CCVO Responds to CRA’s Proposed Guidance Documents on Charities and Public Policy Advocacy

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By Lina Khatib, CCVO Policy Analyst

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has shared proposed guidance documents that will help charities interpret the legislation related to public policy advocacy. This follows the recent proposed Income Tax Act (ITA) amendments* by the Department of Finance.

CCVO sees the proposed ITA amendments and accompanying guidance documents as good overall progress towards better supporting charities. Both the administrative and legislative governing documents have removed references to charities involved in ‘political activities’. These documents now reference ‘public policy advocacy activities’, which more accurately describes the work that charities undertake, and we believe will help resolve some of the existing confusion. We are also encouraged by the removal of the requirement for charities to quantify resources used for public policy advocacy and are in favour of a shift toward qualitative assessments.

However, upon reviewing both the proposed ITA amendments and the accompanying guidance documents, we fear that some of this potential progress will be diminished. These documents contain references that we believe will disadvantage charities in the following ways:

  1. Public policy advocacy activities are labelled ‘incidental’ activities and are measured based on how ‘disproportionate’ they are, creating a risk of returning to quantitative assessments of public policy activities.  

  2. There continues to be a lack of clarity around the definition of ‘indirect partisanship’.

  3. The revised guidance document is lacking the criteria that public policy advocacy efforts must be fact-based and well-reasoned – elements that CCVO believes are essential.

CCVO has made a full submission to the CRA with recommendations regarding the proposed guidance documents – click here to see our submission. We are advocating on behalf of charities who often have governing documents that allow for non-charitable pursuits, which could lead to their charitable status being questioned. We believe that reducing the scrutiny around day-to-day activities of charities will provide an environment that allows them to more easily align their public policy advocacy activities with their charitable purpose and protect their charitable status. 

We believe that our recommendations will help facilitate coherence for charities engaging in public policy advocacy, which can improve understanding and compliance. Our suggestions are intended to give charities the opportunity to more meaningfully participate in public policy reform, which serves to enhance our collective democratic processes.  

*CCVO previously responded to the proposed Income Tax Act amendments through a joint letter with Imagine Canada. You can view this submission here.