Left-leaning Think-tank Deserves More Respect from CRA

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It’s been par­tic­u­larly sad to read that the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Alter­na­tives has been under­go­ing an audit since last year and that, as exec­u­tive direc­tor Bruce Camp­bell recently told Anna Maria Tremonti on The Cur­rent, it was a tough audit.

The Cen­tre has an excel­lent rep­u­ta­tion for its research, includ­ing being among the few think tanks in Canada to get research grants from the fed­eral government’s fun­der, Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil of Canada (SSHRC), which has high stan­dards to meet. And yet, the left-leaning Cen­tre is being audited for its polit­i­cal activ­i­ties. And it’s got it hands on a copy of a review of their web­site by a Canada Rev­enue Agency staffer that cre­ated the ratio­nale for the audit. The reviewer con­cluded that CCP “may be car­ry­ing out pro­hib­ited par­ti­san polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” and “much of its research/educational mate­ri­als may be biased/one-sided.”

This news inspired more than 400 aca­d­e­mics to sign a let­ter demand­ing that CRA drop its audit of this highly regarded research insti­tute until it adopts a neu­tral and fair process for audit­ing char­i­ties. Noted the open let­ter: “CCPA plays a vital role by sup­ply­ing much needed reflec­tion on a num­ber of poli­cies, which it has always done in a fair and unbi­ased way, and which respects the fun­da­men­tal tools of sound research…. All research in fact is crit­i­cal, by its very def­i­n­i­tion: it tests hypothe­ses, seeks answers, and must be allowed to find these answers wher­ever it can.”

The let­ter, orga­nized in part by econ­o­mist Mario Sec­ca­rec­cia of Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa and econ­o­mist Louis-Philippe Rochon of Lau­rent­ian Uni­ver­sity, accused the Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment of try­ing to intim­i­date and silence dis­sent­ing voices and “muz­zle and impede sound and legit­i­mate research.”

There’s another char­ity, known for spon­sor­ing qual­ity energy-issues research, that we know from media reports is under­go­ing a major audit: The Pem­bina Foun­da­tion. The foun­da­tion is a char­ity, with a small staff, and yet is being audited for polit­i­cal activ­i­ties. Judg­ing by its web­site, the foun­da­tion is not the same orga­ni­za­tion as an insti­tute by a sim­i­lar name. The web­site of the Pem­bina Insti­tute reveals that it is not a char­ity and so has no real limit on the amount of polit­i­cal activ­ity it could choose to do. It’s much more out­spo­ken on issues than is the Pem­bina Foundation.

The foun­da­tion funds research and edu­ca­tion projects, inline with its pur­poses and as approved by the Char­ity Direc­torate of Canada Rev­enue Agency and Indus­try Canada. A close look shows that the non­profit insti­tute, and other groups and indi­vid­u­als, have been funded to do research by the char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion. I’m left won­der­ing why the foun­da­tion is going through the audit. Per­haps CRA mis­took it for the Insti­tute when it decided to tar­get them. Per­haps there were com­plaints against the foun­da­tion from an orga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ing the oil indus­try just because they couldn’t com­plain about the insti­tute itself due to its lack of char­i­ta­ble status.

So, two insti­tutes doing research on issues that, shall we say, put them on this government’s hit list. Two out of two tar­geted with audits because the gov­ern­ment cre­ated a fun­nel that points CRA right at them. And because CRA staff are igno­rant of the research process and the role of think tanks in a democracy.

In con­trast, the Fraser Insti­tute, the Macdonald-Laurier Insti­tute, the C.D. Howe Insti­tute and the Mon­treal Eco­nomic Insti­tute are the right-leaning char­i­ta­ble equiv­a­lent of the CCPA, with pol­icy pref­er­ences pretty much lined up with the cur­rent gov­ern­ment. The CD Howe and Macdonald-Laurier Insti­tutes have con­firmed that they are not being audited by CRA for polit­i­cal activ­i­ties. The Fraser Insti­tute and Mon­treal Eco­nomic Insti­tute have declined to com­ment to Cana­dian Press, but Vancouver-based char­ity lead­ers say the for­mer has recently under­gone an audit of finances, but not polit­i­cal activities.

The new pres­i­dent of the Fraser Insti­tute, econ­o­mist Niels Veld­huis, tried to stake out a strange intel­lec­tual space in an inter­view with the Toronto Star. Veld­huis dis­agreed with Bruce Campbell’s asser­tion that all think-tanks come from a core set of val­ues. He said the Fraser Institute’s work is dri­ven by data. He went on to tell reporter Tonda Mac­Cha­rles that the role of a think-tank is to “ask a ques­tion, exam­ine the data and let the data tell you the answer.” Of course, that’s exactly what CCPA does, as more than 400 peo­ple noted in their let­ter to CRA. But Veld­huis strangely denies the Fraser Institute’s well-documented com­mit­ment to a core set of val­ues and rejected even that the insti­tute is a con­ser­v­a­tive organization.

And that is truly bizarre. Any fair observer can see that all five of these think-tanks, includ­ing CCPA, have world-views that influ­ence their research choices with­out mean­ing that the result is par­ti­san and biased.

Mean­while, please check out my Master’s the­sis and feel free to for­ward and tweet it. Check out media cov­er­age of my the­sis find­ings and the national con­ver­sa­tion it trig­gered. And you can fol­low me on Twit­ter: @GarethKirkby

 

I am a for­mer jour­nal­ist and media man­ager who recently com­pleted my Master’s the­sis for Royal Roads Uni­ver­sity and now work as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sional. I have been awarded the Jack Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among oth­ers, for my report­ing and editing.

Categories: Uncategorized

Charitable Donations Have Benefited Rightwing Ideas More Than Leftwing

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Highly prin­ci­pled libertarian-right colum­nist Andrew Coyne recently sug­gested a novel solu­tion in the con­tro­versy over the cur­rent fed­eral gov­ern­ment politi­ciz­ing CRA audits of the “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” of char­i­ties: elim­i­nate the tax ben­e­fits that donors get from con­tribut­ing to char­i­ties. Elim­i­nate this receipt­ing priv­i­lege from all char­i­ties, wrote Coyne in an August 27, 2014 Post Media column.

And he took a lit­tle stab at the wealth of some major donors to char­i­ties, though with­out not­ing that some char­i­ties are highly depen­dent on dona­tions, and the tax receipts that come with them, in order to per­form their impor­tant ser­vice for the needy or for demo­c­ra­tic dis­course in Canada.

Coyne’s points are fair enough, if not fully thought out. But they are also unre­al­is­tic. And get­ting ever­more unre­al­is­tic as Canada con­tin­ues a major eco­nomic shift. Under the very sort of neolib­eral ideas that Coyne con­stantly advances in his columns, gov­ern­ments in Canada and the west­ern world have grad­u­ally but con­sis­tently vol­un­tar­ily with­drawn from both claim­ing and exer­cis­ing their tra­di­tional polit­i­cal and eco­nomic pow­ers. They’ve entered into trade agree­ments and other pacts that trans­ferred more power to the cor­po­rate sec­tor while delib­er­ately sac­ri­fic­ing the reg­u­la­tory pow­ers pre­vi­ously bestowed on gov­ern­ments by vot­ing citizens.

This was no con­spir­acy but rather the imple­men­ta­tion of a belief sys­tem that holds that gov­ern­ment ought get out of the way of the more effi­cient cor­po­rate sec­tor and release its cre­ative pow­ers for the bet­ter­ment of all. It also advo­cates that each nation’s econ­omy spe­cial­ize in its area of sup­posed eco­nomic advantage—such as Canada’s econ­omy revert­ing increas­ingly to resource exploita­tion rather than toward increased man­u­fac­tur­ing and high tech­nol­ogy industries.

In Canada, one aspect of this shift was an attempt by fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments to down­load some ser­vice deliv­ery to the non-profit, vol­un­teer, and char­ity sec­tor and away from gov­ern­ment. And to rec­og­nize the role of out­side think-tanks and experts for pro­vid­ing input rather than lim­it­ing pol­icy brain­storm­ing to politi­cians and bureau­crats. And so emerged and grew a rash of influ­en­tial char­i­ta­ble rightwing think-tanks and research insti­tutes (includ­ing the CD Howe Insti­tute, Macdonald-Laurier Insti­tute, the Fraser Insti­tute and the Mon­treal Eco­nomic Institute—none of which seem to be under­go­ing “polit­i­cal activ­ity” audits), and a cou­ple of left-wing alter­na­tives. Fore­most among the lat­ter is the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Alter­na­tives (CCPA) that is under­go­ing an audit that appears to be apply­ing new def­i­n­i­tions of appro­pri­ate behav­iour. Another, in the sphere of energy pol­icy is the research orga­ni­za­tion Pem­bina Foun­da­tion, which has been in the press for under­go­ing a major audit.

All of these orga­ni­za­tions have grown partly through char­i­ta­ble dona­tions. There is a rel­a­tive numer­i­cal abun­dance favour­ing right-leaning insti­tutes speak­ing out on pub­lic pol­icy issues over insti­tutes lean­ing left. This is, of course, an indi­ca­tion of the much greater amount of money from cor­po­ra­tions and wealthy indi­vid­u­als and fund­ing foun­da­tions avail­able for orga­ni­za­tions that advance pol­icy ideas that ben­e­fit those same donors.

In this era of smaller gov­ern­ment and down­load­ing, a rash of health and socially ori­ented char­i­ties oper­at­ing at lower cost than does gov­ern­ment, have flour­ished in ser­vice deliv­ery and devel­op­ing pol­icy ideas. They have been funded partly by char­i­ta­ble tax write-offs, gov­ern­ment con­tracts, and some­times sup­ple­mented by gov­ern­ment grants at a lower appar­ent cost than obtain­ing the same out­put from gov­ern­ment depart­ments and employ­ees (the wis­dom of this down­load­ing is an ongo­ing sub­ject of con­tention and will not be dealt with here).

I would argue that over­all, the char­i­ta­ble tax credit has been far more an aid to the emer­gence of rightwing ideas, and down­siz­ing of gov­ern­ment, than it has been to left­wing alter­na­tive ideas and the growth of gov­ern­ment pro­grams. And thus Coyne’s pro­posal to deprive char­i­ties of dona­tions will pre­dictably go nowhere with this gov­ern­ment if it pauses long enough to find clarity.

Mean­while, please check out my Master’s the­sis and feel free to for­ward and tweet it. Check out media cov­er­age of my the­sis find­ings and the national con­ver­sa­tion it trig­gered. And you can fol­low me on Twit­ter: @garethkirkby

 

I am a for­mer jour­nal­ist and media man­ager who recently com­pleted my Master’s the­sis for Royal Roads Uni­ver­sity and now work as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sional. I have been awarded the Jack Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among oth­ers, for my report­ing and editing.

Categories: Uncategorized