A charity may engage in limited political activities, subject to the rules established by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), if they are:
- connected to the charity's purpose;
- subordinate to the charity's purpose;
- not partisan political activities;
- if the charity otherwise devotes substantially all of its resources to its charitable purposes.
What is a political activity?
According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), an activity is considered to be political if it:
- encourages the public to contact elected representatives or public officials, to urge them to retain, oppose, or change any law, policy, or decision in any jurisdiction;
- communicates to the public that a law, policy, or decision of any level of government in any jurisdiction should be retained, opposed, or changed; or,
- attempts to incite or organize the public to put pressure on elected representatives or public officials to retain, oppose, or change any law, policy, or decision of any level of government in any jurisdiction.
When is it not a political activity?
Some activities that may seem to be political are actually accepted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as charitable activities. These are:
- Making representations. If you make a representation to an elected representative or public official, this is generally considered to be a charitable activity. You may need to register under the Lobbying Act if you are communicating with an elected representative or public official.
- Releasing representations. Releasing the text of a representation is considered a charitable activity if the entire text is released and there is no explicit call to political action either in the text or in reference to the text. The entire representation can be released through a press release or on the charity’s website.
- Public Awareness Activities. When a charity promotes public awareness about its work or an issue, and the activity is connected and subordinate to the charity's purpose, CRA considers this to be a charitable activity. The activity should also be based on a position that is well-reasoned, and not on false, inaccurate, or misleading information. Finally, although CRA accepts that public awareness material may have some emotional content, it is not acceptable to use primarily emotive material.
Is it necessary to notify CRA?
There are no special rules about notifying the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) about political activities in particular. If your charity undertakes any significant new activity, however, and this was not included in your original application for registration as a charity, you should notify CRA.
Record-keeping for political activities
If your charity carries on any political activities, you need to be able to identify their costs. This is to demonstrate that substantially all of your charity's resources have been devoted to charitable activities. Where expenses are partly political and partly not, you need to allocate the costs accordingly, and be consistent from year to year. Your charity's physical and human resources, like its financial resources, must also be devoted substantially to charitable activities.