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Harper budget has $8M to restrict 'political activities' of charities

Stephen Harper's conservative government intends to spend $8 million over the next two years to restrict the political activities of Canadian charities. The move is being perceived as an attack on Canada's environmental movement, which receives a portion of its funding from American charitable organizations.

"Recently, concerns have been raised that some charities may not be respecting the rules regarding political activities," reads the Economic Action Plan 2012. "There have also been calls for greater public transparency related to the political activities of charities, including the extent to which they may be funded by foreign sources."

Those concerns, in fact, were raised most loudly by federal natural resources minister Joe Oliver, who, in his infamous open letter from last January, lashed out at the "environmental and other radical groups" that use "funding from foreign special interest groups."

The $8 million in administrative changes will fund "education and compliance activities with respect to political activities by charities."

It will also "improve transparency by requiring charities to provide more information on their political activities, including the extent to which these are funded by foreign sources."

A recent Maclean's analysis suggests the initiative is aimed directly at Tides Canada, a registered charity which spends some of its American funding "on political advocacy to oppose oil sands and pipeline projects. This budget announces measures to make those activities harder."

Reporter Paul Wells added: "This is not my theory. It was cheerfully explained to me by a government staffer in the budget lockup."

Postmedia's Mike De Souza offered a blunter assessment still, describing the budget's charity proposal as "an $8-million plan to crack down on conservation groups."

In late January, Tides Canada president and CEO Ross McMillan wrote in The Tyee that he is "profoundly disturbed by the current political atmosphere."

"We proudly fund charitable conservation organizations and social justice groups that work on a wide range of issues that matter to Canadians," he wrote.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate issues for The Tyee.

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