Pol­i­tics dressed up as char­ity

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc - Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

There’s al­ways next year. Any­one who reads this col­umn reg­u­larly will know I’ve got a bee in my bon­net about pol­icy think-tanks: not that they do pol­icy re­search, but that they are reg­is­tered char­i­ties, and that they can is­sue tax re­ceipts to their fun­ders for any do­na­tions they get.

It has par­tic­u­larly both­ered me that, while en­vi­ron­men­tal and free-speech char­i­ties were be­ing au­dited for their political ac­tiv­i­ties — au­dits that cost those char­i­ties pre­cious time and re­sources — the same rules haven’t seemed to ap­ply to all char­i­ties.

The think-tanks do re­search on is­sues that meet their par­tic­u­lar small-p political agen­das, then re­lease it pub­licly — hop­ing, of course, to sway the pub­lic and politi­cians. But di­rect political ac­tiv­ity? No — they usu­ally claim they are do­ing no political ac­tiv­ity what­so­ever.

Here’s how the Char­i­ties Di­rec­torate of the Cana­dian Rev­enue Agency (CRA) spells out the rules on political ac­tiv­ity: “A reg­is­tered char­ity may pur­sue political ac­tiv­i­ties only if the ac­tiv­i­ties are non-par­ti­san, re­lated to its char­i­ta­ble pur­poses, and lim­ited in ex­tent. A political ac­tiv­ity is any ac­tiv­ity that ex­plic­itly com­mu­ni­cates to the pub­lic that a law, pol­icy or de­ci­sion of any level of govern­ment in­side or out­side Canada should be re­tained, op­posed, or changed.”

Any char­ity that does un­der­take political ac­tiv­i­ties has to re­veal that in its char­i­ta­ble fil­ings with the CRA.

The ques­tion the CRA poses is di­rect: “Did the char­ity carry on any political ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the fis­cal pe­riod, in­clud­ing mak­ing gifts to qual­i­fied donees that were in­tended for political ac­tiv­i­ties?”

And that brings me to the At­lantic In­sti­tute for Mar­ket Stud­ies (AIMS), an At­lantic think-tank. AIMS lists its roles as “De­liv­ery of ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, lec­tures and con­fer­ences. Prepa­ra­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of pub­lic pol­icy re­search to im­prove un­der­stand­ing of pol­icy is­sues. Pro­mo­tion and en­cour­age­ment of pub­lic de­bate and discourse.”

But the stead­fast an­swer from AIMS, for years, about whether it has been in­volved in political ac­tiv­i­ties? No. That’s no, like “none.”

So imag­ine my sur­prise this week­end to get an email from AIMS — it doesn’t ap­pear to be “im­prov­ing un­der­stand­ing.” No, it’s political ac­tion. “Can you please take five min­utes and: 1. Sign the pe­ti­tion to Pre­miers Dwight Ball, Brian Gal­lant, Wade MacLauch­lan, and Stephen McNeil (and to all Lead­ers of the Op­po­si­tion) re­quest­ing our gov­ern­ments rein in spend­ing and cut the pub­lic jobs we can­not af­ford. 2. Share Spend­ingProb­lem.ca on Face­book and Twit­ter. 3. For­ward this email to five of your friends who sup­port free mar­ket, small-govern­ment so­lu­tions for At­lantic Cana­dian pros­per­ity. Sin­cerely, Marco Navarro-Génie Pres­i­dent of the At­lantic In­sti­tute for Mar­ket Stud­ies (AIMS)”

Hmmm.

I look for­ward to AIMS and its dis­clo­sure of its political ac­tiv­i­ties in next year’s fil­ing. Of course, I’d look for­ward to it even more if the char­ity had to dis­close the de­tails be­hind its an­swer of “Yes” to the con­fi­den­tial ques­tion, “Did the char­ity re­ceive any do­na­tions or gifts of any kind val­ued at $10,000 or more from any donor that was not res­i­dent in Canada and was not any of the fol­low­ing: a Cana­dian ci­ti­zen, nor em­ployed in Canada, nor car­ry­ing on a busi­ness in Canada, nor a per­son hav­ing dis­posed of tax­able Cana­dian prop­erty?”

It’s nice to know who is us­ing a tax break to do what, and to whom. And who is pay­ing for it.

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