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Parker Gallant: federal finance minister attention to environmental “charities” welcomed

Claiming charitable status while pushing a political agenda just a walk in the park

Is the David Suzuki Foundation really a “charitable institution”?

An article in the December 6 Toronto Sun indicated that Canada’s Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty is ready to play hardball with environmental groups that abuse their charitable status.

Many people throughout Canada would applaud that as some “environmental” groups do not reflect what most Canadians would regard as a charity.   They don’t shelter the homeless, spend money on medical research, feed the destitute or care for the disabled.  Their objectives are aimed at “greening  the planet” with no scientific basis to back up their reasoning.

One of those that many Canadians either love or hate is the David Suzuki Foundation, co-founded by David Suzuki and Tara Cullis.  Suzuki threw his personal support behind Dalton McGuinty during Ontario’s 2011 election and was shamed by the media for it.  The Foundation was castigated for its visible support for a political party and agenda, despite the legal requirement that organizations with charitable status avoid political bias.

David Suzuki was personally rebuked; a letter to his “Friends” was published on the Foundation’s website and in the National Post April 14, 2012 to announce he had resigned from the Board of Directors of the David Suzuki Foundation.

“In a letter to his supporters on Friday, the former Nature of Things host said he left the David Suzuki Foundation’s board of directors because he wanted to be able to speak freely ‘without fear that my words will be deemed too political and harm the organization of which I am so proud.’ ”

But all is not as it appears: a visit to the Canada Revenue Agency website for Charities, indicates that the Foundation’s August 31, 2012 filings show David Suzuki listed as a “Director” as well as “President and Co-founder.”  The CRA filings also show former Mayor of Toronto, David Miller and another CBC icon, George Stromboulopoulos as directors in addition to David Suzuki’s daughter Severn Cullis-Suzuki.

Did he really go?

While the official year-end filed with the CRA appears to be August 31st the Foundation also publishes a “Statement of Operations” on their website that shows a date of December 31, 2012 and contains what they refer to as “A message from our co-founders.”   This message features a picture of David Suzuki and Tara Cullis along with the message.  The Directors list found on the Foundation’s website doesn’t list Suzuki so it may be that his resignation was tendered to the Board after August 31, 2012 and before December 31, 2012.  His resignation didn’t affect his influence on the Foundation however as Mr. Suzuki has continued as a regular blogger on the site (several postings within the past month) and left his 17-page biography (a direct link just before the donate button under “David”) for all to see as well as his picture on every page.

Has this adverse publicity (Suzuki called it “bullying”) affected the Foundation?  Maybe: it appears to have had an effect as “charitable donations” on the CRA site indicate they fell from $6.9 million in 2011 to $5.3 million in 2012 which is about the same drop as for all revenue.  The latter fell to $9.2 million from $10.9 million in the same period.   If one looks at the Statement of Operations however, posted on the David Suzuki Foundation site for the year ended December 31, 2012 versus 2011 it actually shows revenue increasing by $193,000 from $8.7 in 2011 to $8.9 in 2012.  It is impossible to determine from the statement what was or wasn’t designated as “charitable donations,” nor can one discern what actual expenses were.

Millions and millions
Looking at the CRA filings it shows a net worth for the Foundation of $10.5 million (August 31, 2012) and itemizes expenses in a more understandable format.  On the latter “compensation” is shown as $4,886,000; Professional & Consulting Fees as $1,120,000; research grants of $1,128,000; travel & vehicle expense as $233,000; occupancy $513,000; and political activity expenditures as $211,000.  The balance went to office supplies, staff training and other sundry related expenses.   If one tallies up those expenses it presents expenditures of $8.8 million— it is difficult for the observer to find the “charity” involved.

Traveling back to the “Statement of Operations” posted on the Foundation’s website, the expense categories are completely different carrying titles under the heading “Programs” such as Climate Change and Clean Energy, $1,180,000; Terrestrial Conservation $914,000; Marine and Freshwater $915,000; Program Management, $216,000; and  Communication $2,146,000.  This statement also discloses an expense referred to as “Fund-raising” which consumed $2,067,000 (24%) of total claimed expenses of $8,770,000 for the year ended December 31, 2012.

So, exactly what did this charity accomplish?  Did it feed the poor in Africa, or educate children in Ecuador, save a gorilla, or protect a species at risk, or even provide a single bed for a homeless person in Canada?   If your answer is, none of the above, why would anyone even deign to think that this is a “charity” or to believe that they should get special tax treatment by our government.

In the spirit of Christmas, I say “bring it on” Mr. Flaherty. It is past the time that the CRA gives these organizations special treatment!  A lump of coal for Mr. Suzuki and his Foundation!

©Parker Gallant,
December 8, 2013

Note: According to the CRA filings by the David Suzuki Foundation “The charity has not indicated that it is designated as a public or private foundation.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent Wind Concerns Ontario policy.