Stephen Harper’s attack on charities doesn’t go far enough
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Fri Apr 20 2012. By Thomas Walkom, National Affairs Columnist
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper says charities that engage in too much politicking should be denied tax subsidies, he’s right.
There’s no good reason why environmental groups that oppose oil pipelines should be able to finance their activities, in part, on the backs of the general taxpayer.
The problem with Harper’s dictum, however, is that it’s not broad enough. He’s only putting the boots to charities that his Conservatives don’t like.
Parliament should end the tax subsidies going to all charities. Period.
That would include cutting off not only dubious charities, such as the right-wing Fraser Institute, but organizations that probably do some good, like the United Way.
The original idea of having the public subsidize charitable organizations was well-meaning.
Charities used to be organizations that engaged in uncontroversial good works, such as helping widows and orphans.
And so governments provided a tax break. Registered charities were given the privilege of issuing charitable receipts to donors. Those donors, in turn, could deduct a portion of their gift from the income tax they owed — money that, in the end, had to be made up by someone else.
In practice, that meant the public in general ended up subsidizing charities chosen by individual taxpayers.
Sharp-eyed entrepreneurs, particularly among those who want to influence public opinion, sensed the gravy-train potential and began to apply for charitable status — usually under the pretense of fostering education.
The upshot is that if I give $100 to the Red Maple Foundation (which is a charity publishing the pinkish This Magazine), you’re on the hook for $15 of that amount — regardless of what you think about pinkos or magazines.
Similarly, you and I are both on the hook for a portion of $2.8 million in so-called charitable donations that the Fraser Institute raised in 2010. Its donors too received charitable tax receipts.
I don’t know about you. But I resent having to subsidize an organization that spends much its time fulminating for neo-liberalism.
For the same reason, I have no interest in helping to fund the Canadian Constitution 2005 Foundation, which agitates against medicare.
And I really find it irritating to have my tax dollars subsidize the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education. It’s a training school for Conservative operatives started by former Reform leader Preston Manning that offers “certified programs in political management” as well as “faith/political interface programs.”
I have the funny feeling that I’m helping to teach young Conservatives how to manipulate robocalls.
That foundation, incidentally, is a subsidiary of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, an unabashed Conservative front.
Former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent’s new Broadbent Institute hasn’t yet asked for charitable status. When and if it does, I reckon many will resent subsidizing it too.
The Douglas-Coldwell Foundation, another NDP front, already has charitable status. But according to its latest public tax filing, it raises little money and does less.
So what is to be done?
The simplest answer is to scrap charitable tax receipts entirely. Distinguishing between real and bogus charities is an almost impossible task. Even established charities can be controversial.
Some fund medical testing on animals. Others promote birth control.
If real charities like the United Way need public funding, they should apply for grants up front — as does, say, the CBC.
And bogus charities?
Let me put it this way: If you want to finance Preston Manning’s world view, go to it. Just don’t ask me to chip in.
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