Harper's hunting panel includes groups backed by foreign money

Postmedia News
June 1, 2012

OTTAWA — While the Conservatives accuse some Canadian environmental groups of using foreign money to attack domestic interests, the government's new hunting and fishing advisory panel includes organizations influenced and funded by sources outside Canada.

A handful of the organizations on the government's new committee also are current or past recipients of funding from Tides Canada, a charitable agency that supports environmental and social causes — but which has been attacked by Conservative parliamentarians for accepting foreign donations and distributing it to groups lobbying against Canadian interests.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced this week his government is creating a hunting and fishing advisory panel that will help craft government policy on environmental protection and wildlife management.

Composed of provincial and territorial representatives from hunting, angling and other associations, the panel will report directly to the federal environment minister and help ensure the government's decisions "are based on sound science and balanced advice," Harper said.

The committee is specifically tasked with providing broad advice to the government on programs and policies "related to conservation and hunting and fishing, and promoting and encouraging the effective stewardship of Canada's marine and terrestrial wildlife," according to a federal government document.

The panel includes 19 organizations from across Canada, many of them well-known and respected, such as wildlife federations from several provinces. The committee's budget and the final list of panel members will be determined over the next few months.

However, some of the charitable groups that are well-established in Canada are heavily funded and influenced by foreign sources and organizations.

For example, Ducks Unlimited Canada, which is dedicated to conserving wetlands for waterfowl and promoting hunting, received in 2011 more than $37 million (about 35 per cent) of its $107 million in total revenue from "sources outside Canada," according to charitable information filed with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Officials with the Ducks Unlimited Canada said the organization takes a continental approach with its sister group in the U.S. — as well as with American governments, corporations and foundations — to invest in Canadian wetlands, the principal breeding grounds for waterfowl.

The Safari Club International Canada, another one of the groups advising the government, is an office of a U.S-based international organization that promotes conservation and advocates for hunters' rights.

Bob Valcov, director of SCI Canada, said membership dues and contributions from individual Canadian chapters pay for the organization's operations. Each chapter contributes 30 per cent of its most successful fundraising events each year and spends the rest on local conservation projects, he noted.

Valcov wouldn't say how much funding, if any, SCI Canada receives from its sister U.S. group or an associated foundation.

Documents filed by Safari Club International with the Internal Revenue Service identify almost $354,000 in annual funding for North American activities and advocacy outside the United States. It's unclear, though, exactly where and how the money was spent.

Environment Minister Peter Kent, in charge of the advisory panel, has said offshore funds potentially have been "laundered" through charitable groups in Canada to obstruct the environmental assessment process for major resource projects.

Kent maintained this week the government is not being hypocritical by criticizing some environmental groups for their international donors as it seeks advice from organizations supported and influenced by foreign entities.

"Canada is a member of the international community. We recognize that international organizations share many of our objectives, whether it's in conservation, whether it's in responsible resource development," Kent told reporters this week in Ottawa.

The minister said he's not trying to make "sweeping generalizations" of all environmental groups speaking out on resource development in Canada, but noted some of them trumpet their ability to obstruct environmental assessments.

"We do certainly expect those who send money and advice from abroad should do it legally and to engage constructively in processes, for example, like environmental assessment," he added.

Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver have in recent months criticized "foreign money" and the "radical" environmental groups they claim are attempting to hijack regulatory hearings and derail major resource projects such as pipelines.

Oliver and some Conservative senators, in attacking foreign financing of oilsands opponents, have singled out the charitable group Tides Canada for directing foreign donations to Canadian environmental organizations. In 2010, Tides Canada received $7.8 million in revenue from sources outside Canada, more than half its total revenue.

While the Conservatives target Tides Canada and other environmental groups, the government's new advisory panel includes at least a couple of organizations funded by Tides Canada over the past few years, including Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

The government's advisory panel will consist of representatives from the following organizations:

- Canadian Shooting Sports Association

- Fur Institute of Canada

- Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation

- Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters

- New Brunswick Wildlife Federation

- La Federation quebecoise des chasseurs et pecheurs

- Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

- Manitoba Wildlife Federation

- Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation

- Alberta Fish and Game Association

- British Columbia Wildlife Federation

- Safari Club International - Canada

- Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association

- Ducks Unlimited Canada

- Wildlife Habitat Canada

- Delta Waterfowl

- Trout Unlimited

- Pacific Salmon Foundation

- Atlantic Salmon Federation

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