By Tim Gray, Executive Director environmental defence, Oct 21 2016
Charities in Canada play a critical role. Canadians look to environmental, health, international development and social justice organizations to collectively express their views and advocate for a better world.
Improvements on issues as diverse as ending acid rain, drastically reducing drinking and driving, and ending smoking in schools and the workplace all were the result of these organizations working to bring public and government attention to key issues that required policy change or development. Most of these organizations are charities and rely on public support for their survival.
Several years ago, the previous federal government launched a series of high profile attacks on environmental, social justice and international development charities that expressed opinions contrary to that of the government. The media, public, opposition leaders and many MPs, including now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, decried these attacks and committed to end them and to reform Canadian law to ensure charities could speak out.
Do you want to ensure charities can voice the concerns of Canadians? Sign the petition and tell the federal government you value charities’ involvement in creating a better Canadian society and want to see new laws created that strengthen this role.
A new direction to protect and enhance this critical role for charities was reflected strongly last year in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of National Revenue, when he instructed the Minister to undertake reforms to “allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors.” The letter continues with a requirement that this should result in a “new legislative framework” to strengthen the sector.
Fast forward to just weeks ago, when Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier announced the start of a two month, Canada-wide consultation with charities and the public on the rules under which charities should be allowed to speak out in Canadian society.
In a press conference launching the consultation, Minister Lebouthillier remarked on “the critical role charities play in Canadian society” and on her commitment to “working in collaboration with charities to maintain a fair system that respects and encourages their essential contribution.”
These were encouraging words because the ability of Canadian charities to participate in shaping public policy is vital for a healthy democracy. Engaging in non-partisan political activity should be a right of all charities in Canada. Sadly, it is now constrained by archaic rules and arbitrary guidelines. This must change.
To be clear, political activity does not refer to supporting a particular political candidate or party but rather advocating for positive change. Many of the improvements that we have in Canadian society – such as strengthening anti-drinking and driving laws, banning smoking from schools and workplaces, and banning chemicals that put holes in the ozone layer – have been created through the efforts of charities and their involvement in public policy work. Canada without the results of charities’ work would not be recognizable to most of us.
The outcome of the Minister’s review must ensure that all charities are encouraged and enabled to participate in public discussions of key issues related to ending poverty, protecting the environment, ensuring equality, and securing a better future for our citizens.
The consultation must result in achieving what the Prime Minister’s mandate letter calls for – a new legislative framework.
We need new laws to protect these rights and we need you to raise your voice to make sure those that want to slow progress do not dissuade or discourage our federal government from acting.
Between now and Nov 25th, the Minister is asking Canadians to provide feedback on the rules governing charities’ abilities to speak out about social change. Sign the petition or better yet email the CRA today firstname.lastname@example.org and tell the CRA you value the role charities play in securing public policies that improve the lives of all Canadians.