Letters and Submissions

First Call Submission to the CRA Consultation on Charitable Organization Political Activities


December 2016

First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy

Submission to the Canada Revenue Agency consultation on charitable organizations’ political activities

Background

First Call’s charitable activities are hosted by Vancity Community Foundation. Our coalition has always needed a larger member organization to host these activities because of the way “political activities” have been defined by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Under the current federal legislation, political activities have been very broadly defined to include any activity that:

  1. explicitly communicates a call to political action (that is, encourages the public to contact an elected representative or public official and urges them to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country)
  2. explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained (if the retention of the law, policy or decision is being reconsidered by a government), opposed, or changed
  3. explicitly indicates in its materials (whether internal or external) that the intention of the activity is to incite, or organize to put pressure on, an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country

First Call’s mobilization and public policy advocacy activities in support of children’s rights and well-being have been captured under this definition and consequently must not exceed more than 10 per cent of the charitable activities of our host organization when combined with their own activities. This broad definition and the 10 per cent rule have also placed constraints on the activities of many of our member organizations in the pursuit of public policy changes that would support their charitable purposes.

The CRA called for input on this issue, recognizing that many charitable organizations which engage in public policy advocacy were unhappy with the silencing impact of the current rules.

Imagine Canada and many other organizations responded in great detail to the questions posed in the consultation.  Drawing on the these submissions, First Call sent in the following response to the consultation.

First Call’s submission via email December 14, 2016, to consultation-policy-politique@cra-arc.gc.ca

Thank you for the opportunity to comment and make recommendations on the need for change in CRA policies relating to charitable organizations’ political activities.

First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition is a non-partisan coalition of 98 provincial and regional organizations who have united their voices to put children and youth first in BC through public education, community mobilization, and public policy advocacy. To our coalition members, putting children first means respecting and upholding their rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and working to make sure they have the resources they need to develop to their full potential.

1. “Do these policies help or hinder charities in advocating for their causes or for the people they serve?”

Current policies cast too wide a net and are having a chilling effect on the efforts of civil society organizations who want to bring the voices and expertise of their constituents and the people they serve to inform government policy development.  We know governments need help staying in touch with the impacts of their policies on the ground and hearing innovative ideas from the grassroots for policy reform and innovation. Charities’ constitutions and purposes are scrutinized prior to them being granted charitable status by CRA. Labeling their subsequent activities that aim to educate and mobilize the public in support of good policy and in opposition to policies that are not working well in support of these charitable purposes as political activities that must be kept to a minimum is counterproductive and serves to stifle beneficial citizen engagement.

Limiting charities’ involvement in public debate and public policy development silences the voices of the millions of Canadians who rely on the charities they support to advance solutions they could not achieve alone. Furthermore, it exacerbates an already very uneven playing field between the individuals and the charities they support on one hand and powerful economic interests on the other.

2. “Should changes be made to the rules governing political activities and, if so, what should those changes be?”

Firstly, we are not advocating for charities to be allowed to engage in partisan political activity. We support the recommendation West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation (WCEL) to more narrowly define “electioneering” as the restricted activity (http://wcel.org/sites/default/files/publications/2016%2011%2016%20Submission%20of%20the%20West%20Coast%20Environmental%20Law%20Research%20Foundation.pdf )

We support amending the Income Tax Act to remove the distinction between “political activity” and other public policy work undertaken by charities, as proposed by Imagine Canada.

Further, we recommend that the Income Tax Act be amended to restore an emphasis on charitable purposes, rather than regulating how charities achieve those purposes.

We strongly support the recommendation from WCEL that legislation be amended to explicitly protect the free speech of charities, by clarifying that charities can be constituted and operated to:

a. raise awareness of, or advocate for, a particular perspective or approach to achieving charitable purposes;
b. advocate for a change in a government decision, policy or law related to achieving charitable purposes;
c. take a position on an issue or policy related to their charitable purposes, regardless of whether a political party or candidate for public office has also done so, and,
d. report or comment on a policy or position, or proposed policy or position, of any level of government related to charitable purposes, regardless of whether such policy or position is in writing or expressed by a named elected official or candidate for public office.

We also support the Imagine Canada recommendation that the prohibition on linking to candidate or political party websites be clarified, allowing charities to link to information, relevant to their charitable purpose, published by parties or candidates.

We trust the intent of this consultation is to help remove the chilling effect the current legislation has had on beneficial activities undertaken by Canadian charities in support of their charitable purposes and well-informed policy development for all levels of government.

Respectfully,

Adrienne Montani
Provincial Coordinator
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition