The law surrounding charities and political activity has changed significantly. For decades, the Income Tax Act mandated that charities devote “substantially all” of their resources to their charitable activities and a maximum of only 10% of their resources toward non-partisan and incidental political activities.
Now, the Income Tax Act permits charities to “fully engage without limitation in public policy dialogue and development activities (PPDDAs) provided that they never directly or indirectly support or oppose a political party or candidate for public office. In other words, under the Income Tax Act, a charity is free to advocate for any change to a law, policy, or decision of government that would further its stated charitable purpose.”
The CRA considers PPDDAs to include the following. For the complete guidance, click here.
Providing information – charities may provide information to their supporters or the general public related to their charitable purposes (including the conduct of public awareness campaigns) in order to inform or persuade the public in regards to public policy. Such information must be truthful, accurate, and not misleading.
Research – charities may conduct research into public policy, distribute the research, and discuss the research and findings with the media and with others as they see fit. Note that to advance education as a charitable purpose, a charity’s research must meet the criteria in Policy statement CPS-029, Research as a charitable activity.
Disseminating opinions – charities may express opinions on matters related to their charitable purposes to participate in developing public policy, as long as they draw on research and evidence and are not contrary to hate speech laws or other legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression.
Advocacy – charities may advocate to keep or change a law, policy, or decision, of any level of government in Canada, or a foreign country.
Mobilizing others – charities may call on supporters or the general public to contact politicians of all parties to express their support for, or opposition to, a particular law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country.
Representations – charities may make representations in writing or verbally to elected officials, public officials, political parties, and candidates, and appear at parliamentary committees, to bring their views to the public policy development process, and may release such materials publicly. Note that a charity engaging in this type of activity may be required to register as a lobbyist organization.
Providing forums and convening discussions – charities may invite competing candidates and political representatives to speak at the same event, or may request written submissions for publication, to discuss public policy issues that relate to the charity’s purposes.
Communicating on social media – charities may express their views, and offer an opportunity for others to express their views, in regards to public policy, on social media or elsewhere.