Are Canadian Nonprofits Too Political?

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June 27, 2012; Source:Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Citizen columnist Dan Gardner has a message for Canadian nonprofits that probably increases the pulse – favorably ­­– of U.S. nonprofit activists such as Tim Delaney and his colleagues at the national Council of Nonprofits and Robert Egger at CForward. Gardner responds to the Harper government’s criticism of charitable involvement in political issues (a charge Harper’s cabinet officers have frequently aimed at environmental nonprofits) by agreeing that here is a problem with charities in politics: “They don’t do it nearly enough.”

“There are very few charities of the 85,000 out there that actually do any political activity,” Marcel Lauzière, president and CEO of Imagine Canada, a sort of Council of Nonprofits/Independent Sector-type Canadian organization, tells Gardner. “Of those that do political activity, very few even come close to (putting) 10 percent (of their resources toward it.)” Ten percent is the limit for Canadian groups’ involvement in “political activity,” which to us looks like advocacy, as opposed to “partisan activity,” which is forbidden.

Nonetheless, the Harper administration and its Conservative colleagues in Canada’s parliament are taking “bellicose” aim at the political advocacy of Canadian charities. In light of attacks on charities in parliament that sound like our northern neighbor is veering toward an Istook Amendment-kind of battle, maybe the U.S. groups like the Council that stand up for U.S. nonprofit advocacy might want to offer their support and collegiality to their Canadian counterparts.—Rick Cohen