David Suzuki recently resigned as a director of the board of his eponymous foundation as a way, he said, of ensuring that his own political opinions and activities didn’t get the David Suzuki Foundation in trouble.
His resignation was in response to the federal government’s recent announcement that it would be paying closer attention to registered charities, such as Suzuki’s foundation, to ensure they weren’t violating clear rules requiring them to steer clear of political activity. Apparently, Suzuki was worried that his presence on the board would blur the line between his politics and his foundation’s work, a line his resignation doesn’t change.
The David Suzuki Foundation’s work is largely politics — politics that would appear to overstep the boundaries set out by Canadian charity law.
That’s why EthicalOil.org recently filed a complaint with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) urging it to review the David Suzuki Foundation’s charitable status. Ottawa provides Canadian charities very generous taxpayer-subsidized tax breaks in exchange for accepting strict rules about what they can do with those subsidies.
The subsidies can only be used for genuine charitable work such as curing disease, feeding the homeless or helping battered women or disabled kids. They are not there for Suzuki and his ilk to fight against government policies or political parties.
A quick review of the foundation’s activities shows that partisan politics is where those subsidies go:
• During the 2011 Ontario election, David Suzuki — whether acting on his own behalf or that of the foundation isn’t clear — attacked the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, calling its plan to reform unaffordable renewable energy subsidies “absolute insanity,” while appearing in Liberal campaign ads.
• The foundation itself went ahead and supported the Liberal party’s Green Energy Act, calling on Ontarians to tell their local candidates to support it or lose their vote.
• It launched a political campaign to pressure the federal government to change its energy policy by raising taxes on “dirty fuels such as the Alberta Tar Sands.”
• It has called the Canadian government’s position on climate talks “shameful” and has even gone so far as to work with foreign governments to try and push their anti-Canadian-oil policies here in Canada.
• It has attacked Environment Minister Peter Kent directly, accusing him of enacting policies that are a “repudiation of core Canadian values” — even providing an online form so Suzuki’s followers could express their “sadness and shame” towards the federal government over an approach to climate change that the Foundation doesn’t agree with.
• It has attacked senators who dared to question the foreign funding flowing to groups such as the foundation to fight Canadian politics.
EthicalOil.org’s letter to the CRA goes on for 44 pages, filled with further examples of the foundation’s political activities.
This isn’t charitable work: it is hard-core politics.
No one is suggesting that Suzuki and his colleagues at the foundation should be prevented from running whatever political ads, letter-writing campaigns, or political lobbying efforts they want. But they must play by the rules: stay out of politics in exchange for charitable subsidies, or be as political as you want by giving up your charitable status.
Suzuki clearly knows why his foundation has attracted the attention of senators, and his decision to step down from its board is nothing more than a meaningless public relations move as the foundation goes into damage control.
The very essence of the David Suzuki Foundation, however, as National Post columnist Kelly McParland recently wrote, “appears to be one big testament to the personality, vision, goals and cult of David Suzuki.”
Even after Suzuki’s departure, the foundation’s website still spills over with political calls to action and criticisms of policies, politicians, industries and governments. There’s no reason to believe the foundation has ever actually learned where politicking begins and charity ends.
If people want to give money to Suzuki’s group to fight political battles, nobody’s stopping them. Let’s just make sure they stop taking public money — money that is intended to help truly charitable, non-political groups — to do it.
Jordan Graham is national spokesperson for EthicalOil.org and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.