When Prime Minister Stephen Harper axed the Court Challenges Program last fall, Ottawa's rationale was that taxpayers shouldn't have to support interest groups trying to take elected governments to court...Walkom notes that some left-wing groups, notably the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, also receive charitable tax status which goes to fund legal challenges. But to date there's been a major practical difference: while LEAF takes only intervenor status at the appellate level, it doesn't directly fund cases from the beginning - meaning that an individual has to have enough resources individually to get a case to that level before LEAF will get involved.
(W)hat Baird didn't mention is that taxpayers are still subsidizing interest groups that want to take governments to court. The big difference is that, now, proportionally more public money goes to fund conservative causes – including attempts to dismantle medicare.
The poster boy for what is, in effect, a hidden court challenges program is the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation. Founded in 2002, it opposes what it sees as the watering down of constitutional principles by governments and left-wing interest groups.
To that end, it is directly subsidizing a long-running court challenge against the 2000 self-government treaty between Ottawa, British Columbia and the Nisga'a people of that province. Executive director John Carpay says it is also helping to fund a constitutional challenge against Alberta's medicare system, launched last September by Calgary accountant Bill Murray...
Until its demise last fall, the Court Challenges Program was front and centre among those dark forces. Its sin, in Carpay's words, was to give money "to special interest groups to advance their politically correct causes through the courts. ...
"Requiring people to pay for advocacy with which they disagree does violence to a person's conscience," he wrote in the Calgary Herald. "How would (pro-choice) supporters feel if their tax dollars were used for court challenges to recognize the right of unborn children?"
Which would be a reasonable argument if the legal playing field were level and if no advocacy group of any political persuasion received government money.
But in the real world, neither of those conditions holds. First, the playing field is not level. Constitutional court cases are prohibitively expensive for anyone without access to a lot of money. Second, the end of the Court Challenges Program may have reduced federal subsidies, but it has not ended them. It has merely redirected them.
The mechanism for this redirection is the registered charity. Thanks to the Canadian Constitution Foundation's charitable status, anyone who supports its particular political causes gets a tax writeoff that, in effect, all other taxpayers – including those who disagree with its aims – have to cover.
The more successful the foundation is in encouraging wealthy Canadians to support its particular brand of political advocacy, the greater will be the tax loss that other Canadians will have to make up.
In contrast, the Canadian Constitutional Foundation funds litigation from day one - even though from the sound of it, its participants and beneficiaries don't appear to fall into the class of people particularly needing the assistance to get a case into court.
Of course, even if there were a perfect parallel between the left wing and right wing in the charity-based funding structure, that wouldn't eliminate the need for a Court Challenges Program to assist individuals whose cases can't be easily fit within the mandate of an existing charity. And it only fits with the Cons' polarizing philosophy that their "balance" manages to maintain governmental support for those with a political cause on both sides of the spectrum, while so proudly removing any funding for challenges by Canadians who don't have an interest group (of whatever political stripe) supporting them.