Charities and other not-for-profits involved in lobbying and other political advocacy must comply with evolving laws governing these activities. Even amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the landscape continues to shift.
Changes to British Columbia’s lobbying laws took effect on May 4, 2020. What used to be the Lobbyists Registration Act is now the Lobbyists Transparency Act. Among the critical changes, is the very definition of the term in-house lobbyist. With limited exceptions, any paid employee, director or officer who lobbies on behalf of an organization or an affiliate, is now an in-house lobbyist. Organizations must register within 10 days of commencing lobbying activities. Certain organizations with fewer than 6 employees and fewer than 50 hours of lobbying in the preceding 12-month period, may meet the exception to the registration requirements. These new provisions replace the old 100-hour threshold applicable to in-house lobbyists.
On March 31, 2020, again, amid the COVID-19 crisis, the federal Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying announced a new website and registry of lobbyists. Statements by the Commissioner of Lobbying at a March 9, 2020 standing committee briefing, have fuelled speculations about possible improvements to the federal statute, which has been up for review since 2017.
A recently introduced bill, which was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy on March 3, 2020, could result in significant changes to Ontario’s lobbying laws.
Provinces, territories and even some municipalities across Canada have been strengthening their lobbying laws to balance the legitimacy of lobbying and access to public officials, against the need for fairness and transparency. Except for Nunavut and Northwest Territories, all provinces and territories have lobbying legislation. Yukon’s robust Lobbyists Registration Act received royal assent on November 22, 2018, but is not yet in force. With the coming into force of the Lobbyists Registration Act on April 1, 2019, Prince Edward Island became the last province to effect a lobbying statute. Other provinces, including Alberta, have made fairly recent changes to their laws.
Additionally, changes to the Income Tax Act have removed some of the restrictions which registered charities faced under now-repealed rules surrounding prohibited political advocacy. Registered charities must now abide by more permissive rules governing public policy dialogue and development (PPDD) activities. PPDD activities refer to activities to influence laws, policies or decisions of a government (that is, public policy), whether in Canada or abroad.
Charities and other not-for-profits must ensure that advocacy activities comply with increasingly stringent lobbying laws, and with the Income Tax Act provisions on PPDD activities. The following best practices can improve compliance:
- Review policies and practices for compliance.
- Meet registration and reporting requirements under lobbying laws.
- Ensure that directors, officers and employees do not represent personal political involvement as the organization’s.
- Prohibit the use of organizational resources for personal political purposes or prohibited political advocacy (for instance the direct or indirect support of or opposition to a political party or candidate for public office in Canada or abroad).
- Maintain documentation, including meeting minutes and contemporaneous phone notes to evidence compliance.
Policies and procedures are essential, but the work required to create and maintain them can seem daunting. Not-for-Profit PolicyPro, co-marketed by First Reference and Chartered Professional Accountants Canada (CPA Canada) contains sample policies, procedures, checklists and other tools, plus authoritative commentary to save you time and effort in establishing and updating your internal controls and policies. Not a subscriber? Request a free 30–day trial here, and go to Chapter 3 – Advocacy for further guidance on the above. Prospective charities may read NP 1.01 – Registering the Organization to see how the above may impact applications for registered charity status.