Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

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.

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 Flaherty, 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 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 David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...