As our readers know, the new government has taken steps to revamp the restrictions on political activities by charities, by dismantling the political activities audit program and by promising a new approach following consultation with the public and members of the charities industry. It is important, however, to note that the changes may not only effect the charity realm as Nova Scotia Community Interest Corporations have similar restrictions.
When the Liberals came into power last year, the new Minister of National Revenue announced that she was putting a halt to the “political activities” audit of charities that the previous administration had been conducting for the past few years. In practice, this meant that the charities in line to be audited under the program were given a reprieve, but those that were already in the course of being audited were not. One of the latter charities, Canada Without Poverty, is now bringing a constitutional challenge against the political activities law.
That charities are subject to laws that cannot be obeyed is symptomatic of several problems. In part this can be traced back to the federal government’s lack of constitutional jurisdiction in legislating in this area (a topic we have written about many times). But the role of the courts in ensuring that laws meet the principles of natural justice has become muddied with the long record of losses by charities at the Federal Court of Appeal. However, the solution to this particular problem—including some of the more problematic parts of the political activities tests may be simpler than redrafting the constitutional division of powers.