think tank” but is nothing more than a well-heeled boiler room for far-right political propaganda funded by corporations to the tune of $11 million a year, continues to break CRA’s reporting rules with impunity.

In addition to taking foreign cash directly from the hands of the New York-based oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, the men behind the Astroturf Tea Party, and much more laundered through the Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. corporations, the Fraser Institute also operates openly in violation of the CRA’s rules.

This is because, despite being limited to spending only 12 per cent of the funds it raises through charity on political activities, essentially 100 per cent of the Fraser Institute’s activities meet the CRA’s definition of political.

Moreover, regardless of the percentage of Fraser Institute activities that breach the rules, which is admittedly debatable, some of them self-evidently meet the CRA’s definition of political. Yet in each year between 2000 and 2010 the Fraser Institute reported in its annual income statement to the CRA that it had engaged in no activities that met the CRA’s broad definition of political activities.

This is plainly outrageous and it will require Mr. Flaherty, Ms. Shea and the anonymous and supposedly non-political enforcers at the CRA to twist themselves into pretzels to stick to their assertion that Canada’s tax laws apply equally to everyone.

The point is that all this and much more is likely to come out into the light of day now, thanks to Mr. Harper’s ill-considered and opportunistic attack on the charities that courageously spoke up about his government’s disgraceful environmental record.

It will be quite reasonable of Canadians to demand that their government prove that we are still a society of laws and enforce these rules equally, and to turn to a party that’s prepared to do so if the Conservatives won’t.

It’s going to be very hard for the Harperites to put this particular gooey blob of toothpaste back into the tube.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments on "Opportunistic Conservative attack on green charities highlights tax abuses by Tory cronies"

  1. the salamander says:

    what a lovely, though damning report.. thank you.

    yesterday i felt depressed, as many Canadians must currently. what does the world think of us now? as we let electoral grooming and fraud allow shallow ideological thugs to destroy our parliament. and now we allow them to attack and strip our environment. what next ? will they attack our women and children ? they've already attacked and robbed our parents

    our next federal election day should be a national holiday, declared so all Canadians of all ages can stand outside and inside voting stations and ensure fairness. we can help the elderly get there. and students as well. and we can all do it with a smile and without American electoral advisors hired by the current government.

    i didn't realize that religion, oil interests and right wing idiocy had been mixed together into such a disgustingly volatile, dirty and twisted electoral hunger for power. if that's what they think 'power' or enlightenment is.. i doubt a high concept like 'trust' or responsibility will pierce their dim and grasping brains.

    we should start a countdown clock now. let them know a nation will step up and meet them face to face at the voting stations across the wide land. they need to know that unless they step back from their crude national identify theft and attacks on all Canadians and Canada, they will individually and collectively be identified as a bizarre horror that tried to steal a country.. Its best they start quietly retiring to 'spend more time with their families' now …

    the sooner that Oliver, Kenney, Hadfield, Shea, Harper, Mackay, Kent, Clement, Baird, Flaherty, Fantino, Moore et al recognize their peril and potential for permanent disgrace, the better. they need a sandbox to sit and fight in over toys and such. and they need a nap and a lot of quiet time sitting in a corner. in the field of social work they would be rightly described as either feeling 'omnipotent' or potentially dangerous sociopaths. i would never let them have matches in a forest, keys to a car, or be alone with children or elders.

  2. Zee says:

    It would seem quite innocuous when reading as you have written:
    "It will be quite reasonable of Canadians to demand that their government prove that we are still a society of laws and enforce these rules equally, and to turn to a party that’s prepared to do so if the Conservatives won’t."
    Sure, there is an appealing bottom line of reasonableness that meets the approval of the anyone-who-is-a-Canadian in that. It may resonate on the issue of enforcing the rules equally on all, however, rules on the limits of political advocacy apparently leave too much room for interpretation. The Frazer Institute cannot possibly be engaged in too much pleading for the political when most of what they issue on behalf of their funding sources is daftly misleading, outrageously distorted and defensible by a plea of insanity. There seems to be a nutter loose in so much of the noise coming from right wing think tanks and individuals that the destruction of meaningful language is intentional. The endless reiteration of malicious mendacity by Conservative members of parliament as their dominant defense of government policy seems to be all we get from them these days, while Stephen Harper has become the figurehead of stoic resistance. Does turning people away from political discourse and action work? Has it not been happening for decades now? The silence. The voter turn-out. The monopoly of voice and opinion by paid hacks. Or perhaps Impatience is who I am now?

  3. Nordic says:

    Perhaps I’m answering my own question, but why would the Conservatives stoop to such tactics?

    Is the tar sands pipeline so lacking in merit that it needs this sort of draconian and authoritian help?

    This is not the first time the Conservatives have resorted to the illegal and the dictatorial. They defied the courts to introduce their legislation killing the Canadian Wheat Board and they contended the economy was so fragile that an act of Parliament to bully a few striking air line stewardesses back to work was necessary.

    Just how badly have they bungled things to warrant these steps into a malignant dictatorship in Canada? Suddenly it hardly seems safe to ask, but maybe that is the point.

  4. Alex P says:

    I think I'll just let this bishop speak for me:

    How do you spell the word tyranny? I spell it: HARPER http://goo.gl/wTGrb

    Once again, not cricket! 'Nuff said.

  5. Alex P says:

    Ah ha! I'm not the only one noticing Prime Minister Wile E Coyote's petulant and power mad zeal. From the Toronto Star: Stephen Harper promised accountable government but hasn’t delivered http://goo.gl/IU23g

    The Star again: Stephen Harper promised accountable government but hasn’t delivered http://goo.gl/acJP

    The Harperites seem to think they invented governance in Canada. A lawless nation that once flirted with socialism to a degree Tom Flanagan disapproves of.

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