There is a story in today's edition of the Toronto Star that outlines the targeted auditing of three environmental NGO's by Revenue Canada, following complaints by another "charity" bearing the name "Ethical Oil" allegedly started by one of the staffers in the Prime Minister's office.
The issue in question is whether these agencies are spending more than the 30% of their time and energy on political activity, opposing the environmental impact of the oil sands.
Is this shades of the IRS scandal in the United States, over the political component in some of the charities, rather than conducting what are known as educational programs.
Ethical Oil, according to the Star story, positions itself as a online site for those seeking to support the "ethical development" of the oil sands, and accepts contributions from both individuals and corporations, apparently some of those coming from the energy companies themselves.
While we cannot comment on whether any of these NGO's complies with the 30% rule, we can easily see how Ethical Oil might have filed a complaint to the CRA, and how NGO's like Environment Defence and the David Suzuki Foundation might be targets for such a complaint.
Everyone knows that the current federal government, while pleading a strong case for environmental protection, has put the development of the oil sands at the top of its priority agenda list. It claims the need for jobs and economic growth in that submission. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence of environmental damage to land and rivers in the area of the oil sands projects, as well as evidence of the impact on human lives from the environmental impact of those projects.
Unfortunately, the debate currently waging in the public domain, pitting both pro and anti-development sides ( in their extreme positions) as agents of this internal conflict under the scrutiny of the CRA. One wonders why, for example the environmental protection NGO's don't mount a legal case against the corporations responsible for the development of the oil sands projects, to bring to a formal process their evidence of the environmental impact of the development.
Of course, such an action would costs millions, and would inevitably bring the federal government into the court room, whether as defendant or merely as subpoenaed witness. Such an action would not be welcomed by the federal government, and their ability to "defend" in terms of costs would easily trump the legal defense fund of the NGO's.
However, unless and until the NGO's committed to the protection of the environment are prepared to solicit funds for a legal argument that would bring substantial and cogent evidence to the eyes and ears of a presiding judge, this public debate, with its skirmishes inside and outside the CRA, will continue without either side being able to declare any kind of moral victory. And the projects to remove the energy from the ground will certainly continue as long as the world's appetite and need for fossil fuels continues to grow, all the while adding more carbon dioxide to the planet's atmosphere.
If there is any evidence that the government is deploying Revenue Canada specifically to target what they consider enemies of the oil sands projects, however, it is also not difficult to predict a political brouhaha in the House of Commons, rebutted by the normal non-answers from the government side.