03/08/2012 05:17 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Environmental group defends funding oilsands critics

A Canadian charitable foundation at the centre of Conservative Party accusations of foreign influence in the nation's economic affairs defended itself before a Senate Committee in Ottawa Thursday.

Two executives from Tides Canada appeared before the Senate energy, environment and natural resources committee as part of the committee's ongoing study into the future of Canada's energy sector.

"Issues like climate change and air and water pollution don't stop at borders. And so clearly there is an international interest in those issues and that's why we attract international money," said Merran Smith, Tides' Energy Initiative director, in response to a question from Conservative Yukon Senator Daniel Lang.

Conservative Senator Doug Finley took issue with Tides Canada in his remarks Tuesday as part of the Senate's inquiry into foreign foundations providing money to Canadian charities. Finley said groups like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have used that money to fund their "tarsands campaigns" and are harming Canada's economic interests.

Tides Canada acts as a clearing house for charitable donations to Canadian environmental and social justice charities. The vast majority of their approximately $22-million-a-year budget comes from Canadian donors, but it also receives funds from foreign foundations.

Conservative senators were mostly concerned with the minority of donations that were going to environmental groups who were advocating against the Alberta oilsands, oil tanker traffic on the B.C. coast and Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline.

"Why are you picking on Canada? We are one of the cleanest places," asked B.C. Senator Richard Neufeld.

Sarah Goodman, Tides Canada's vice-president of Business Development, responded by pointing to one of the areas through which the proposed pipeline would pass.

"The Great Bear Rainforest is the last intact temperate rainforest on the planet. It is globally significant. So I think part of your question is why are American foundations supporting Canadian charitable activity here? And it is, in part, because these areas have such global significance."