Mr. Chair, thank you for the invitation to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance this evening.
I am the President and Chief Executive Officer of Imagine Canada, an umbrella organization for charitable organizations in Canada. Our primary mission is to work to strengthen charities so they can, in turn, better serve Canadians and communities, here and elsewhere in the world.
The federal budget announced new disclosure measures for political activity by charities. Essentially, three things will happen. First, there will be some new questions on the T3010 form, the form that charities have to send off to CRA annually around political activity. Secondly, foundations will now be required to report differently on the 10% for political activity, and finally, there will be what CRA calls “intermediate sanctions” that may be applied in the case of inaccurate reporting.
I have to say I'm very pleased that these measures in no way change the 10% rule for political activity, a rule that has been in place for many years and that has been working well. Charities can still do political activity, as defined by the Canada Revenue Agency, just as before. The changes are in how we will need to report on these activities. The changes are related to new forms of disclosure.
Now with regard to the practical impact of these changes, we will have to see what the questions are, and as you know, the devil is always in the details. But we will be in a better position to comment on specifics once we've seen that information.
We have had some communication with the Canada Revenue Agency, and those discussions have been productive. Our hope is that the reporting burden will be kept to a minimum. We have to recognize the fact that the new measures will add to the reporting and administrative burden of charities, which means adding to compliance and overhead costs. Canadians want us to keep these costs as low as possible. Indeed, during the hearings on charitable giving, members of this committee commented on the need to keep administrative costs as low as possible. So it is imperative that the burden be kept reasonable and that the costs not outweigh any public policy benefit.
That being said, our real concern regarding political activity is the recent public language used by some ministers and some senators that has been, in fact, inflammatory. It is creating real uncertainty and concern within the broad charitable sector in Canada. Many have told us that they are worried about engaging in public policy at all. This goes well beyond the environmental charities. I'm talking about charities involving social services, in poverty alleviation, in social housing, in the arts, in health, in services for people with disabilities, and I could go on.
Whether intended or not, this debate and the language used are impacting the entire sector. Indeed, some ministers and senators appear to have questioned whether charities should play any role in public policy. I'm hearing that a number of volunteer board members from across Canada are expressing worry as to whether they can participate in public policy at all, as they have done for many years, including appearing in front of parliamentary committees such as this one.
Mr. Chair, as you know—and I know you appreciate—charities have a long and proud tradition of working with governments at all levels on crucial policy issues. This has served us well as a country, and it has been valued by Canadians and by governments for very good reasons. Charities work at the coal face of some of the most intractable social, environmental, economic, and cultural issues, dealing directly with individuals and communities. Because they work on the ground, they bring a knowledge base that is crucial, and I would say, complementary to the knowledge that governments bring, and that's a good thing. It often creates debate and questioning, but that's not a bad thing either. Good public policy comes from bringing to the table a variety of different perspectives based on different experiences. As a country, we've benefited from this perspective. I can't imagine why we would want to put this in jeopardy.
Charities and the millions of Canadians who continue to support their work want this positive and productive engagement with the government to continue. Who can argue against what governments and charities have achieved together: smoke-free workplaces, unthinkable 20 years ago; measures to fight drinking and driving—and we're seeing the real success of those—the national child benefit that has had a big impact on child poverty in Canada; the Canada-U.S. acid rain treaty; the Registered Disability Savings Plan, put forward by this government; and more recently, the maternal and infant health strategy that now is being championed by the Canadian government.
What all of these achievements have in common is that none of them would have been possible without the leadership of so many charities and the people that support them, and none of this would have been possible without a strong relationship and partnership between charities and governments.