Advocacy and Political Activity
As the federal election comes to an end, many community organizations are still uncertain about what they can and cannot do in terms of advocacy and engaging in political activity.
Last year’s Canada Without Poverty v AG Canada (“CWP Decision”) ruling by Ontario Superior Court Justice Ed Morgan led to a change in the rules regarding how Canadian charities engage in public policy dialogue and development activities. Information regarding the CWP Decision, and the resulting changes to the Income Tax Act, is noted in our May 16, 2019 post.
According to the Canada Revenue Agency, there is no longer any limit on the amount of time a charity may spend on advocacy as long as activities “are carried on in furtherance of its stated charitable purpose”. However, the Income Tax Act is not the only law governing political activity.
Updates to the Canada Elections Act impact charities and other nonprofits. The Chief Electoral Officer confirmed this August that "[t]he Act does not prevent individuals or groups from talking about issues or publishing information". However, determining the distinction between permissible political activity and forbidden partisan activity can be challenging.
Elections Canada emphasizes that once the writ has dropped, individuals or groups spending amounts equal to or above $500 promoting an issue that “takes a position on an issue that is clearly associated with a candidate or party, without referring to the party, candidate or other actor” must register as a third party with Elections Canada.
Being registered as a third party carries risks. Charities could be perceived as partisan and may be subjected to a CRA audit. This can place their charitable status at risk. At least one environmental group had been warned by Elections Canada that its attempts to raise awareness regarding climate change could be interpreted as partisan advertising.
Information concerning restrictions governed by the Elections Act can be found here. The Ontario Nonprofit Network and Imagine Canada have created election rule guides: one for charities and one for non-charitable nonprofit organizations.
We at the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia have been busy this election campaign speaking to candidates regarding their policies and platforms.
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