Conservative Senator criticises foreign money inquiry

Conservative senator Nancy Ruth has occasionally found herself on the other side of positions taken by other members of her party, and today was no exception. In the Senate earlier this afternoon, Senator Nancy Ruth took issue with her fellow Conservative senator Nicole Eaton’s inquiry into foreign money into Canadian non-profit organisations. Eaton and several of her fellow Conservative senators are going after environmental groups primarily, who they see are asserting undue influence on the Canadian political process, as well as our economic interests when it comes to natural resources – thinking primarily of course of the Alberta oilsands, and pipelines needed to transport the bitumen to places where it can be upgraded into more conventional oil forms.

Nancy Ruth says that while she supports the pipeline, she has three questions around the inquiry – why is the net being cast so narrowly in that it targets only charities, what evidence is there that these foreign foundations are pushing Canadian groups into taking positions that they wouldn’t otherwise, and why the current mechanisms for policing charities are inadequate.

“If the concern is about foreign influence, then why is the inquiry not considering the lobbying efforts of foreign corporations with huge interests in the development of the oil sands and the construction of the pipeline?” Nancy Ruth asked. “Why is the inquiry not considering the lobbying efforts of Canadian corporations with foreign investors?”

Nancy Ruth also wonders about the proof, considering allegations made by Senator Eaton of “interference, abuse, political manipulation, influence peddling, manipulation,” and by  Senator Daniel Lang of “money laundering and support for terrorism, and active engagement in elections.” These allegations are coupled with the notion that the foreign funders are somehow exerting undue influence.

“Could it not be that Canadian charities went looking for financial support both within and without Canada to support their positions?” Nancy Ruth wondered. “Furthermore we live in a global culture with global ideas.”

In pointing to the existing policing mechanisms, and the fact that any charity can’t spend more than ten percent of its budget on political advocacy as it stands, and the fact that there are already disclosure rules for non-residents, Nancy Ruth doesn’t see the same issue that Eaton does.

“If you want the CRA, the NGOs or charities to make foreign monies public – that’s fine with me – if it does not infringe on the Canadian laws on privacy and the principle of confidentiality of tax,” Nancy Ruth said. “More transparency suits me, as it would let me see who is funding Ethical Oil and who it’s ‘puppets’ are.”

She drives home her point about the tone being set by the existence of the inquiry as one that attacks Canada’s democratic principles.

“What is really being advocated is that some groups should have influence, and others should not,” Nancy Ruth said. “What is really being advocated is that some points of view cannot be questioned, while others are a waste of time and cause delay.”

Fellow Conservative senator Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut, followed up by decrying the misinformation given by these environmental non-profit groups and their “convoluted” financing, which he blamed “lazy journalists” for propagating. As an example, he talked about protests against seismic tests in Lancaster Sound, saying that it was based on falsehoods.

He then said that Canada does not need foreign aid, and that groups in these countries, be they from the States or Europe, they should turn their attention to their own backyards, and worried about “philanthropy as an instrument of foreign policy.”

At the end of the day’s debate, before it was adjourned, Liberal Senator Jim Munson stood up to ask Patterson about why those “poor, impoverished lobbyists” wandering around Ottawa aren’t similarly being asked for the same kinds of transparency.

Senator Eaton was not amused, and called the question ridiculous, though Patterson did concede that perhaps the transparency requirements shouldn’t focus solely on charities.