Evidence of meeting #57 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was charity.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Mark Blumberg  Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP, CanadianCharityLaw.ca
  • Michael Cloutier  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Diabetes Association
  • Kate Bahen  Managing Director, Charity Intelligence Canada
  • Shawn Pegg  Director, Policy and Research, Food Banks Canada
  • Mary Dodd  Vice-President, Finance and Operations, Women's College Hospital Foundation
  • Allyson Hewitt  Director, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation Generation

4 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all of the witnesses for being here today at the finance committee. They were very interesting presentations. There was a bit of diversity in your presentations today, which is always welcome.

A couple of the witnesses have spoken about oversight of Canada's charities. There are many changes the government is proposing on this in the 2012 budget and in its budget implementation act, specifically regarding the political activities of charities.

I'd like you to speak a bit about advocacy and public policy work that charities do. For example, I know the food banks talk about hunger and about public policy. Is advocacy and involvement in the public debate important to charities?

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

To whom would you like to address that?

4 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

We'll start with Mr. Pegg.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Mr. Pegg.

4 p.m.

Director, Policy and Research, Food Banks Canada

Shawn Pegg

Thanks very much for the question.

The response is quite simple. It's absolutely crucial for our network. As I've said, we're a member-driven organization, and most of the food banks that are on the front lines are spending their time raising food and cash to meet a very basic need. They don't have time to be doing a ton of advocacy work. They look to their provincial and federal associations to do that for them. We see it as contributing to absolutely a social good. I'm not sure if that answers your question.

4 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you.

Anyone else? I don't know if any of the other charities here engage in political advocacy. New powers will be granted to the minister of national revenue, who can suspend charitable tax privileges, and it's up to the minister to make this decision.

The question I ask, and it's to any of the witnesses here today, is to delineate the difference between political advocacy and expressing public policy views that might reflect the expertise that members of a charitable organization may have. The CRA is now going to monitor a charity's political activities, and they're getting $8 million for this purpose.

Is this money well spent, and do you think that currently there is a concern with the political or advocacy activities of charities in Canada?

4 p.m.

Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP, CanadianCharityLaw.ca

Mark Blumberg

I'll try to answer that, just to avoid others having to.

I think Canadian charities are allowed to be involved in political activities. There are CRA rules on what's permissible. It's very important that charities be engaged in political activities. Also, the budget, although it had some bark about the issue, didn't really have much bite. I don't think there are any changes in this last budget that are going to have any negative impact on charities being involved with political activities.

There may be some people who want to give the impression that it's not appropriate for charities to be involved in political activities, and I would reject that. The fact is that money has been allocated to CRA. New powers have been given to them. My anticipation is that CRA will do more work in the area of educating charities, but there is no real change. CRA has always been monitoring the political activities of charities. If charities do partisan political activities, that's forbidden.

What I would anticipate is that after two or three years of CRA’s doing more information sessions on political activities, you will have more Canadian charities aware that they are allowed to do it, and there will probably be more doing it. However, charities do need to answer the questions on the T3010 more clearly and appropriately. Right now, only 500 are saying they do political...which is, in my mind, a very low estimate of the number actually doing it. In part, it just comes from the fact that it's one line on a nine-page form and they skip over it, or they don't know what “political” is.

But there will be more questions on the T3010, and it will go back to where it was in 2002—there will be more questions, people will answer, therefore it will be more clear to them what political activities are, and we'll have more compliance in that area.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Just one follow-up question. I have a few seconds.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Well, you have about 10 seconds. We can leave it for another round.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Okay, I'll come back to that.

Thank you for your answer.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you, Ms. Nash.

We'll go to Ms. Glover, please.

May 8th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to continue on in that vein and allow Ms. Bahen to respond to that question.

4:05 p.m.

Managing Director, Charity Intelligence Canada

Kate Bahen

I think that debate matters. I think what Canada has to be very proud of is its free debate. I believe that organizations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, should be engaged in that debate. The donors we work with do support political parties, do support not-for-profit organizations that may be involved in advocacy, and I believe that is fine. I think that for every cause you have, there's going to be a donor pool. As long as those donations are voluntarily given, I would like to see a level playing field, where the fact that one would support one type of organization that is political, let's say a political party, shouldn't, in my opinion, receive preferential tax treatment to supporting Greenpeace.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

I think the question was a bit different, but thank you for your answer.

I want to ask Mr. Blumberg to continue addressing some of the suggestions from his submission. I know you ran out of time, Mr. Blumberg, but there were some other suggestions that I thought were very interesting, and I'm hopeful they will make it into our process of examination for report. The pages aren't numbered, unfortunately, but number two in your other suggestion area talks about requiring charities to demonstrate, like in the U.K., that they are active and actually have a public benefit. Please explain what you mean there.

4:05 p.m.

Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP, CanadianCharityLaw.ca

Mark Blumberg

In the U.K., since 2006 when they had their new Charities Act passed, one of the things it did was say that every charity every year would have to demonstrate that it had a public benefit. Currently, the rule is that if you're applying for charity status, for the first three heads of charity, which is advancing religion, or advancing education, or relief of poverty, you don't actually have to show that you have any public benefit. Only with the fourth head of charity, which is other purposes beneficial to the community that the law regards as charitable, do you have to demonstrate that there is a public benefit.