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Tides Canada expanding its northern reach

Justin Ferbey has become the first northerner on the board of directors of Tides Canada, a national charity that funds social and environmental initiatives across Canada.

Justin Ferbey has become the first northerner on the board of directors of Tides Canada, a national charity that funds social and environmental initiatives across Canada.

The appointment is part of the organization’s move to expand its presence in the North. Tides Canada launched its northern branch in 2013 with the opening of a new office in Yellowknife.

Ferbey said his previous work as chief executive officer of the Carcross Tagish Management Corporation has much in common with this new position, in that both appointments are focused on developing sustainable economies.

“It seemed to me like a natural fit,” he said. “We’re looking for local solutions to local challenges.”

Tides Canada operates by attracting donations from philanthropists in Canada and abroad and funnelling them to specific projects that the donors are interested in supporting.

It’s one of the environmental groups targeted by the previous Harper government as a foreign-funded “radical” group opposed to oil sands and pipeline development. The Canada Revenue Agency began auditing Tides Canada in 2011. At the time, questions were raised about how much the organization was spending on political advocacy. According to Revenue Canada, charities can spend no more than 10 per cent of their expenditures on political activities. Tides Canada maintained its political expenditures were less than one per cent of its total spending.

Steve Ellis, Tides Canada’s program lead for northern Canada, said the organization aims to spend $1 million or more in the North in 2016, and has likely spent close to that much this year.

But he said the organization doesn’t yet have a publicly available breakdown of every project that money is supporting.

“We don’t even have an internal breakdown,” he said. “A lot of it’s in my head.”

But he said the charity is filling a gap across northern Canada. “There’s very little philanthropic dollars in the North.”

Ellis said the large donors to northern initiatives include the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation in Toronto, as well as the Oak Foundation in Switzerland.

He said one of his biggest challenges is making sure that donors want to fund projects that are aligned with the needs of northern communities.

“We really try to honour that and make sure that where we are giving resources they are in line with northern priorities,” he said. “Sometimes it means saying no to donors. It can be a long, patient process.”

In the Yukon, Tides Canada has donated $68,000 to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun and the Teslin Tlingit Council to support the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council. It has also donated $300 to the Gwich’in Tribal Council to support youth leadership initiatives and $5,000 to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to support the Gwich’in Gathering in Old Crow.

But it has also been heavily involved with the fight to protect the Peel watershed. In 2013, the charity donated $10,000 to the Yukon Conservation Society for its Protect the Peel Watershed and Whitehorse Wildlife campaigns. It also gave $49,000 to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, part of which went to the Yukon chapter’s efforts to protect the Peel.

Ferbey said he’s most interested in the youth leadership projects that Tides Canada supports.

“That for a long time has been a focus of mine,” he said. But he also explained that board members don’t weigh in on specific projects.

In August, Ferbey was also named the new president of the Yukon Development Corporation.

Contact Maura Forrest at