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Sen. Mercer Stakes Out Critical Need for Special Committee on Charitable Sector

Two weeks after introducing a motion to form a Senate Special Committee on the Charitable Sector, Senator Terry Mercer delivered compelling and in-depth comments on July 2 about the need for the committee and why the sector needs a comprehensive review and analysis.

“We need to increase our understanding of the sector and encourage more people to volunteer and donate,” said Mercer in comments to the Senate. “We need to ask the right questions to see what the sector needs to continue to provide the much needed services to families and to our communities.”

The origins of the Special Committee on the Voluntary Sector stem from a report of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which Sen. Mercer was a member, that was released in 2009. That report recommended that a further study be initiated by a Special Committee to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.

Statistics Show Need for Review

In his comments, Mercer told his Senate colleagues that “you would be hard-pressed to find any person living in this country that has not been touched in some way by a non-profit or charitable organization.” He also noted that the basic provisions of the Income Tax Act, the major legislation that governs nonprofits and charitable organizations, were introduced in the 1960s. At the time, there were some 35,000 registered charities in the country. Now, there are over 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada today, and 85,000 of those are registered charities which are recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Senator also pointed to figures from Statistics Canada, highlighting downward trends in the number of people donating their time and money to fund worthwhile organizations, as critical reasons for creating a Special Committee. “In understanding who is volunteering and what they are volunteering for, we would have a greater understanding of the issues that are important to Canadians,” he said. “In understanding how non-profit and charitable organizations operate within the current framework, we would have a greater understanding of how we could update those policies that would help them deliver the services so desperately needed.”

Issues to Address

Sen. Mercer cited a number of questions that the Special Committee needs to address, including:

  • How do we modernize the non-profit and charitable sectors in Canada?
  • What can we do to encourage more volunteering and donating, and what form would that encouragement take?
  • What factors prevent people from volunteering and donating?
  • How are current tax credits working? How should they be updated?
  • How is the Income Tax Act performing to support charities, non-profits and volunteers?
  • What ideas have been tried in the past? What continues to work? What does not work?
  • How do charities actually raise money and encourage volunteers? How has this changed in the digital age?
  • How are charities regulated? Are there barriers to their success, either provincially or federally, or both?
  • How do government departments interact with charities?

Special Committee Makeup

Sen. Mercer suggested that the Special Committee be made up of eight Senators, representing different regions of the country and “ideally equal in gender and across the three groups that sit here in the Senate.” He said that the committee would need to talk with federal and provincial government officials, charities from across different subsectors, and organizations that represent groups of nonprofit and charities, “including the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Foundation for Philanthropy in Canada, Imagine Canada, the Muttart Foundation, United Ways across the country and many others.”

The Senator concluded his comments: “We must think about the work of this special committee that will be so important to the volunteers and organizations that are an essential part of the very fabric of Canadian society. Our society would not function to its best right now without the existence of the non-profit and charitable sectors.”

Sen. Mercer’s full comments can be found here.

AFP will update members about the progress of the motion through Parliament and will alert members if action needs to be taken to push the motion forward.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for all charities and fundraisers in Canada,” said Jason Lee, interim president and CEO of AFP. “We are grateful to Senator Mercer for his outstanding leadership on this issue. It’s important that Parliament, as well as the giving public, understand how important the work of this Special Committee will be, given the sector’s impact on all aspects of Canadian society.”

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