‘The time for real change has come’: Canadian government urged to rebuild relationship with charities
27 June 2019 at 4:31 pm
Canada’s charity sector has suffered from “benign neglect” for too long and desperately needs meaningful policy reform, a federal Senate committee has warned.
The Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector released a report last week urging the Canadian government to renew its relationship with charities, not for profits and volunteers to help the sector continue its good work into the future.
Over the past 18 months, the committee has held 24 public hearings and heard from 160 witnesses, including government officials, legal and policy experts, funders, volunteers, and those working in the sector.
The report said the legal framework governing the sector was out of date and could sometimes impede on the work of charities.
“The charitable and non-profit sector has suffered from benign neglect for too long. Legal rules have been reformed in a piecemeal fashion; task force recommendations have gone unimplemented; and kind words have all too often served as a substitute for meaningful action,” the report said.
“The time for real change has come.”
Committee chair Senator Terry Mercer first called for an inquiry in May 2017, noting that the major legislation governing charities in Canada was introduced in the 1960s.
Charities told the committee they were concerned about their ability to recruit the next generation of volunteers to meet a growing demand for services, while also retaining paid staff in a competitive market.
While Canadians’ giving patterns have changed, federal funding for charities to undertake services remains short-term and precarious.
Organisations suggested the relationship between charities and the federal government could be strengthened by assigning the sector to a specific department or agency.
The committee outlined a “roadmap” for change in the sector by recommending the creation of a national volunteer strategy and a human resources renewal plan to protect the long-term sustainability of the workforce.
The report also featured a wide range of recommendations to improve funding stability for charities.
This included launching pilot projects to encourage private share donations and allow charities greater freedom when undertaking revenue-generating activities.
The report recommended the government explore ways to ensure donations don’t languish in donor-advised funds and are instead used to fund charitable programs.
The committee also recommended implementing measures to provide charities with more sustainable grants and contributions agreements.
Committee members said they hoped the recommendations will be utilised by the federal government as it looked to improve its relationship with the sector.
Senator Mercer said charities had indicated they could do more if given the proper tools.
“It is time for the government to work with them to succeed so they can continue their crucial work,” Mercer said.
Deputy committee chair Senator Ratna Omidvar added that charities and NFPs had the potential to create catalytic and transformative changes in the community.
“However, the rules regulating charities and non-profits in this country have not been reviewed in over 50 years,” Omidvar said.
“There is a clear need for federal leadership to remove these barriers experienced by volunteers, staff and board members.”
Canada has an estimated 86,000 charities and 85,000 NFPs, which collectively employ more than 2 million people and generate more than 7 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The full report can be seen here.