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Analysis

Right-wing charities report zero political activity…again

For at least the fifth year in a row, right-wing organizations report no political activity while uncertainty remains for many progressive charities

May 14, 2018

For at least the fifth year in a row, Canada’s leading right-wing charities are claiming to have conducted exactly zero political activity.

That’s according to the most recent tax filings with Canada Revenue Agency from right-wing organizations like the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, and Focus on the Family.

According to CRA rules, Canadian charities are permitted to devote up to 10% of their organizational resources to “political activities”, defined as follows:

i. Explicitly communicates a call to political action (that is, encourages the public to contact an elected representative or public official and urges them to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country);

ii. Explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained (if the retention of the law, policy or decision is being reconsidered by a government), opposed, or changed; or

iii. Explicitly indicates in its materials (whether internal or external) that the intention of the activity is to incite, or organize to put pressure on, an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country.

PressProgress looked at the filings of 9 right-wing charities for the year 2016.

All 9 organizations were examined by the Broadbent Institute in two previous reports that looked at the tax-filings from 2011 through 2014.

These included the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Energy Probe Research Foundation, the Fraser Institute, Focus on the Family, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and the Montreal Economic Institute.

Once again, all 9 organizations reported zero political activity. Has the CRA looked closely at any of these organizations and their activities?

PressProgress analyzed the 2016 work of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Constitution Foundation, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, and Focus on the Family – and we have some questions.

The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute is a think tank that says it promotes “a free and prosperous world through choice, markets and responsibility” through “careful, accurate, rigorous measurement” of data. On the other hand, Fraser Institute’s Executive Vice President has also admitted the think tank’s “research agenda” is also connected to a political “communications agenda.”

Once again, according to the CRA “political activity” includes communicating to the public that laws and policies should be retained, opposed or changed. 

Would this fall within the definition?

Or how about this?

What about making a case for certain tax policies, explicitly directed at the sitting government?

The Fraser Institute reported zero political activity in 2016.

Canadian Constitution Foundation

The Canadian Constitution Foundation says its activities include “education, communication and litigation,” but others describe the charity as a “court challenges program.” The CCF, which boasts numerous connections to senior figures within the Conservative Party of Canada and the wider conservative movement, is currently supporting a high-profile constitutional challenge against the Canadian health care system.

Does soliciting money  for campaigns that advocate “standing up for the right of all Canadians to choose how and when they access their healthcare” count as “political activity”?

How about arguing in a major newspaper, as the CCF’s Executive Director did, on behalf of private healthcare clinics?

How about the CCF’s “free beer” campaign?

The CCF reported zero political activity in 2016.

Macdonald-Laurier Institute

“The Macdonald-Laurier Institute says its activities include “research identifying current and emerging economic and public policy issues facing Canadians” and “communicating the conclusions of its research to a national audience in a clear, non-partisan way.”

Does producing a series of flashy videos that make “the case for reform” of the health care system count as “communicating that a law or policy should be retained, opposed or changed”?

What about making the case for a particular policies when it comes to public spending on infrastructure?

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute reported zero political activity in 2016.

Focus on the Family and Cardus  

Focus on the Family’s About Us page describes the organization and its work as follows: “Since 1983, Focus on the Family Canada has offered help and encouragement to millions of families as they build their lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As a charitable organization, we are committed to strengthening Canadian families through trusted, Biblically based resources and programs, personal counselling, prayerful support, and much more. We aim to be the place Canadian families turn to for trusted help and encouragement!”

Focus on the Family isn’t just a religious organization, it’s one with a strongly social conservative bent.

For example, here’s something posted on its blog back in January:

It would be hard to call Focus on the Family’s online presence throughout 2016 apolitical – particularly given numerous tweets wading into the national debate around childcare that appear to link back to its own blog.  

Focus on the Family previously had an affiliated research arm called the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada, whose web page now reads: “As of February 9, 2016 the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada has joined Cardus.”

According to Cardus’ web page:

“Cardus exists as an independent think tank located in the heart of Canada. Initially founded in 1974 as the “Work Research Foundation,” Cardus emerged from a desire to translate the richness of the Christian faith tradition into the public square for the common good.”

In 2016 Cardus, among other things, published commentary on the federal budget (written by Andrea Mrozek, previously Executive Director at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada) and several bills at both the provincial and federal levels.

For example:

“The federal budget was released in March 2016 with a significant focus on family finances. In the budget, money was set aside for parents, not institutions. This has ramifications for the ongoing debate over child care and whether spending should go to parents or daycare centres/schools. When Cardus and Nanos Research asked Canadian parents in the Canada Family Life Project about their preferences for child care policy, 62% of respondents called for policy measures that involve helping parents directly, rather than giving money to centres, spaces, or schools. Only 15.3% of those surveyed wanted subsidies for child-care centres to improve quality and/or create more spaces. Families spend money better than institutions—something families and Cardus Family have long known. We’re glad government agrees.”

Or:

“If there’s a fitting mascot for people who believe there are 50 genders, it’s the unicorn. A mascot as imaginary as the theories they teach, the gender unicorn is a tool to teach students about gender in Alberta, an idea presented along with inviting drag queens to teach makeup application. All of this could seem funny, except that creating confusion in children over something as basic as this is no laughing matter, as any parent of a child with gender dysphoria will tell you…Enter Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychology professor who has become famous for refusing to kowtow to what he is calling political correctness…Professor Peterson is concerned not only with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and what powers they might have to prosecute a failure to use an individual’s pronoun of choice, but also over Bill C-16, the federal legislation that adds gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. So much of this extremism is being foisted on average Canadians without their consent or knowledge.”

Both Focus on the Family and Cardus reported zero political activity to the CRA in 2016.

****

While in government, the Harper Conservatives created a special fund to ramp up political activity audits of environmental groups, later expanding it to target anti-poverty, human rights, and other progressive charities.

During the 2015 federal election, the Liberals promised to end the “political harassment” of charities by “clarifying the rules governing ‘political activity’.

But Tim Gray of Environmental Defence, which was targeted during the Harper government’s audits, recently expressed concern about whether the Liberals intend to keep their promises following a meeting with Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Meanwhile, no one seems to be checking in on the Fraser Institute, MacDonald-Laurier, Focus on the Family, or the Canadian Constitution Foundation…

Image: Obert Madondo/Flickr: Used under a creative commons license. 

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Analysis

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