Conservative Attack on Charities "chilling," writes John McKay

June-04-12

The Conservative Government’s attack on Canadians who provide informed and intelligent dissent is premeditated, and chilling. In an unguarded moment, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird said the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was being defunded because it had recommended a carbon tax, a policy that the Conservative government does not support. Minister Oliver attacked groups who intervened in the pipeline debate as “foreign radicals”. Conservative Senator Eaton accused dissenting voices of “influence pedaling”. Not to be outdone, the Minister of Environment Peter Kent accused those speaking out against the government’s agenda of “money laundering”.

It is all part of a disturbing larger agenda to silence dissent, and delegitimize anyone who has opinions contrary to Conservative orthodoxy. Unfortunately ad hominem viciously personal attacks are a very effective means of silencing those who have the courage to speak out.

In the last Parliament KAIROS, a multi faith umbrella group was defunded for allegedly speaking out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (it was later proved that this was a different KAIROS), and/or for raising concern about the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad. It would have slipped quietly under the waves except for the incompetence of Bev Oda, the CIDA Minister who bungled the defunding which led to the infamous “not” controversy. The cuts to KAIROS were quickly followed by more cuts to the Canadian Council on International Cooperation (CCIC), Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Development and Peace, Rights and Democracy and the Canadian Council on Social Development, all of whom had the temerity to speak “truth to power” and criticize actions (or inactions) of the Conservative government.

The Government’s intimidation of their critics has continued in their latest omnibus budget bill, which contains hidden in plain sight, a change to the Income Tax Act, which amends the rules for determining the extent to which a charity is engaged in “political” activity, therefore changing the circumstances in which a charity may have its charitable status reviewed. Ordinarily an amendment which provides “guidance” would be a welcome clarification of the law. However in light of the “chill” descending upon the charitable sector, everyone is looking over their shoulders wondering what kind of impact this may have; dare they speak out against Conservative orthodoxy; and if so will they catch the unwelcome attention of the CRA?

The intimidation of civil society may appear to be a savvy move on the part of political actors; but the consequences of this “chill” are enormous. Civil society is not only about dissent, it is also about alternative points of view, which are the real life blood of a democracy.  Alternative voices make the powerful question themselves, but when the powerful controls the executive branch and the legislative branch of the government as they do in Canada, the only voices left to ask these questions are in civil society. Those that are specifically attacked are either shut down or marginalized. Those that aren’t attacked directly learn very quickly that silence is golden. The Conservative version of the golden rule is “my gold my rules”.

Mr. Harper needs to know, it’s not his gold, it’s yours Mr. & Ms. Taxpayer, and it is highly inappropriate that the government is taking taxpayer money and using it to silence the charities and NGO’s that either dare to question their motives, or support policies that go against their agenda. The organizations that are being silenced are ones that millions of Canadians have supported for years, and up until now organizations that the Government has worked with to better the lives of those in our communities and abroad. It must be discouraging for Canadians who have faithfully supported these charities to learn that this Conservative government has decided to withdraw funding, leaving valuable projects and initiatives in limbo. Keep in mind these are projects and partnerships that in many cases have been ongoing for 30 or more years. Many of the aforementioned groups are international leaders in the application of best practices, the effective distribution of aid, and giving voice to the voiceless. Others have been instrumental in developing Canada’s social safety net, one of the best in the world. Now they are being marginalized and intimidated from speaking out, leaving the vulnerable at more risk.
   
Development of effective public policy is difficult at the best of times, but when a government intentionally demonizes those who try to speak for the poor and disadvantaged both at home and abroad, we are all impoverished. We give because it is in us to give and because it appeals to an instinct to help. This Harper Government is systematically grinding down some of Canada’s most respected churches, charities, and NGO’s because they no longer care to listen to evidence reason or compassion.

Hon. John McKay P.C., M.P.
Scarborough-Guildwood