This week we asked Marcel Lauzière, president and chief executive officer of Imagine Canada, to be our guest blogger, responding to questions we had about changes to federal legislation affecting charities.
Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities and nonprofits. It strengthens the sector’s collective voice, serves as a forum and meeting place and provides a supportive environment for organizations to build stronger communities.
We thank Marcel for taking time to respond to our questions.
The federal government’s Bill C-38 includes provisions on the reporting of political activity. How do you expect charities will be impacted by these measures?
The first thing to remember is that it’s only the reporting of political activities that has changed – the rules around charities’ ability to engage in these activities, and the amount of resources they can devote to them, stay the same. The ‘10% rule' remains, and that’s a good thing!
That being said, the new reporting requirements will mean a couple of things. For all registered charities, it means being clear on what falls under the definition of 'political activity.' The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has produced a very good statement on this, but there is still uncertainty for many charities on what they can and cannot do. We want charities to continue to be involved in the development of public policy. Imagine Canada will be looking at ways to help educate the charitable sector, and the CRA has indicated its desire to do this also. For organizations that make grants to other organizations – which by and large refers to foundations – it may mean adapting how they account for their own political activity. There are still some questions on what this will mean for foundations.
While I am pleased that there has been no change to what charities can do in terms of political activity, I am concerned about adding to the already heavy reporting burden of charities and the costs associated with this. It will be important for the CRA to be mindful about this with regard to the new questions that will be added to the T3010 form that charities are required to file annually to the CRA.
Read the Issue-Alert on Charities’ Engagement in Public Policy.
Read the Q&A on Advocacy, Political Activity and Foreign Funding (PDF).
What role do charities play in the public policy process?
We like to say that charities work at the coal face. They are firmly rooted in every community in Canada and many communities around the world. They deal with some of the most intractable economic, social, cultural, and environmental challenges facing the country, as well as providing a host of services – religious, health care, education, amateur sport, and arts to name a few – that touch all of us. Because they are on the front line, and engage with people not only more directly, but in a different way than governments, they have a real sense of the effects of government policy, of what works and doesn’t, of what could be done better. Moreover, because charities are often forced by circumstances to innovate, they bring new ideas to the table that couldn’t come from any place else. We never know where the next good idea is going to come from, we need to make sure that the marketplace of ideas is as wide open as possible.
However, because there is still much uncertainty in the sector about what these changes mean, there is a real danger that charities may decide to not participate in public policy. The worst possible outcome would be to see charities get less involved in policy work. That would be bad for the country.
Do you have an example or two that demonstrates the charitable sector’s contribution in shaping public policy?
Charities and governments have had strong partnerships for decades, and have achieved a great deal working together. Charities have long provided a means for Canadians from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and different locations to collectively express their views, gather evidence, consult, carry out research, and thus better contribute to the public policy process.
Health charities were instrumental in promoting tobacco reduction strategies and smoke-free environments. Environmental charities raised the issue of acid rain, leading to a treaty with the United States to address this problem. Charities have also been at the forefront of efforts to curb drinking and driving; to establish the Registered Disability Savings Plan and the National Child Benefit, and to create the Canadian Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health – just to name a few!
The contribution of charities to public policy in Canada has been invaluable to us as a society.
We’re taking a break
OSQAR is taking a break to enjoy the fleeting days of summer. Look for our next edition the week of August 27.