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Justice Minister Cotler should put his moral outrage to better use Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 14 February 2005

Sometimes it seems that the main qualification to be a cabinet minister is not intelligence but arrogance.

Breathtaking, Olympian arrogance.

Last Tuesday, upon learning that two U.S. public interest groups are helping fund a Canadian advocacy campaign, the immediate response of federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler was that it should be illegal.

"Clearly," he told the Montreal Gazette, "we have free speech. But at the same time we don't want public opinion to get mortgaged to the highest bidder."

The U.S. groups are the Knights of Columbus and Focus on the Family, both of which are supporting their Canadian affiliates in the fight against gay marriage. Obviously, if gay marriage is legalized here, it makes it easier to legalize there.

Cotler said he'd see if there's a way to ban American support. A day or so later he had to concede that Americans are allowed to spend money in Canada. Pity.

I'd be willing to bet that if these groups were helping the Liberal side, the Justice minister would not have threatened to gag them.

Transnational green groups like the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have been pouring Yankee greenbacks into Canada for years, to promote things like Kyoto, with no protest from Irwin Cotler.

And that's the arrogance -- the assumption that criticism of Liberal ideas is somehow illegitimate.

Before he got sucked into the dehumanizing maw of the cabinet, Cotler was known as a champion of civil freedoms.

Now he assumes the interests of his party, the government and the public are all one and the same.

But instead of trying to gag Americans, he should look at how American tax law actually encourages open public debate south of the border, rather than trying to stifle and control it, the way our government does here.

For example, any U.S. advocacy group is allowed to hand out charitable tax receipts. It doesn't matter what they promote, or what the government thinks about it.

In Canada, groups which support government policy -- or an expansion of it -- are usually accepted as "charitable," and may issue tax-deduction receipts. Those which oppose government policy may not, putting them at a severe funding disadvantage.

Ottawa rejects these groups as "political" -- but then denies them the very lush tax-deductibility it bestows on political parties.

In other words, in the United States the public decides what's in the public interest, by choosing among charities on a level playing field. In Canada, the government decides for us.

But it gets worse. In Canada, the government selectively awards cash grants to groups it likes, even when it pretends to disagree. It's another subtle way of steering the social agenda without taking political blame.

For example, the gay rights Charter victories in the last 10 years were financed by millions of federal dollars from the Court Challenges Program, even though (until recently) the federal government opposed them in court. Ditto treaty claims by aboriginals.

Finally, there is the Liberal Party itself, which regularly takes donations from community foundations, town councils, Indian bands, children's hospitals, church charities and zoos. Rarely do these nonprofit entities fund other parties.

If Cotler wants to get indignant about something, he should tell his party to stop taking money away from crippled kids, street people and captive animals to win elections.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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