There has been a lot of media and social media coverage over the last few days about non-profits and charities and the rules around their involvement in the upcoming election.  To my dismay, much of it has been inaccurate.  While I am quite used to misinformation on the obligations of charities what is most interesting is the way in which “serious” media organizations such as CBC apparently made no attempt to actually check what the rules are and have put forward ridiculous ideas such 'if a charity registers as a third party with Elections Canada they could lose their charitable status'. As well while there are some new rules in the Canada Elections Act the main rules dealing with third party registration during an election have been around for decades.   

If you are a registered charity there are 3 sets of rules that are relevant to your participation in “political activities” around the time of the election.  There is the Income Tax Act (Canada) limitations on registered charities which applies only to registered charities and not NPOs.  There are Canada Elections Act and Third Party Advertising registration requirements that can apply to both NPOs and registered charities.  Finally, there are Lobbying Act (Federal) requirements that npos and charities need to be mindful of in a Federal election. 

Each regime has different rationales, different definitions, rules, limitations, and requirements.    

Here is a presentation entitled “Advocacy Regulations and the Election: Some thought on Political Activities, Elections Canada Rules and Lobbying Regulations” I recently delivered talking briefly about the three different types of regulation.

There are a number of publicly available resources that non-profits and charities can use to understand their compliance requirements including:

1) the Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors from Elections Canada

2)  Election advertising on the Internet from Elections Canada

3)  Public policy dialogue and development activities by charities from the Charities Directorate of CRA

Duff Conacher's recently tweeted “CP article was very inaccurate. Unfortunately so is their follow-up article. Not Elections Canada’s actual position. Not what the law says.”   This is a very good synopsis as an example to one article 

About the only good thing that has come out of this coverage, it is mildly amusing to hear certain people talk about there being a “chill” under the Liberal government after the Conservatives were accused of the same thing.

There are many many many things that a charity can do during an election that are compliant with the ITA requirements and don't require a registration under the Canada Elections Act as a third party.  However, if as an example you want to during the election period boost your Facebook posts on an election issue and if you are going to spend more than $500 then you will have to register under the Canada Elections Act.