27 May 2012

Join the Campaign to build
'One Big Campaign'

Dear Friends,

I won’t be writing a blog very often for a while. I have decided instead to focus my attention on encouraging hundreds of progressive groups and the top labour bodies to come together and form one giant, co-operative network to campaign and fight back against the Harper regime and its right-wing allies.

Thanks for the interest you have shown in my blog, and I look forward to resuming it on a regular basis at some point in the, hopefully, not too distant future.

Please visit the Campaign’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/CampaignToBuildOneBigCampaign

Show your support for the project by clicking 'Like' under the big picture of the On to Ottawa Trek. This will also allow you to follow our progress. There are plans to launch  a website by September.

Kindest regards,

The post Campaign launched urging activist groups to build 'One Big Campaign' explains the formation of the campaign while the posts How massive 'One Big Campaign' could defeat Harper Conservatives and Social activist groups can form powerful 'One Big Campaign' to take on Harper act as supporting documents. 

7 May 2012

Highly-regarded anti-nuke organization becomes first Harper charity victim

Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), a highly regarded Canadian NGO that has been campaigning to abolish nuclear weapons for 32 years, is losing its charitable tax status.

“We promote nuclear disarmament,” said staff member Andrea Levy, “but we’ve been told we’re too political. We do too much advocacy.”

However, the content of the PGS website and its newsletter Turning Point do not present the picture of an organization that is moderately political, let alone radical.

The Harper government attacked Canada’s highly-regarded charitable sector in its recent budget, warning that charities that surpass the rule of devoting more than 10 per cent of their total resources to political work will lose their charitable status.

The aggressive comments by various Conservative cabinet ministers were clearly aimed at a handful of environmental organizations that Harper feels may interfere with the government’s vision of energy development.

But Levy said that the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has been monitoring PGS for some time, and that it became apparent last December that the organization was going to lose its tax status.

This is believed to be the first case of a highly reputable charitable organization losing its status since Greenpeace was banned in 1999.

PGS’s mission statement says: “Because of our concern for global health, we are committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons, the prevention of war, the promotion of nonviolent means of conflict resolution and social justice in a sustainable world.”

The most recent issue of Turning Point contains only one very low key item that could be construed as being mildly political. It calls on Canadians to sign a petition to go to the government asking them to organize and host a conference on nuclear disarmament in Canada.

Most of the articles that appear on the cover page of the website are reprinted articles from Canadian and international newspapers.

Over the years, Canada’s most highly regarded physicians have held positions on PGS’s Executive Committee and Board. The current President is Dr. Richard Denton of Kirkland Lake, and the Past-President Dr. Michael Dworkind of Montreal.

PGS is a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which was established in 1980. The network issues a report last month that said “more than a billion people around the world would face starvation following a limited regional nuclear weapons exchange (such as a clash between India and Pakistan) that would cause major worldwide climate disruption driving down food production in China, the US and other nations.”

Now that PGS is losing its charitable status, it hopes that people are willing to give the organization a contribution without receiving a tax break. The public can contact PGS at pgsadmin@web.ca to learn more or to make a donation.

Interestingly, the removal of PGS’s charitable tax status comes at a time when the Harper government is being criticized as being a laggard on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

“Canada is uniquely positioned to assume such a leadership role,” Plowshares said in a report last fall.   “Besides enjoying well-earned international credibility as an honest broker, the country is a member of NATO, an active player in the global nuclear energy industry, a state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a member of the G8 and G20. Yet the Harper government has failed to make nuclear disarmament a top foreign policy priority.”

Canada is one of the countries that have not so far supported UN resolutions calling for formal negotiations toward a nuclear weapons convention to begin in 2014. However, more than three-quarters of UN member countries have supported the resolution.

Critics say that Canada, in addition to supporting the UN resolution, should offer to host in 2012 a preparatory committee meeting of states and civil society representatives to begin planning for that negotiation process.

This kind of underhanded and highly political tactic by the Harper government should encourage all progressive and political organizations with charitable status to come together to fight this kind of action from happening to more organizations and, if groups lose their status, to assist them while they become financially stable without the benefit of having special status. There is strength in numbers.

Groups concerned about losing the tax advantage should learn the details about what the government can, and cannot, do, and not panic. Charities have a right to allocate 10 per cent of their resources to political activities, and they should exercise that right.

Visit the ‘Campaign to build One Big Campaign’ on Facebook to follow developments aimed at strengthening Canada’s progressive community. 
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1 May 2012

Charities should not fear Harper bluster;
have a right to use 10% for political work

The Harper government seems to have scared the bejeezes out of many charitable organizations about how they can spend their money.

But much of it was bluster, and when you check the actual changes, very little is different and registered charities can still campaign and lobby on behalf of the issues they care about.

The Conservatives used the recent budget to intimidate and threaten charitable organizations, mainly those working in the environmental sector, to stay strictly within the regulation that says they can devote  a mere 10 per cent of their total resources on political campaigning.

The government’s decision to allocate $8-million to make sure that charities do not exceed their 10 per cent limit is, in reality, just an attempt to intimidate a handful of environmental groups. This becomes obviously clear from the results of a Canadian Press study of the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) charities database. It found that only 450 of the 85,000 charities registered in Canada reported spending money on political activities.

When you do the math, it amounts to less than one per cent of all charities reported any political activity, let alone get close to the 10 per cent limit. It is possible, but unlikely, that the actual number of groups allocating resources to political activities could be higher, since charities self-report to the CRA.

Limits do not apply to non-profit groups
The 10 per cent rule allies only to charitable organizations that have the ability to issue tax receipts. Non-profit groups and citizens’ organizations of all stripes are permitted to criticize the government as much as they wish.

The Collective Publishing Company PC Magazine provides a good description of the current situation:

“Charities can dedicate 10 percent of their total resources —including a volunteer’s time—to supporting or opposing a government policy.  It cannot, however, directly support a party or politician.  Charities can typically advocate for more funding on a particular health issue or changes to crime legislation that benefits a victim of a crime, and they can lobby and present at public hearings on environmental issues or oppose the rights of women’s reproductive choices, all the while only using 10 percent of their total resources for these purposes. . . . .

“If a charitable organization exceeds the 10 per cent rule, then it can be sanctioned by having its tax receipting privilege suspended for one year.  This suspension rule will also apply to those organizations that inaccurately report their advocacy activities.”  No legitimate Canadian charity has ever lost its tax status for exceeding the 10 per cent rule.
(I have since learned that Revenue Canada waged a long war with Greenpeace Canada over the group's activities, starting in 1989 and ending in 1999, stripping the organization of its tax status. NF)

When you sort through the rhetoric, all of the Conservative b.s. is obviously aimed at trying to intimidate a handful of environmental groups that Harper believes might threaten the development of tar sands and other energy projects in the West.

Charities seem afraid to engage the government
Unfortunately, many Canadian charities – perhaps because of the mere existence of the 10 per cent rule – seem to be afraid to even explore the possibility of engaging in political activities. Other charities do not see political campaigning as being an important part of their organizational program.

But these attitudes need to change.

Input at the political level by all kinds of organizations plays a huge role in determining government policies and activities. Otherwise, corporations would not employ at least 3,700 lobbyists in Ottawa – about 10 for every Member of Parliament.

Even so, campaigning to pressure the federal government does not work for all organizations in all of their program areas.

Charities should sit down and review their programs to assess whether political campaigning would advance their goals in any areas. Then staff members can discuss the various ways they could approach the government – perhaps with advice from a person who has campaigning experience.

To make sure that any strategy a group develops is acceptable, they can check out an excellent website that specializes in charity law. There is a huge amount of information available on the website Canadian Charity Law, a project of the law firm Blumberg Segal LLP (Blumbergs), which is based in Toronto.

Further, to be totally safe, organizations should consult with a lawyer who is a charities expert. There are several in the country.

In the end, charities would not be wise to push the envelope and attempt to devote the full 10 per cent of the limit to political work. Instead, perhaps seven percent would be safer.

Many years ago Canadian Parliamentarians gave charities the right to, within reason, express their political views. Charities must not give up this long-held right.
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