publication date: May 25, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Foreign-funded. Radical. Money laundering. With language
like that filling media reports and commentaries every day, you'd think Tides Canada
CEO Ross McMillan
would have a pile of journalist's calls to return.
But those calls don't always come when they should, according to his mid-month
conversation with Hilborn eNEWS
Globe and Mail
reporter Gary Mason
published a column
on May 10 repeating the assertions of blogger Vivian Krause
that Tides Canada funneled charitable gifts to Vision Vancouver
, an organization that
backed the re-election campaign of Mayor Gregor Robertson and an ineligible
"Mr. Mason never bothered to pick up the phone," McMillan emphasizes.
"We have never, directly or indirectly, through intermediaries or obscure
means, provided any support of any kind to any political party, campaign or
candidate for office."
To many in the nonprofit sector and beyond, the tactics look
like a smear campaign fuelled by the accusations of highly-placed Conservatives
including Natural Resources Minister Joe
, Environment Minister Peter
and Senators Nicole Eaton
and Percy Mockler
He and other Tides Canada representatives have been asked
several times, though, to account for the CRA audit.
"I will never know where this audit came from," he muses.
"There's certainly a narrative of some interests and companies concerned about
our funding of environmental charities. It's possible that it [the audit] is
complaint-driven. It's also possible that it's simply a follow-up on a few
points of guidance we received in the first audit, connected with the way our
grant recipients describe our work on their websites."
modest in light of overall funding
The amount of Tides Canada funding devoted to oil sands
issues does seem to be out of proportion to the rhetoric it's generated. Last
year, the foundation granted just over $600,000 to organizations focused on the
environmental impact of the oil sands projects and related pipelines, a modest
3% of its total grant outlay.
"I get really frustrated by assertions that we grant
‘massive amounts' of funds to these kinds of initiatives," McMillan explains.
"When we have discretionary control over the use of the funds, we focus on
working with governments and a number of the corporations now active in the oil
sands to find solutions."
McMillan maintains that any non-Canadian funds coming into the
foundation are properly tracked, identified according to CRA regulations and
granted to charities who themselves comply with CRA-enforced boundaries on
charities' political activities.
Speak out even more,
It's possible that many people, including some journalists
and politicians, aren't familiar with the distinction between political
partisanship (which is forbidden to charities), political activity (which is
allowed so long as it's relevant to a charity's core purpose and uses no more
than 10% of its budget), and other forms of advocacy related to the charity's
objectives (which are not limited by CRA).
The issue is much bigger than Tides Canada, McMillan
believes. "This is about silencing critics of the government and moving the
pipeline forward." Yet he's convinced the attention is shedding some unexpected
"People and the media are raising questions about the role
of charities," he notes when asked about the broader implications of the
controversy. "Just in the past few days, I've begun to feel good about the
media coverage on broader issues related to charities."
He sees that as a healthy process, one that could make the
public more aware of charities' right to speak out on policy issues, and the
significant contributions they've made to such discussions in the past.
"Don't back down. Don't be cowed," he advises, addressing
other charities contemplating advocacy. "It's a great opportunity for the
sector to become better educated on allowable political activity, on doing more
advocacy where it's germane to your charitable purposes."