OTTAWA — Stephen Harper defended his party Tuesday against accusations of politicizing Canadian icon Terry Fox, saying the foundation in his name put forward the very ideas on cancer research funding the Conservatives announced over the weekend.
The Conservatives promised that if re-elected, they would match all donations raised during this year's Terry Fox Run, fund a cancer prevention centre in Vancouver and renew existing funding for a national treatment and prevention centre.
"In August of this year we received a request from the Terry Fox Institute and the Terry Fox Foundation for the kinds of contributions and matching funds we're setting up," Harper said.
"We fulfilled that request; I think it's a great policy."
The Conservative announcement came in for criticism after Conservative MP James Moore described the Fox family as enthusiastically welcoming the program, which the family itself said they never did.
In an Aug. 31 letter to Harper, however, both organizations do make a pitch for greater financial support of cancer research. The letter makes a specific demand — that the federal government help them expand their pilot project connecting high-performing cancer research hospitals to help them share clinical and research data.
The letter, circulated Tuesday by the Conservatives, makes no mention of the matching funds commitment nor the prevention centre in Vancouver. It does ask for a sit-down with Harper to discuss their proposal prior to the Oct. 19 vote. It also closes with an offer.
"We invite you to show your support of our vision for a Terry Fox-designated Comprehensive Cancer Program. We welcome you to participate at any of the 750 Terry Fox Runs happening on Sept. 20 across Canada," says the letter.
"We will be happy to work with you in providing a speaking opportunity at the start of this year's run."
The Conservative party has acknowledged they might be causing some tension.
"It was mistakenly indicated that the funding requested and welcomed by the Terry Fox Research Foundation was done so on behalf of the family," the party said in a statement.
"We regret any confusion this may have caused."
But Harper didn't answer NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's demand that he apologize to the Fox family.
"We should not be allowed to politicize a Canadian hero like Terry Fox," Mulcair said in Moncton, N.B.
"For the Conservatives to have been playing crass politics without the permission of the family or the foundation, I think it speaks for itself of what they're willing to do."
In a statement, the Terry Fox Foundation said they don't get involved in politics but welcome new investment commitments from any and all political parties.
The announcement potentially puts the foundation in a difficult position. The Canada Revenue Agency is currently training an eagle eye on the political activities of charities as part of a crackdown. Should the foundation appear at all partisan, they could face an audit and potentially lose their charitable status.
After making the announcement Sunday, Moore had said he hoped other parties would adopt the same ideas.
"It would be nice if the other political parties would all double down on our commitment and stand with the legacy of Terry Fox and say — regardless of what happens on Oct. 19 — that they will recognize Terry Fox as a hero and will move forward."
The Fox family echoed that in their own statement.
"We would hope that all federal parties would come together in this the 35th anniversary year, for Terry and all who run in his name, in support of the Terry Fox Research Institute's proposal for a pan Canadian comprehensive cancer centre strategy," they said in a written statement.
But they said they won't make any other comments with respect to campaign promises unless it is an all-party announcement.
The controversy reminded some of Liberal candidate Marc Garneau's own website, on which he highlighted his own participation in the run, prompting questions about whether the Liberals, too, were politicizing the issue.
Leader Justin Trudeau sidestepped the question Tuesday.
"It's great that he got out there and it's important he did that," Trudeau said of Garneau.
"But I will use this platform to encourage everyone to continue to support the incredible work that the Terry Fox Foundation and all cancer research institutes do, and say absolutely nothing about politics in relation to that."
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