Consultation panel on political activities of charities issues report

15 May 2017

By Kevin Zakreski

Last year, the minister of national revenue and the Canada Revenue Agency held “public consultations to clarify the rules regarding the involvement of registered charities in political activities.” The results of this consultation were made public earlier this month in a report issued by the consultation panel.

The report began with a brief review of the background and history of legal issues concerning charities and political activities. Then, it discussed the submissions made over the course of the consultation. Finally, the report set out recommendations for legislative and administrative changes.

“In summary,” the report noted, “the panel is recommending that the CRA focus on charitable purposes, rather than activities. In this approach, public policy dialogue and development would be allowed without restriction, provided that it is subordinate to the charity’s approved purposes and is non-partisan in nature.” To foster this approach, the report set out four specific recommendations:

In this Report, the Panel offers four recommendations, with the first two relating to interim administrative changes, and the second two focused on the longer-term legislative changes required:

  • Revise the CRA’s administrative position and policy (including its policy guidance, CPS–022 Political Activities) to enable charities to fully engage in public policy dialogue and development.
  • Implement changes to the CRA’s administration of the [Income Tax Act] in the following areas: compliance and appeals, audits, and communication and collaboration to enhance clarity and consistency.
  • Amend the ITA by deleting any reference to non-partisan “political activities” to explicitly allow charities to fully engage, without limitation, in non-partisan public policy dialogue and development, provided that it is subordinate to and furthers their charitable purposes.
  • Modernize the legislative framework governing the charitable sector (ITA) to ensure a focus on charitable purposes rather than activities, and adopt an inclusive list of acceptable charitable purposes to reflect current social and environmental issues and approaches.

In a news release, the minister “welcomed the Report and thanked the Consultation Panel for their work” and reiterated that “our Government has committed to clarifying the rules that govern the participation of charities in political activities.” As an interim measure to be taken while the ministry and the CRA study the report, the minister “has asked the CRA to suspend all action in relation to the remaining audits and objections that were part of the Political Activities Audit Program, initiated in 2012.”

The CRA has “committed to providing a formal response to the Panel’s recommendations by June, 2017.”

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