Elections 2015: Outcomes for Canada’s charitable sector

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On October 19, 2015 Canadians will go to the polls to elect their 42nd parliament. Campaigning got underway in early August and will last a total of 11 weeks. By the time votes are cast all the major party leaders and their teams will have been on the hustings for what will seem to them like an eternity. But the question is: what are they really saying that whole time?

CharityVillage wanted to find out how each of the four major federal parties – Conservatives, NDP, Liberals and Greens – envisions the role of the nonprofit sector and what they will prioritize in that regard if elected or re-elected to power.

In addition, CharityVillage also sought input from the sector’s most prominent, non-partisan advocacy organization, Imagine Canada, on their hopes for change and direction under the 42nd Canadian Parliament.

Imagine that

For its part, Imagine Canada made its priority issues for the sector known to all parties just prior to the election call. In May, it held what it calls a “Charities’ Day on the Hill” event where it - and nine other sector partners - addressed representatives from all parties to advocate for the sector and strengthen its relationship with government to “create strong, inclusive and prosperous communities.”

Michelle Gauthier, Imagine’s vice-president, public policy & community engagement, said her organization hopes one of the first priorities for a new or returning government regarding Canada’s charitable sector will be to work to create “a more enabling environment for charities and nonprofits” since it is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Canadian economy. “We also hope to see new investments and policies that will contribute to the long-term financial health of charities and nonprofits, so that we can meet the growing demand from communities for our services.”

Other priority items on Imagine Canada’s list include addressing specific policy proposals like the Stretch Tax Credit and collecting more data about the sector, “so that public policy decisions about the sector are evidence based and the country would benefit from a better pipeline of opportunities for Canadians graduating from university and college [seeking] work in the sector,” she notes.

“We remain hopeful that we can finally get the Stretch Tax Credit for charitable giving… [t]his will make it easier for all Canadians to give more to charity and for all charities to further strengthen their communities,” Gauthier said.

Calling all parties

So what do the major federal parties have to say about their plans for the charitable sector?

Both the Conservative and Liberal parties did not respond to requests for interviews and multiple queries from CharityVillage for their policy planks on the charitable sector.

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s website touts an Aug. 23 announcement of “tax relief for service club members” as part of his party’s general philosophy to “help encourage Canadians to give generously while also reducing administrative burdens on charitable organizations to allow them to focus more time and resources on their important work helping Canadians and their communities.”

Some of the ways the Conservative Party notes it has accomplished these things is by:

  • Encouraging greater charitable giving by broadening the tax exemption on capital gains associated with donations of various types of securities, real estate and shares.
  • Introducing the First-Time Donor’s Super Credit on cash donations of up to $1,000 made before 2018.
  • Allowing charities to diversify their investment portfolios and use modern technology to conduct lotteries;
  • Reducing the administrative burden on charities by simplifying the disbursement quota requirements; and
  • Improving accountability and transparency in the sector.

The Liberal Party policy website makes one notable reference regarding the sector under its “Open and Fair Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)” page. It reads:

“We will introduce a significant overhaul of CRA operating practices to develop a client relationship rather than that of simply a taxpayer. Elements include…ending the CRA political harassment of charities, as well as clarifying rules to affirm the important role that charities can and should play in developing and advocating for public policy in Canada.”

The Orange and Green response

Via email, the NDP told CharityVillage that the party would first “put an end” to what it alleges is misuse of the CRA as a “political tool to punish charities that dare to pursue interests” that don’t conform to the government’s agenda.

In addition, the NDP seeks to “work with the sector to modernize the regulatory environment, providing clearer definitions of what counts as acceptable activities, and enabling new methods of financing, such as social finance and social enterprise.”

With a weakened economy and fewer Canadians able to donate, the “good and important work” being done by charities and nonprofits to improve the lives of citizens needs to be supported in “better ways.”

Lastly, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she is receptive to Imagine’s Stretch Tax Credit push.

“We recognize that investing in charities is a wise moral and financial decision,” she told CharityVillage. “The Green Party supports the idea of a Stretch Tax Credit to provide an incentive to give more. This will help attract more money to the sector and ensure that Canadians continue their commendable legacy of giving, even through hard financial times.”

May also noted that her party would “seek to end the Orwellian use of the CRA as a political tool to silence the sector.”

Beyond that, May said her party will always listen to the voices of well-intentioned sector advocates and would make sure that the sector “has access to stable, predictable funding so organizations can safely make long-term plans.”

She added: “The Green Party recognizes the extraordinary contribution that the charitable and nonprofit sector makes to the Canadian economy… [accounting] for an average of 8.1% of total Canadian GDP and employing two million people. It is a testament to Canadians’ generosity and benevolent spirit. The Green Party will always strive to take these contributions into account when making decisions that affect the sector.”

Who’s the most charitable?

The federal parties and their leaders will continue to expand on their policy platforms throughout the election campaign.

Based on your current read of their respective sector platforms, who do you think has the right take on the sector? What else would you like to see the leaders say about how they would improve the affairs of nonprofits if they take or re-take office?

Note: Imagine Canada is scheduled to launch its online “Election Hub” in September. It will showcase the many charities and nonprofits involved in the current election process and then release a report on the impact of citizen engagement during Election 2015.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at aajzenkopf@yahoo.com.

Photos (from top) via iStock.com. All photos used with permission.

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