Will All Parties Support Finance Committee Hearings on Audits?


Cana­dian Press and the Toronto Star yes­ter­day ran reports that the fed­eral NDP wants to recall Parliament’s finance com­mit­tee this sum­mer to dis­cuss politi­ciza­tion of the ‘polit­i­cal activ­i­ties’ audits of char­i­ties by Canada Rev­enue Agency.

The CP report para­phrased NDP finance critic Mur­ray Rankin say­ing pub­lic hear­ings before the finance com­mit­tee “would give besieged char­i­ta­ble groups a safe venue to speak out with­out appear­ing to pro­voke the tax agency.”

Said Rankin in a direct quote: “It wouldn’t be as if they’ve gone to the press and spilled the beans. … We can’t let this fes­ter much longer. We’ve got to clear the air. It’s bad for the rep­u­ta­tion of the CRA and it’s bad for the envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and other char­i­ties that are some­how under a shadow.”

Rankin has a point and I hope that other polit­i­cal par­ties are lis­ten­ing. In my MA the­sis research, I inter­viewed 16 char­ity lead­ers (in five provinces and five dif­fer­ent char­ity sectors—environment being only one) and five charity-sector experts (lawyers, for­mer bureau­crats, umbrella orga­ni­za­tion staff, aca­d­e­mics, fundrais­ing experts).

The large major­ity, includ­ing to my sur­prise three of five experts, required com­plete con­fi­den­tial­ity in order to speak to me. That’s because they are afraid that if their name, or that of their orga­ni­za­tion, can be deduced they risk draw­ing the ire of the tax­man or the gov­ern­ment. In my the­sis analy­sis using grounded the­ory, and in inter­views with media and my own pub­lic writ­ings, I have done my best to rep­re­sent their expe­ri­ences, shared facts, emo­tions, and opinions.

It also bears not­ing that some inter­view par­tic­i­pants were very happy to be directly iden­ti­fied or deducible to some­one who knows their orga­ni­za­tions very well, because they con­sider the rhetoric and actions of the cur­rent fed­eral gov­ern­ment extreme and bad for Cana­dian policy-making and the vigor of democ­racy itself. In any case, it was dif­fi­cult find­ing 16 char­ity lead­ers will­ing to take a chance on a Master’s stu­dent pro­tect­ing their orga­ni­za­tions, and hence their mem­bers, sup­port­ers, donors and, most impor­tantly, Missions.

Appear­ing before a Par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee to share their organization’s sto­ries could be just the ticket to ensure pub­lic pro­tec­tion. Yes, they would be putting it on the line and very pub­licly. But also, yes, the pub­lic and politi­cians would know who they are and, I sus­pect, sur­round them in a pro­tec­tive blan­ket for years, per­haps decades, into the future regard­less of which party is in power. Of course, that’s easy for me to say and hard for them to do.

But orga­ni­za­tions that step for­ward might per­haps become de-facto untouch­able after tes­ti­fy­ing before a Par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee. Woe to the audi­tor or politi­cian who strays over the line and tar­gets them in rhetoric or deed, or tries to re-interpret def­i­n­i­tions and reg­u­la­tions in order to threaten their char­i­ta­ble sta­tus, or to “muf­fle” and “dis­tract” them as my research dis­cov­ered is now happening.

In any case, it’s good to see the NDP take this on. Rankin had already called sev­eral weeks ago for an inde­pen­dent spe­cial inves­ti­ga­tion into politi­ciza­tion of the audit process, headed by a retired judge or sim­i­lar per­son of expe­ri­ence and stature.

I’m won­der­ing where the Lib­er­als are in all this? And the Bloc Que­be­cois? The Greens? Inde­pen­dents and the Inde­pen­dent Conservative?

For that mat­ter, where are the back-bench Con­ser­v­a­tives? The role of char­i­ties in soci­ety as providers of socially needed ser­vices, and as inde­pen­dent experts on pub­lic pol­icy, fits very tightly with tra­di­tional con­ser­v­a­tive thought and values.

It’s sum­mer, of course, and even politi­cians need a break, and we a break from them. But read­ing the com­ments from read­ers to news sto­ries tells me that Cana­di­ans care about how their char­i­ties are treated by gov­ern­ment, and about the government’s politi­ciza­tion of the nation’s admin­is­tra­tive arms to fight oppo­nents of its policies.

Mean­while, please 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 been awarded the Jack Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among oth­ers, for my report­ing and editing.

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