Canada is now in the midst of a federal election. Charities, like other individuals and organizations, will be interested in the platforms of political parties and candidates and how they impact on their charitable activities. Some will also wish to inform the candidates and parties about various issues of concern to them, and others may be asked to host all candidates meetings.
Here are some Do's and Don'ts for charities, particularly around election time - see the CRA Advisory for more detail.
Charging fair market value rent to a political party for occasional meetings in a charity's facilities is permitted so long as equal access and opportunity are given to all political parties. However, this is a grey area and prolonged association with one party may lead to the conclusion that the charity favours that party.
Be careful with social media
Charities must always be very careful not to participate in partisan political activities, but this is especially important at election time. According to the Income Tax Act and the Advisory on Political Activities that was issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on September 24, 2007, partisan political activity involves "direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office."
Charities must be particularly mindful of CRA's cautionary words in the Advisory that "during election campaigns CRA steps up monitoring of activities of registered charities and will take appropriate measures if a registered charity undertakes partisan political activities ... Charities engaging in partisan political activities risk being deregistered."
In this regard, given the well-publicized use of social media in the past US election, and the increased use of social media in the current Canadian election, volunteers or staff who operate a charity's social media "face" should be familiar with these rules and take them into consideration when making public statements by the charity through social media. Given CRA's lack of guidance in the Advisory concerning the use of social media during an election, it would be prudent for charities to be mindful that an action such as "liking" a candidate's position on a platform like Facebook could inadvertently connect the charity's position to that of a politician.
Charities can engage in non-partisan political activities within certain limits allowed by law. For more information on the allowable political activities for charities, please see The Parameters of Political Activities for Registered Charities, April 28, 2010, in Charity Law Bulletin No. 206.