VANCOUVER — A hastily called and ill-thought-out Senate Inquiry along with a news release from Senator Larry W. Smith reflect a concerted effort to stifle a well-informed, democratic discourse about solutions to our shared environmental, health, and energy challenges, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
The taxpayer-funded inquiry into international funding for environmental organizations and the news release, "Foreign foundations are a threat to Canadian economic sovereignty", are misleading and do little to further national dialogue about crucial issues.
"To frame the relatively small amounts of funding that Canadian environmental organizations receive from international sources as some kind of radical plot and threat to Canadian sovereignty does a disservice to all Canadians," said David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson. "More than 90 per cent of the David Suzuki Foundation's funding comes from Canadians who care deeply about the future of our country, and we are transparent about our funding."
Of greater concern to the government and Senators and, indeed, to all Canadians, should be the fact that private-sector funding of corporate lobbying is invisible to the public. The David Suzuki Foundation is also concerned that environmental organizations have been singled out, in the mistaken belief that these organizations are not aligned with the interests of Canadians the Senators are appointed to represent. We would never call for restrictions on funding for the many other Canadian organizations that enjoy the same charitable status as the ENGOs.
"Just as we applaud Canadians who support charitable work in countries other than Canada, from earthquake relief to food aid to conservation issues, we applaud all those who work to ensure that Canada plays a leading role in protecting the ecosystems on which the global community relies for sustenance and survival," Robinson said.
Charitable organizations play an integral role in democratic discussion in this country through the provision of accurate and timely information. Governments need information from charitable organizations to formulate policy that accurately reflects the diverse needs and opinions of its citizens. Canada is based on democratic principles and freedom of speech. Allowing charitable organizations to participate in political activity and advocacy is an important part of a well functioning democracy.
Senator Smith's news release also contained numerous errors. His claim about declining revenues from salmon fishing demonstrates confusion between salmon fishing and salmon farming. In fact, much of the drop in revenue from salmon fishing has been attributed to the rapid drop in world salmon prices caused by the glut of farmed salmon that entered the marketplace in the 1990s. If the Senator meant to refer to drops in salmon farming revenues, he should know that those have been driven by oversupply in the marketplace by the salmon farming industry in Chile and by global economic crises, not by environmental concerns.
"Suggesting that a brochure printed in 2000 could possibly be linked to commodity spot prices in 2009 stretches any credible economic analysis we have ever seen," Robinson said.
The David Suzuki Foundation brochure, "Why You Shouldn't Eat Farmed Salmon", was released more than a decade ago and did not cost $1.5 million to produce. It was part of a multi-year research program on aquaculture, and that work has evolved considerably since then. Like research done by other organizations, it pointed out the historical problems of open-net fish farms on wild salmon populations.
"We are not calling for an end to fish farming," said Jay Ritchlin, director of marine and freshwater conservation at the David Suzuki Foundation. "We argue that the weight of scientific evidence shows a need to change the methods to closed systems that do not adversely affect the local marine environments."
Robinson added: "This release and the Senate Inquiry are part of an ill-informed, illogical, and disingenuous effort to stifle democratic participation in discussions about the well-being and future of our country and its citizens. We are open to constructive dialogue — about funding, about policy, about the national interest. Like many Canadians from all walks of life, we are absolutely opposed to attempts to silence the legitimate and democratic rights of citizens to speak and be heard, and to inform and discuss matters that are crucial to all Canadians."