Trudeau: CRA must allow Canadian charities to do their work “free from political harassment”
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) developed quite a reputation with its dictatorship-style political auditing of environmental charities, foreign aid organizations and other groups seen as critical to the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
The agency’s controversial auditing of the “political activities” of charities is soon to become a thing of the past. So says Justin Trudeau.
In his recent Ministerial Mandate Letter to Diane Lebouthillier, the Minister of National Revenue, the prime minister declared that the CRA must allow Canadian “charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment.” Trudeau said the CRA, the federal overseer of charities under the Income Tax Act, “exists to serve Canadians” and so should now be overhauled.
Here’s part of Trudeau’s letter to Lebouthillier:
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) exists to serve Canadians. As Minister of National Revenue, your overarching goal will be to ensure that the CRA is fairer, more helpful, and easier to use. You will lead the government’s work to overhaul its service model so that people who interact with the CRA feel like valued clients, not just taxpayers.
In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:
- Ensure that CRA is a client-focused agency that will:
- proactively contact Canadians who are entitled to, but are not receiving, tax benefits;
- offer to complete returns for some clients, particularly lower-income Canadians and those on fixed incomes, whose financial situation is unchanged year-to-year;
- support more Canadians who wish to file taxes using no paper forms; and
- deliver correspondence and other communications that are straightforward and easy to read.
- Allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors, working with the Minister of Finance. This will include clarifying the rules governing “political activity,” with an understanding that charities make an important contribution to public debate and public policy. A new legislative framework to strengthen the sector will emerge from this process. This should also include work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to develop a Social Finance and Social Enterprise strategy.
- Invest additional resources to help the CRA crack down on tax evaders and work with international partners to adopt strategies to combat tax avoidance.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a highly-respected left-leaning think-tank, is one of the organizations the CRA recently targeted for scrutiny.
In 2014, more than 420 Canadian academics wrote to the then Minister of National Revenue demanding and immediate stop to the audit.
The academics also questioned the CRA’s apparent failure to audit conservative think tanks like the Fraser Institute, “whose policy conclusions” were friendlier toward the Harper government’s policies.
We therefore strongly urge the CRA to put a moratorium on its audits of think tanks, until such time as a truly neutral criteria and auditing process are implemented to ensure neutrality and fairness, and to ensure that the audit process does not silence dissenting voices. Periodic audit should be conducted in a fair, transparent, and even-handed fashion across all the various think-tanks that claim charitable status in Canada, with a focus on financial management and integrity (not on the content of the research being conducted). Why single out only one such research centre that happens to be more critical of government policy? Instead of trying to muzzle and impede sound and legitimate research, it is now time for you to try to promote more effectively the public good in the form of sound critical research for which Canadian researchers are respected internationally.
According to the CBC News, “The Stephen Harper government began its special audits of charities’ political activities in 2012, under an $8-million program that initially targeted environmental groups, then expanded to human rights, poverty, religious and other charities. Some 60 such groups are to be audited by 2017.”
The CRA has always insisted that its audits weren’t politically directed.