Non-profits and charities have an essential role and voice in shaping public policy in Canada and BC. We should not be intimidated out of that role, and certainly not because of misconceptions about the rules.
Canada Revenue Agency rules limiting non-profit “political activities” were thrown out by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in July 2018, quashing a longstanding rule limiting to 10 per cent the resources any Canadian charity is permitted to devote to political activities. The CRA will not appeal that decision, but as of August 2019, a review process continues around how to define overly political engagement by non-profits.
There are two big questions for boards of non-profits and charities operating within BC:
- Are we lobbying according the the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists BC (and if we are what does that entail)?
- Are we going to run afoul of the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA)?
Starting with the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists BC. The Registry has provided a wonderful flowchart to walk you through whether they consider you a lobbyist. I can tell you that as a volunteer board member, you are most certainly not because you are not paid to lobby.
Even if you or, more likely, your staff are considered a lobbyist, there is nothing wrong with registering. It just means you will be on a public registry and must follow the rules. The Registrar provides quick tips here.
Canada Revenue Agency
The CRA defines three types of activities:
- Charitable activity – advocacy that charities can carry out that is considered part of their charitable mission
- Political activity – advocacy that charities can carry out – but there are limits to keep in mind and the activity MUST be reported on the T3010
- Prohibited activity – charities must NOT engage in these – includes partisan activity
- Meeting with or writing to MPs, cabinet ministers, public servants
- Appearing in front of a Parliamentary committee
- Appearing in front of a public tribunal
- Activities must be:
- Connected and subordinate to charitable purpose
- Based on a well-reasoned position
- No call to political action
- Organizing a rally, petition, or letter-writing campaign
- Buy ads to pressure the government
- Publicly share views that a law or policy should be changed or retained
- Essentially, a public call to action
- Funding others to do political activity
- All of these are fine with certain conditions
- No more than 10% of resources used in any year
- Related and subordinate to charitable purpose
- T3010 reporting – even if there is no expenditure
- Illegal protests
- Partisan activity — directly or indirectly supporting or opposing a political party or candidate
- Endorsing or opposing a party platform
- Encouraging supporters to vote for or against a party or candidate
- Unequal treatment of candidates during an election period
So, as a board member, you should
- Be aware of, involved in, and supportive of, the organization’s decisions to engage in public policy.
- Be aware of the distinction between political activity and other types of activity.
- Don’t just rubber-stamp the T3010 – know what questions to ask, and don’t be afraid to ask them.
And don’t stop speaking out on public policy issues. We have important things to contribute to the discussion!