Tides Canada president Ross McMillan says he’s seen “absolutely no evidence” that his supposed charity is involved in political activity. That’s what he told a Toronto lunch audience in June. On his organization’s charitable tax filings, Tides reports that it engages in “zero political activity.”
McMillan is clearly willing to abuse the truth every bit as shamelessly as his organization is willing to abuse Canada’s charity tax rules. Just weeks earlier, as a matter of fact, Tides well-sharpened political fangs were on full display in an interview the president himself gave to the Vancouver Sun. In response to Ottawa’s plan to monitor more closely how registered charities — like Tides — were adhering to rules restricting their political activities, McMillan couldn’t resist attacking the Conservative government.
Accusing the Conservative government of an “agenda” to “dismantle” environmental protections, while vowing to fight the plan, is an unmistakably political stance. So was Tides Canada’s support of the “Black Out, Speak Out” web demonstration by environmental activists protesting the Canadian government’s increased law enforcement of charitable rules. It isn’t difficult to see how: The Canada Revenue Agency policy statement CPS-022, defines a political purpose as “convincing or needing people to act in a certain way and which is contingent upon a change to law or government policy.”
If only Tides’ direct and blatant activism against this government policy — an activism heavily funded by foreign interests— were the extent of the problem. That, unfortunately, is only one of the many ways that Tides makes a mockery of Canada’s longstanding and important charitable rules.
Canadians take these charitable rules seriously, and for good reason. Charity is important to our country. The subsidies taxpayers support for charities are for very specific purposes, not for any group that feels its particular cause deserves a handout. Canadian courts have ruled clearly that to get the rich subsidies and tax-free benefits that registered charities enjoy, they must fit within one of four general categories of purpose: poverty relief, education advancement, religious advancement, and if it devotes its resources to providing a tangible benefit to the community in a legally recognized charitable fashion.
Political activism, beyond an extremely minimal amount, has been specifically and deliberately excluded from these categories. Trouble is, Tides has been taking full advantage of taxpayer-funded gifts intended for charities while funneling money to extremely political causes that would never qualify for charitable status because of their own political activity. Tides even brags about them on its website.
Tides uses its charity-sheltered dollars to fund PETA — the radical animal rights group that supports violence in its war on the meat industry. It funds the politically driven Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, who until recently advertised its “star” staffer, former Senate page Brigette DePape holding the “Stop Harper” sign she used to disrupt last year’s throne speech. It funds the Dogwood Initiative, a group devoted to the purely political goal of changing the law to stop oil tankers off the B.C. coast, to foil the possibility of oil sands exports overseas. And Tides funds Forest Ethics, a group so viscerally political that it helped organized campaigns urging tourists and corporations to boycott Canada in protest of our energy policies. Tides gives money it claims is for charitable works to a group that wants to injure Canadians’ jobs and businesses from the energy sector to the agricultural sector. No one can reasonably call that anything like charity.
Tides isn’t just involved in political activism; it may even be connected to actual politics. As the National Post reported in an investigation into Tides Canada in 2010, a number of donors to the Vancouver mayoralty campaign of Gregor Robertson “have been (either themselves or through their firms) on the receiving end of consulting fees paid by Tides, an organization that accepts American donations.” In short, American funds are flowing through Tides, and ending up in the pockets of people who then turn around and make donations to a politician with an agenda they back. Mayor Robertson, a former Tides director himself, has come through diligently, vowing to fight against oil pipelines and tankers that would support Canada’s oil sands related jobs and businesses.
Ross McMillan has overseen all this. He’s been part of it. And yet he only weeks ago stood up in front of a roomful of Toronto’s business leaders and said he’d seen “no evidence” of political activity. Perhaps he is naïve. Perhaps he doesn’t understand what the term “political activity” actually means. Maybe his staggering cluelessness is why Tides tells Ottawa it’s involved in “zero” political activity. That’s a far more generous explanation than the only alternative: that Tides has been cynically playing taxpayers for fools, scooping up rich subsidies intended for truly charitable work, and redirecting it to highly politicized campaigns against Canadian jobs, businesses, and government policies.
Whatever the reason McMillan continues to promote his laughable charade, taxpayers shouldn’t accept it. The federal budget’s vow to beef up enforcement against registered charities who are not playing fair received huge support from Canadians: 80% liked it according to an Angus Reid poll conducted shortly after the budget was tabled, higher than any other budget initiative measured. Canadians have made it clear: they want their charitable subsidies going to genuine charities, not activists promoting anti-Canadian boycotts or working to block shipping traffic, or animal rights extremists out to bankrupt our farmers and ranchers. That’s why EthicalOil.org has complained to the Canada Revenue Agency, making the case that Tides refusal to play fair and play by the rules should be investigated.
Ross McMillan and his group are entitled to be as political as they want — it’s a free country, after all — but they are not entitled to use taxpayer subsidies intended for charitable work to do it any more than any other political activist group is. Canadians know that those subsidies and tax breaks are intended for real charities, doing genuinely helpful things in our communities; charities that manage to ethically observe Canada’s reasonable, fair and long-standing charity rules. They’re the ones who need and deserve our help. Tides, with its billion dollar funders in foreign countries, doesn’t need taxpayers’ help, doesn’t deserve that help, and it needs to be told to stop dodging our tax laws to take advantage of it.