By Bruce MacDonald
Canadians will elect a new House of Commons on Oct. 21.
We’ve already seen the political parties and their leaders staking out positions on an array of fundamental issues. Whether it’s climate change, taxes, employment, foreign policy, immigration or health care, we have a pretty good idea where each party stands.
But what if we told you we don’t know what the parties’ plans are for an economic sector that employs almost 2.5 million people and directly helps millions of Canadians in every province and territory every day? Would you believe us? Well, it’s true.
I’m referring to the social purpose sector – charities, non-profits, and social enterprises.
Perhaps this policy silence is because, by and large, “charities” are not controversial. Few Canadians – and even fewer politicians – would argue against a sector that helps to protect our most vulnerable neighbours; that gives us the opportunity to express our faith; that provides opportunities for our children to participate in sports and the arts; that funds research into critical illnesses and provides direct aid to those suffering from those illnesses; that responds to natural disasters and international crises, and that advances the well-being of seniors. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We know our sector is appreciated and supported. Canadians are among the most generous people in the world in terms of both financial support and volunteering. The fact that 13 million Canadians freely give their time and skills to support charitable causes speaks for itself.
But our world is rapidly changing. Powerful demographic and economic shifts are making it increasingly difficult for charities and non-profits to effectively respond to community needs and demands.
Imagine Canada’s Chief Economist for the Charitable and Non-profit Sector has crunched the numbers and identified a looming “social deficit” that’s expected to hit $25 billion a year within a decade. This means that in just a few years social purpose organizations will need $25 billion more than they have today to meet demand.
Quite simply, the social deficit is the difference between the demand for services social purpose organizations provide, and the resources available to deliver those services. Unlike household debt or government deficits, this deficit won’t show up on a balance sheet. Instead, it will manifest itself in hardship caused by reduced services and longer wait times along with increased pressure on staff and volunteers to do more with less.
We are calling on all federal parties to recognize this challenge and commit to working with us to ensure a sustainable future where we can keep providing vital services that individuals and communities have come to rely on.
Government can do much to strengthen the social purpose sector. Some progress has been made in recent years by governments of all political stripes. Changes to the tax system have made it easier for Canadians to donate. The Social Finance Fund announced last year has the potential to help organizations access new and innovative sources of funding.
The next step is action to reform the outdated regulatory framework governing charities and non-profits. The next federal government should also give the sector a seat at the policy table.
Canada’s 170,000 social purpose organizations excel at inclusiveness and creating social value in areas ranging from health care to social services, education and the environment. This expertise is a largely untapped public policy resource with the potential to improve the lives of Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
When a candidate shows up on your doorstep, ask them what their party is going to do to support charities and non-profits. Even better, be proactive. Reach out to the candidates and explain how action to strengthen social purpose organizations will influence your voter choice.
Together, we can send a message that no government will be able to ignore.
Bruce MacDonald is president and CEO of Imagine Canada.