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Some charities have similarities to the Roman orator Cicero.  They are hated by one emperor but loved by another.  The Trudeau Government’s announcement that it will scale back the political activity audits of charities by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is good for charities and good for Canada.  Good for charities because they will be encouraged to do charity and not worry about participating in the public debate for fear of a political audit.  Canada will benefit from the expertise of groups on the ground who have innovative ideas on how best to help those in need.

A charity, by definition, cannot have a political purpose.  That does not mean that what a charity does and what it says will not have a political consequence – invariably it will.  Charities become politically salient only because their particular cause shows up on the political radar.  It is through no fault of the charities.  The political winds just happen to blow their way.  Their charitable activity becomes the ‘cause célèbre du jour.’ For example, assisting refugees into Canada is not in itself a political activity.  However, we are currently in a political context where refugees are a very political subject.  So much so, that any involvement of a charity making a statement on the issue one way or another could be criticised.  Statements supporting the plight of refugees may suddenly be deemed political or even partisan depending on the circumstance.

The Harper Government was concerned that environmental charities were receiving funding from foreign sources and were causing unnecessary havoc with the oil interests.  In the March 2012 budget some $8 million was set aside for CRA to conduct random political audits on charities.  While politicians were concerned about environmental charities the political audits, to be fair, had to have a broader target.  Every charity was put on notice.

CRA recognizes that a charity may be involved in “political activities” as it carries out its charitable purposes.  For example, a charity assisting the homeless may organize a protest at city hall to change a city anti-loitering by-law to protect the homeless from prosecution.  “Political activities” means “any activity that … communicates to the public that a law … should be retained, opposed, or changed.”  Charities are allowed to spend up to 10% of their “resources” on political activities.

While a charity can be involved in “political activities” it cannot take part in partisan activities, which means it cannot directly support or oppose a specific candidate or political party for public office or give money to a candidate or political party.

All of that makes sense.  What didn’t make sense was creating a climate of unnecessary fear in the charitable sector.  Charities seldom desire political involvement.  That is the reality.  With few exceptions they only want to carry out their charitable purpose.  Politics, political activity, and partisanship is not what motivates charities or those that run them.  It is all about the mission.  Their charitable purpose is what they do and want accomplished – politics is always far removed from the central concept of mission.  We need to encourage charities to speak out and be involved in public policy.  It is time politicians recognize the positive contribution charities are making and the expertise they hold to improve public policy.

However, what we have seen in recent years is that partisan politics has politicized the charitable sector.  Make no mistake, it was politics that created the political audit program to begin with and it was politics that caused the current government to remove it.  The point is: let’s stop making charities the political football.

We need a political culture that respects the work of charities and is not insecure if a charity speaks publicly about a government policy change or legal development that interferes with the charity and its work.  In other words, if a charity’s “toe” is stepped on by government policy why cannot the charity say “ouch”?  It would be more advantageous in the long run to allow charities to use their expertise and participate in public dialogue on issues that directly affect them.

That means the political masters are to give charities the benefit of the doubt when they are involved in political activity.  In other words, it should be a rebuttable presumption (with the onus on the government to prove otherwise) that the charities are only politically active for the furtherance of their charitable purposes.  This would dramatically shift the focus but with long term benefits that will help the sector to move on from the atmosphere of fear of a CRA political audit.

Charities must be encouraged to participate in public policy.  They are the Good Samaritans whose opinions we need.  As to the political audit campaign – good riddance.  It is a welcome change.

Thoughts on Charity Political Activities Audit: Good Riddance

  1. Grace Mackintosh

    This was very informative.. I didn’t realize that Canada’s previous government had put so much money and effort into searching out political activities of charities.

    Reply
    1. Barry W. BusseyBarry W. Bussey Post author

      Hi Grace, yes there was a lot of concern about where charities got their money and the fear seemed to be that international interests were interfering in Canadian matters. Nothing has been proven on this either way from what I can see. However, there was a lot of unnecessary concern from all charities about these audits. It was an unnecessary distraction from the great work that charities do. All the best. Barry

      Reply
  2. Juan

    Is proselytization here alluded to as a means to overwhelm the democratic vote with a historically distinct view? If so, how does a nation maintain its “historical” ID? Should laws be crafted to protect it as has been attempted in Quebec under the Marois government? Or is the democratic system self maintained?

    Reply
      1. Juan

        Grace, perhaps in combination with Berry’s assertion on a “civil society”, I would say that new generations of citizens must fall in love with the heritage of whatever nation they are born or become part of. But can we legislate an emotion? Surely it must be conveyed, through teaching and example, by those who have internalized the beauty of their legal national heritage.
        It goes without saying that fear and denigration will not assist this process if the said heritage in question is a democratic one.

        Reply
    1. Barry W. BusseyBarry W. Bussey Post author

      Hi Juan – thanks for your comment. First, I am not sure I understand what proselytizing you are referring to. Second, as to maintaining a society’s heritage, personally I am of the view that government should encourage the health of “civil society.” For example all of the community groups, churches, associations etc. should be given the opportunity to represent their various interests. Each have an important part to play to ensure that conversations about societal issues are transparent, open and free. The more we discuss the more we learn about each other and how we can live together in peace.

      Reply
      1. Juan

        I like the “Civil Society” argument.
        My reference to proselytizing is in regards the fear that some may have about Muslims (the talk of the day) systematically infiltrating the political arena (with the support of external financial sources) to eventually impose a world view that is otherwise distinct from what is understood as our Canadian heritage.

        Reply
        1. Barry W. BusseyBarry W. Bussey Post author

          Hi Juan – OK I see your point. First, I think the government was more concerned with international corporate interests. For example, one person told me that the government was afraid that other oil companies did not want Alberta oil to get in the market because that meant more competition for them. Now, that sounds like conspiracy theory for sure but that is what I was told. To what extent anything like that happened I am not sure. Second, as to the fear of Muslims etc. I think what we need is to always maintain an open and free dialogue with whomever and whatever. Fear is more often, at least in my experience, due to ignorance. We need to understand that all have the same needs and desires to live a good life in peace. While, of course, there are those who seek nothing more than trouble that is rather the minority of the minority. Barry

          Reply
  3. Grace

    The minority with respect to Muslims is around fifteen to twenty-five percent of the world Muslim population. This amounts to between 180M to 300M people who are dedicated to the destruction of North America. Further, when we think about majorities… they are mostly peaceful, that is true… but they tend to be the silent, peaceful majority… For example, in WWII the peaceful majority were irrelevant as Hitler and his Nazi’s drew up the agenda… there were about 60 million people that died in the war, including the 14M or so killed in concentration camps. When you look throughout history for lessens in this you will see that the peaceful majority remain irrelevant in most massacres that have taken place. Another example is Russia. Most people were peaceful yet, the small group of Russians in power were able to kill 20M people. I could go on but you get the point… I think that the main thought that Barry makes throughout his posts, is that is critical to have a voice… to speak out… to disdain remaining the silent, peaceful majority. Barry, thank you for your voice and for speaking out on these extremely important issues.

    Reply
    1. Barry W. BusseyBarry W. Bussey Post author

      Thanks Grace. How did you come to the conclusion that such a large group are “dedicated to the destruction of North America”? Obviously this is a bone of contention it seems to me.

      Reply
      1. Grace Mackintosh

        The extremist groups of Islam that seem to be dedicated to the destruction of North America are the minorty. And that minority is estimated to be about fifteen to twenty five percent of Islam. Which comes to about 180-300 million. Which is a large number.

        Reply

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