Charities feeling the pinch for opposing government policies
July 25th, 2014 - 3:39pm
For years New Democrats have called for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to be used to catch tax cheats who use offshore accounts to avoid their responsibility to Canada. Money spent in this way always results in a larger amount coming back to our national coffers. While catching tax cheats does target those Canadians who have enough cash to hide it, it doesn’t stink of political favoritism or bullying. The same cannot be said for the way the Harper government has focussed the audit powers of the CRA on charities that work in opposition to the Conservative’s political agenda.
In these cases the CRA work does reek of political interference and bullying in the first order. The targets are mostly environmental groups and they are being audited at great cost for next to nothing in return. So what is the reason for the witch hunt at Canadian charities? It is obviously being done as retribution for speaking against the plans and wishes of energy sector specifically. Supporters of the government suggest that the work of charities can have no political edge to it at all, but that is not the case.
It is important to understand that while Canadian charities cannot endorse or oppose any particular party or candidate they are allowed to use up to 10 per cent of their resources for political activities. Part of the problem may be what is being defined as political activity which is not as well defined as it could be.
New Democrats are calling for an independent probe into the CRA’s targeting of Canadian charities for political activities. The misuse of tax agency audits against political opponents of the government is scaring charities into silence while draining them financially. It is becoming evident that the only way to clear the air will be through an independent external investigation that reports to Parliament. This work cannot be done by a Conservative dominated Commons Committee or the findings will be gamed in the government’s favour.
This isn’t just a political opinion either. A Canadian Press investigation backs up the charges levelled at the CRA and the probing of charities isn’t limited to those with environmental concerns. The audits are being used against international aid groups, anti-poverty organizations and human-rights agencies too. The budget to do this work has grown from $8 million to $13 million in just 2 years while political-activity audits are being made a permanent part of the Canada Revenue Agency's work.
We have to ensure that charities are allowed to do their work and are not made to operate in a climate of fear. The government has been very clear about its support for the oil and gas sector. By going after charities concerned with the environmental consequences of that sector, the government has proven their concerns are very different from those of most Canadians who value our shared environmental bounty and would like to see it protected.