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 later said they never did.
WATCH: Harper says Terry Fox donation announcement is not a matter of playing politics
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, obtained by The Canadian Press, 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.”
Harper didn’t answer NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s demand that he apologize to the Fox family.
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“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 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 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.”