Unprecedented Response from Alberta's Nonprofits Yields Little Change for Flawed Bill

    CALGARY, Nov. 8 /CNW/ - Alberta's nonprofits and charities are
unimpressed with the small steps taken by an MLA committee that recommended
changes to Bill 1, the proposed Lobbyists Act. After unprecedented levels of
concerns were expressed regarding the impact Bill 1 could have on
community-based groups and those they help, Tuesday's committee report is both
puzzling and disappointing.
    More than 160 nonprofits recommended changes for Bill 1 that would
provide the desired transparency and accountability while also recognizing the
collaborative way nonprofits actually work and the way in which they engage
with government departments. The nonprofits' concerns were significant - but
they were met with only a minor response.
    "When nonprofits and charities communicate with government, it's on
behalf of the individuals, families and communities they are designed to
serve," says Katherine van Kooy, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of
Voluntary Organizations (CCVO), which has 340 nonprofit members and supports
the nonprofit sector by providing information, professional development and
leadership on policy issues.
    "Understanding and complying with the legislation will force nonprofits
to take time away from their work. It will reduce their ability to attract
high-level volunteers and staff, complicate their most innovative initiatives,
and hinder the voice that they work so hard to try and give to their causes,"
explains van Kooy.
    "Organizations are already struggling to respond to growing demands for
their services and to cope with labour shortages and rising costs. Bill 1 will
create an even more difficult and complex environment for nonprofits and
charities to operate in."
    Van Kooy and others believe the community price for this Bill is too high
to pay, particularly when concerns regarding improper lobbying do not stem
from the activities of nonprofits serving the public.
    Some of the concerns raised by nonprofits and charities were partially
reflected in the MLA committee's recommendations. For example, they
recommended including a minimum threshold so organizations who do very little
advocacy will not have to report. While the committee looked to Quebec's
lobbying legislation when it determined the threshold level, it did not follow
Quebec's lead and exempt all nonprofits working for the public good.
    Members of the committee indicated it's simply too difficult to
differentiate these nonprofits from those constituted to serve management,
union or professional interests. Van Kooy finds it difficult to accept that
suggestion, stating that the language for this exemption is already available.
    Many of the concerns raised by nonprofits relate to the scope of the
legislation. Bill 1 could require them to track and report on their
communications not only with Ministers and other high-level decision-makers,
but potentially with thousands of employees of the government, school boards,
universities, health regions, and many other organizations in Alberta. If
there is due cause for the administrative burden that will come from this, van
Kooy states it has not been communicated to nonprofits.
    At a time when organizations are expected to spend less time on
administrative tasks and more on mission-focused work, this legislation will
increase the administrative burden.
    Combine this burden with the fear of potentially unmanageable fines, and
van Kooy worries organizations may simply shy away from important advocacy
work. "If nonprofits stop advocating to ensure a better future for families
escaping violence, for groups providing cultural experiences, or for seniors
living in poverty, who will do it for them?"
    "The rules of the Bill are very complex," says van Kooy. "Even if there
is a thorough education campaign as recommended by the committee,
organizations will still have to devote substantial time to understanding the
rules, tracking their conversations and those of their Board members and
associates, and providing reports if the 100-hour threshold has been met."
    "Is this really how Albertans want nonprofit organizations to spend their

    More information:
    -  CCVO webpage on the Lobbyists Act: www.calgarycvo.org/LobbyistAct.htm
    -  Quebec's lobbying exemption for nonprofits:

For further information:

For further information: Robyn Crawford, Calgary Chamber of Voluntary
Organizations, (403) 261-6655, rcrawford@calgarycvo.org

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