The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance invited Ethical Oil to appear before the committee as a witness to address Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act.
Below is EthicalOil.org’s Executive Director Jamie Ellerton’s opening statement to the committee on May 28.
Good evening Mr. Chairman.
My name is Jamie Ellerton and I am the Executive Director of EthicalOil.org. We are a Canadian non-profit organization that advocates for ethical oil, from Canada’s oil sands and other western liberal democracies.
Ethical oil is produced in countries with high environmental standards, that are peaceful nations, where workers are treated and compensated fairly, and have respect for human rights. Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens, operate in secret with no accountability, and have little if any regard for the environment.
What we do is important, but I do not claim that it is charity. It is political, and it simply is not on the same moral plane as a true charitable endeavours.
Government accords charities a privilege in exchange for the charitable work they do. The benefits that come with that privilege are quite generous, and result in foregone revenue to the government.
In Canada, there is not a consensus on Ethical Oil; and promoting one side in a political debate is not charity.
To quote from the Canada Revenue Agency:
“In order to assess the public benefit of a political purpose, a court would have to take sides in a political debate. In Canada, political issues are for Parliament to decide…”
Now stop for a moment and imagine if arguing one side of an issue were a charitable act. Then arguing the other side would be a charitable act, too.
Let me read to you such an example. The example is deer hunting. It comes from the Canada Revenue Agency’s policy statement CPS-022, about political activities:
“The main reason why the courts rule out political purposes for charities is a result of the requirement that a purpose is only charitable if it generates a public benefit.
A political purpose, such as seeking a ban on deer hunting, requires a charity to enter into a debate about whether such a ban is good, rather than providing or working towards an accepted public benefit,”
If you have to debate whether or not something is charitable, it is not.
Mr. Chairman, that policy statement was published in 2003, under Prime Minister Chretien. This is not a matter of partisanship. It’s about the neutral application of tax laws. Politics should never enter into it.
In 1989, Revenue Canada revoked Greenpeace’s charitable status because it engaged in prohibited activity. Greenpeace then set up another charity called the Greenpeace Canada Charitable Foundation, which also saw its charitable status revoked in 1998.
It had nothing to do with the PC or Liberal governments of the day. It was the CRA doing it’s job and enforcing the Income Tax Act.
Given this history, why are we discussing this today?
The Government of Canada wants to make sure charities are following the rules that they agreed to when they applied for charitable status — a classification that gives them generous benefits, such as tax-free status and the ability to offer donors deductible receipts.
Mr. Chairman, Ethical Oil has noticed increased political and partisan activities of several organizations that we believe are in violation of charities law for their political and partisan activity.
To that end, we have written several complaints to the Canada Revenue Agency detailing how we believe various Canadian charities are violating the law.
Whether it’s a representative of the David Suzuki Foundation appearing in a TV ad for a political party, or Environmental Defence making 50,000 phone calls in one electoral district to attack a member of parliament, it is clearly not charitable work.
Concerns have been raised that this legislation attacks free speech. This is not true. No charities doing charitable work have anything to fear from Bill C-38. Charities that are compliant with the law today will continue to be if Bill C-38 is passed.
What the Bill actually does, is for those organizations that have been given the privilege of charitable status, which includes a generous subsidy from Canadian taxpayers, is to require registered charities to provide greater transparency into their activities in exchange for that privilege.
That is why Ethical Oil supports the initiatives contained in Bill C-38 and hope to see its passage through Parliament.
Thank you Mr. Chair.