The Sunday Edition

Mike Harris, the Fraser Institute, and charitable status - Michael's essay

Michael reflects on a letter sent to him by former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Here's a short excerpt: "Good Old Mike wrote the letter on behalf of the right-wing think tank, the Fraser Institute, of which he is a long-time senior fellow. The Fraser is classified as a charity and is entitled to certain tax privileges if it does not spend more than 10 per cent of its funding on political activities. Recently the Canada Revenue Agency has been ordering so-called super-audits of charitable groups, many of them environmental organizations."
Former Ontario premiers Mike Harris, left, and Ernie Eves attend the PC party leadership vote in Toronto on Saturday, May 9, 2015. (Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Listen3:54

It's not often I get a letter from a big-time politician imploring me to get off my rear end and save the country. Or at least its largest province. But there it was the other day, a letter from Mike Harris, the former Premier of all Ontario. 

Now Mike Harris has never been one of my favourite politicians. He is undoubtedly a nice man and all, but his premiership didn't do a lot for me. Especially the forced amalgamation of Toronto. He wiped out the very successful metropolitan form of government and replaced it with One Big City. The citizenry is still paying the price for that decision. 

The same way with the privatization of Highway 407. This is a roadway which Mike's government sold to a group of foreigners at a vastly undervalued price. To sweeten the deal, he signed a 99-year-lease and gave the new owners the right to increase tolls whenever they liked. At the time, it was the largest highway privatization in the world, though some critics were churlish enough to say it was the largest highway robbery in the world. But that's all water under the bridge, or over the dam, or water somewhere.

Mike's letter was indeed personal. 

"Dear Michael," he begins. It very quickly, gets very grim. "As my fellow Ontarian, you must be outraged - that's why I'm writing to you today to help us educate Ontarians about the severity of Ontario's problems and potential solutions." 

You can tell he is upset. He has also discovered the source of Ontario's problems. Not surprisingly, he lays the blame at the feet of the Liberal government, though the word Liberal doesn't drip from his pen. 

"Ontario has experienced reckless overspending by government, ballooning public salaries, increased red tape and more union-friendly labour laws." 

Good Old Mike wrote the letter on behalf of the right-wing think tank the Fraser Institute, of which he is a long-time senior fellow. 

The Fraser is classified as a charity and is entitled to certain tax privileges if it does not spend more than 10 per cent of its funding on political activities. Recently, the Canada Revenue Agency has been ordering so-called super audits of charitable groups, many of them environment organizations. Some, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, the Ecology Action Centre, and Environmental Defence have come under CRA scrutiny. 

Others, such as the 300 nature lovers of the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, have been warned. The non-environmental group, Dying With Dignity, has lost its charitable status.

Some critics of Mr. Harris and his letter suggest it is now time for the Fraser Institute to be audited because it has crossed the frontier into political advocacy. The last time the Fraser Institute was audited, was almost 20 years ago. 

In a line worthy of a stand-up comedian, the president of the Fraser Institute said the Harris letter was in no way political. The Fraser, he said, is rigidly non-partisan. Whether the Fraser Institute is a partisan organization is something to be decided by the higher powers in government. 

But one thing is eminently clear. Michael Deane "Mike" Harris, 22nd premier of Ontario, has not drawn a non-partisan  breath since he was nine years old.

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