Tides Canada President and CEO Ross McMillan lashed out at federal Environment Minister Peter Kent‘s allegations of money laundering by Canadian charities Wednesday, calling the minister’s comments “desperate and preposterous.”
By law, Canadian charities are allowed to spend up to 10 per cent of their total resources on political activities. The government’s 2012 budget included $8 million to rewrite the tax questionnaire on charities’ political activities, and to investigate any that might be exceeding the limit.
Environmental organizations such as Vancouver-based Tides Canada, which funds social and environmental initiatives across the country, have been singled out by Conservative cabinet ministers in recent months. The feds claim some of them are undermining Canada’s interests by funneling foreign money to pipeline and oil sands opponents.
“I see no evidence whatsoever that charities are acting inappropriately or illegally, and these are really grave allegations coming from a minister of the Crown,” McMillan told Metro. “If he has any reason to back them up, he should come forward with something more than innuendo, which is what he’s putting out, and if not he should apologize to Canadians for contributing to a smear campaign, which is what this is.”
Kent accused charitable organizations of laundering offshore funds Tuesday on CBC television, but declined to name which ones, saying the specifics will come out in ongoing Senate finance committee hearings.
McMillan said Tides is scrupulous about tracking and reporting all of its political activity, which makes up less than one per cent of its overall activity. An analysis of CRA data by The Canadian Press last week found that less than one per cent of Canada’s 85,000 charities report devoting any resources to political activity.
A spokesperson for Imagine Canada, an umbrella organization that represents charities, said it’s important for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to recognize the distinction between political activity directly aimed at influencing decision makers and raising awareness.
“A lot of the activities that charities are involved in… will involve encouraging the public to consider changing its behaviour or raising awareness about important issues without necessarily going that next step to a call to political action, but charities’ involvement in issuing calls to political action remains an important part of what they can do and should be doing to try to change behaviour,” said Michelle Gauthier, vice-president of public policy and community engagement.
McMillan also said some countries are opening regulations up for rather than cracking down on political activities by charities.
“Other democracies are actually heading in the other direction, providing greater opportunity for political engagement,” he said.
B.C.’s 10 most politically active charities by reported spending (2010)
1. Canadian Cancer Society – $200,000
2. Alzheimer Society of B.C. – $160,151
3. Positive Living Society of British Columbia – $99,655
4. Tides Canada Initiatives Society – $84,934
5. Ecojustice Canada Society – $69,125
6. The David Suzuki Foundation – $64,937
7. Co-Development Canada Association – $44,460
8. Watershed Watch Salmon Society – $44,181
9. Western Canada Wilderness Committee – $35,000
10. Dr. Peter Aids Foundation – $21,949
Source: CRA data provided by Canadian Press reporter Steve Rennie