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Right-wing Think Tanks And Charities Claim No Political Activity For Eight Years In A Row

Their communications seem to tell a different story

For another successive year, Canada’s leading right-wing think tanks and charities claimed to the Canada Revenue Agency they conducted no political activity, in 2017. 

Until recently, Canadian charities were permitted to devote up to 10% of their organizational resources to “political activities.”  On February 1, 2019, the government changed the rule to allow charities to spend freely on non-partisan political activities, such as pressuring governments to adopt public policies.

That change is good news. But it is worth noting that for years and years, while progressive organizations were heavily scrutinized, those on the right really were not. The Harper government, in fact, created a special fund to audit political-activity of certain charities, just not the conservative ones.

How did the CRA define political activities?

The CRA’s old rules defined political activities as follows:

1.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);

2. 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

3. 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.

Back in 2104, the Broadbent Institute studied the reported political activity of Canada’s right and left charities from 2011-13. While the left charities studied reported some political activity, the right charities studied reported 0%. Yet, only the left charities reported being audited. The same was noted when the institute studied 2014 filings.

PressProgress previously found the same right-wing charities studied continued to report 0% political activity in 2015 and 2016.

PressProgress looked at the filings for right-wing organizations like the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the MacDonald-Laurier Institute,  for 2017. Again, they reported no political activity. But, a quick review of their communications for the year tells a different story.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation

As PressProgress reported previously, The Canadian Constitution Foundation says it exists to “defend the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians in the courts of law and public opinion”

Others describe it as a “court challenges program” with a history of litigating against Canada’s healthcare system.

Notably, in 2017, it was soliciting donations for this cause.

And, for a campaign against inter-provincial trade barriers.

And, for a campaign against moves by the Law Society of Ontario to draft a statement of principles recognizing an “obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.”

But, according to its filing in March of 2018, it conducted no political activities.

The Fraser Institute

As PressProgress reported previously, the Fraser Institute’s Executive Vice President has admitted its “research agenda” is connected to a political “communications agenda.” Broadly speaking, its research supports arguments for more loser regulations, corporate tax cuts, spending cuts and the like.

Under the CRA’s old rules, “political activity” included communicating to the public that laws and policies should be retained, opposed or changed.

But, according to the Institute’s filing on December 31, 2017, it conducted no political activities.

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 findings to “a national audience in a clear, non-partisan way.”

But, as reported previously, it also produces flashy videos, graphics and articles arguing “the case for reform” of healthcare, defence and other spending.

That might seem to count as “communicating that a law or policy should be retained, opposed or changed.”

Here are a few examples:

And, this one.

And, this one.

And, this one.

However, according to its December 31, 2017 filing, the Institute conducted no political activity.

PressProgress also looked at the filings for other right-wing groups like the Energy Probe Research Foundation, the Montreal Economic Institute and the Frontier Centre For Public Policy.  None of them reported political activity for 2017, either.

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