Senator defends Harper Tories' attack on the charitable sector, as green leaders deconstruct it

After being denounced as "anti-Canadian" and hypothetically willing to accept money from the Taliban, Canadian nonprofits like the David Suzuki Foundation and Tides Canada are hitting back at Senate critics.

In an interview with the Observer, Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson described the comments made on Tuesday by Conservative senators as “absurd”—a sentiment that has been echoed by other environmentalists and Opposition critics in Ottawa.

Martians, Taliban and Al Qaeda

The latest drama began with a controversial remark from Senator Percy Mockler, who called out a number of prominent Canadian environmental groups and charitable foundations.

"I want to bring to your attention some of the qualified bad, not to mention ugly, foundations, namely the David Suzuki Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the Mott Foundation, the Sierra Club Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Ecojustice Canada Bullitt Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Tides Canada. Yes, honourable senators, there is also the Greenpeace International foundation," said Senator Mockler.

The discussion was part of an ongoing Senate inquiry into foreign funding of Canadian charities, which has Tory senators seeking legislation to limit foreign funds to charities opposing energy projects. On Tuesday, Senator Don Plett added fuel to the fire by questioning whether environmentalists might go as far as taking money from terrorist groups.

"Let me ask you this, honourable senators: If environmentalists are willing to accept money from Martians, where would they draw the line on where they receive money from? Would they take money from Al Qaeda, the Hamas or the Taliban?,” said Senator Plett.

His remarks were in reference to a recent statement by Dogwood Initiative spokesperson Eric Swanson, who reportedly said in a CTV interview: “If I got duffel bags of money delivered from Martians from outer space, I would still take that money to make sure that British Columbians, those most affected make the decision for themselves." 

A “silly statement”

Senator Plett defended his “Al Qaeda” comment in an interview with The Vancouver Observer on Wednesday, explaining that it was simply a response to what Swanson had said.

“Now, it's obviously a silly statement to say that somebody would accept money from Martians. But what this man basically said in my opinion is: I will accept money from anywhere and from anybody,” said Senator Plett.

“I'm not going to make any comment on where Dogwood Initiative takes its money from—Eric Swanson says he'll take it from Martians. You have to ask him, where are you getting all your money from? 

“Are you smoking pot and taking money from Martians?”

Swanson responded that the “Martian” statement was a “flippant remark”, which he says was provoked by criticism from Ethical Oil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall.

“What I was attempting to do was point out the ridiculousness of Kathryn Marshall's assertion that our receiving American donations controlled our activities or behaviour -- that's not the case. Clearly, Martians don't exist...I’m not positing an actual scenario,” he said with a laugh.

Dogwood Initiative is happy to receive money from foundations and institutions whose values we are aligned with, so long as there [are] no strings attached. Tides, for example, does amazing work. We're happy to receive support from them.”

According to Swanson, the government’s focus on charitable funding is an attempt to avoid what he sees as the real issue: mounting opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

It looks like this Conservative senator [Plett] and Conservative MPs – and the Prime Minister himself – don't seem to want to discuss the actual issue. Which is whether the Northern Gateway is in the best interests of Canadians. They'd rather thow red herrings all over the place in order to distract folks from what's at stake,” Swanson said.

He can smear oil tanker opponents all he wants. We're not going to back down, and we're going to continue to fight for our coast.”

An "antagonistic" approach to environmentalists

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