You’ve just joined the board of directors of a registered charity. One of your organization’s charitable purposes is to protect the natural habitat of the white-collared amphibious wasp, a not-quite-endangered species that lives between downtown Toronto and the Toronto Islands in the summer months.
To advance the organization’s objectives, the Board has recently decided to call for action by the federal and provincial governments. You’ve been tasked with arranging meetings with Cabinet ministers, their staff and officials.
You’re about to make your first call when it hits you: Is this lobbying? Can we do that?
Canadian charities are allowed to lobby. In doing so, however, they must respect certain restrictions and registration requirements. Charities, their staff, directors, and supporters should take time to understand their obligations under federal, provincial, and municipal law.
A charity may be required to register and report its lobbying activities. It may also be subject to limitations on its political activities under the federal Income Tax Act.
Earlier this year, the Canada Revenue Agency ended its targeted audits of registered charities’ political activities. Still, the restrictions on politicking by charities have not been relaxed; under the Income Tax Act and the CRA’s Policy Statement CPS-022, a registered charity may (in most cases) devote no more than 10% of its resources – including its financial assets, staff, volunteers, directors, premises, and equipment – to political activities, and these activities must be “non-partisan and connected and subordinate to the charity’s purposes”.
Activities that constitute lobbying for the purposes of the federal Lobbying Act, Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, or a municipality’s lobbying rules will also constitute political activities under the Income Tax Act. Charities must thus ensure that they not only register and report certain lobbying activities, but also that their lobbying activities do not push them over the 10% limit on political activities under the Income Tax Act.
Below is a summary of the restrictions and requirements under federal and Ontario law. Charities must also ensure that their activities comply with the purposes and restrictions set out in their constating documents.
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Note that, if your organization is lobbying a municipal or other provincial/territorial government, different lobbying rules may apply.
Ontario’s lobbying rules will change on July 1, 2016. Once effective, the new rules will, among other things, require charities to register once lobbying by their paid employees reaches or exceeds 50 hours per year, rather than the one-person-day-per-week threshold under the old provisions. Read McCarthy Tétrault’s analysis of the new rules here.
Once you understand your charity’s obligations under applicable lobbying laws, as well as under the Income Tax Act, you can make calls with confidence.