Philanthropic and Charity Umbrellas Could Pressure Feds


Monday’s Toronto Star edi­to­r­ial exam­ines the NDP’s recent call for an inde­pen­dent inquiry into politi­ciza­tion of the CRA audits of reg­is­tered charities.

The NDP let­ter call­ing for the inquiry “will sig­nal to Canada’s embat­tled char­i­ties that they have a cham­pion in Par­lia­ment,” says the edi­to­r­ial. Mildly goad­ing oth­ers to join the NDP, the edi­to­r­ial says, “If there is a groundswell, with the Lib­er­als, the provin­cial pre­miers and a few influ­en­tial phil­an­thropists demand­ing answers, the Tories may be shamed into sus­pend­ing their ill-conceived crackdown.”

Well said. As I wrote in my last post, “will all par­ties sup­port probe into politi­ciza­tion of CRA char­ity audits,” all par­ties (and I would add at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment) have a vested inter­est in pre­serv­ing broad par­tic­i­pa­tion in impor­tant pol­icy dis­cus­sion, keep­ing sep­a­rate the admin­is­tra­tive and polit­i­cal arms of gov­ern­ment, and enhanc­ing rela­tion­ships between civil soci­ety and government.

I’m par­tic­u­larly enam­ored of the sug­ges­tion that a few influ­en­tial phil­an­thropists could help per­suade the gov­ern­ment to change its course. Cana­dian fam­i­lies such as the Aspers, and Bronf­mans, McCains and West­ons have a his­tory of phil­an­thropy. Some (includ­ing the first three named above, plus cor­po­rate names such as Bom­bardier) have estab­lished foun­da­tions bear­ing their names and these foun­da­tions make grants to charities.

Phil­an­thropic Foun­da­tions Canada (PFC), the largest umbrella orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing foun­da­tions, ques­tioned the government’s 2012 rhetoric, increased reg­u­la­tion of char­i­ties, and pro­gram of increased audit­ing of the per­fectly legal “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” of charities.

The rules around “polit­i­cal activ­i­ties” are clear and don’t need fur­ther atten­tion, the group told Cana­dian Press in 2012.

J.W. McConnell Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, Canada’s sec­ond old­est fam­ily foun­da­tion, talked to Cana­dian Press. “I think what we have to be con­cerned about is the fear that peo­ple have to speak up or take a posi­tion on an issue of pub­lic impor­tance,” foun­da­tion pres­i­dent Stephen Hud­dart said. “The reg­u­la­tions are clearly laid out so peo­ple feel that they’re able to do so, and in many cases have a respon­si­bil­ity to do so, to speak up on behalf of under­priv­i­leged or dis­pos­sessed or vul­ner­a­ble populations.

There’s a need for informed debate, a diver­sity of views, on these kinds of issues, and this sec­tor is good at doing that.”

Talk about pre­scient! I dis­cov­ered that the fog of fear has now set­tled upon some char­i­ties in my research. And Hud­dart makes that vital point, more rel­e­vant today than ever, that it is the job of char­i­ties to speak up about issues about which they are expert.

Another impor­tant player is Imag­ine Canada, the umbrella orga­ni­za­tion of the char­i­ties them­selves. My par­tic­i­pants are count­ing on Imag­ine Canada to go to bat for them, to spear­head a major nar­ra­tive cam­paign that touts the “good news” about the con­tri­bu­tion char­i­ties have made and con­tinue to make to Cana­dian soci­ety and pub­lic pol­icy. Like national and provin­cial parks. Or the seat­belt, drunk-driving, and smok­ing reg­u­la­tions that have saved thou­sands of lives.

As The Star edi­to­r­ial rec­om­mends, this is the time for them to step up and divert this gov­ern­ment from a course of action that is clearly hurt­ing soci­ety, includ­ing the very char­i­ties that the foun­da­tions are fund­ing and Imag­ine Canada is representing.

Mean­while, check out my Master’s the­sis and feel free to for­ward and tweet it. 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 com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sional. I have earned a Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among other awards, for my reporting.

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