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.