Is fighting for the right to dismantle universal public healthcare an act of charity?
This was the question asked by CBC journalist Kelly Crowe this week in her article about legal action being taken by two right-wing advocacy groups to allow private industry to deliver healthcare for profit.
The cases have been exposed as back-door attempts to challenge the Canada Health Act and other laws that uphold universal access to public healthcare in Canada. Overturning these laws would open the door to a two-tier health system that allows those who can afford it to jump the queue for health services, siphoning resources from the public system and undermining the principle that access to healthcare depends on need, not ability to pay.
The Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are supporting cases in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario that argue denying patients the right to pay for surgeries, diagnostics and other procedures in private health clinics is a violation of their constitutional rights.
Interestingly, these right-wing think tanks are registered as charities, a status that allows them and their donors to receive generous federal tax credits in exchange for ensuring they do not spend more than 10 percent of their budget on political activities. Yet the charitable donations received by these groups are clearly being used to pursue legal, legislative and policy objectives that are inherently political.
Furthermore, some of their funding comes from an American group called the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a network of right-wing, free-market think tanks. Atlas receives much of its funding, in turn, from the infamous Koch brothers, best known for their plans to spend nearly $900 million to influence the 2016 US elections in favour of candidates who oppose public healthcare in the US.
These right-wing legal challenges to public healthcare are set against a backdrop of mounting evidence that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) charity audits are being used as a political tool to silence opponents of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
Since 2012, the Conservative government has allocated almost $14 million to the CRA to audit charities deemed to be using donations for political activities. So far, nearly 60 of Canada’s 86,000 registered charities have been audited.
Strangely, the vast majority of these audits have targeted organizations who are known to be critical of government policies, raising concerns that the audits are being used to silence opposing voices. In particular, environmental, human rights, anti-poverty organizations and progressive policy think tanks have been singled out for audits. An October 2014 study by the Broadbent Institute outlines how the CRA audits have been politicized to target critical voices while right-wing groups have escaped scrutiny.
These findings raise disturbing questions: Why are CRA resources being used to selectively audit organizations conducting research and advocacy to protect our natural environment, eliminate poverty, and support human rights? And why are groups actively trying to undermine public healthcare—something Canadians consistently value as a public good that defines our country—free to maintain their charitable status?
I doubt that thousands of frontline SEIU Healthcare members and their families would view fighting to dismantle public healthcare as an act of charity.