THE SPECIAL SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE CHARITABLE SECTOR
OTTAWA, Monday, February 25, 2019
The Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector met this day at 12 p.m. to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, non-profit organizations, foundations, and other similar groups; and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.
Senator Terry M. Mercer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I welcome you to this meeting of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector. I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia, chair of the committee. I would like to start by asking senators to introduce themselves, the two co-chairs.
Senator Martin: Yonah Martin, British Columbia. Welcome.
Senator Omidvar: Senator Ratna Omidvar from Toronto, Ontario. Welcome as well.
The Chair: Thank you. Today the committee will continue its study to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, not-for-profit organizations, foundations and other similar groups and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.
Before we hear from the witnesses, I would like to know if we could have agreement to allow photography during today’s meeting. Colleagues?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
For our first panel today we have, from the D2D Destiny Foundation, Mr. Arthur Chan, Founder and President; from Jumpstart - Refugee Talent, Mr. Mustafa Alio, Co-Founder and Development Director; from the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia, Ms. Arlene MacDonald, Executive Director; and from Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp and Retreat Centre, Mr. Chris Pot, Program Director.
Thank you for accepting our invitation to appear. I would like to invite the witnesses to make their presentations. I remind everyone of five to seven minutes for your presentations. Then, when we get to questions, our senators will be short and succinct, and we’d appreciate your keeping your answers short and succinct so that we can get in as many questions as possible.
We will start with Mr. Chan, please.
Arthur Chan, Founder and President, D2D Destiny Foundation: Thank you, Mr. Chair and fellow Senate committee members, for having me here today. It’s an absolute honour to have the opportunity to speak.
I would like is to start by sharing a bit about my personal story. The philosophy of social responsibility and volunteerism has been entrenched in my understanding of business and the community that I grew up in. My medical history inspired me to begin my philanthropic journey. At the age of 3, I spent four years at BC Children’s Hospital as a patient braving leukemia.
In 2010, friends and I founded the Young Ambassador Program, with the goal of youth inspiring youth to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Our team has grown from its humble beginnings of eight founding members to over one hundred dedicated members, all of us working toward a common goal. Last year, we surpassed our $1-million fundraising milestone.
In 2014, our founders and I wanted to expand our impact, and we founded a non-profit organization called D2D Destiny Foundation. D2D stands for the conviction that anyone can dare to dream, and every dream comes from an idea.
The most important element of our Young Ambassador Program and D2D Destiny Foundation is the fact that we are more than just a team. We’ve grown like a tight-knit family with strong team chemistry.
There is a strong sense of continuity within our program. In 2017 we expanded our family and founded the Little Angels program, which consists of elementary students who follow their older siblings’ footsteps. I think the most rewarding part of my journey is seeing each of our members join us at a very young age and all of them develop into leaders in their own ways.
The most special element of our D2D Destiny Foundation is our innovative e-Philanthropy Store, where we combine the universal love for fashion, the dominant force of e-commerce and the support of generous donors. The concept of our online store is bringing awareness of, and engagement in, philanthropy to a new generation in an appealing and universally accessible way. Through our online support, we sell second-hand designer goods, and 80 per cent is donated to a designated charity that we support. Aside from our e-Philanthropy platform, we use our e-store to promote social entrepreneurship by offering youth a platform to sell their goods while supporting a good cause in the community.
Another way we engage with our members is through the idea of “Aptitude Gratitude,” where we identify our members’ talents and use their skills to make a difference in the community. I truly believe that it’s a huge priority to have a philanthropic mindset instilled in youth. A transfer of wealth from baby boomer generations to millennials will prompt younger generations to begin philanthropy, and we hope the government can encourage and promote the notion of youth philanthropy, entrepreneurship and social enterprise by providing new organizations with more funding and support.
Our team’s dream is to become the Amazon of charity. A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission. Dare to dream for a better world.
On behalf of my team members, thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to share our story.
Mustafa Alio, Co-Founder and Development Director, Jumpstart - Refugee Talent: Esteemed committee members, let me start with my gratitude for this opportunity to share my experience as a member of Jumpstart. Jumpstart is a refuge-led organization that created a unique volunteering model to enrich and support refugee economic empowerment, work and advocacy, here in Canada and internationally.
Jumpstart, in the last year, was recognized for its work serving, year to date, more than 700 refugees, securing over 180 meaningful employment opportunities and launching more than six projects. Those projects include the only national mentorship program, serving 2,300 refugees in the next two and a half years, in partnership with LinkedIn; an ESL scholarship program that secured over $740,000 in scholarship for refugees in Canada; as well as the Refugee Economic Pathways program in partnership with Talent Beyond Boundaries to help with their efforts in creating an additional resettlement pathway for refugees through the economic stream.
While this might sound like a promotion for the organization, this is not the intention at all. The intention is to thank and acknowledge Jumpstart’s volunteer team, who produce over 60 per cent of our results and successes. Analyzing the important role played by regular people — the unusual suspect — within the private sponsorship program responding to the Syrian refugee influx, Jumpstart has created a mirror model where each volunteer plays a critical role in the organization’s capacity building, strategy, planning and decision-making.
Today Jumpstart has a collective of 17 volunteers that provide us with a collective of over 90 hours on a weekly basis.
It gives me great pleasure to be able to stand in front of you today to put on the record my immense gratitude for our volunteer teams without whom Jumpstart literally could not exist nor continue its work.
Thank you, Diala, Melissa, Hani, Rami, Mustafa, Maha, Faris, Shellina, Ariana, Marissa, Sahir, Malaj, Hadija, Saida, Rabia, Nadia and Beyan: We couldn’t do it without you.
On the other hand, in searching “volunteering Canada statistics” on Google, the first thing one sees is that, in 2010, Canada was lucky to get 2.7 billion volunteering hours coming from over 13 million Canadians, equal to 1.1 million full-time jobs. However, that being said, is the impact of this volunteering as rosy as those numbers? Are the volunteer experiences of the organizations as positive as Jumpstart’s? Is Jumpstart’s volunteering model functioning at best or full capacity with no room for improvement? Unfortunately, the short answer is no.
Despite those amazing statistics on volunteering hours provided by Canadians, Volunteer Canada was hearing new issues that led them to conduct research called “Bridging the Gap.” Volunteers and organizations both noted emerging issues of growing gaps between what volunteers look for and what opportunities the organizations offer.
Moreover, in my interaction last year with many Canadian youth, I clearly noticed the growing gap between the youth trust in government and the non-profit sector which leads to tremendous decrease in their intention to do any kind of volunteering work. While this gap in trust has several factors contributing to it, one can recognize that one of the main factors is the absence of awareness among youth on the kind of work non-profits and charities do. Another main factor can easily be noted on the limited capacity of sectors to spread awareness about their work and to establish communications channels between youth.
I have always been a strong believer that pointing out a problem without proposing solutions or recommendations is just creating another problem, so I would offer a few recommendations: In addition to the mandatory 40 hours of volunteering required by youth to graduate from the school year, the government should create and fund outreach efforts to youth at schools and universities. The non-profit and charity organizations should be encouraged and supported to visit and talk about their work and advocacy in schools and universities in order to communicate with students and to discuss volunteering opportunities.
Governments should consider providing resources to support organizations’ capacities to manage and harness volunteering sources more effectively. Eliminate rules and policies that force youth into volunteering and, rather, come up with innovative ways to encourage youth into becoming volunteers.
I can’t think of a better story to end my presentation than describing the Hack Your Future program which operates through volunteering effort. This is a six-month program to train refugees with no coding background to prepare them for the job market. Under this program, we were able to secure a training room from Ryerson University, hold an information session on coding for 46 refugees, and later have 11 refugee applicants trained and mentored by 9 highly professional coders. Some of those coders are senior team leaders at multinational corporations in Canada.
In the last month, seven of these 11 refugee applicants graduated from this program. To date three graduates have started full-time jobs as junior developers. Two of them are young females who had no coding experience before joining the program.
While funding such a pilot could cost $50,000 or more, the Jumpstart volunteering team was able to do this in six months with a budget of less than $150. Were organizations in Canada be provided with resources and capacity to further utilize untapped volunteering resources, the outcomes would be incredible. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Alio.
Arlene MacDonald, Executive Director, Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia: Thank you, senators, for the invitation to be here today. I’m from the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia formed just five years ago in response to government coming to our sector to try to work on legislation and policy matters with over 6,200 organizations. We discovered it’s very difficult to do that with 6,200 organizations. The Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia was formed to provide a bridge for government to work and communicate with the community sector.
Our mandate as the Community Sector Council is to develop capacity in the not-for-profit and social-purpose sectors, and we do that in three ways: First, we work with organizations around their capacity to deliver on their missions. We offer training and support, for example, around impact evaluation and measurements so that the sector can report on the good work that they’re doing. Second, we also work as a labour market supporter. We work with them as employers; with over 6,200 organizations, they employ over 36,000 people just in our province. That makes them one the largest employers in Nova Scotia. Third, we help build their capacity to work with other sectors around the complex issues that we’re facing all across Canada, especially in rural Canada. In Nova Scotia, we see a strong out-migration of our youth from our rural communities into urban communities within and outside our province to Alberta, Ontario and sometimes Newfoundland, as well.
I was asked to speak today to apply a youth lens to our work and to speak on youth volunteerism. In Canada, 15- to 19-year-olds volunteer at a rate of 66 per cent. In Nova Scotia, I’m proud to say that number is 72 per cent, which is the highest in the country.
The opportunities that our sector provides to those youth volunteers are difficult to measure. There’s a lack of data in Canada around the impact of the not-for-profit sector. We’ve asked government to give Statistics Canada a mandate and the resources and the budget to measure the impact of our sector across Canada. The last time that Statistics Canada was given a mandate to do that kind of data collection was in 2003.
Just this past December, Statistics Canada completed a one-time satellite report on the impact of the sector. Unfortunately, the data is limited because they only had the capacity to collect data from registered charities. However, many of the organizations that work across Canada are not registered charities. Our sector council is an example of that; we are not a registered charity. For example, I report to no one on the number of employees I have. When labour market information in our sector is difficult to find, then it is very difficult for youth to look at our sector as an employment destination or to realize the opportunities that exist there. Our sector employs a significant number of people. Approximately 8 per cent of the GDP contribution in Canada comes from the not-for-profit sector. It’s difficult for us to articulate to youth what the opportunities are without proper data collection. One of our recommendations is that the committee encourage and support the government to give Statistics Canada a mandate to continue to collect data on our sector.
We’d also like to bring to your attention the commitment that the Canadian government has made to Sustainable Development Goals — SDGs — as have many other countries connected to the United Nations. Our sector is well positioned to support Canada in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. Our sector is currently working and will continue to work on many of those goals. We work already in our communities on the issues of poverty and housing and environment and water — all of those things which are part of the Sustainable Development Goals are also part of the mandate and missions of our sector.
The Canadian government has conducted some consultations with youth regarding the development of youth policy and tracking youth volunteerism as it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals. We encourage the committee to support the development of a youth policy for Canada and for Statistics Canada to measure the impact that our sector and volunteers, including our youth volunteers, have on the Sustainable Development Goals and track our progress to date — both as a sector and as a country — on the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the challenges facing our sector is measuring the impact of our work as well as the collective impact of our and other sectors in our province and country. We also need to be able to identify gaps in Canada’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?
Support for organizations that work with, employ and provide opportunities to youth is essential. Our sector is well positioned to attract and retain youth in rural communities, where retaining youth is essential to rural sustainability. If we don’t support our sector to have the capacity to employ and support youth, we face the potential of a crisis of out-migration. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is in Eastern Canada where we have small, rural communities where sometimes our sector is the only employer in those communities.
Our sector is often the first opportunity that youth have to build their opportunities for applying for scholarships and universities by volunteering and building skills. And our sector is often the first destination for youth for employment through summer employment programs and through co-ops. Those services need to continue. Our government needs to be supported to continue what they’re doing now and to amplify the investment they are making into our sector so that we can continue to support youth in their volunteering and in their employment.
I ask the Senate to think about how the government is working currently with our sector and how they can strengthen the government’s works with our sector.
Thank you very much for this opportunity today.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. MacDonald.
Chris Pot, Program Director, Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp and Retreat Centre: Thank you for the opportunity to come and share with you today. My name is Chris Pot and I’m the program director at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp and Retreat Centre. We’re located in southwestern Ontario.
At Hidden Acres, we serve families, churches, schools and community organizations by providing a well-maintained, natural setting for a variety of uses by these groups. We have operated summer camp programs since 1962 for children and youth ages 8 to 15, including those with special needs, low-income single mothers and their children, young adults with special needs, individuals with disabilities, seniors and more. We also offer year-round outdoor education, community building and leadership development opportunities. On average, over 9,000 people visit our camp each year.
We appreciate that you’re exploring this important area and wrestling with the challenges that we are facing in terms of how to engage the upcoming generation to give of their time and resources to strengthen, support and enrich communities.
As I looked at the list of folks who are sharing alongside of me today, and in past meetings and future meetings, I wondered to myself why on earth are we at this table? What do we have to offer? We’re a small 22-acre camp that has an impact on a relatively small scale compared to other organizations. I thought surely there are other folks much more qualified than we are to share. But I’m glad that you’re including those of us who are smaller, local non-profits and hearing about our experiences, so thank you.
We appreciate you welcoming faith-based organizations to the table recognizing the good they do in society. Sometimes it feels that the time is not taken to understand the many forms of action within society that faith-based communities provide that are not focused on proselytizing. The many actions geared toward reducing poverty and providing positive options within local communities are sufficient outcomes in the positive effects experienced by the individual or groups being served.
One of the key areas that we are finding increasing challenges with in terms of youth in our organization is recruiting our summer camp staff team. We hire approximately 45 young people ranging in age from 17 to 25. These staff are young adults who recognize the value of creating a safe space for children and youth to take steps toward independence from their parents and gain skills and character traits that are recognized as being key to developing into contributing adults in our communities.
We have developed a relationship with these young people based on trust, and that, partnered with their desire to serve and make an impact, makes them want to work at camp.
One of our goals as a camp is to keep our fees as affordable as possible so any camper who wants to come to camp can, regardless of their family’s financial situation. One of the factors that helps us accomplish this is recruiting high-quality staff who are willing to work from Sunday afternoon to Friday afternoon, week after week, for room and board plus a very small weekly salary that equates to an amount well below the minimum wage. This is becoming more difficult to do as high school and post-secondary-age young people are facing increasing pressure to meet the realities of post-secondary education.
I was talking with one of our staff members last summer about their decision not to return and work at camp again. She cited money as being the main reason. She is someone who has been a camper at Hidden Acres since age 8, has a strong interest in the work that we do, a desire to return, is heading into a university program where the type of experience that camp provides would be seen as extremely valuable. However, her financial obligations are preventing her from taking part. This is increasingly a more common story that I hear. How do we grapple and wrestle with this without increasing our fees and paying our staff minimum wage, and thus making our programs inaccessible for families?
One thing that has helped is being able to receive support through the Canada Summer Jobs program. However, the red tape in applying for this funding is harder and harder to get through. We would encourage this committee and the government to consider changing the requirement for non-profitable charitable summer camps and other organizations similar to us, the requirements that force us to pay minimum wage for 40-hour work week. This would recognize that organizations like ours are not easily able to do that and are exempt from paying the minimum wage.
I would also encourage the government to consider implementing a credit program for post-secondary students who choose to volunteer with non-profit, charitable organizations. I do not see value in making it a requirement for graduation as it is at the high school level in Ontario. However, it would place an incentive and provide recognition for the time they have spent giving to those organizations.
There could be two levels of credit, one for students who have paid employment, but they also spend time volunteering with charitable organizations, and another level for students who choose to work at a place like a non-profit summer camp or other charitable organization which cannot compensate their staff at the same level as a full-time job that pays minimum wage or more. It would be outside of internships or cooperative education programs which already provide credits for the positions they take.
The next generation of young people have a strong desire to give to their communities and the charitable organizations within their communities. I often hear them saying that they wish they could come and work for us, but the financial realities of life often make it very difficult or even impossible for some of them.
I think that making it easier for non-profit, charitable organizations like ours to access government programs that help us hire good, quality young people and provide a higher level of financial support than we could do on our own, as well as providing post-secondary credits for time spent giving to charitable organizations, provide two avenues that might tip the scales in some young people’s favour and might just be enough to give them the motivation to join in.
The Chair: I would like to thank the four of you for the good presentations. I know it will provoke a number of questions from my colleagues.
Ms. MacDonald, you talked about the effect of the employment in the sector in a small province like Nova Scotia, which has less than a million people. You’re right that in some small communities, the charity could be the largest employer. Has the province been of any help in measuring this program? Your program is in effect now and has been for a few years. Is there a definable picture of how that works, community by community, in Nova Scotia?
Ms. MacDonald: No, is the short answer. We are working closely with the provincial government. Traditionally, we have this mindset, I think, where governments work with the private sector around wealth and investment and attach that and define well-being in terms of economic well-being. Our sector contributes significantly, not just to social well-being but also to economic well-being. Unfortunately, province-by-province, we have very few mechanisms in place to measure this, so we are working with several departments within the provincial government at the engagement level, which is a new way of our sector working with government. Generally, our relationship with government is regulatory one, where they fund us and we report to them, and there is no strategic collaboration between these sectors. So we are trying to figure out, Senator Mercer, what our sector does contribute community-by-community across the province, but that’s mostly being sorted by us a sector council, not necessarily by government.
One of our recommendations to both our provincial government and to the Canadian government is they create a home within government for the not-for-profit-sector so that together we can look at the health, vitality and the future for our sector, especially in rural communities.
The Chair: It occurs to me that some work done in the sector creates services in the community that were not there before. I go back to my days as executive director of The Kidney Foundation in Nova Scotia. The community of Springhill had no services with respect to dialysis. There were some in the neighbouring community of Amherst, but none in Springhill, and with an aging population in Springhill, there was a fair number of patients.
The establishment of a chapter of The Kidney Foundation proved to be the catalyst to move the provincial government to establish a satellite unit for hemodialysis for kidney patients in that community. It was more than 25 years ago. I spoke at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the chapter a few years ago, but it was generated by the volunteers, and that service is now in a position within the community that no government has the nerve to consolidate the program of two communities into one because it is seen to be so valuable.
Are you trying to measure those things as well as the human resource side? It’s the service side that you provide in certain communities. I just give that one example. There are dozens more.
Ms. MacDonald: Yes. We are definitely interested in measuring not just the labour market and economic impact but the social impact. One of the challenges in our sector is the capacity for our sector to do things outside of mission delivery. So it’s easy to get a donor, for example, to invest in buying a child a $25 pair of sneakers, but the expectation from that donor is that that child will get a $25 pair of sneakers.
There is very little investment into the capacity of our sector, for example, to hire somebody to figure out which child needs these sneakers, to measure the impact of that child receiving those sneakers. Was that child all of a sudden able to participate in a sport that they were never able to participate in before? We don’t measure those things very effectively in our sector, and we may measure them organization-by-organization, so I’m sure The Kidney foundation is able to measure the impact directly of their services on their membership. Unfortunately, The Kidney Foundation probably doesn’t work that closely with the Cancer Society or the women’s health foundation or those other foundations to report collectively on the impact of their health services on the health of the clients or the residents of Nova Scotia or in any other province. There needs to be some capacity put into the sector, so that we have the capacity to do things, like lift our head from our missions to measure our impact.
The Chair: That’s right. The impact of everybody’s efforts here certainly comes to be noticed when they are removed.
Ms. MacDonald: Absolutely.
The Chair: It’s important to measure as we go along so that we don’t get to the point where a service that’s become important to a community is removed.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you all for making your way into icy Ottawa. I appreciate that and I appreciate your testimony.
Mr. Pot, your testimony evoked a personal response in me. My two daughters have both worked at summer camps. I know, successful as they are today, it was that foundation of leadership development that they got in those camps and the opportunities there that really gave them a lift, so thank you for the work that you do.
You are all associated with young people for volunteering. I’d like to start off questions at a somewhat macro level. The evidence we have heard previously on volunteering and giving suggests that young people are engaged, they are interested, but their ways of expressing it are different. They are not that interested in attaching themselves to an institution. They are much more interested in attaching themselves to a $25 pair of sneakers that someone will get.
How do you manage to keep your volunteers engaged? What should the role of the federal government be in generating greater opportunities for volunteerism within this context of a certain amount of capriciousness?
Mr. Alio: One of the interesting things with Jumpstart volunteers is most of them have been working with us for over two years, since the beginning of the organization. I think one of the reasons, as you mentioned, Senator Omidvar, that they are interested in that $25, is that they see the impact. When young people are doing something and see the impact out of their work, then they get interested. I think for many organizations right now the mentality is that you come to do administrative work, or this is the work we have, but there is no way to report to the volunteer the impact and results of what they did.
At Jumpstart, the volunteers have voting power as much as I do as a co-founder and director. We are very careful when hiring volunteers. We sit with them for long hours. When we get them into the family, they become change makers, and we ask all the volunteers to send us a report at the end of the month on what they have done. Then we share that report with everyone so everyone can see exactly what is being done, what the outcomes are. So now the volunteers are not really volunteers; they’re like a member of the organization, they are planning with us and they are working with us.
I think something was also mentioned about the logic of the universal citizen. I think youth right now are attracted to this in so many ways. We are part of an international network called Network for Refugee Voices in Geneva to bring refugees to policy-making with member states. There was one time when I needed a volunteer for this work, which is international work. In less than one day I got more than 10 volunteers just because of the notion that this is the international impact you can create.
Those are a few thoughts on how we keep them.
Senator Omidvar: That’s very interesting. Thank you.
I’ll focus my next question to Mr. Chan, D2D. I notice that you have registered as a not-for-profit and not as a charity. Can you explain to us your reason behind doing that?
Mr. Chan: The main reason for us to register as a non-profit is that, for charity status, we have to issue tax receipts. A major point that came to mind is that we didn’t want to have the liability of issuing tax receipts to our donors. As a non-profit, we still support different organizations; but at the same time, the tax receipts are issued by our beneficiaries.
Senator Omidvar: I see. You mentioned that you have a quasi-Amazon-like online store. Does your not-for-profit status enhance your capacity to generate revenues for your mission or does it limit it? Because there are rules and regulations around use of funds and how you generate funds, et cetera. Can you unpack that a little for us?
Mr. Chan: I think it does not necessarily limit us because, for our non-profit organization and our online store, all our items are donated to us, so we don’t incur any cost. For example, if we get a handbag and sell it for $100, 80 per cent will be donated to a beneficiary that we support and 20 per cent is withheld because of administration fees for our non-profit organization.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you. I may need to return to you with other questions.
I’m curious, Ms. MacDonald: You talked about social finance and social innovation. You know that the federal government has — to some extent by the urging of the Senate — established a $755 million fund. It would be national but will have regional expressions.
At this point, with the information you have, are you thinking of working with this fund? What kind of capacity would your community need to step up to the plate and become part of this new ecosystem that we are trying to create?
Ms. MacDonald: Yes, the strategy is an exciting initiative for our sector. We have been hosting conversations around the social innovation and social finance strategy, trying to get our sector to be aware, one, that it exists, and trying to suss out from our sector what the capacity is for the sector to engage.
For example, one of the recommendations from the committee is around data collection. It’s difficult, even for StatsCan. We met with StatsCan back in October, and they have indicated to us that it’s difficult for them to collect information and data that doesn’t exist. In order for our sector to be able to participate — even that single recommendation of the strategy — our sector needs to have the training and capacity to know how to measure their impact. There are a lot of recommendations in the strategy.
In terms of the question you asked my colleague around registry, Nova Scotia is one of the few provinces that have the hybrid capacity to register community investment corporations, which allow social purpose businesses to exist in the province.
Part of the strategy and part of the reason for the recommendations in that strategy is around the innovation of social enterprise and the fact that not-for-profits can’t continue to rely on government for their core funding. It’s difficult to rely on volunteers and donors as we try to address more and more complex social and economic issues. It requires a certain level of professionalism. For us, engagement in that strategy boils down to capacity and awareness.
Senator Martin: Thank you, chair. Your questions aligned with some of the questions I had as well, so maybe I will continue along that line.
First of all, thank you so much for your presentations. It was great to hear about the kind of successful youth engagement that is happening, understanding that there are challenges as well.
My first question is for Arthur Chan. I know of your organization and I’m very impressed with the incredible youth engagement that you have. You talked about the Little Angels, the elementary kids you are engaging early on.
We heard from Mr. Alio that the volunteers become part of the decision-making, so they are very engaged — in fact, even at the highest level of international engagement. I can see how that would be very motivating for young volunteers.
You didn’t get a chance to answer that question, but I’d love to hear about your engagement of even the youngest of our citizens. Also, you have this big goal of creating this sort of Amazon of charities. But is there a strategic plan? Do you see your pathway forward? If so, is there a role for government to support this lofty goal of yours?
Mr. Chan: I’ll address the question of engagement first. I think what we do very well at our organization is to build a sense of community and family. I often speak with our members. Our group ranges from elementary kids to first- or second-year university students. When I speak with our high school members, it’s kind of funny. I ask them: Why did you join us in the first place to volunteer and give back to the community? They give us a real answer. They tell us, “My mom and dad forced me to join at the beginning.” That’s the truth. That’s what I get from all of them. But it’s the fact that they join us at a very young age. Most of them join us at Grade 6 or 7, and they are with us onwards, until graduation.
During the time they are with us, we build a close bond with each member. Most of them have siblings, so they share with their siblings as well. We have elementary students who join us, we have high school members, and we have our university students. It’s building a sense of community with the whole team. It’s more than just an organization and more than team members and partners. We work very closely with them. We give each member an opportunity to use their talents to fund raise. That’s the idea that I mentioned of “Aptitude Gratitude,” that we identify each of our member’s skills and use their skills to fund raise.
For example, one of our members is very good at playing the piano. He’s been doing that since he was a young kid. Since he enjoys playing the piano, we hosted a fundraising charity concert with him last year, using his talents to give back to the community and to make a difference.
As for the second question of a strategic plan to grow our online store, I can’t fully answer the question right now. However, it’s a big goal for our team. It’s definitely a dream that we want to make happen in the future. We are innovative and we incorporate the idea of having a business mindset in terms of this online store. This has no limit, and I always believe that philanthropy has no boundaries. As long as you have a belief, you can achieve anything.
Senator Martin: Thank you.
Mr. Alio, you talked about having an effective volunteering model. I think one of the strengths of a committee study is where we can identify best practices and make sure that others see how effective certain organizations have been. You have talked about your successful engagement. Is there anything else regarding your volunteer model that could be shared with others that you haven’t had a chance to expand on?
Mr. Alio: The other thing is to create more departments, one of the things that our volunteers get. If you go to our website, you will see one of our programs, for example, Construction Connection. If you want to reach out to this, the email is email@example.com. For each program we have an email. Over 80 per cent of those emails are managed by volunteers. This is the program they are responsible for. Each one will create those kinds of circles. You are volunteering for this specific role in this department. Then maybe two or three members of that team will create the support, work together and follow each other in a way. They split the tasks among themselves.
We started having those kinds of departments only about six months ago. That improved the work of our volunteers and helped our enrolment of volunteers. It’s a continuous learning curve for us to keep volunteers doing work with us for more than two years. I never even imagined that.
I strongly believe that we need to manage the non-profit as a business. Many people get ticked off when they hear that phrase “manage non-profit as a business.” This is one of the reasons we are successful so far. But at the same time, the government needs to understand that non-profits need to be managed as a business. Then they understand that funding — for example, social media work of this organization, communication channels of this organization, capacity building — not only to take the capacity from the 15 per cent overhead money. If they understand that this is a business, they would actually be able to be open to fund more of this or the social impact. We created something called social return on investment. As a non-profit that was created by the volunteers. That was an idea given by a volunteer. For every dollar invested in us, we give Canada $7.50 back in tax contribution and savings. This number made a huge difference for us and for the volunteer to understand what is being done.
Senator Martin: Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: I’m going to carry on the same line of questioning. There are some interesting takeaways from all four of you. In order to ensure that youth are engaged with volunteering, you need ownership, a voice, structure and good management.
But I have noticed that we talked about volunteer opportunities that are primarily high-touch engagement, one on one. You have talked about that, Mr. Chan, Mr. Alio and Mr. Pot. It seems to me the most meaningful experiences are local experiences.
Mr. Pot, you have put forward a proposal to create incentives so that more young people volunteer in your camp, for example. Both your proposals are actually within the jurisdiction of the provincial government; labour laws and university credits et cetera. What would you have the federal government do in its role in promoting a national volunteer strategy, understanding that volunteerism is for the most part local?
Mr. Pot: I recognize that my second recommendation on university credits may have some challenges for the government to have an impact on. There are programs in place. That recommendation came out of a conversation with the father of a university-age student currently and talking about how he thinks it would help engage his daughter in being able to give back.
Maybe you can correct me. Is Canada Summer Jobs a federal program?
Senator Omidvar: It’s a federal program, but minimum wage is a provincial jurisdiction. You are referring to the application where you have to commit to paying minimum wage?
Mr. Pot: Yes. It is very difficult for us to do that with our current structure because we are exempt from paying minimum wage. If we want to do this, we have our staff work for a few weeks, or a portion of their time, and volunteer a portion of their time. So they are volunteering but it makes it challenging. If there is a way to recognize non-profits and charities, while recognizing that some of these places don’t financially support their volunteers or staff — in my case, I call them staff but essentially they are volunteers — it would make that a lot easier if there was a way to provide an exemption within that Canada Summer Jobs Program to not have to pay minimum wage.
Senator Omidvar: We haven’t heard that recommendation before. We’ll certainly take it under advisement. But I wonder about the unintended outcomes of such a proposal. It’s a slippery slope. Minimum wage standards are there for a good reason, so that people don’t get exploited. You probably know about the internship issue where young people are forced to volunteer in order to get a job. That’s called an internship in some cases. It’s a tricky slope. I’m sure you recognize that. Do others have comments?
Ms. MacDonald: It is a challenge in our sector to compete with other sectors to retain our youth because of the low compensation rates. There is an expectation, almost, that our sector will do its work with unpaid labour. It is a very slippery slope to continue in that mindset that the social well-being in our community should be dependent on the volunteers to do that work. There is a requirement almost of government to work with our sector around some of these national issues.
You asked about volunteer strategies where volunteering is local. How do we support that nationally? For example, Volunteer Canada has supported in each province the on-boarding of a website. In Nova Scotia we have Volunteer Nova Scotia, which is an online portal for youth searching for volunteer opportunities. That portal, across each province, is connected through Volunteer Canada nationally. How well supported? It’s a single term initiative. Like most of the initiatives that happen in the not-for-profit sector, it’s based on project funding. It has an end date. It puts expectations out there that our sector cannot necessarily continue after the end of that project date.
There are different national issues that could use a federal department that was tasked with working with our sector on issues like how to support and increase volunteerism nationally through programs, taxation, things like that, as well as looking at the under-compensation that exists in our sector, pensions, for example. There are all kinds of things that make it challenging for our sector to retain.
Senator Omidvar: Where in government would you see such a department being located?
Ms. MacDonald: It’s something that needs to be created; even a secretariat for the not-for-profit sector or social purpose sector. Right now, for example, there is a crossover between some of the mandate letters to the different ministers that puts responsibilities on several departments and makes it really difficult for our sector to engage. Who is the lead? Who is measuring the impact of some of these strategies? Social innovation strategy is a good example; children and family services, social development, it crosses several ministries to be engaged and be responsible for that strategy. From our perspective as a sector, where do I go if I have an idea, an opportunity or I want to know more or I want to report on that?
The Chair: Many years ago I was executive director of the Diabetes Association in Toronto. There was a program we engaged in with the federal government that helped subsidize salaries of a number of people that we employed on a term basis. That allowed us the luxury of being able to hire some people. We paid at least the minimum wage, if not a little more. The Diabetes Association made a certain contribution to salaries, but the federal government contributed as well.
The interesting part, at the end of the day, we had five people we employed. Four of them ended up with full-time employment in the sector, not necessarily with the Diabetes Association, but within the sector because of the work experience they had received there.
Senator Martin: I had one that was already asked. I was curious about the stats that in Nova Scotia you have the highest level of youth engagement. What is the reason for that success?
Ms. MacDonald: We hear when we travel across the country how friendly and nice we are.
I think it’s part of our societal norm on the East Coast, perhaps. We hear that expression “desperation breeds innovation.” We’re an economically suppressed area in the country, so people help each other. I’ve used this example before: We’re still one of those provinces where a case of beer and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken can get a roof built on a community centre. I think it’s a way of life for us, and our youth engage in that. For us, the fear is that we’re losing our youth and that number is set to decline.
The Chair: I’d like to thank the four of you for being here. As I said after you made your initial presentations, good quality presentations, as you can see, generate a fair amount of questions, and you’ve given us some good ideas. We do appreciate that.
We will now proceed with the next witness.
It is our great pleasure today to have as our witness The Right Honourable David L. Johnston, Chair, Rideau Hall Foundation, former Governor General and chair of the Rideau Hall Foundation, a noted active person in the philanthropic community, both in his role as the Governor General and as a university president. University presidents, by virtue of becoming university presidents, are forced to become active in the philanthropic sector, and Mr. Johnston has done a great job.
It is a pleasure to have you with us, sir. Please, the floor is yours.
Right Honourable David L. Johnston, Chair, Rideau Hall Foundation: Thank you so much, Mr. Chair, fellow senators. I’m delighted to be here with you today. Senator Duncan, it’s great to see you. I am accompanied by Jill Clark on my right. If I say anything sensible today, it is attributable to Jill, who is a communications manager for the Rideau Hall Foundation, and for the rest of it, it’s my responsibility. Nayaelah Siddiqui is joining us as well. She is with us just for a day on an internship from fourth year at the University of Ottawa in international development and commerce, and she is a great entrepreneur. It’s a wonderful experience.
I’ll start by saying two things. First, thank you for the opportunity to discuss some very important topics, such as philanthropy and volunteerism. Second, I want to congratulate you on your work. It’s very important for our country and for the future of our country, and especially for future generations. We must have the attention of the second House of Parliament, the Senate, because you have a longer-term vision of our country’s values. I want to congratulate you again for your efforts and work on this very important topic for Canada.
I would like to start by making some preliminary remarks, and then let’s engage in conversation where the real ideas begin to advance.
I had the enormous privilege, my wife and I, to serve as Governor General of Canada from 2010 to 2017. I’ve always loved this country. I’ve always thought it was a good country. I think one of the experiences we took from that is to realize that this country is even better than we thought it was, but still much work to be done, and you are engaged in part of that work today.
The title of my installation address was, “A Smart and Caring Nation: A Call to Service,” with three pillars.
The first was family and children. We have five daughters and 14 grandchildren, so family is quite important to us.
The second is learning and innovation. My whole life has been as a teacher, and apart from the experiences one has in one’s family, what one learns from one’s teachers, mentors, guides, coaches et cetera are the most important influences in life.
The third was philanthropy and volunteerism. That’s the caring part of the smart and caring nation. It’s important to care in smart ways.
One the first things we did in setting up shop was to strike an advisory committee on philanthropy and volunteerism to advise us how to pursue that particular pillar of philanthropy and volunteerism. From a number of initiatives, the idea came that we should establish a foundation to amplify the reach and powers and collaborative and convening responsibilities and opportunities of the office of the Governor General. The Rideau Hall Foundation came into being about two years after we began our tenure.
You’ve already heard from Teresa Marques, the spectacular CEO of the Rideau Hall Foundation, and I won’t go over her remarks, but I will tell you something about what we intended to do with that foundation.
Let me simply say that that initiative of the office of the Governor General is entirely consistent with how this office has functioned since 1867. Very early on, particularly with Lord and Lady Dufferin from 1871 on, the notion of being patrons to organizations involved in philanthropy and volunteerism has been front, row and centre to the office of the Governor General. It has taken various manifestations over the years, but all of them have had the idea of Canada being more caring, smarter about the more caring, and concerned itself with the other in the communities around. So it seemed natural to us when we set up the foundation that we should draw from those traditions and attempt to extend them. The foundation’s work is rooted in the spirit of philanthropy, volunteerism, giving and trust.
When Sharon and I were involved in the office, we were patrons to about 175 different organizations. Now, that’s an awful lot. And what is the right number? I’m not sure there is a right number. But we felt that at least with some of those, we wanted to do more than have our name listed as a patron. We found that the foundation as an external agent to a network to engage to collaborate was one way that we could make a more meaningful contribution to those organizations and others around them.
Just to give one or two examples, one of the experiences that has touched me, I think, most deeply during the seven years of being Governor General was the medal that we call the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. There is a story behind that. Teresa gave a bit of the story when she was here. When Roméo LeBlanc was Governor General about 25 years ago, he came from a small Acadian village and he knew modesty. He was a teacher, because you could get a teaching degree one year after high school, taught, became a journalist, a member of Parliament and, ultimately, Governor General. But he never forgot his home village and the importance of the spirit of volunteerism that made that village a better place for all of his people. I dare say it permitted him to become a person who got an education and who could make a contribution to Canada.
He said that we have 50 or 60 different honours in the office of the Governor General, which is responsible for the meritorious recognition of Canadians, but we don’t recognize the unsung heroes, the people who — every day, every week, every year — simply help others in the community because it’s the right thing to do, never looking for any attention or celebration but the right thing to do. So we started the Caring Canadian Award.
It went along reasonably well, 30 or 40 a year when he was Governor General, and then it fell afoul of budget cuts. Early on, we saw that as something we should restore, and through the foundation we raised $5 million to bulletproof that award from budget cuts. The office was cut about 20 per cent in real dollar terms over the 15 years or so before I became involved, and then continued with that. It did not receive increases for inflation; it kept nominal dollars each year. That was about a 2-per-cent-per-year reduction in its purchasing power.
We wanted to bulletproof that award and others from budget cuts, and so we established that as a particular endowment of the Rideau Hall Foundation. The last year I was in office, we conferred 1,000 of those awards in communities across the country. Of all the ceremonies I was involved in, I don’t think there were any more touching than that. You would have 30 or 40 people in the mayor’s office or in a community hall, and they would say, “Why am I here? There are so many other people that I recognize should be here.”
If you want to measure the health of communities across the country, measure the per capita involvement of volunteers. If it’s there, the community is healthy; if it’s not there, the community is not. If it’s going that way, the community is becoming unhealthy; going up, it is. Writers on social capital, like Robert Putnam and others, will look at that volunteer effort as a way of measuring the overall well-being of a community.
So that Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers became a kind of flagship for what we wanted to do in celebrating volunteerism — not to reward the people who receive the medals but to cast a light upon them in their community and say this is important.
It was also about encouraging others. For example, the people who received the medals helped us show that anyone can follow suit.
Another award we started was the Governor General’s Innovation Awards, which is now in its fourth year. Again, we raised a sum of money, about $10 million, through the foundation to establish that as a self-standing award. It including not simply technological or business innovation but also social innovation, including volunteerism. Canada is a social innovation. It’s a society built on the premise that diversity can actually work for us and not against us, and inclusivity is a fundamental virtue. You see so many examples of social innovation that are pursuing that.
We have also done continuing studies on giving, trust and empathy. Teresa, when she was here, spoke about some of our studies on giving. If we have more time during the question and answer, I’ll comment on it. We’ve written several books. We’ve written four books during the last four or five years, partly reflecting on my time as Governor General — actually, six, because two of them have been translated into French. The last one, Trust, which we will leave with you, is coming out in French very shortly.
The reason we wrote these books was to encourage Canadians to think about these fundamental values. In the book on trust, we see trust as a fundamental principle of a smart and caring society. Again, you can measure the health of society by the degree of trust that is in it.
If you want to measure these kinds of things — and I suggest that, in the work of your committee, you will want to do your own measurements and then establish measurements going forward so we can determine how we’re doing with respect to volunteerism and philanthropy.
In some respects quite well. For example, Canada stands number three after the United States and New Zealand in per capita philanthropic charitable contributions as shown by tax returns. It’s pretty good, but we could do better. If you look at the study that Teresa spoke about, Thirty Years of Giving in Canada, which we did through tax records, in combination with Imagine Canada, it suggests that we have a good base but a terrifically growing problem, and that is an aging group of volunteers and donors. We must do much more to engage the next generation and to engage new Canadians in the effort.
I’d also suggest several other measures. The United Nations now has what they call a happiness index. One of the three editors of that is John Helliwell, who is an outstanding Canadian economist at the University of British Columbia. Typical of John, this is his life’s work engaged in the happiness index. I predict there will be a Nobel Prize in economics, and John will be one of the recipients, because there will be an increasing understanding of how important happiness is as a quality that will be looked for by societies in the world. But it’s not happiness as a self-centred experience; it’s happiness as a feature of a society that’s based on fundamental things like trust.
One of the things they test in the happiness index is if you are in difficulty in your community, is there a place you can go to for help? Do I trust my neighbours to give me a hand? Is this a community where we provide a hand up to people and not just a handout? Those are the kinds of things measured.
Another measurement is the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which I’m proud to say is now lodged at the University of Waterloo, where I spent 12 very happy years. It goes beyond GDP and the United Nations Human Development Index to measure the health of communities on a broad scale; and the volunteer spirit, the caring spirit, is very much a part of it.
I want to end these remarks now by saying that the culture of giving and volunteerism is a core value in Canada. We’re a nation of barn raisers. Our last home before we moved to Rideau Hall in 2010 was in Waterloo, on a farm. It was 10 minutes away by car, and 30 minutes by bicycle, from the university where I worked. We were surrounded by our Mennonite neighbours, who were horse-and-buggy people, and they were barn raisers.
I have a painting in my office of a Mennonite barn raising ceremony where a newcomer comes to the community. They all gather around, never having met this newcomer before, to build the barn. Or, if a barn has burned down, they’re there to put out the fire. This is a volunteer fire brigade community. When the fire is put out, the next day they come to clear out the ashes; and the next weekend, or two or three, they come to rebuild the barn. That’s what neighbours do to help neighbours. When we left Waterloo, we established the Barnraiser Award for that person in our community who best exemplified the barn raising spirit.
That’s part of Canada. It goes back to Champlain’s first community settlement, Port Royal, in 1607 or 1608, that would not have survived the first winter had the local Indian tribe not provided them with fresh meat and also with a tea made from evergreen needles — which we now realize contained vitamin C, which prevented scurvy; otherwise that would have attacked the community. Of course, Champlain being a marvellous promoter. I recommend to you David Fischer’s book Champlain’s Dream, which will give you a portrayal of that person who is 180 degrees different than the conquistador I learned about in English history. Champlain was a 21st-century person who believed in smart and caring communities, and they started the feast, the festival to celebrate this notion of sharing one’s bounty.
The culture of giving and volunteerism is a core Canadian value. It’s so important in this challenging world we have today, where trust is being eroded, that Canada be a successful country and that all of us work hard in our own communities and regions in this country to make it successful, smart and caring.
Let me end there.
I look forward to answering your questions in English and French. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Johnston.
You have reminded me, as a Nova Scotian, of the Order of Good Cheer that started in Annapolis Royal way back then. It’s an honorary society that the people of Nova Scotia still confer on visitors. I hope that, during your term as Governor General, you were awarded the Order of Good Cheer. If not, it should be rectified.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Excellency, for being with us today. We really appreciate it. You know our country in a way that I cannot pretend to, so we want to make sure we get as much as we can from your knowledge of this country.
We have panels later on in the afternoon about a really important question, and I wonder if I could get your response to them. There is a proposal to be discussed later today that in order to increase volunteerism in Canada we must consider incentives, including some form of compensation for costs incurred by volunteers who are driving to the hospital to do volunteer work and the parking fees are enormously high, for example. We have heard that a number of times. We will likely hear a call for compensation and incentives for volunteers.
Do you think that it gets in the way of the spirit and motivation of volunteering when we start making accommodations, tax credits, coupons and vouchers et cetera?
Mr. Johnston: It’s a complex question. My initial instinct is by all means, because it’s value added, that’s very important to the country. We should be measuring that and recognizing it. Do you recognize it with actual compensation is the difficult question.
I suspect if you sampled a thousand volunteers, you probably would find a slight majority who agree that would be a good idea. You would find a substantial minority who say, “No, I do it out of the spirit of giving and that’s why I do it and I wouldn’t do it any more with compensation.” It’s a mixed matter. Probably one has to get into the complexity of that. Are there different segments of volunteers where that would make a difference? That is a very trivial, superficial answer to a very complex question.
By way of analogies, you and I are very focused on the next generation and encouraging volunteerism. The best single youth initiative I have seen is Marc and Craig Kielburger’s from ME to WE and the WE Days, et cetera. If you haven’t been to a WE Day, do yourself a favour and go to a WE Day at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto or the Canadian Tire Centre in Montreal with 20,000 young people aged 11 to 17 who have earned the right to be there because of their volunteer activities. It’s extraordinary to see what that has done to encourage young people to volunteer, simply from the experience of it.
There is a little bit of compensation. In Ontario we have had a requirement, as several other provinces do, that you must do 40 hours of volunteer service before you obtain your high school leaving certificate. When that was first introduced, people said, “That’s not volunteerism. It’s what you have to do to get the grade to graduate. It defeats the whole purpose.”
I’m a great believer in that. Many people learn volunteerism from their own family, but a very large segment of young people don’t. This is their first experience of volunteerism. Guess what happens to them? They move me to we, from the first person singular to the first person plural, and learn the joy that comes from volunteering and the importance to the community. There is a reward there that works very well.
I mention the Kielburgers because when this was first initiated, so many teachers said, “There they go again, some people have a bright idea what we should be teaching and we have to spend from four to six walking the dogs at the local humane society with the volunteers. What will they come up with next?”
Craig and Marc and their team said, “We will arrange the volunteer placements. We will arrange volunteers to work with teachers to be sure they are appropriate ones, and we will be sure that experience is appropriate and it becomes part of the ongoing responsibilities of the teachers.” That worked very well.
Another example is there was a proposal from Common Good to provide pension arrangements for people who work either full time or part time volunteering for a charitable. For the most part, half are people who have full-time jobs and the other half have part-time jobs or specific initiatives or contracts. Almost none of them have pensions. That’s a situation I think we want to remedy. There’s a proposal that there be a federally financed fund, along with the foundation sectors, coming together to establish pension schemes for those people to make those professionals more whole in terms of devoting their career. I would pay a lot of attention to that.
With respect to compensation of volunteers, that is a long answer, but it’s a more complex question than I can provide any thoughtful comment on at this time.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
Mr. Johnston: I want to congratulate you on your work of volunteers and refugees. You and others were an inspiration for us at Rideau Hall, when on day two of Minister McCallum being sworn in as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister, I said, “Can we be helpful to you in any way?” He says, “I’m not sure, but this is a big problem, the Syrian refugees.” I said, “There is a convening power in the office of the Governor General. Would it be helpful if we brought together volunteers and leaders of different organizations involved especially in the private sector sponsorship of refugees?” That is a unique Canadian phenomenon studied around the world and admired, as you know, to see how collectively we can all do things better. We had a wonderful day at Rideau Hall, where there were many lessons learned.
We went to several communities to provide accommodation and celebration of how those communities had come together. One of them was Oakville. There were 500 people in an auditorium, mainly people who were part of the private sector sponsorship of Syrian refugees and many of the families. It was an evening of great joy. It was opened by a blessing, given by a Catholic priest, a Protestant clergyman, an imam from the mosque, and by a rabbi from the synagogue.
It was very symbolic and interesting that we have these four religious traditions represented here. But what you probably don’t know is their four congregations came together to sponsor several refugee families. They did not each one write a cheque for $30,000, but instead brought four congregations together. The Anglicans looked after the jobs. The Protestants are pretty good at that. The Catholics looked after the housing. The synagogue looked after learning. Jewish people are given to learning and the importance of education. Of course, the mosque looked after translation et cetera. How symbolic it is that in this country, Canada, that those religious traditions have come together in that volunteer spirit? To me that is an outstanding example of the uniqueness of Canada and the importance of all Canadians understanding that barn raising spirit.
Senator Omidvar: Take it from there.
The Chair: Follow that.
Mr. Johnston: I lack passion.
Senator Martin: All of us could sit here and listen to you for longer than our allotted time. Thank you for this perspective and just what makes Canada so wonderful. As an ethnic Canadian, “barn raising” is not a term that I grew up hearing, but there is a term in Korean called pumasi. It’s that concept of a village coming together and sharing the load.
You mentioned barn raising several times, Your Honour. This concept in Canada is what volunteers do, but I wonder if there is the next book in terms of reviving this concept. I know we all know what it means, but I feel like the next generation is not as familiar with that term.
Mr. Johnston: You should be careful about encouraging me. The next book we have planned is on giving/empathy because it’s such an important, fundamental value. This says a lot about volunteerism as does the book, The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation. We’ll leave a copy with you.
The reason we wrote this book,Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country, this is a great country, but I worry about complacency. We take our values for granted. We take our blessed status in the world for granted. We live in a world that needs successful Canadas without being arrogant about that.
Out of that concern about the erosion of trust in our public institutions, which possessed me, I became obsessed about it particularly as I saw the world from the lens of the Office of the Governor General. As I realized the importance of trust as the glue that holds society together and the grease that helps things to run without friction, I began to see you build trust in public institutions in your nation through trust in your communities and your local associations, business and neighbourhoods et cetera.
Then I also realized that you build that trust from being a trustworthy person yourself. So the arc of the book begins with seven or eight lessons on how we become trustworthy people. The next arc is seven or eight habits of how we build trustworthy institutions, businesses, associations and then how we build a trustworthy nation.
Parallel with trust is the notion of giving; it’s the notion of moving from first person singular to first person plural. That’s what we’ll do next as a book that tries to identify those fundamental Canadian characteristics and then tells the stories to illustrate how well it works and where it doesn’t work. We’ll tell it with stories because, as I get even older, I come to realize that in many ways everything is local. It begins with what we do locally and then we build from there.
Mother Teresa was in Montreal about 30 years ago to speak at a prayer breakfast. Just before the breakfast, about 50 of the volunteers gathered with her and she spoke briefly. One of our friends said, Mother Teresa, we are so moved by what you do. What should we do in our own lives? I had been a university president for 27 years — for 10 years or so at that point — and I thought she would say, “Write a large cheque and send it to my settlement charity in Calcutta and I will put it to good use.” She said, “Look in your own neighbourhood. Look in your own family. I guarantee there is someone who needs your love and care.” That notion of beginning locally is so important.
Early on, after 2010, we visited every capital in the provinces and territories. One of the early visits was to Calgary where Naheed Nenshi had just become mayor; we struck up a wonderful friendship with Naheed. Early in our conversation, he said, when he became Mayor of Calgary, he struck an advisory committee to ask, what is the one thing we can do as a city, as a city council, to make Calgary a better place for all? They deliberated for a while and they came up with an idea that he at first dismissed as being kind of hokey. The idea was to begin a program to ask, “What three things can you do this month to make Calgary a better place?” He said they badgered away and finally he reluctantly agreed to adopt it. He said it took off like wildfire. For Canada 150, Calgary contributed that idea as a challenge to Canada: Do three things to make your community a better one.
Mayor Nenshi tells the story of visiting a Grade 1 class and talking to the kids there about Calgary. He spoke about “do three things” and they said, yes, they knew about it. He asked one little guy what he had done. “Well,” he said, “I have done three things this month. I organized my friends to do a clean-up effort on a Saturday on the road to school. We made it look pretty clean, and that was good. Then we had a new kid who came to our class and the teacher said we should try to make things easier, so I brought him home and he made friends with my chums and he was pretty happy. Third, I promised to stop beating up on my little brother, but my little brother says I have not done very well at that, so, sir, I’d better make that one of the three things for next month.”
That is a long answer about how important is the spirit of giving is if you want to build a smart and caring society. Yes, we’ll probably make that the next book.
Senator Martin: Wonderful. You talked about Mother Teresa and some of the best examples that you have seen around the world as former Governor General. You mentioned that Canada is number three after the United States and New Zealand. I was expecting you to say United States, the U.K. and then Canada. Are there some things you have seen in New Zealand or the United States or the U.K., wherever it may be that you could recommend to our committee on what is very effective for our country?
Mr. Johnston: Each one is different. I have great admiration for the United States. I spent four years of my education there. I guess all of our family have benefited in one way or another from great U.S. educational institutions. One of the great triumphs of the U.S. is their higher education system in research. Part of it is simply very large wealth. There is a downside; I worry very much about the rising inequalities of wealth in that society. Also their tax system is different; they have death duties — 50 per cent of your estate. So there is an inducement to give away your own estate before Uncle Sam gets it. When you look particularly in my sphere of great educational institutions, they have been built on philanthropy and, to some extent, volunteerism and that’s a great achievement.
New Zealand is a much wealthier society than we think of it. We think of it as a kind of rural, agricultural society, but they have been very entrepreneurial in adding value to their agricultural producer. New Zealanders are, I think, barn raisers by nature.
The U.K. worries me. My wife and I spent our first year of marriage there. I had two years in a fellowship studying in Britain. I have come to admire the society very much; it’s in very challenging times at present. Some of the values we speak about are very much under challenge in the U.K. at the present time.
The northern societies are ones that I think we should look to with care. Just to deviate a little bit about our form of government, one of the things one does as Governor General is to help Canadians understand our somewhat unique form of government. It’s mixed. It’s the Westminster parliamentary system but, as of 1981-82 with our new Constitution, we engrafted a civil law, a presidential system of a charter of human rights and freedoms interpreted by a court which infringed upon the sovereignty of Parliament, which has been the hallmark of the United Kingdom. That gives us a somewhat unique situation in terms of how we govern ourselves.
People often say to me, haven’t we reached the stage where our monarch should no longer be non-resident, the Queen of the United Kingdom? I say that we have a thousand years of constitutional history that has presented us with our form of government. It’s evolved. It’s never been brought by revolution, but there has been evolution in our system of government. The function of the Senate has evolved over the years. In 1931, the statute of Westminster, we obtained responsibility for our foreign affairs. We had not before that time. So these are evolutions.
I’m coming to your question, Senator Martin. If you want to judge the countries around the world whose citizens and others outside would say they have a good form of government — perhaps not best but it’s good — you would probably list Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom — pace Brexit — the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
What’s somewhat unique about those countries? They are all constitutional monarchies with thriving parliamentary democracies. Some would say a constitutional monarchy — isn’t that a conflict with parliamentary democracy? No, because the constitutional monarchy has evolved in such a way that the Governor General, who is the representative of our monarch, does not have power. But there is an importance in that office, which is somewhat shared by the Senate, of providing a longer-term perspective on the values of the country and to monitor those in whether we are this way or that way and to provide timely interventions that tend to persuade rather than to dictate or determine.
To have an office of government like the Office of the Governor General that does not have to do with negotiating treaties or making decisions that have to do with immediate politics but reinforces the fundamental values of the country.
To come back to your question, I would look at some of the smaller societies. We were together on a trip to Sweden. Where is my colleague from Sweden who has just left us? One of the senators was with us. It is a very interesting country in terms of what they do. We looked at the social capital which is wrapped up in volunteerism and giving. I think is often manifested in the smaller societies.
Senator Duncan: I’m a rookie to this team and to the Rules of the Senate and to your work as well, sir. I have almost finished reading your book, which has many underlines in it. I also attended the Arctic Inspiration Prize awards in Whitehorse, which was an amazing event.
As I become more acquainted with the information from the committee and your work, one question — and it’s a follow-up to Senator Omidvar’s question — in a blue sky exercise, what role would you see the federal government playing in enabling trust and building a better country?
While I give you an opportunity to think about it, one of the points that came to my mind, as a new legislator in this chamber, my understanding is our role is to review legislation, one of the things that resonates in my mind is the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act, which requires that all workers, their families and employers, are treated with respect, compassion and fairness. That’s in the preamble to the legislation. If it’s our job as senators to examine legislation from the federal government in the blue sky initiative, is that an option? What would you see?
Mr. Johnston: About a zillion ideas, and then we put them in priority. Let me respond to that very thoughtful set of observations by saying do what is within your grasp as well as you possibly can. In your case, you are a new senator in a very important part of our unique form of government, which is in evolution.
I must congratulate those of you who have been involved in what has changed in our Senate in the past four, five or six years. During my early years as Governor General, I had real concern about the functioning of the Senate. I have been Surprised by Joy, a C.S. Lewis reference, surprised and delighted at how the Senate, with help from others, has taken on a refashioning of its role. I would say carry on with that. Just as I say it’s important, without being arrogant, that we make Canada a really successful nation to demonstrate to the world that it works, it’s important that you help to make this Senate one of the most esteemed legislative bodies around the world with its particular function.
If I were in your shoes, I would be devoting, as you are, so much of my time to make sure that is what is happening, that we continue on this marvellous upward trajectory with a lot of very good people, including the newly appointed people working toward that. That would be point 1.
Point 2, to come to your earlier meeting with women and the role of women, if I were king for a day of the world, my decree would be all girls should achieve at least the same level of education as boys in the world. More than anything else, that would transform the world for the better. There are other things you could do.
I don’t think you, as senators, can necessarily affect that overnight. But in your work, in ensuring equality of opportunity here in Canada, and gender equity, that’s a very important step forward.
The third thing I would say is it’s interesting that all the important things in my life I have learned from my five daughters, and now I’m relearning them with 14 grandchildren. That’s why I write books like this. The preface to this book is very interesting. It is two children who offer their trust instinctively and with full expectation of fairness. Isn’t that interesting? And trust is a natural quality that babies have. It’s the only way they survive, but then the notion of fairness.
Saturday night I was at our number one daughter’s home to celebrate her birthday, and her 13-year-old girls were adopted from an orphanage in Colombia. Marvellous and wonderful to see them grow.
So Thea, with her friend Lucia, has a school assignment to take Augustus Caesar — I guess they’re studying a little bit about Roman history — and find a modern-day equivalent who has had a big impact on their society. Who do you choose? We talked about it a little bit, and Thea is a coloured, darker child, and she is conscious of discrimination of colour, and I said, “Well, you know, people who have done important things like Nelson Mandela would be fine.” She said, “That doesn’t work because he is dead. He has to be a live person.” I said, “Well, think about President Barack Obama and what he’s done as the first president of the United States,” and then I said, “You know, I’m just reading a book by Michelle Obama called Becoming. I finished it last night. It’s superb. You may want to choose her because Augustus Caesar was responsible for conquering many lands and then holding them. We don’t think about conquering lands any more, but we think about conquering people with good ideas, and she and her husband were the first Blacks to occupy the most powerful positions in the United States.”
I sent them the excerpts from the book, these 13-year-olds, on a couple of her initiatives. One was with respect to youth fitness and obesity, which is so important. That’s where she has used the influence of her office in a very important way, and then went on to some of her other initiatives about mentoring young girls.
I just relate that because for me that was a way of answering your question in terms of my own life, in terms of those immediately around me, my grandchildren, and directing them. The same little girl, Thea, and her friend Lucia, with the Syrian refugees, their family sponsored and were part of a community group and private sponsorship, and she came home one day and said to her mom and dad, “You know, Lucia and I would like to do something for refugees as well, but we can’t write out a large cheque.” So they started bake sales at their school, and I foolishly said, “I’ll match you dollar for dollar.” When they reached $1,800, it began to get a little expensive.
I tell these stories because you are always looking for ways of transmitting values. Nick is our 12-year-old grandchild. He was 8 at the time — his mom and dad are both doctors, and they were part of a group for private sponsorship of Syrian refugees, and they made a contribution of $30,000 each, but as doctors they said, “Our specific contribution is we’ll take the families in our practices and look after them.” Dad is a pediatrician; she is a family physician. So it worked well.
Nick comes home after meeting the first family and says, “You know, I would like to do something, but, Mom and Dad, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t take them in my clinic, but I love books and a lot of the books I no longer read because they were for when I was 5 or 6, but maybe I could organize a sale of those books at school.”
So he goes and tells his teacher, and she is one smart cookie, a Grade 2 teacher at the time, and she said, “Well, Nick, we have a problem. Our school sponsors three charities already, but that’s the maximum because we don’t want bake sales every week for the parents. But one of those three charities is Ottawa United Way, and I’m sure one or more of the agencies in United Way for Ottawa deal with refugees.” So that’s where the money went.
They raised about $1,200 in the first book sale. The principal, no slow guy, he sits down with Nick and his three or four chums and said, “Why don’t you organize that for the whole school?” For four years now, they have had an annual book sale for books they have used for other kids in the school. They raise about $2,500 to $3,000 a year.
Now just imagine what those kids learn from that kind of value. Now, they are lucky. They have parents that encourage and a school that encourages. We come back to that program of you have got to do 40 hours of volunteer service in Ontario before you get your high school diploma. A lot of good things are happening from that, just like I see with my grandchildren.
The Chair: I like your grandchild who got you to match the donation.
Mr. Johnston: That’s getting very expensive because this is continuous. This is not a one-time effort.
The Chair: As a grandfather myself, I understand. But it’s also the most fun you are ever going to have.
Mr. Johnston: But, senator, I’m Scottish. You know how hard this is.
The Chair: Those life lessons are hard-earned.
Senator Omidvar: I could listen to you forever, but I want to use our precious time with you to give us some wisdom and insight. I particularly liked your connection between social capital and trust. I read, as you do, Putnam but also Granovetter who talks about the strength of loose ties. This is what social capital does.
You’ve talked a lot about barn raisers. My colleague, Senator Robert Black, who is snowed in, is desperate to be here. He is watching us on his computer and wants to ask you a question. He wants to know whether you feel the barn raising movement as a proxy for volunteering is on a rise or a decline? Are we growing barn raisers of tomorrow? How do we go about doing this?
Finally, what do you think about the idea of a Canada Service Corps?
Mr. Johnston: Two answers. Let me take them in turn. I’m an optimist by nature. I believe it’s on an incline because the need is so important and the perception of that need is increasing, especially as we see the other side staring us in the face with erosion of trust, et cetera, around the world.
Second, I’m very heartened by what I see in young people. I mentioned the Kielburgers and the resounding success of WE Days and engaging young people passionately in making a difference, even if they can’t write large cheques.
My generation is from the 1950s and 1960s. I studied in the United States for my first degree. The Peace Corps and John F. Kennedy’s civil rights movement were important things.
There was idealism in the air at that time. There was an equal or greater idealism in the air with young people today, but it’s more practical in my generation. Young people today are more able and inclined to try to measure results and to try to involve themselves in activities beyond their own immediate needs where they can become engaged and have a sense of making a difference.
The challenge with young people is to try to encourage that passion into areas where they can own the project and feel a sense of making a difference in their own lives.
This country is more conscious of those intangible values. I see it with young people in the environmental movement, for example. They’re much more conscious than their parents and grandparents, especially about what’s happening in the environment. The Horatio Alger Association, of which I am a member, did a study called Voices of Our Youth. Nik Nanos did the survey, and Michelle Pidgeon from Simon Fraser University did the analysis. The three or four most important priorities with them were first of all, homelessness, interesting; second was poverty and the relief of poverty; third was being able to actually purchase a home of their own at some point, which is an increasing challenge. Canada is premised on the fact that the next generation will have it better than the current generation, that’s in question especially whether you will be able to own a house. The fourth is getting an education and a meaningful type of job.
It was interesting the other two findings had to do with the “we.” I’m optimistic, but I think it requires all of us who are a little more grey in the head to worry about how we engage this natural instinct of young people to do the trust thing but to provide the meaningful pathways and the meaningful challenges.
Now, with respect to the second question —
Senator Omidvar: Canada Service Corps.
Mr. Johnston: I’m a believer generally in those kinds of initiatives. Do I go so far as to say that we should reinstate the military draft and then provide a peace option? I’m not sure I would do that. We have had good experience with our various student organizations that encourage people to work abroad. My lament is that only 3 per cent of Canadian university students study or volunteer abroad, and 2 per cent of college students. That should be 90 per cent, simply as part of one’s education.
There was a parting gift when I left the University of Waterloo, where I said, “No big banquets, no fundraising things.” I just wanted to meet with the students on the last day and say, “It has been a great ride, carry on.” The board chairman came up to me and said, “I never gave you any instruction.” I said, “No, you haven’t, but I listen carefully to what you said.” He said, “Listen carefully to this. On April 27, two months before you step down, there will be a large banquet and we will raise a whole lot of money for a fund that will permit students to study abroad and allow refugee students to come and study at the University of Waterloo.” That’s a $4 million fund, and I’ve forgotten the names of the 400 or 500 young people who have been sponsored by that.
I don’t mean to draw attention to myself, but it’s an example of using the university experience to have Canada Service Corps functioning with a somewhat different form. We in the universities have been far too slow to see that as the easiest single thing we can do to broaden the education and the horizons of our young people, to expose them to difference, to different cultures, especially to have them exposed to working in a language not their own where you have to change your mindset.
All the important things in life I’ve learned from my children. I’ve watched our five daughters, who at about age 12 became involved in international exchanges. In fact, the two eldest girls went to study Mandarin in China because the president of Beijing University was in our home in 1980, and we re-established the McGill-Beijing university exchange after the cultural revolution. This 80-year-old man said, “I will come to visit you in six months’ time.” I didn’t expect he would, and lo and behold, he did. We had a banquet at our home. Halfway through the banquet, I thought he was gone and had gotten ill from the food. I jumped up from my table, and I couldn’t find him in the house. He was in the attic, cross-legged on the floor with our five children around him, ages 5 to 11. He had brought them calligraphy sets, and he was teaching them Chinese calligraphy. We were down there feasting and he was up there with the kids. They said, “We would like to go study that language,” and they did.
That was a deviation. It was the luck that they had being exposed to these people. But they began on international exchanges and volunteer activities where they were exposed to poverty and real need.
Four things occurred in the formation du dévelopment de mes enfants when I watched this exposure to the difference. One, they became more curious. Children are naturally curious, but their whys became more penetrating. Second, they became more tolerant, not in the sense that you’re different from me, that’s okay no one gets hurt, but I’m interested in why you’re different. Third, their judgment became better because they always wanted the other side of the story. They wanted to triangulate and look at a particular issue or problem from another point of view. Fourth, they became more empathetic not sympathetic; sympathizing, feeling sorry for another person; empathizing, walking in other people’s shoes. The more we do to have those kinds of service occasions both domestically and abroad the better.
The Rideau Hall Foundation is working with the Mastercard Foundation — which is headquartered here in Toronto, third-largest foundation in the world, $23 billion of assets — focused on youth education and microfinance, devoted to work in very poor countries up to now in a partnership with our foundation. They have invested $23 million in pilot projects on Indigenous education where it makes a difference. They’re in a position where I think they’re prepared to invest a whole lot more in trying to ensure that Indigenous children have at least the same educational opportunities as non-Indigenous children.
And one of the great parts is Teach for Canada, young people who go to reserves and work as teacher assistants, et cetera, to provide their input to better educational experiences.
The real challenge, of course, is to have many more scholarships for Indigenous young people who become teachers and go back to the communities and teach. I hope that will be one the initiatives we pursue.
Long answer to your question, sure we need Canada Service Corps, but let’s look at the variety of things we have and take the ones that we have and shore them up and make them better.
The Chair: Well, Mr. Johnston, you couldn’t have done a better job than you’ve done today. Thank you very much. We have questions that other senators would like to ask, but we have another panel waiting.
I’d like to thank you not only for your presentation here today but for your continued contribution to the country through your writing and the foundation’s activities. This is what retired Governors General should do.
Mr. Johnston: Thank you, senator. We will leave you with the Trust book. Senator Martin, I now have an obligation to get the next one done within the next year.
Senator Martin: We’re looking forward to that.
The Chair: And she will remember.
Today the committee is continuing its study to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, non-profit organizations, foundations, and other similar groups; and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.
We’re very pleased to have as witnesses on this panel Mr. Clifford L. Spyker, Associate Professor - Accounting at Mount Royal University in Calgary; from Lapland and District Fire Department in Nova Scotia, Mr. David Sutherland, Firefighter, Training Officer and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors; and from Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia, Ms. Heidi Jakop, President; and Robert Cielen, Troop Section Scouter & Group Treasurer, 1st Langley Meadows.
Thank you all for accepting our invitation.
Clifford L. Spyker, Associate Professor - Accounting, Mount Royal University, as an individual: My name is Clifford Spyker. I’m an Associate Professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, and I’m a chartered accountant but don’t hold that against me, please.
The Chair: It would be difficult.
Mr. Spyker: Yes, it usually is. I would like to thank the committee for giving me this opportunity to speak about this incredibly important topic and the impact that charities make across the country in every size of community.
My research is specifically about registered charities. I look at the 85,000. I’ve been examining their tax returns for a 15-year period. I bring two lenses, first as an academic in accounting, and then as a tax practitioner. I have two hats I’m going to wear.
I’m here because a number of years ago I co-authored a paper with Dr. John Peloza about the potential for tax credit incentives for voluntary participation; so I have some strong ideas about that which may be contrary to other people’s. I look forward to speaking about that.
The non-profit sector has a varied service model that includes both cash and time donations. Both of these are currently at a stretched position and very much the organizations rely upon both of these for their success.
As we look at this process, the question becomes how do cash and time donations relate to each other? While these resources are stressed out, there are great differences across demographics of how people deal with these.
When we’re considering the idea of this tax credit model, we’re trying to see if there is a potential benefit from increasing donations of time by giving some sort of tax incentive. The underlying concept is that we would reduce individuals’ personal taxes by giving them some sort of credit for the time that they volunteered.
I start off with the mundane and administrative, however. One key question that needs to be addressed is how do we value this time? Statistics Canada has said there’s between 1 billion and 2 billion hours a year in donated time, and the tracking and verification of that is not a trivial task.
Even if we were to use some sort of standardized minimum wage calculation, in Alberta that would be $15, you’re looking at $15 billion to $30 billion of valued time and the tax credits associated with that.
Putting a value on that is a tremendous administration process, and then the verification for the CRA would be a tremendous cost again.
The next thing is the recognition of the tax process itself. People donate time and cash for their involvement in charities primarily because of altruistic reasons. They want to support their community. They have an interest in some activity. It can be egotistic that they are career or network building. Very often it’s probably a combination of both, and it’s hard to separate that.
What becomes difficult is what’s the relationship between the cash donations currently and then the time donations? The question that’s been researched and the results are tremendously mixed of whether these are substitutive in nature or complementary, and much more research needs to be done on those aspects.
Some recent research in 2009 showed that it was complementary but very much divided or had mixed results along employment status, gender, demographic age and community embeddedness. All of these things come into play.
The most recent study I was able to look at was Young in 2016, and they found it was more substitutive. People would give cash in substitution of time. I don’t think that’s what the charities are looking for, though I shouldn’t speak for them.
In a very small limited sample of discussions with charity leaders, I was talking about cash and time donations and without question time is a critical piece but cash is really king. They need the cash to continue on. If there was a reduction, that would be an issue.
The last point I would make is not based on research as much as on observation. If we give incentives and tax credits, and we start to value people’s donated time, then we run into a real conflict between the altruistic and the egotistic. What happens is we start to turn this transaction into more of a consumer model.
As an educator, I have been working with young students for over a decade and they already see education as a transaction. I’m fearful that as much as we need to increase the amount of donations of cash and time, I’m not sure if a tax incentive would satisfy that. There needs to be much more research.
The Chair: We appreciate that.
David Sutherland, Firefighter, Training Officer and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, Lapland and District Fire Department: Representing the fire department, we are already in receipt of tax allowances both federally and provincially. I did submit a sheet. I don’t know if you have copies of the information I forwarded.
If you do have it, I don’t want to reread it. Basically, what it boils down to is the fire department receives two different forms of compensation already. What came first, at least in Nova Scotia, was a refundable tax credit of $500 per firefighter and a free registration for one personal licence plate per firefighter, which is a volunteer firefighter licence plate. This licence plate also gives you recognition as a firefighter upon entering at a fire scene if you are showing up in your personal vehicle.
A number of years ago, the federal government came in with their tax credit, which basically compensates, on line 362, of a tax rate which is paired to income. Basically, it’s a credit up to $3,000, but again the amount you get back will be dependent on the amount that will be claimed against your specific tax level. I have given an indication of what that would equate to.
Those are the actual credits that firemen receive. Now, the question is do firemen do this because of this? If you ask any of the firemen in my department, the answer would be no. It’s nice the fact they have an acknowledgment, it is, for lack of a better term, a thank you for their service, but it is not the impetus for service.
Every day on the radio in Nova Scotia we hear multiple advertisements asking for people to volunteer and to support the fire department. Not one of them talks about the tax credits that you are going to potentially be eligible for.
Now, the interesting thing with the firefighters, though, is the perspective. Keeping in mind what I just read about the tax incentives, if you have a fire in your house, do you expect a volunteer to maybe show up if he wants to, depending on what it is, or do you expect a fireman to show up skilled, trained and capable if supporting your call?
If you are trapped in your vehicle, do you expect to sit there in your vehicle, stuck, waiting and hoping that maybe a volunteer might show up with the Jaws of Life, or do you expect a truck to pull up with a trained, qualified firefighter, someone who is there to stand in the way of a hazard, to do the traffic management until the police arrive, to do the first aid until the EMTs arrive?
Interestingly, the fire service originally started in history as a community caring for the community.It still is the community caring for the community. That’s why I’m a firefighter. If there wasn’t anybody in my neighbourhood to put out a fire, I’m out of luck. I’m there to support my community. It is a little altruistic, shall we say?
That’s where we still continue in many locations in the country — as volunteers. We support each other in providing that service.
My question is what value do you place on firefighting? Is firefighting simply a volunteer activity that someone gets a pat on the back for, or is it something you expect to be an emergency service that is provided for? How do you treat a firefighter? It is an interesting question to think about in that respect.
In regard to volunteering in general, I can tell you that as well as being a volunteer firefighter, and doing what I do with the fire department, I’m also a volunteer chaplain with the local RCMP. I volunteer with a community theatre department which fundraises for other charities as well. What I do is what I like to do, and I do it because I enjoy doing it, not because I’m getting paid for it.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Sutherland. I should declare my prejudice, not because he’s from Nova Scotia, but because he’s a volunteer fireman. I live in a small community in Nova Scotia that is serviced by a volunteer fire department. Four years ago I suffered a stroke at home. My wife did everything right. She called 911. Within less than 10 minutes, the volunteer fire department was in my house stabilizing me, getting me prepared for the next stage. The ambulance was there within 20 minutes, and off I went to the next community to be stabilized further, and then off to the city to the hospital.
I’m here today because of people like you, Mr. Sutherland. While I have thanked the local people in my community, I have the opportunity on the broadcast here to thank all volunteer firemen for what they do. There are thousands of people like me who are walking around today because of your good work and the good work of your colleagues. Thank you.
Heidi Jakop, President, Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia: Honourable senators, it’s a privilege to speak to you today, an opportunity I will use to share the perspective echoed by many fellow volunteer engagement leaders across Canada.
We work daily to engage 13.3 million volunteers who strengthen every single Canadian community. As you know, there are barriers to volunteerism, and they come in many forms. Some don’t volunteer because they weren’t asked, they don’t know how to find volunteer opportunities, or they aren’t aware of the benefit and importance to their community.
Those new to Canada may not understand how volunteerism is so integral to our culture or how it can help them connect to their community. Others experience financial barriers.
Then we have volunteer engagement leaders and non-profits. We don’t have the resources to effectively engage volunteers or expand an organization’s reach in order to deliver on missions and build strong communities. Given these various challenges, strengthening volunteerism nationally demands a multifaceted approach. I’ll break down three primary challenges that I see and how they may be overcome.
The first one is investing in volunteer engagement leaders. In my perspective, the highest priority for strengthening volunteerism is investment in the overextended non-profits and their leaders.
Alex leads a team of 800 volunteers in a mid-sized charity. He knows the potential of his volunteer programs, expanded community services, more effective training for volunteers, and acknowledging their efforts through a meaningful recognition program. He struggles daily to meet his most pressing team needs, while plans for risk management, a stronger volunteer culture, and personalized support are left undeveloped. As a result, volunteers endure a diminished experience and may lose interest. Programs can’t grow to better serve communities, and the pressure Alex is under is so great there can be a toll on both his physical and mental health. Alex faces these challenges alone daily, but increasingly he is not alone in that this plight is far too common.
Some solutions that I would like to propose are to develop funding solutions for non-profits for stable volunteer engagement staff. Volunteers depend on training, supervision, evaluation and recognition. Corporations invest heavily in HR because they understand the considerable return on investment. Non-profits benefit no less from similar dedicated volunteer engagement staff. But funding agencies often don’t cover staffing to support volunteer programs. This leads to volunteer engagement leaders who endure long hours for little pay, and significant turnover can be a predictable result.
Second, encourage organizations to collaborate and eliminate duplication of services.
Third, fund organizations and programs that equip volunteer engagement leaders. Volunteer centres support community leaders and connecting them with prospective volunteers.
Volunteer management at college programs prepare graduates to lead and grow the sector. Professional associations raise industry standards, provide networking, education and advocacy for the necessity of volunteer professional roles. And sector-guiding agencies, such as Imagine Canada and Volunteer Canada, set crucial standards to educate and inform the charitable sector.
The second recommendation is to remove barriers and provide incentives to volunteers. Research and feedback on compensation and incentives for volunteers has yielded conflicting perspectives.
A 2013 Volunteer Canada study states:
Volunteers indicated that more breaks reimbursement of expenses and access to organizations’ events are not important factors in how organizations could more effectively engage them.
Yet, this conflicts with accounts of low-income volunteers unable to afford transit, expensive equipment needed by search and research volunteers, or a volunteer adaptive ski instructor struggling to cover gas for long weekly drives to and from the hill.
For many, the expenses are too great, meaning their time and talents are unavailable to the community. I know one woman I’ll call Jane, who volunteers at the MS Society’s reception desk each week. She truly understands the needs of clients as she, too, lives with MS.
Her dedication is remarkable in that it takes her over an hour each way on transit, while using a mobility aid. She confided in me that the travelling puts a strain on her both financially and physically, but volunteering gives her a sense of community, relieves her feelings of isolation and helps her to keep developing new skills. She proudly gives back to the organization that has supported her and, in turn, supports others living with MS.
No longer able to work, she risks jeopardizing her disability insurance by volunteering, which could be falsely perceived as being able to return to work.
Solutions I might recommend: Reimburse volunteer-related expenses such as search and rescue equipment, which might take the form of tax credits; vehicle mileage for volunteer firefighters; and direct credit for return transit tickets. Just as tax deductions are provided to donors and registered charities, offer an earned tax deduction to volunteers who generously give their time and talents. Finally, rather than the current practice of discouraging or even penalizing volunteers, consider incentives, possibly an employment insurance top-up for those who volunteer while unemployed or on sick leave.
The third recommendation and challenge is a public education and engagement campaign. Studies show that many people do not volunteer because they weren’t asked, don’t know where to go or are simply unaware of the need in their community.
Possible solution: a national communications strategy to highlight the impact of volunteerism on community building, its role in Canadian society and the benefits to the volunteer.
Second, develop awareness-building campaigns in secondary schools and in organizations serving new immigrants, two segments of the population that will certainly benefit from learning how volunteerism can help with integration into the community, and learning new skills and building Canadian work experience.
These recommendations will help strengthen volunteerism in the charitable sector, without which we will doubtless face a social deficit. As the 2016 Imagine Canada report states:
Unlike a fiscal deficit, a social deficit will not reveal itself in red numbers on a balance sheet. Instead, it will appear as an accumulation of unmet needs, in growing waiting lists for social services, and in increasingly overburdened charities and non-profits, overworked staff and volunteers. In short, a social deficit will appear as the inability of charities to meet the social cultural and environmental needs of Canadians and as a slow but perceptible erosion of Canadians’ quality of life.
You, me and every Canadian enjoys the benefit of a strong volunteer community: the new Canadian, the isolated senior, the medical researcher, the lost hiker, even the community gardener. There are critical resources in every community from coast to coast that depend on volunteers who urgently need our support.
I call on the committee to remove barriers to volunteerism, to advocate and educate Canadians on the impact and benefits of volunteering, and to commit to investing in the volunteer sector. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Jakop. Mr. Cielen.
Robert Cielen, Troop Section Scouter & Group Treasurer, 1st Langley Meadows, Scouts Canada: Thank you for inviting us to this meeting. It’s an honour and a privilege to speak with you.
My name is Bob Cielen, from the 1st Langley Meadows Scout group. I would like to take a few minutes of your time to share with you who we are and thoughts on the challenges we face, including compensation, recognition, attraction and retention of volunteers, funding and costs, and charitable donations of gifts in kind.
First a little about us. Langley Meadows is a Scouts Canada group located in Langley, British Columbia. It has 35 youth served by 10 adult volunteers. It operates within the 21 groups of the Nicomekl area, covering an area that includes Surrey, Langley and White Rock, which together have 1,025 youth and 360 adult volunteers.
Scouts Canada currently has over 100,000 coed youth members reflecting every faith and culture. The organization is supported by the efforts of 25,000 volunteers, with programming offered in more than 19 languages. Scouts Canada’s mission is to develop well-rounded youth, better prepared for success in the world.
The views that I’m expressing here are of the Langley Meadows group only and are not intended to represent the views of the Scouts Canada organization. My comments have been prepared in collaboration with some members of our group and of the 21 Nicomekl area groups.
On recognition of volunteer attraction and retention, when parents who are not familiar with Scouts ask about what the adult Scouters are paid, the answer is usually laughter followed by a pause, followed by, “Nothing.” Then parents suddenly gain respect for those who put in their time to make the program what it is.
We don’t do this for pay. We do this because it is positive for the youth of our nation, builds great citizens, and brings us satisfaction for serving others.
Our volunteers are exactly that, volunteers offering their time and skills out of a spirit of generosity and service. We ask only for the volunteer’s time. Out-of-pocket expenses are reimbursed, so there is no undue financial burden with enabling youth adventures. This frees them to do what is right for the youth, not limited by any sense of service value, clocked hours or fee-for-service constraints.
With their time, they bring to life the Scouting mission. Attraction and retention of volunteers remains a challenge. There are volunteers who face financial hardships or challenges for their youth where our programs fill a vital need. Volunteers even take time off work to support youth programs.
A nominal sum credited back is something of value. Enacting a tax credit for volunteers who put in significant hours of service may recognize the value that dedicated volunteers bring to their communities and nation.
While it would not be an unreasonable requirement that the organization certify that a volunteer has contributed to hours, it would create an administrative burden that is challenging. Tracking and certification of volunteer hours are additional overheads, and any additional overhead to an already time-constrained volunteer subtracts from the delivery of volunteer services. There are only so many hours in the day to address the program planning and delivery, fundraising activities, and necessary organizational administration that directly impacts the delivery of programs.
Small organizations face challenges in raising funds, a significant portion which may be used to pay for already tax-funded facilities. These costs take funding away from camping activities and outdoor adventures. We operate on shoestring budgets primarily funded by Scouter and youth-led fundraising activities. This is a primary source of frustration that impacts our success and program delivery, and it is successful program delivery that is the most rewarding aspect for Scouters.
A friction point for volunteer success is the CRA process for gifts in kind. Essentially, under the current processes, the donor has to give the organization cash to buy an in-kind item for which the donor is given a receipt. This is because gifts that involve multiple assessors for fair market valuation are a much longer process, potentially costly, and which impact small organizations. This is difficult to implement in a low-cash context where neither the donor nor the beneficiary have substantial cash on hand to accomplish this. You have to be rich to donate. Valuations are perhaps appropriate for land or shares but disproportionate when the item is a canoe or a trailer for camping gear.
There are certainly reasons for such processes, as there is the possibility of abuse, but the audit practice in place now is so ponderous that there are now few in-kind donations at local group level, except for those of substantial scale, where the weight of the process is justified. It could be beneficial if the threshold could be set at a nominal amount such as a one in-kind donation of $1,000 per year per donor so that local charities could receive the offerings of generous local community donors. Without receipts, donations or gifts in kind are effectively suppressed and the community does not benefit. The impact of policies that affect fundraising negatively is a source of frustration for volunteers, impacting our success and the perceived value of our efforts.
Thank you for your time and attention. Again, it’s an honour to speak with you today.
The Chair: Thank you very much to all four of you for your presentations. We are going to go to questions. I remind colleagues to keep your questions short and remind the witnesses to try to keep your answers short so that we can get as many questions as possible.
Senator Omidvar: This is a fantastic panel with so much scope and breadth from across our country. We really appreciate that. Love to hear from Boy Scouts and firefighters and the academic. I’m going to start with the academic. I actually like the fact you are an accountant because some proposals have been made here. I will pick up on Ms. Jakop’s proposal, which is to reimburse volunteer-related expenses. The proposal is quite specific: SAR equipment. Vehicle mileage. She is not talking about time per se but the costs incurred. Direct credit for return transit tickets. And Mr. Cielen’s proposal of allowing one in-kind donation of $1,000 per year per donor so that local charities could receive the offerings. I wonder what your reaction to those two proposals is.
Mr. Spyker: Thank you very much, senator. I think one of the challenges, as a financial person I’ll say, is the whole verification process. I personally believe that providing incentives, writeoffs for direct costs, it should be that. To me that’s a bit of a no-brainer. But the verification process I’m not sure if it outweighs.
And then the other thing that I struggle with is if the objective is to increase volunteerism, I’m not really sure that cost is the reason. I think there is a change in demographics. Younger people need more incentive. They need to become barn builders. They don’t know that concept. I’m not sure if making this a transaction is going to do that.
Senator Omidvar: Ms. Jakop, I believe the professor is right when he says it sounds like a good idea but how the hell do you go about verifying expenses, and does that set up a mini bureaucracy in small charities; how do you manage that? Do you have a response to that?
Ms. Jakop: Thank you for the question. I think that is something that certainly requires further reflection. It would be an administrative burden, of course, on some organizations. A second recommendation I had spoken to is volunteer hours. Many organizations have the capacity to track volunteer hours if we are speaking about that. So I think there is certainly an ability to do this. It would be up to the organization to document and maybe send some type of an annual note to verify this. But yes, there would be a burden on the organization in order to do that. If you are solely a volunteer-driven organization like a scout troop, that would possibly be a role that someone would need to take on. In large organizations — I lead a team of 950 volunteers — there would be a responsibility on the volunteer engagement leader to provide that documentation.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
Mr. Sutherland, I have a question based on your brief. I understand you have a quarrel with the government’s compensation of volunteers in your sector, which is voluntary firefighters. I understand that the federal law that deals with the compensation for volunteer firefighters is not that old. It came in —
Mr. Sutherland: It’s only a few years old. I don’t remember the exact dates.
Senator Omidvar: It was in the Harper era that we brought that in. Since that law came into effect, have you noticed an increase in volunteer firefighters or has it had no impact?
Mr. Sutherland: In our specific small rural department the federal compensation has had no significant impact. The reason being, when you look at it, again it’s tied to income. In our area people like myself, I’m actually probably on the lower end of the age scale for the fire department. So you are looking at income where it’s even claimable for some. Some of it’s about the number of hours you put in. So based on this particular scale if I put in 200 hours of service at my particular income level it works out to $450 equivalent rate, about $2 an hour of compensation if my income allows for it. But if I’m low income — if I, because of my tax deductions, don’t have any returned income, it’s inconsequential. You don’t get anything. It shouldn’t be tied to income in a relative fashion that way. The Nova Scotia government has a refundable tax credit, which is a straight line item that says: “Are you a volunteer firefighter?” If yes, you put it in the box for $500, and that comes back to you regardless of your return. It’s a refundable tax credit. It’s simple, clear and equitable. In this particular one based on income scale I could be making — if by chance you have a firefighter making $200,000 a year, getting a $900 tax credit, who basically doesn’t do too much in the department. You could have someone who is a low-income firefighter putting in hours and hours in the fire department and getting absolutely nothing for it.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
Senator Martin: Thank you all for your presentations today. And a fellow British Columbian, nice to see you here. I have had some interaction with Scouts and I know some of your youth engagement programs are excellent, and I have seen some really good quality leaders that are preparing to take that next step in leading in the Scouts organization. So thank you for that. I appreciate the work of our firefighters and volunteer firefighters. I live in Burnaby and I don’t think there is any organization, like institutions, schools, community centres that firefighters have not supported through their charitable work as well. I know all of you are doing such good work.
I was struck by the comment — I think it was Mr. Cielen — that you made about policies that impact organizations negatively. We, as legislators, can enact laws and regulations with the best of intentions, but sometimes they have unforeseen negative impacts. Would any of you like to comment on something small or specific that we should look at? Are there things that we should remove because it is impacting negatively on the volunteer sector?
Mr. Cielen: If I could, the reason for the suggestion about the one donation per year in kind under $1,000 is because if you can imagine that a person wants to donate a canoe to your group, as I mentioned, you have to have that valued. And that process is long. It takes a few dollars to produce that valuation. You end up asking the donor to give us an amount of money that then has to go to our organization’s head office. We have to ensure that it gets earmarked for our group to make sure that it will arrive at some point in the future to our group. Then we use that money to buy the item. So the donor gets a receipt for the donation of $300, and then we use that money to buy the item from the individual.
Months go by and the donation is not necessarily made available to you. Good donors will give you the item and hope it comes back. But they’re giving you the canoe, and the money to buy the canoe that you’re going to hand back to them. It seems counterintuitive or counterproductive as a process. It would be better to find ways to say “small donations,” where you are limiting that potential for abuse. Limiting the number of potential donations that organizations can receive might be helpful. Because what we’ve seen as small groups at the community level, the group level, is that these donations have dried up. It’s too onerous a process.
If there was one thing to suggest to you around tax credits, there is difficulty for the small group down at that volunteer level regarding tracking because it’s difficult to administer. Would we expect individuals to keep logs for their email work, for their time put into administrative efforts? It’s easy to deal with camps and program activities like regular meetings. For these you can see established periods of time that are easier to track. But all the preparation work that goes into them, as the treasurer handling the disbursements, the receipts and contracts and those extra hours for reporting, those are hard to get anyone to be able to verify. It relies on the volunteer to provide that with a degree of integrity and then have an administrative process at that group level to verify and say, “If it sounds like it’s appropriate, we can defend that.” Because the “auditability” of these activities is very difficult to establish. If we’re going to add process, it adds to volunteer hours, and it detracts from us being able to deliver those services and programs.
Mr. Sutherland: I was thinking about what the Governor General mentioned earlier about volunteering and why we do that. We talk about the trust building and integrity. Really, again, to be a volunteer is about a certain spirit. When we are asking volunteers to provide audits and hours, what are we saying? We’re saying we will compensate you based on something; so we’re basically making you, for lack of a better term, like an employee. We’re basically saying you’re going to work a few hours and we are going to require you to do something in order to receive a compensation.
I can pretty much say that anyone would rather just be thanked. “Thank you for your service.” Those words go a mile.
If you are going to give any form of compensation, I would say to find a way to make it clear, simple and to be able to sit there and say to whoever receives it, for whatever they do, that we acknowledge your service; we’re not going to make you do this, that or the other thing, other than establish the fact that you are part of this organization. Let the organization verify your identity, and thank you for your service, verbally a thank you, or if you give any form of compensation, it’s just given as thanks. That is what people would really appreciate.
Senator Duncan: I’d like to thank the panel for their comments. What I’ve heard from Mr. Sutherland very clearly is that it’s the volunteerism, not necessarily the incentive to volunteer. I truly appreciate that.
Mr. Cielen, having been not only a Girl Guide but a Girl Guide leader and the treasurer, I can appreciate where you’re coming from.
Ms. Jakop, your comments are well made, particularly the example you gave with the individual expending their limited resources to volunteer to an organization.
My question is really one of research. I’ll count on you, Mr. Chair, to correct me if I’m overstepping or if this research has been done, but perhaps Mr. Spyker could answer for me.
Gaming, as I understand it, is part federally regulated, the Yukon being the first regulated, licensed gambling hall in Canada, and the Lottery Commissions are a source of funding for many non-profit groups. Is there any research or document that talks about linking access to these funds to work with the volunteer sector. Perhaps stipulating that a certain amount or percentage of money must be given to non-profit organizations to use as they see fit, for example, training? Or is this a provincial or a provincial-federal issue?
Mr. Spyker: It’s outside of my expertise. It’s incredibly important and my colleagues might know.
Ms. Jakop: I cannot speak to research. I can speak to anecdotal experiences from stories over the last decade. Colleagues of mine working on gaming grants are really feeling the cuts or challenges with gaming grants. Programs that they had been able to deliver in the past are being jeopardized or no longer moving forward. For many these funds were very much counted on. I can only speak to what I can. I can’t speak to what those changes specifically were, other than a sense of scarcity that my community has experienced.
At least from within the organizations that I’ve worked, when they’re putting in requests for gaming grants, it ends up being more for the delivered programs — whether it be client services or an advocacy initiative — rather than for volunteers who are integral to make those programs happen. That seems to be a challenge, at least from my lens.
The Chair: Gaming is a provincial responsibility too. We may comment but direct influence may escape us.
Senator Omidvar: My colleague Senator Robert Black, who is sitting glued to his computer, has this question. Are the barriers to volunteering different between rural and urban Canada, and are opportunities for collaboration also different between rural and urban Canada?
Ms. Jakop, why don’t you take it and then Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Cielen can weigh in?
Ms. Jakop: There may be different barriers and different opportunities. The great news is that, in some communities, people may find opportunities beyond specifically volunteering directly in that neighbourhood, and there are opportunities for skilled and virtual volunteering in communities beyond your own. Or if you’re in your small rural community, you may be able to find a knowledge expert, a highly skilled volunteer who has a background in marketing communications, PR or advocacy, who can support you via distance. Those are advances that I see.
I would imagine that if you are in a smaller community, you may have limited causes that you would be motivated to volunteer with. Some are really wishing to volunteer with a cause that they’re directly related to.
There’s less variety. There might be fewer resources to promote those opportunities. But then on the flip side, you may feel more connected to that local neighbourhood as well and feel part of a broader family.
Senator Omidvar: None of you have spoken about a system for criminal checks for volunteers. It is a necessary system, especially when volunteers are working with children, but are we implementing it in a way that it is a barrier to volunteerism? I would like to hear opinions on that.
Mr. Cielen: I don’t think it’s a barrier. I don’t think I have seen one volunteer, in the last nine years turned away because of a criminal background check.
It is an important aspect of youth safety for our programs as that first line and then the safety training that we do.
These are costs that we do bear, but they’re essential. I don’t want to call it insurance because it’s not. But it’s a vetting process that’s absolutely necessary.
The Chair: Even as parliamentarians, if we have volunteers in our offices here on Parliament Hill, they also have to go through the screening process with the police. It’s something I’ve followed ever since I’ve been here. It is an important part of the process to provide, not insurance but some comfort that questions have been asked and answered.
Are there any other comments?
Ms. Jakop: Certainly. In British Columbia, I have my volunteers, anyone working with the vulnerable sector, youth, but there have been other opportunities when I was at health charities. They can go through the RCMP, and there’s a free check for volunteers. It can be done online.
Alternatively, some people choose to go to their local police department, like the Vancouver Police Department, and do it in person, but I generally direct people to the online form through the RCMP. It’s free, and it takes them about 10 minutes, and it lands in my inbox. I find, from my perspective, that’s pretty straightforward.
I don’t want a barrier to volunteerism, but if someone isn’t feeling overly excited about the opportunity they might self-select out. That may be okay. If they’re not wanting to put in the time for those screening measures, there is a decent chance they may not be quite as committed to the responsibilities in that role as well.
The Chair: Thank you very much to the panel for their presentation and answering our questions. It has been very helpful. I thank you for your service in your communities and encourage you to continue your service, recruit good volunteers and do that good work.
As I mentioned, today the committee will continue its study to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, non-profit organizations, foundations, and other similar groups; and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.
I would like to welcome, from Universities Canada, Mr. Philip Landon, Vice President; from Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Ms. Taralee Turner, Chief Operating Officer; from the Health Charities Coalition of Canada, Ms. Connie Côté, Chief Executive Officer; and from the Mowat Centre, Ms. Lisa Lalande, Executive Lead, Not-for-Profit Research Hub.
Thank you all for being here. We’ll have a brief presentation from each of you, and then we will have questions.
Philip Landon, Vice President, Universities Canada: Good afternoon, everyone. I would like to thank the chair and committee members for conducting this study and inviting Universities Canada to share our recommendations with you today.
I am the vice-president of governance and programs at Universities Canada, and I am pleased to be here on behalf of Canada’s 96 universities.
This review is an important opportunity for the Government of Canada to support the charitable sector and to strengthen the communities we serve across this country.
We’re very pleased with the commitments made to the charitable sector in the fall 2018 economic statement, and we now have the opportunity to strengthen that commitment.
As charities, Universities Canada and our members play an active role in the non-profit and charitable sector, advancing a three-part mission of teaching, research and community service. Every aspect of this mission is carried out with support from charitable contributions.
The charitable sector is a significant economic driver in Canada. The sector generates more than 7 per cent of Canada’s GDP, employing more than 2 million people. Universities play an important role in driving that growth by contributing $35 billion in direct expenditures every year and employing close to 300,000 people.
Canadian universities’ work is supported in part by charitable contributions and by our partnerships with other charitable groups. For example, the Refugee Livelihood Lab at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is bringing together refugee entrepreneurs, creators and innovators to build solutions to challenges facing resettled communities in and around Surrey, British Columbia. This important work is made through federal and provincial government support, and also through the crucial support by way of charitable donations.
You may also have heard about the recent $200 million donation to McGill University for the new McCall MacBain scholarships, the single largest charitable gift in Canadian history.
At a time of political polarization and rapid technological change, this donation will provide comprehensive graduate scholarships to equip a new generation of committed leaders to tackle pressing global issues and complex challenges, scholarships that will cover tuition, living expenses and provide valuable mentorship and hands-on learning.
These examples and countless others underline the importance of charitable giving and strengthening university community partnerships and increasing universities’ impact. To support this, our recommendations to the committee are as follows: Given the importance of charitable giving in our work and in the lives of Canadians, we are recommending legislative changes and strategic investments to ensure our sector is strong and sustainable. This includes removing the capital gains tax on real estate and company asset donations, which would provide an additional $200 million a year in donations for the charitable sector. That’s $200 million in potential funding for health research, new and innovative community partnerships, and the kinds of scholarships I referenced earlier.
We’re also recommending an exemption for charitable organizations from Canada’s anti-spam legislation. While we agree with the intent of the legislation, we are concerned about the undue burden it places on charities and post-secondary institutions in particular. This exemption would ensure universities are able to share important information with students, alumni, donors and local community partners.
Another key step the government can take to strengthen the charitable sector is creating a federal champion or home in government for the sector. I believe this committee has heard testimony about how having a home in government has enhanced Canada’s international development efforts in previous hearings, and we recommend the same for the charitable sector.
The recently announced advisory committee on the charitable sector is a first step in this direction, and we hope that it will include the university and post-secondary communities.
We’re also recommending funded data collection on the charitable sector. The most recent comprehensive data about the sector is more than a decade old, from before the 2008 financial crisis. Things have changed, and we need the data to support our policies. Relevant and accurate data is needed to allow the government to make informed decisions about this significant driver of Canada’s economy.
It’s also very important that implementation of the Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy’s Steering Group recommendations continue. I would like to highlight two of the steering group’s recommendations today.
First, the creation of an evidence-development and knowledge-sharing initiative to coordinate information and sharing across the sector. The second is a national campaign to inform Canadians of the benefits and opportunities of social innovation and social finance awareness.
Government support for youth engagement in this campaign through scholarships, fellowships and work-integrated learning opportunities would be particularly effective, as we know hands-on learning is vital to equipping Canadians for the future of work, especially those from marginalized backgrounds.
In closing, I want to emphasize the crucial role charitable donations play in supporting Canada’s next generation of leaders, researchers and innovators by enabling university collaborations with local partners to build stronger communities and by increasing post-secondary access and student success, including through support for on-campus spaces and hands-on learning opportunities.
Canada now has a great opportunity to redouble its efforts and ensure the sustainability of the sector.
Thank you very much for your work in the committee. I look forward to answering your questions about our recommendations and work.
Senator Ratna Omidvar (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. We’ll hear from everyone first before we open it up to questions.
Taralee Turner, Chief Operating Officer, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet: My name is Taralee Turner. I am the chief operating officer of the Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I am honoured to appear before the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector.
In addition to my last year and a half with the RWB, I have served not-for-profit organizations for 20 of the last 24 years, with seven of those years being in the charitable sector.
The RWB is comprised of a world-renowned ballet company of a professional classical ballet school and a recreational dance and community outreach division that enriches the lives of participants of all ages, levels and interests.
Soon to celebrate its eightieth anniversary, the RWB has long been a contributor to Canada’s arts and culture ecosystem. The arts enrich our country and bring us international recognition, and the RWB is one of many proud ambassadors.
Exposure to arts and culture stimulates learning, promotes health and well-being, contributes to the vitality of our communities and has significant economic impact.
Approximately 25 per cent of those employed in Manitoba’s cultural sector are working for not-for-profit organizations. The NPO participants in the sector play an essential role in stimulating sector growth and serving as incubators for talent.
The RWB not only employs almost 200 full- and part-time employees within Manitoba, it provides significant work for Canada’s dancers, choreographers, designers, production technicians, musicians and many others.
The impact the charitable sector has on our communities and the value they create for our country would not be possible without generous philanthropic support, the commitment of dedicated volunteer board directors and leaders and employees working tirelessly at below market rates because they believe in the mission of their organization.
However, it is growing increasingly difficult to harness the power of philanthropy within the arts and culture sector. Existing taxation laws and policies governing and relating to funding of the charitable sector have not evolved at pace with our economic, social, and generational evolution. As a result, they do not adequately incent individuals and privately and publicly traded corporations to contribute the funds, time and talent needed for charities and other not-for-profit organizations to be sustainable. The erosion of these three foundational pillars undermines the accessibility of essential services and enriching experiences vital for a thriving society.
With the best of intentions, the proliferation of complex regulatory requirements relating to areas such as privacy, immigration, tax, and employees are inflating overhead at a rate that organizations that operate without profit margins are ill-equipped to address. Regulatory burden is redirecting precious time and financial resources from the populations we serve toward administrative tasks.
Adding to our worries is evidence that growing overhead costs discourage philanthropic giving. The August 2018 Blackbaud Institute Report on the next generation of Canadian givers, through its survey of over 900 Canadian donors, flags the concern that:
. . . one metric of choice for many donors continues to be the percentage of donated funds that go to programs as opposed to fundraising or administration.
Ironically, by striving to be accountable and in compliance with regulations we are undermining our potential for philanthropic contributions and becoming more reliant on government funding.
The Blackbaud Report was discouraging for those of us in the arts. While the arts were viewed as a top three priorities for donors 70 years of age and older, we do not even appear on the top seven charitable priorities for donors under 50. As it is, arts and culture only has a 4 per cent market share of the charitable sector. At a time when government funding is not keeping pace with the rate of inflation, the arts cannot afford for their market share to shrink further.
Since 2008, the RWB has experienced a steady decline in individual giving but equally alarming is an 87 per cent decline in corporate giving. We are now also seeing a negative trend with respect to sponsorship. The acceleration of mergers and acquisitions and the trend toward companies funding fewer organizations and moving toward a single partner has directly resulted in the loss of sponsorships critical to the RWB. Large corporate entities have handed over their philanthropic budgets to marketing departments and are focused on strategically beneficial national initiatives to the detriment of smaller community-based organizations.
The national organization for charities, Imagine Canada, reports that 42 per cent of corporate respondents indicated they were funding fewer not-for-profits to focus on signature partners.
While the fundraising environment is becoming increasingly competitive, so is the competition for the time and talent of individuals with the training and experience to govern and lead within the NPO sector. Not-for-profit organizations are at an immediate disadvantage in economies that have a talent shortage. The wages they can offer are not competitive, their boards are unpaid, and they do not have the financial resources to invest in the training and development that will prepare emerging talents for senior leadership or board director positions. The result is a knowledge deficit that exposes small to medium organizations to significant risk of being vulnerable to predatory suppliers, unions, service providers, legal peril, regulatory non-compliance and financial crisis, which further erodes the confidence of the philanthropic community.
Not-for-profit organizations play an essential role in Canada and in partnership with the government provide services that stimulate our country’s economic well-being and our citizens’ quality of life. Introducing and revising policies to synchronize our efforts, rather than proliferating an unsustainable regulatory burden, would be to the long-term benefit of Canada and its people.
Toward achieving this end, the RWB offers the following the recommendations: Support funding bodies’ ongoing pursuit of reform and efficiency initiatives; incent endowment contributions by growing investment in initiatives that serve this purpose such as the Canada Cultural Investment Fund; provide accessible, free training, advisory and consultation services for NPO governors, leaders and employees on topics related to NPO governance, financial management, law and regulatory compliance; require consideration of NPO regulatory exemptions as a critical step and best practice in every policy and regulation review process and introduce transitional funding programs to assist NPOs in achieving compliance with revised or new requirements; incent participation in the NPO sector as employees and through corporate and individual philanthropic giving. Examples include but are not limited to: Removing the capital gains tax on gifts of private company shares and real estate. Enhancing corporate tax incentives. And introducing individual tax incentives such as tax credits attached to working in the NPO sector, volunteer board participation and professional development fees related to essential topics. Thank you.
Senator Terry M. Mercer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Turner.
Connie Côté, Chief Executive Officer, Health Charities Coalition of Canada: My name is Connie Côté, and I’m the CEO of the Health Charities Coalition of Canada. Thank you for this opportunity to present to the committee on behalf of our coalition. We appreciate the very important work you are undertaking. Not unlike many of the presenters you have heard before you over the last while, our member organizations were founded by individuals in our communities who had a strong desire to help others in need. In our case it was usually a person living with a disease who wanted to make a difference for others who were coming after them. Often the hope is that a cure or at least a treatment option will be available for someone who is living with a disease. Our members make significant impacts in our society in many ways. Let me tell you a little about some of those:
Raising funds for medical research. In 2016, our members contributed over $155 million within our research ecosystem. We support patient engagement and create meaningful opportunities for patients to engage in planning, decision-making, review processes, including being able to respond to federal government consultations. We provide transportation to patients who are attending medical appointments. We connect patients and their caregivers to resources in their communities and provide information and support on their disease.
We collaborate with medical experts to ensure that the best evidence is integrated into Clinical Practice Guidelines and provide for their development. We promote healthy living and we ensure that Canadians are empowered to reduce the key risk factors that contribute to the development of disease. Importantly, we advocate for public policies that advance the health and well-being of Canadians.
Canadians look to Canada’s national health charities for information, assistance and leadership as they navigate their way through the health system. While patients in Canada rely on our organizations to provide important services, there is no stable funding available to our sector. Each year our organizations must raise the funds needed to deliver their mission. The confluence of increased demands due to system changes in how health care is delivered, coupled with restrictive rules set by the Canada Revenue Agency on how charities may operate and earn income, makes it increasingly difficult for our members to remain competitive in this funding environment.
There are two key recommendations we would like to address. The first is that we encourage the federal government to create opportunities for directly involving the sector in modernizing the legal and regulatory regime under which charities and not-for-profits operate. We believe it is an integral part of a charity’s purpose to work with policymakers to help clarify issues and identify the best solutions to meet the needs of the public. Canadian charities can provide thoughtful non-partisan discourse with government on behalf of their communities.
There are many areas where our experience can provide useful insight in the modernization process. For example, one of the values that we were asked to report on in the T3010 is the overall cost of fundraising, which provides information on the percentage of our revenue that was stewarded toward initiatives that raise funds for the organization. This value does not account for the efficiency or effectiveness or the overall stewardship of the organization. If we are truly modernizing our sector, greater emphasis will be placed on measuring our impact.
The current system is weighted down in administrative burden. The annual filing and duplicative data requirements from various parts of the system require data to be submitted in specific formats. This is time consuming and costly to charities that have no or little human resources available to them. Consideration should be given to whether the same information is required for charities of all types and sizes. We would like to acknowledge the recent efforts by the Canada Revenue Agency to modernize aspects of the reporting process through the CHAMP project and we welcome these. Engagement of the sector in the ongoing modernization project is encouraged. We would like to continue to join others in our sector in modernizing the legal and regulatory frameworks that guide our work.
Our second recommendation is to identify mechanisms under which the health charities sector may equitably access funding under federal government granting agencies. Health charities have long served the public when gaps in need are not met by the public or private sectors. Prevalence of many diseases is growing and expected to increase, putting increased demand on our sector. In order to meet these expectations, our organizations require equitable access to a broad range of funding options that will allow our members to diversify their fundraising portfolios.
Current approaches to government funding programs have created additional barriers in our sector. For example, as key partners in health research, our members contribute to the cost of funding health research in Canada, yet we are unable to benefit from the Research Support Fund, which is a Government of Canada grant that supports the indirect costs related to research. This unequal support in health research funding exacerbates a field of research that is already unacceptably high in pressure and chronically underfunded.
Additionally, restrictions on how charities can access capital make it difficult for our members to access the level of funding often required to make front-end program-related investments or to meet initial partnership requirements. A review of how our sector may equitably participate in funding opportunities is required.
For over a century, health charities have been in your community, supporting patients, caregivers and their families as they journey through diagnosis, treatment, and personal health management, raising funds for breakthrough discoveries and serving the public when gaps in need are not being met by the public or private sectors. With your support we look forward to continuing to be able to answer the call. Thank you for this opportunity and I’ll be happy to answer questions when appropriate.
Lisa Lalande, Executive Lead, Not-for-Profit Research Hub, The Mowat Centre: Thank you for the invitation to appear. Mowat NFP’s research focuses on how the federal government can modernize its approach with the social sector to improve the quality of life for Canadians and others around the world. Mowat NFP has presented before this committee on October 22, 2018. On that occasion we presented preliminary recommendations from our research on strengthening the sector-government relationship. Our paper Breaking the Inertia has since been released and explores these in greater detail. We also submitted a brief that summarizes the paper. Today I plan to discuss these recommendations and emphasize the difference that they could make for the sector moving forward.
The social sector is a key strategic partner to government in its efforts to address big challenges like poverty or climate change. However, the ways the federal government regulates and supports the sector, as you have heard, fail to recognize the realities of the modern world. They were not designed to meet today’s challenges. Mowat NFP’s research has confirmed many of the key themes emerging from prior testimony provided to this committee.
Our research indicates that non-profit organizations and charities continue to face a variety of challenges that impact their ability to deliver their missions. These include: Lack of data on the sector to assist with planning; difficulty attracting and maintaining a consistent base of volunteers; increasing demand for services; difficulty securing funding, particularly donations to support operations; challenges with earning income; growing employment for charity; increasing pressure to track and deliver on outcomes, but without providing adequate support for building measurement capacity; lack of data literacy and technical skill sets; lack of capacity in social finance; onerous tracking and reporting requirements.
Charities and non-profits experience challenges like these to varying degrees based on their size, scope, mission, funding, subsector and geographic location. Despite these challenges, the sector has enormous potential. The sector is a largely underutilized resource for solving complex social and environmental issues.
So how should the government help realize the sector’s potential more effectively? What should the role of the federal government be? Nearly every department of government has some connection to the social sector, yet there is no one-stop shop for social sector organizations to work collaboratively with the government. There is no federal minister, no department or agency with the responsibility for social sector issues.
While governments are seeking ways to solve complex problems through horizontal collaboration, little attention is paid to the role of the social sector in these efforts. As a, result charities and non-profits are caught up in complex organizational structures and systems within the federal government that constrain rather than enable their work. With no one assigned responsibility for enabling the sector, the situation is unlikely to change. A transformative, systems-wide approach is needed. For this reason, we recommend the following changes: Give the Tax Court of Canada jurisdiction over cases related to charities. This change can help make judicial review of CRA decisions more accessible and affordable for charities. Other tax-related appeals are within the jurisdiction of the Tax Court. It is appropriate that charity appeals would be addressed in a similar manner.
Creating a standing joint committee for the social sector with members from both the House of Commons and the Senate. Society’s needs will change and continue to evolve, so should the law. This joint committee would have strong symbolic value and would create a crucial mechanism for considering legislative changes.
The committee has also heard from other witnesses on issues related to earned income and business activities, direction and control, deferential tax credits and government transfers. We endorse the recommendations put forward by the Muttart Foundation in their submissions to the committee. We also propose establishing a social sector office as a permanent unit within a central agency such as the Privy Council office to support the enabling functions. A stand-alone office within a central agency would allow for policy coordination across departments and would be more effective at promoting a whole-of-government approach.
More specifically, the office could support cross-sector partnerships, work with a sector to promote volunteerism and giving nationality, share best practices and lessons learned, ensure that critical research on the sector is undertaken, engage the sector on issues related to social finance and social innovation, coordinate provincial and federal government activities as appropriate and support efforts to streamline funding applications and reporting systems. The sector has called for this type of public service leadership for decades.
In 2006 the Blue Ribbon Panel emphasized the need for cross-departmental leadership on grants and contribution issues. A centralized social sector office could play this role and reduce duplication of efforts. There are parallels between the mandate for this proposed office for the social sector and the office for social innovation that was recommended in the Social Innovation and Social Finance Co-creation Steering Group report. Where possible, it would be prudent to align these mandates and establish clear constitutional links.
We also recommend expanding the scope of the proposed social innovation council to include enabling and advising on the social sector more broadly. The council’s role would be connected to, but distinct from, the recently reinstated advisory committee for the Charities Directorate. This approach is required because the sector is facing enormous challenges that, as you have heard, stretch well beyond the activities of the Charities Directorate. The mandate of the directorate does not include nurturing or enabling charities. They are a tax regulator. Given the advisory committee would be located with the tax regulator, it is unlikely they will be able to truly support the enabling systems-wide functions that are needed.
The social innovation council and the social sector office would be more effective institutions within government to embrace the depth and complexity of the issues facing the sector. We recommend anchoring the commitment to long-term policy action by embedding the office, council and its associated funding structures in legislation. This would make the federal government’s approach more visible and less vulnerable to political changes. Other jurisdictions have taken such an approach. The U.K. Office for Civil Society exists to promote a whole-of-government shift on sector reform and exists wholly independent from the U.K. Charity Commission which acts as a regulator. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission integrates regulatory and enabling functions but remains distinct from the Australian Taxation Office.
By implementing these recommendations in tandem with the others contained in our report, the federal government would complete a built-to-last transformation of the government sector partnership that recognizes and deepens the roles each play in achieving social change.
Thank you for your time. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you all for being with us. I have questions for each of you. It will depend on whether I get to each of you, because there are other senators in the room.
My first question is to Mr. Landon and Ms. Côté. You both represent big charities in our country, powerful institutions that are essential to our way of life, but they are very powerful and, to some extent, they are elite.
May I ask you, in your universities and health care institutions, whether you have a system and a mechanism to measure diversity in governance on your boards?
Mr. Landon: Recently, Universities Canada and its 96 members pronounced their equity diversity and inclusion principles that would look at increasing diversity throughout the institutions, including on their boards. So there is a way of measuring how we are doing on that, and it’s going to be a program where once every year, we will report back on how we are improving in those areas.
Senator Omidvar: In the aggregate, you will let Canadians know that their universities are governed by people who look like Canada.
Mr. Landon: Absolutely.
Ms. Côté: This is an area we are growing increasingly interested in, not only looking at the definition the federal government uses. We also like to look at diversity in terms of representation of patients and making sure there is appropriate representation on our boards of the people and populations we represent.
Each of our members, within their own terms of reference and their governance structure, are examining that and making sure we are competency based. Part of the competency is making sure that there is an accurate reflection of the people we are representing. I think that is an important thing to be examining.
Senator Omidvar: I have sat on a couple of hospital boards. I am always taken by two different strands of conversation. One is: How can we generate more engagement and more funds from a Canada that looks very different today? Then I have the other conversation, which is: Well, your board really does not yet look like the people of Canada, and engagement starts not by asking for money but by giving a voice.
That’s why I’m asking the question. It’s not a superficial question focused on any kind of tokenism. I want to make that clear.
I’m glad to know that Universities Canada has a robust frame. I’d love to see the first-year report. You also, Ms. Côté.
Ms. Lalande, I want to thank you for your brief and presentation. The last time the Mowat Centre made a presentation, I think we challenged you to embroider out a little bit more specifically what it means when you say the sector deserves a place, a home, in the government, and you have done exactly that. I really want to thank you for that.
We have, though, a decision already, which is the advisory committee to the sector will be located within the CRA. I wonder if you could help us out, given that we have this decision and this committee is going to be created. What advice would you give us that we can consider so that, in fact, this committee does the best work it can do given the constraints of being located within a regulator? What are some of the terms of reference you can think of? What about representation, or is that another brief?
Ms. Lalande: Maybe I’ll come up with another one. It’s a good question. In the paper, we unpack what the difference is between enabling functions and regulating functions. We feel that within the Charities Directorate, they can aptly do the regulatory functions.
They are going to be challenged to do some of the enabling, as I described in my comments if the committee engages the sector through broad representation. Engagement within the sector does not have to be through the traditional committee, or in-person meetings given existing technology. There is some fantastic technology now that allows for real-time engagement on questions that didn’t exist before. Platforms like DemocracyOS or LiquidFeedback are two examples.
To really stretch the thinking around what meaningful engagement looks like and how to do that effectively with the sector would be one of my first recommendations.
Senator Omidvar: I’m very intrigued by your recommendation, Ms. Lalande, to create a joint committee of the house and the Senate to focus on the third sector, charitable sector or whatever you would call it.
I just want to note that we currently, I believe — my colleagues who have been here longer can correct me — have two joint committees of parliamentarians and senators. One is devoted to the scrutiny of regulations, and the other is devoted to the Library of Parliament. These are inside government, how government works.
I’m just wondering whether in your research on putting this proposal forward, you heard significant support for this idea from the sector, from people inside government, or is this so way out there that it’s not realizable?
Ms. Lalande: Good question. What we heard, and I think the key takeaway, is that there needs to be an ongoing mechanism for considering legislative changes. I think you heard from other witnesses that that could be accomplished by reporting to a committee either of the house or the Senate.
We proposed this joint standing committee because we felt it was a crucial issue and that it would be highly symbolic in nature in terms of its strong symbolic value, but it doesn’t have to be placed there. The key takeaway for us is there needs to be an ongoing mechanism.
Senator Omidvar: Ms. Turner, I have a question for you. I have never been to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, but I have been to other ballets, and I can imagine what takes place there.
You mentioned in your testimony that you generate revenue through different ways. I believe you said through a catering company and different ways.
I wonder what regulatory challenges you have faced in engaging in revenue-generation activities which may appear to people to be completely unrelated to your charitable activity. We did hear a recommendation, which I believe we will be coming back to, that the CRA guidelines need to be adjusted so that charities are enabled to generate revenue as long as they use it for charitable purposes.
Let’s say I’m a local food charity. If I generate revenue from organizing wine tours, it shouldn’t matter as long as I use the revenue generated for the charitable purpose of the organization.
Have you thought about this? Do you have a comment on it?
Ms. Turner: The ballet is a fairly complicated organization in terms of being a charitable entity because we actually house 13 different industries under one roof, when you start to break it down. The ballet company is, of course, engaged in ticket sales. That is a revenue stream for us, but the ballet itself, as a heritage organization, does qualify for charitable status. So in effect, it can fundraise for its own operations.
We also have a professional school, and within that school, we have to operate a residence. As part of the residence, we have to provide basically a hotel service for students as well as providing the educational programming for them. We’re a dance company, an arts organization, a school and a hotel. Through the ballet, we also have production services because we need to produce our ballets, and that includes building sets and the costuming. We have manufacturing in our building as well as construction. So we have quite a diverse opportunity to create revenue streams. We also own our property.
We’re so diversified it’s crazy because you rent a studio in order to bring in that little outcome. Our kitchen that provides food services to the students will provide lunches to some of the offices around just to pick up a little extra catering revenue.
As a not-for-profit entity, we are constantly looking for opportunities to generate revenue because we are so hard-pressed in generating charitable revenue. Sponsorships are easier for us because we can provide return in terms of an audience, in terms of a potential to advertise to a certain group of people. But as I said, sponsorship is getting harder to find because that is an advertising venue.
Specifically to charitable activities, those go toward contributing to some of our outreach programs we do to make ballet accessible to underprivileged kids, to bring programs like sharing dance where we go to schools and do performances and try to bring something beautiful out to the larger world. You start to come to a decision in terms of how much more we can do. We’re spread so thin trying to make ends meet on a year-to-year basis, how do we move forward with dignity and pride in something that has really been a jewel in the crown of this country and our province? The future holds a lot of challenges for the not-for-profit sector.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentations. They have been very useful and added a new dimension to our study. We assure you we have been listening and will have some reflection in our report at the end.
Colleagues, I want to remind everyone that today the committee will continue its study to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, not-for-profit organizations, foundations and other similar groups, and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.
For this panel, we will focus on the point of view of local organizations and we welcome Jung-Suk (JS) Ryu, Chief Executive Officer, Indefinite Arts Centre, in Calgary, and Melanie Hurley, Chief Executive Officer, Outside Looking In, in Toronto.
By video conference from Toronto, LoriAnn Girvan, Chief Operating Officer, Artscape.
Thank you for accepting our invitation to appear. We’re going to ask you to give a presentation and hopefully limit your presentations to five to seven minutes and then we’ll get to questions. I ask colleagues to keep the questions short and the witnesses to keep the answers short so that we can get as many questions and answers in as possible.
Mr. Ryu, you have the floor.
Jung-Suk (JS) Ryu, Chief Executive Officer, Indefinite Arts Centre: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It is a privilege for me to speak to this committee today. I am proud to lead Canada’s oldest and largest disability arts organization — the Indefinite Arts Centre. Founded in 1975, the centre today supports more than 300 artists living with developmental and physical disabilities from Calgary and surrounding communities. Every week, our artists work alongside our talented team of staff and volunteers to conceptualize new ideas, create exciting new works of art and present their works to new audiences both locally and around the world.
Much of this work happens in our 12,000-square-foot facility, consisting of a multimedia studio and gallery, an artist lounge as well as administrative spaces for like-minded community organizations.
Our annual revenue this year will be around $1.1 million. And the organization currently employs eight full-time staff and five part-time staff, along with approximately a dozen volunteers who support our artists weekly. Slightly under half of our revenues are through an ongoing contract we have with provincial government and the rest we raise through granting agencies, foundations and private donors.
Our work — our mission — far outweighs the current capacity and size of our organization. More importantly, we do have a clear goal of becoming a true national resource, where our knowledge and artistic training and creation practices can be shared and implemented in communities across Canada and where our centre can become a national training and creation hub for up-and-coming and established artists living with disabilities.
This path to grow and to serve what we believe to be a nationwide need is paved with many challenges — challenges that can certainly be overcome but not without a disproportionate amount of risk, time and resources. For example, the risk around restructuring to support this growth is that much higher for an organization our size versus one that is 10, 20 or 100 times larger.
In our case, we decided to bite the bullet and take that risk, restructuring in the truest sense of the word so that our HR capacity would be better aligned with serving our artists needs and our organization’s strategic plan. That restructuring was absolutely necessary and our new team today has made tremendous strides in our organization’s development and growth, but that restructuring came at a staggering $150,000 cost, thereby eliminating a large part of our cash reserves and putting our organization in a riskier financial position.
Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised though if there are other organizations our size or similar or smaller unable to make service delivery improvements and search for revenue growth opportunities because they just didn’t have the resources or couldn’t get the approval to lay off a CEO or a senior manager who has been with that organization for 10, 20 or 30 years. In my mind, that resulting stagnant, slow-death spiral is equally risky and what’s most upsetting about this reality is that it usually affects organizations that serve the most vulnerable or marginalized in our communities when, in fact, they should be the ones supported by our organizations that continue to strive to innovate and improve.
With this in mind, I hope the committee and others will consider how to spur innovation and encourage risk-taking across the sector, including smaller, but equally important, organizations.
Time and resources invested toward potential growth can also have a disproportionate impact on smaller organizations than larger ones. For example, larger organizations have dedicated fundraisers and grant writers, capacity that in many cases only results in even bigger capacity.
Having worked as a government relations professional for two much larger charities in my previous roles, I can also tell you how impactful it is to have dedicated staff to come out to Ottawa to lobby decision makers such as yourselves to influence policy changes that, in some cases, do squeeze out potential benefits to smaller organizations.
I once winced at a LinkedIn post by the CEO of one of Canada’s largest arts organizations who, alongside the CEOs of several other large organizations, claimed victory over the increase in the funding cap to the Endowment Incentives Program administered by Canadian Heritage. The very intent of this program was to spur philanthropic giving to organizations who demonstrated a need to become more sustainable by matching contributions dollar for dollar up to a certain cap. The fact that these large arts organizations, who have already demonstrated success in securing a sustainable endowment program, were able to lobby officials to increase this cap so they can further take advantage while potentially limiting opportunities for organizations like ours is something I can only attribute to the strength and capacity of larger arts organizations.
If we can acknowledge that a healthy charitable sector is directly linked to a vibrant ecosystem of successful players both large and small, I would ask that this committee to consider reviewing programs like the Endowment Incentives Program and assess how successful it has been in lifting up and supporting smaller organizations and whether current criteria that differentiate the professional arts from community arts are fair, relevant or simply discriminatory.
The final point I wish to make is certainly no surprise, and that is the reality that we face as a much smaller organization competing against others for private philanthropic and corporate support. In a province that continues to face economic challenges, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it has been to expand our revenue resources by seeking philanthropic supporters and corporate sponsors.
I know that this challenge is shared across the sector in Alberta and elsewhere, though I believe in many cases there is an added appeal for philanthropists and corporations to support far more well-established charities and those that have wider brand recognition. And in times of scarcity, this is even more engrained among potential donors.
Though there is no silver bullet, this ongoing reality is something that needs to be considered in order to maintain the vitality of our sector. In particular, I would like to ask the committee to consider different policies or even tax regimes to spur giving to smaller charities, much like the first-time donor’s tax credit that was implemented to encourage first-time giving.
The ability for smaller organizations like ours to scale up can have a resounding impact on communities across our country. In our case, with the work we do, we feel our ability to expand across Canada can be far more effective than having communities start similar programming from scratch and to duplicate efforts to learn, invest in, and implement best practices.
Canada’s policies should no longer just govern our sector, but provide it with the right environment for this kind of growth and innovation to happen. Thank you.
Melanie Hurley, Chief Executive Officer, Outside Looking In: Good evening, Mr. Chair, and honourable members of this special committee. Thank you for inviting Outside Looking In to be here today. My name is Melanie Hurley, and I am the Chief Executive Officer since August 2018.
Outside Looking In, or OLI for short, is a national charity founded in 2007, and it provides a high school credit dance program for Indigenous youth in grades 7 through 12. Our mission is to empower Indigenous youth to thrive through education and the transformative art of dance. While they pursue education and dance, they also increase their mental and physical health, improve their self-esteem, motivation, behaviour, and learn valuable life skills. OLI program managers and choreographers visit each community every month over the course of the school year.
At the beginning, students have to sign a contract that they agree to meet a series of academic, attendance and choreography requirements and, if so, they will travel to Toronto for two weeks in May where they stay at the Tim Hortons Charities Foundation Camp, and engage in camp activities, homework, and daily rehearsals to prepare for the annual OLI performance at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. There, the youth perform two shows in front of a 6,000-person audience with the matinee comprised of youth from local GTA schools.
Our program has numerous positive effects on Indigenous youth. In particular, the Indigenous youth national graduation rate is only 36 per cent, but it rises to 96 per cent for OLI participants who are eligible to graduate.
We know this program is successful, and we have been working with funders, both government and private sources, to expand our program to new communities across the country. OLI has received federal funding for the last four years, and we are very appreciative.
I would like to take this time to highlight some of the general grant challenges of small charities and perhaps suggested solutions.
One that I’m sure is not new is there is a real need for multi-year funding to enable us to successfully deliver programming, keep the best staff, and to maximize growth while building a financially sustainable model.
Another challenge is that federal grants are often only for new programs or additional components to existing programming. Our core programming is still challenging enough that we need to focus on it and our expansion, and we can’t add events just to access funding.
Also, there is a general rule that charities should have low overhead and administrative costs. The logic behind this is extremely well intended and we share the goal to ensure dollars go directly to programming. However, the administrative time spent reporting on grants vastly outstrips that for which we are allowed to budget. So reporting is essential, but small charities like ours, we don’t have a Finance Department; we’re lucky if we have a book keeper once every two weeks — just something to think about.
Secondly, in our experience, working with Indigenous youth, the government, like most funders, focuses on impact measurement which is quantitative versus qualitative. Therefore, being successful is about the number of participants, exponential growth, and not about impact on the youth. Funding models based on increasing numbers of direct impact each year does not work for our program.
Quantitative measurement also fails to consider the impact of programming beyond direct participants, such as family and community which is so important.
While our numbers of Indigenous participants may be lower in comparison to other programs, the impact that programming can have on these individuals is huge, impact such as aspiring to and attaining post-secondary education; gaining and sustaining employment; lowering incarceration rates and time spent in the judicial system; contributing positively through community leadership; being knowledgeable about mental and physical health; and having increased self-confidence, motivation and resilience.
As our program continues to expand, we expect to see this impact rise.
Now the majority of communities that participate in our program are isolated, perhaps without drinking water, food insecurity, poverty, high suicide rates, and high dropout rates. These quantitative exponential metrics do not capture the success of the program.
Finally, the third set of challenges that I want to discuss relates to a lack of understanding of how Indigenous communities differ from the general population.
OLI serves a number of fly-in communities, so extreme weather can cause delays. Similarly, for those remote communities, we often have significantly higher program costs. This can be difficult to justify in federal grant applications that don’t always leave room for a lot of explanation.
Moreover, in our experience, the program staff who assess applications don’t always have an appreciation and understanding for the very unique reality of working in Indigenous communities. For example, we once had an application turned down because we were told the event did not bring together enough diverse community groups. The assumption was that all of the First Nations and the Inuit communities who were taking part in the event would all fall under one category, when in fact each community participating in the event was extremely unique.
So, I recognize that this is a very difficult and complex file to work on, and the above does not apply to every department or public servant. However, I think that federal program staff could be better equipped with basic understanding of the unique challenges that are facing the Indigenous communities.
This could be done by providing opportunities for program managers to travel to remote communities, to learn about them, to meet and talk to the Indigenous youth, because they really are the true stakeholders; speak directly with the staff working with the youth to gain knowledge of how funding money is used; and engage specialists to educate on the Indigenous landscape.
To conclude, on behalf of Outside Looking In, I’d like to thank the committee for taking these recommendations into consideration. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you very much. From Artscape, Ms. Girvan. Please.
LoriAnn Girvan, Chief Operating Officer, Artscape: Thank you, chair members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to present to you. Today I would like to describe for you the unique way Artscape incorporates social enterprise and social purpose real estate to provide public benefit. I will then speak to some recent experience navigating the chutes and ladders of the regulatory system for non-profits and charities.
Created over 30 years ago, Artscape is an urban development organization that makes space for creativity and transforms communities. Artscape has 13 projects in operation and two in development. Every day, our over 400,000 square feet come alive with the energy and passion of the 3,000-plus people who work and or live in Artscape properties, and the quarter of a million people who take part in our programs and events on offer each year.
We deliver substantial savings and benefits; annually we support $3.3 million savings passed on to tenants, including groups in size similar to our two other guests, as well as owners, in occupancy costs and is we leverage 720,000 in financial support for non-profits, charitable and arts organizations to access our event venues.
In contrast, we receive limited government operating support, the bulk of which is a City of Toronto grant for major cultural organizations. Indeed, government support represents less than 4 per cent of our operating budgets.
We achieve our mission through three core entities: Toronto Artscape Inc, a non-profit; Toronto Artscape Foundation, a registered charity; and Artscape Non-Profit Homes Inc., a non-profit for our social housing. Additionally, we have several building level non-profits and condo corporations, so I have a lot of board meetings.
Over the past two weeks, artist-led families moved into 26 affordable live-work homes, and in a few weeks we will open the doors adjacent on an 8,500 square-foot community cultural hub in Weston. Weston Common represents over $20 million of investment in Weston, a priority neighbourhood outside of Toronto’s core and a neighbourhood that had not had a development permit pulled in 40 years.
Weston Common embodies how we work. Each project emerges through on-the-ground engagement, visioning and planning with local residents, non-profits and charities. For this reason, no one project is the same. An individual artist’s studio can be as vital to the public benefit as a non-profit gallery or space for a charitable youth arts agency. The whole of a community cultural hub is not the sum of its parts, but is an ecology of collective purpose and direct social economic impact, and as an example, a study completed in 2018 estimated that Daniels Spectrum, the community cultural hub serving Regent Park, achieves an annual social impact of $22 million covering everything from direct employment to high school graduation.
At the heart of Artscape’s ability to build, finance and sustain these community assets is a social enterprise model that includes capital project fundraising that leverages government grants and charitable contributions alongside lender financing; near-market rents that help cross-subsidize rents for less resourced organizations and artists; venue rentals for corporate and private events that subsidize lower non-profit rates and tenant access; tenant sustainability funds that fill the gap between affordable rents and actual costs; and community access funds that make performance, gallery and meeting spaces available for free or at little cost for neighbourhood-based organizations, including grassroots, resident-led initiatives.
In November 2018, we opened Artscape Daniels Launchpad, a creative entrepreneurship hub, where thousands of artists will access mentoring, training space and equipment to enable them to prosper financially and socially. As with other Artscape projects, our operational revenues incorporate a mix of affordable membership rates, earned income through venue, digital lab and space rentals, as well as fundraising for bursaries to remove barriers to access. It is our belief that this project could be the difference between people living by their artistic practice or not living by the artistic practice.
In a nutshell, we are creative, resourceful and driven in our commitment to create a Toronto region where our artists prosper and communities thrive.
In 2016, we prioritized the need to reinforce our compliance with the rules governing the relationship between our charitable entity, the Toronto Artscape Foundation, and activities undertaken by Toronto Artscape Inc. The foundation engaged legal counsel to review agreements starting with Daniels Spectrum to unpack a tangled web of compliance related to the original capital project development, the subsidy to tenants designed to keep their rents deeply affordable, the operational model through which we make venues available for free to community groups and charitable donations for arts-based program delivery.
The process resulted in the foundation strengthening its compliance with direction and control. Ultimately, however, the staff time, legal costs and board volunteer engagement were significant. Indeed, the actual cost was far more than the annual sustainability fund the foundation raises to support the affordability that Daniels Spectrum requires to do their work in the community.
Throughout this process, the use of funds was and is clear. Are we achieving our charitable purpose? Absolutely. For the next five years, our focus includes partnering to achieve four to five new hubs outside the core serving priority neighbourhoods such as Weston, as well as tripling affordable housing across the Toronto area.
For this reason, we support previous recommendations shared by our peers working at the intersection of non-profit effectiveness, community building and social enterprise to make it easier for us to collaborate, whether we are charities or non-profits, so we can adapt to changing needs and opportunities at the local level; move beyond direction and control to a focus on impact and make it easier for us to earn revenue for our mission.
One hundred per cent of revenues support our mission. We support the call for changes to the rules governing the provision of grants and loans to non-charities through the adoption of the destination of funds test.
Make it easier for us to access capital. We applaud and embrace the recommendations of the Social Innovation and Social Finance Co-creation Steering Group and we are thrilled about the announcement of the Social Finance Fund. It is essential that non-profits and charities don’t face impediments to maximizing this and other investment resources. In addition, real estate and other planned gifts offer the potential for creating permanent community assets, with a mix of users and uses to build the inclusion and resilience of neighbourhoods.
We wholeheartedly support the consultation and work of this committee to identify concrete steps to modernize the legal and regulatory environment. We believe that together we can achieve even greater impact of the voluntary sector. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. Those were three very good presentations. We’ll now go to questions.
Senator Omidvar: I want to thank all of you. I am so impressed with what I have heard. Mr. Ryu, I did not know about Indefinite Arts, and your presentation was really very important because we need to understand the context of smaller charities.
Ms. Hurley, I’m amazed at your success rate. It’s absolutely fantastic work. Fortunately for me, I know Artscape very well because I live in Toronto. In fact, I will invite all members of this committee to visit the Artscape in my neighbourhood, which has the best farmer’s market.
An unintended outcome is, of course, that property prices around Artscape have increased, so it’s fascinating.
My first question is to Mr. Ryu. You have made a very compelling argument that we have to think about different strokes for different folks. We can’t simply focus on the big institutions and the big philanthropists. We must also look at the small donors and small charities.
You mentioned the first-time donor credit, and our information is here is that not too many people took the federal government up on this, partly because there was very little marketing attached to it. I want to ask you what you think about the scratch tax credit, if you heard about it, which would basically give added incentives to modest donors to donate not just one year, but next year, and the next. Every time their donation went up, they would get an additional tax incentive. Do you think this idea has some vibrancy attached to it?
Mr. Ryu: You know, as I said in my remarks, I think the challenges remain, especially when it comes to the investments of time and resources around marketing the case for support in securing those donors.
I think the bigger issue is if we’re competing for the same pool of donors. I know research will show there is a certain type of individual that would donate their time or their resources, and there are hundreds or thousands of groups that are targeting those individuals every year. I think that the bigger question is how do small organizations compete? Is it fair for those organizations to be competing on equal ground with the large organizations?
I think, thankfully, in our organization’s case, most of our donors are repeat donors. I used to be a fundraiser as well and we often learn that once you hook somebody to become a donor, chances are much more likely that they will be ongoing donors, as long as you do good work. So I’m not so sure that that is as pertinent to an organization that has challenges like ours. It’s simply a matter of how we compete and if there are any regimes or policies that would be able to give us a leg up.
Senator Omidvar: Our concern with small charities is the burden of reporting. Why is it that all charities have to report out in exactly the same way, regardless of the fact that one charity may raise $10,000 and have no staff, and another charity raises millions of dollars and has God knows how many staff. Would you think that would help small charities?
Mr. Ryu: Absolutely. That is, in fact, one of the big fears that I have personally leading this organization. In finding opportunities to grow, it no longer is a question of whether we want to grow, it’s actually a question of whether it is worth the time burden of myself to be able to go through the grant application and the subsequent reporting process, and whether that outweighs, in some cases, the amount of money that we’re searching for. I absolutely agree with that.
Senator Omidvar: Ms. Hurley, I was really interested in hearing that you’re a national program and that you, therefore, must work with all the provinces and territories —
Ms. Hurley: We’re getting there.
Senator Omidvar: — and negotiate with them on the educational tax credit. Because each province is different, have you noticed a variation of response or policy to sign around the education tax credit? Or is it a level playing field across Canada?
Ms. Hurley: We have mostly been in Ontario and Manitoba since the inception, until this year, and then we have expanded to B.C., Membertou in Nova Scotia and up to Iqaluit. So actually, that would be something that I haven’t done personally but that my director of programming, as a former teacher, has done. I would love to report back to you on that.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you. And Artscape, Ms. Girvan, you have a very complicated structure. I’d like to examine how much of this complexity is based on the regulatory restrictions on earned income and business activities or how much of this is simply Artscape being innovative and grabbing opportunities that present themselves.
Ms. Girvan: I think it’s a bit of both. I think we are very entrepreneurial, but we still work within the context of the existing regulatory structure. It is complex, time-consuming and costly. If I could simplify to a single structure or to reducing the complexity of things like direction and control, I absolutely would.
Senator Omidvar: We heard from Me to We, from one of the Kielburger brothers, I’m not quite sure which one. Very eloquent. He talked about the fact that in their need to generate revenue for their charitable purpose, they had to twist themselves into a pretzel many times over and spend lots of money on legal advice to ensure they were airtight.
Is that your experience as well, that you’re paying lawyers a lot of money and taking away from the good work that you’re doing just because the regulations put you into a straitjacket that you can’t get out of?
Ms. Girvan: Absolutely. They’re wonderful lawyers, but yes, we spend a lot of time navigating that complexity and ensuring that we are following the rules fully. So I would echo the concerns they rose.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
Senator Martin: I have the same line of questioning. You asked very important questions, so maybe I will build on that last point about how complex the current regimes are in order for you to qualify for support from various programs but then how complex each of your organizations are too.
First of all, thank you so much for your presentation. I apologize; I was a little bit late. It’s very nice to see what you’re doing, JS. From hearing each of your presentations — and we heard previously from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet — you’re not just dealing with raising funds in order to provide your programs, but there could be lots of other departments you’re having to deal with and ensure that you’re following all of the rules and regulations in those departments, like in the case of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. It’s very complex.
All of it is complex, and I wish we could get out of the way to let all of these wonderful organizations do what you do best.
To our third speaker first, Ms. Girvan. When you said make it easier to earn revenue. Would you expand on the comment you made, that we need to make it easier for you to do what you do best?
Ms. Girvan: There are certain types of revenue that could be called related and there are certain types that are unrelated. That in and of itself is a complexity to navigate.
Our whole, as I mentioned, is greater than the sum of its parts. We’re putting under one roof perhaps a group that might be able to pay market rate, for example, but another group that might not. At the same time, if I’m getting charitable contributions, I have to make sure they’re going toward a charitable activity. So I might be able to use charitable contributions for a market rate charity but not necessarily for, let’s say, an unincorporated community group.
These are the sorts of complexities we’re navigating. Fundamentally, because we actually get very little public operations funding, being able to earn revenue in ways that can support our impact is critical.
At Artscape our hope is that we’re providing a platform and we’re not competing, that we’re creating a bigger pie for everyone or enabling other groups to leverage the government and other charitable contributions they’re getting more effectively. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Again, I’ll give some examples of the sorts of revenue we earn. We earn revenues from weddings and corporate rentals that ensures that a group that’s doing its first theatre performance can have free access to the theatre. We’re constantly mixing and matching our revenues. Not all of those would necessarily fall directly and explicitly within a related business.
Senator Martin: All of you have mentioned the administrative burden to comply and to qualify. I’m trying to put myself in your position.
Mr. Ryu, you talked about the need for regimes or policies to give smaller charities a leg up. I think if you have more staff, if you have more resources, then perhaps you can handle more of the paper burden. But as you say, we need to give the leg up to the smaller charities and organizations because even with great funds, if you’re not able to access them, that makes it very difficult.
Would you speak to ways in which the government could support the smaller charities to give you not an advantage but an opportunity to be at least on an equal footing?
Mr. Ryu: Thank you. I think one of the realities is, again, the risk that an organization like ours might have to take in order to take advantage of fundraising or grants. Do we take one staff away from delivering services to artists living with disabilities and hire a fundraiser? Or do we go into debt to finance that employee to properly pay for them in doing that work? I think those are very unfair questions, in our case, to handle.
So the reality, then, that happens is it all falls usually on the CEO to do the fundraising, the board relations, marketing and all these things because the organization doesn’t have that capacity. But in many cases, I would confess that I would probably not be doing as optimal of a job on all those things just because it’s thrown on my plate.
I think it would be interesting to see policies or grant opportunities that would allow organizations like ours to take that seed funding to hire individuals who would be able to develop a fundraising program for us or give us a better understanding of the grant landscape federally or provincially. Because, again, I can tell you that is something we are not taking advantage of. If we wanted to, it would be a matter of taking resources away to actually hire an individual who would be an expert at that, and I don’t think that would be very fair to the mandate we’re trying to serve. Again, it comes at a significant risk.
The Chair: Ms. Hurley, you had a statistic in your presentation that startled me, and that was the growth in the graduation rate. Could you give us some insight as to why and how that has been achieved? It’s remarkable.
Ms. Hurley: I did say for those eligible to graduate, because we are Grade 7 to Grade 12, and we decided that it’s great to get in at Grade 7 to encourage this motivation, hope and understanding that education is something good.
My experience is that it instills something. It’s signing a contract to say, “I’m going to go to school.” It’s really about completing school. It’s giving a purpose. It’s giving a reason, because to stay in our program is not easy. These youth have to attend school 80 per cent of the time. They have to have a 65 per cent average. They have to work, they have to study, they have to attend and they have to come to their course. I think that really answers the why. This is something that I want to do, and it makes me feel better. There are so many things about dance, mental health and physical health. It’s just general well-being, behaviour, self-esteem, and you name it. The arts are that. But I think that is the basis of that large statistic.
The Chair: That statistic is measuring those young people who are in Grade 12?
Ms. Hurley: Correct.
The Chair: What about the kids that you said are in Grades 7 to 12?
Ms. Hurley: We are Grades 7 to 12.
The Chair: The kids in Grades 7 to 11, what are the statistics on them for graduation?
Ms. Hurley: We don’t have great statistics on them yet. We’re a really small charity. We started with one. Two years ago, we were at five communities. Last year, we were at eight communities, and this year it is 13. What we’re talking about is the number of youth that make it through the entire program would be, we’re hoping, about 140 this year.
It’s hard to measure the kids that are part of our program in Grades 7 to 11. We’re trying to keep in touch, but when their community has not come back to the program, you can’t measure whether they have made it through.
We have started talking to some of the principals to try to get more average statistics on their school. What you’re seeing is families. So if we started off in the community and there’s an older brother, it’s then the younger brother and the younger sister, and they’re aspiring to be part of that program.
The Chair: These would be families that traditionally haven’t produced graduates?
Ms. Hurley: In a lot of communities, the graduation rate is quite low. Unfortunately, there are so many other things going on in the communities that it’s often distracting to high school.
The Chair: Those other things are not necessarily productive things?
Ms. Hurley: No. No. I mean more like no drinking water and those social things.
The Chair: That’s a good clarification. Thank you.
The Calgary fundraising scene is not as good as it used to be, obviously, because of the economic situation in Alberta. But when you secure a donor, the second donation is much easier to get than the first because they’ve already bought into the message. Has that slowed down generally across all sectors of the Alberta fundraising community?
Mr. Ryu: My understanding is that most organizations in the arts and culture sector have had a significant downturn in donations. It’s true that for many arts organizations, although not in our case, there was a significant element of raising funds through the boom, and there was an expectation that charities would be able to come through with a lot of the corporate sponsorships that were far more readily available than they are now.
I think a lot of us in our sector are beginning to make the hard adjustment and diversify to revenue sources and also make attempts at lobbying government. As I mentioned, a lot of the larger arts organizations have been successful in lobbying governments around policy changes that allow them to access a lot more funds than they would have in the past. I think that has a negative ripple effect on small arts charities like ours.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: I’m very new to this committee. I did come from the not-for-profit sector, though, for 23 years I worked for a charitable organization as a director. I was interested in what Ms. Girvan said about making it easier to collaborate. I think you were talking about charity collaborating with your social enterprise, I assume, and the not-for-profit. Is that what you were talking about, the different entities within your organization?
Ms. Girvan: Yes. Obviously, when we’re receiving charitable contributions to the foundation, we have to follow the rules around qualified donees and non-qualified donees. Yet our communities holistically include a range of people and organizations. We really want to be able to create the mix that makes the most sense for a community and not have to be like: There’s some square footage over here that might work and some over here that might not.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Would you agree that the regulatory frameworks and the way that different funders or the way that people see you is you have to act 100 per cent like a charity or 100 per cent like a corporation or 100 per cent like a not-for-profit? There’s a discomfort with trying to have one organization that has those three wings that could raise money on the corporate sector for the charitable organization to do its good work in the community. Did you experience any of that? Because we certainly did.
Ms. Girvan: Yes, absolutely. It’s our DNA, but again it’s nerve-racking knowing that you might fall foul unintentionally as you’re trying that to achieve your mission.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you. I’m really new here, and I’m trying to figure it all out.
The Indefinite Arts Centre, you were talking about funding. We had some interesting experiences with this as a not-for-profit, a funder wanting in-kind that somehow we were supposed to take money from other contracts or services we were doing and provide in-kind for another. One of the stipulations was: Can you match this money or can you do this other thing? I wonder if you want to talk about that a little more. Because I think there’s a lot more to be said about some of the crazy rules that come with funding.
Mr. Ryu: Absolutely, I wholeheartedly agree that that is a challenge. On the topic around outcomes, I think what people fail to understand, particularly donors and in many cases government, is that measuring outcomes also costs money. We would love to hire a researcher to assess what we know to be incredibly positive outcomes on the arts and its impact on people with disabilities, but to try to hire even a PhD student to take time away to doing this work is tens of thousands of dollars.
I keep on going back to this element of risk. It puts us in a very tight position of figuring out what gives. Do we want to divert resources away to begin measuring those outcomes, or do we then go on the hunt for grants that ironically ask for outcomes to begin with? It’s sort of this mad chase that we’re constantly after.
I will add that in many granting programs, especially some of the federal ones for the arts, there is a matching component that is challenging. Not only are you being asking to then invest in a program that you believe in and then planning for that program, but then you also have to go on a goose chase to find matching dollars to support that grant. I don’t think it’s about skirting away from our responsibility to look for other revenue sources to support our programming, but I think those stringent rules present challenges.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: I don’t know how many times I’ve explained to funders that you’re asking for an $80,000 research project. What you’re asking for in the deliverables or the measurable pieces is a massive research project. Thank you for that.
The Chair: Thank you. Senator LaBoucane-Benson, you mentioned that you’re trying to figure it all out. Well, welcome to our world. We’re in this together. We’re all trying to figure it out. I’ve worked in the charitable sector now for over 31 years, and it always amazes me that a donor will give you tens of thousands of dollars, but what they really want to know is — you will not spend any of the money on a fundraiser, will you? You’re not being efficient in how you’re gathering the money.
Senator Omidvar: Mr. Ryu, I’m very engaged with your testimony, especially the observation you made about bigger charities having a bigger loud speaker and therefore positively influencing government legislation. There’s nothing wrong with that; that’s democracy. How then do we give you a bigger loudspeaker as well?
I’m wondering if you would agree that, should this committee make recommendations which benefit larger charities, we should balance those with a view to making life easier for smaller charities as well?
Mr. Ryu: Absolutely, I agree. Once again, there will be, I’m sure, evolutions in federal granting programs that have good intentions from the get-go, but I don’t believe there is enough follow-through on whether that money is trickling down to support the diversity of the sector as well as the diversity of the people supported by the sector.
Some of my colleagues in some other organizations might be offended, but, in the arts, I think it’s easier to advocate and lobby on policies that advance the world of professional and performing arts. Increasingly, we’re seeing investments in Indigenous arts and rightfully so. There are other diverse communities, including the ones which we serve as artists living with disabilities, that may be overlooked. It’s very important to have active assessment of these programs to ensure the broader diversity is supported.
Senator Omidvar: Let me run an idea that we heard; I’m forgetting when. One of our witnesses said that looking for government grants is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I imagine your organization receives funding from ESDC, but you could also get funding from Heritage, Multiculturalism Canada, Immigration and Refugees Canada, Status of Women, Global Affairs, Veterans Affairs, because you serve people who would be of interest to all of those departments.
The idea was that the Government of Canada should develop a web-based list of grants that are available to charities and then review and update that list every three months. When you look for government grants, how do you look?
Mr. Ryu: Fortunately I worked in the government relations space for years. I was the main lobbyist for the Banff Centre and CNIB and organizations like that.
Senator Omidvar: You have connections.
Mr. Ryu: I worked there so now I can pick up the phone and wrangle information out of people. That’s not the case for many of the charities.
Canada Council for the Arts is a great example of an organization that you can call and say, “I have this kind of a project and I’m curious what avenues would support that project through the Canada Council.” They will direct you to this individual or that program, and tell you the limits, the rules; they lay it out for you. I don’t think it is always that clear. I can’t just dial 1-800-O-Canada and ask those questions. It has to be department-specific and, even within the departments, you need to find that one specific person within that one program.
In the ideal fantasy world where I sometimes live, I wonder if it is worth thinking about a general charity help desk that would allow different charities to pick up the phone? I’m sure they would have hundreds of phone calls per day but, in that imaginary world, I could pick up the phone and say, “I have this particular project and it has these implications.” That, I think, would be ideal.
Senator Omidvar: It’s a good idea.
The Chair: The frustration is that 1-800-O-Canada is supposed to be able to do that.
Senator Martin: There are many regional offices, whether in B.C. or in Calgary, but, I guess it depends on the department. I was thinking it would be nice to have such regional desks, but that would require more resources, wouldn’t it?
You were speaking to the gap that we have seen. Even if we have a good funding program, small charities and organizations may not have the resources to access it. There is that gap and we need to figure out how to bridge that gap.
Mr. Ryu: I will add that it took a bit of convincing for my board to accept that I require funding for travel. I can’t begin to tell you how many grants we have since been able to access from my trip from Calgary to Ottawa to meet with different folks, including Global Affairs who fund us for some international exhibitions. That would not have happened if I were not able to afford a plane ticket to come to Ottawa to meet with those individuals.
The Chair: It always amazes me.
Ms. Hurley: I don’t think anyone has a problem with reporting. We certainly all want funds to be going to programming, where they’re supposed to be. We’re just asking to examine the flexibility. For myself, in the time between writing the grant and the time when the grant is received, loads of things will have changed within the communities we dealing with.
Sometimes it’s just a case of being able to go back and say: I appreciate this but, in this category, we will need more funding because now we need to travel more because something has happened. It’s not about the fact of reporting; it’s just how we make it work for all of us.
The Chair: The other frustration, of course, is that governments or funders want to talk about the cost of raising the money. That’s a very legitimate question but if you ask about the cost of raising the money at the very beginning of a capital project, for example, the numbers are out of whack because that’s where the bulk of your costs lie. You may see a high percentage of the money being spent on raising money but, at the end of the day, when you get to the end of the project, that number continues to decline because of your fundraising success as you moved along.
I’m expressing the frustration of every fundraiser in the business, I guess.
Ms. Hurley: Exactly.
The Chair: Thank you very much, all three of you. We’ve had a very useful discussion this evening. We’d like to thank the three of you for being here.
Colleagues, thank you all for being here. I just want to remind the committee and the public that today the committee will continue its study to examine the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, non-profit organizations, foundations, and other similar groups; and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.
For this panel, we have via video teleconference, Ms. Debby Warren, Executive Director of Ensemble Services Greater-Grand Moncton Inc. Thank you for being here, Ms. Warren.
From Yellowknife, via video conference, we have Mr. Greg Scott, Executive Director of Ecology North.
Thank you for accepting our invitation. We would like a presentation from both of you of five to seven minutes. Then we will have questions and I’ll ask my colleagues to be succinct in their questioning and the witnesses to be as short as possible in the answers so we can get as many questions in as possible.
I get to arbitrarily say that, Ms. Warren, you’re starting this process.
Debby Warren, Executive Director, Ensemble Services Greater-Grand Moncton Inc.: Thank you very much for inviting me this evening.
Ensemble Services Greater Moncton was incorporated 30 years ago in March of 1989 as SIDA/AIDS Moncton. Last year we changed our name, but we continue the work to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne infections by addressing the determinants of health, factors that can increase people’s risk for contracting STBBIs. We serve people living with HIV, LGBTQ youth and people who use drugs. Last year, we served 832 unique individuals through our needle distribution service and harm-reduction programming. Stigma toward people who use drugs creates a barrier for them to access health care and other services. Every day, we work to address and reduce that barrier. Additionally, programming is in place for LGBTQ youth and their families. We do extensive sensitivity training on sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the community. Our goal is to build an inclusive community where LGBTQ youth can live, learn and love safely.
Fundraising initiatives and donations have declined over the years for a variety of reasons. We face a particular challenge. People would much rather donate their money to support children versus people who use drugs and live with addictions. Government funding is crucial to continuing the work of Ensemble; however, access to government programming and compliance can be very taxing to the human resources complement of a small organization such as Ensemble. We have five employees.
The process to apply to government programs can be cumbersome and time consuming. It can take weeks to prepare a proposal submission. Proposal writing skills play an important role in the success of an organization acquiring funding. Smaller organizations find this to be challenging. For the most part, staff are front-line workers, not necessarily skilled or knowledgeable in proposal writing. In many instances, sizeable documents are prepared for submissions.
One particular process we recently underwent took place over 12-month period while we were still attempting to do our day-to-day work. There was call for a letter of interest, we had to prepare the letter of interest, a review process, invitation to submit a proposal, prepare the proposal, go through the review process again, revisions and finally the contribution agreement.
As you can appreciate, in that time to prepare the documents which sometimes can be 100 or more pages, it includes an overview of our capacity to do the proposed work, a narrative of the proposed work, work plans, evaluation plans, detailed budgets with each project activity having to be costed out, letters of support, job descriptions, personnel contracts, landlord lease agreements, certificate of status and personnel policies. Then we come to compliance.
Currently Ensemble has six contracts with various funders who require reports and follow up for programs and services that their funds support. Three of the contracts tie the reporting process to the agreed-upon outcomes. We are not required to submit financial reports. These do not pertain to our federal contracts.
Reporting for a contribution agreement is very detailed: cash flow projections annually, two financial reports during the year, general ledger line-by-line expenditures, budget reallocation forms, progress report, performance measurement and evaluation reports, assets declaration, declaration of income from other sources, materials produced declaration, national and regional reports, under-spending report, and finally our annual financial statements.
We recognize the need for accountability and transparency. We would respectfully suggest that onerous reporting processes do not ensure transparency and accountability. As a community-based organization working to address complex social issues, we would recommend that report processes be focused on outcomes.
Other recommendations we suggest are that there be a common application process across the departments, that we would streamline the financial reporting for small organizations, permit automatic carry-overs from year one to year two for funded projects of two-year duration without cumbersome paperwork.
Contribution agreements should provide for advancement of funds, as opposed to reimbursement. Small organizations would have to fundraise in order to carry the project waiting the reimbursement.
So in closing, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to bring forth our viewpoints on the challenges and issues faced by small charitable organizations, such as Ensemble, with respect to accessing government programs. We are most appreciative of the funding we do receive from the federal government. Without those funds, some of our most marginalized people would be left to their own devices. We are faced with a social deficit as we strive to address the need for treatment and support for 832 individuals we serve who have been caught up in the opioid crisis. The funding provided by the federal government is crucial to our work. However, we ask that the burden of access and compliance be reduced so we can focus our limited resources on keeping people alive and moving them forward to a better quality of life. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much for that presentation. I forgot to mention at the beginning of the introduction, it had been your intention to be here with us today, and the weather in Atlantic Canada, as an Atlantic Canadian, I know if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes. We appreciate that you had intended to be here.
Now, Mr. Scott, we would love to hear from you.
Craig Scott, Executive Director, Ecology North: Thanks very much, and thanks, Ms. Warren, you mentioned a few things that Ecology North has noticed as well.
We’re a fairly small environmental organization. We are located in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. We have been around for close to 50 years. We have grown significantly in the last few years, and we do rely fairly heavily on federal and territorial government funding to do programming that helps communities and people across the North maintain a healthy northern environment. We focus on work on climate change, water, education. We do lots of stuff within schools and food production, recycling and composting. We have a broad mandate do roughly 50 different projects a year. We have no core funding. Everything we do is on a project basis, which keeps us hopping and very busy.
So as a result, I have had a lot of opportunities to see many different departments and how they deal with contracts and project management. So I have a few examples of some positive and negative practices.
Things that make it difficult for small organizations like us are consistency and dealing with different departments that have totally different procedures and processes. Even within departments there are big differences. Some places have templates but others don’t. They say, “Hey, make something up.” They have different categories in their budgets, which makes it challenging to tie in with our budgets and keep these things in line.
In general, if we had a federal government template form that was different for different-sized organizations, that would really help streamline things on our end. I think it would make a lot of improvements within the different departments.
Some examples of some good things are we have been quite happy with dealing with CRA. They have been quite easy to deal with, professional, easy to get ahold of and, for the most part, really quite supportive of small organizations. There are some challenges there, of course, which we recognize are needed when you’re dealing with taxes.
Another supportive thing we’ve noticed in the last year or two, we have had more opportunities to deal with multi-year funding. This is something that in the past has always been very challenging. Dealing with March 31 as a year-end means that it often takes five or six months for the government to put out calls for proposal, and the majority of our work and other NGO’s work gets done in the last six months of the year. This is really inefficient. It’s hard to plan staff, and essentially the government is getting the short end of the stick. You’re paying a lot more money not to get as good a product than if all of that work was spread over a whole year.
Recently we noticed that Health Canada and CIRNAC provided community coordinators in the North. That’s to help First Nations and other small organizations as kind of someone who helps move the process along. That has been very beneficial and helped in particular First Nations, which have a real lack of capacity to deal with the administrative burden of some of the CAs and some of the paperwork that the federal government requires. We always get people from Ottawa coming up, and they have all this money and all these projects, and they say, “How come nobody applied?” We have to tell them again it’s because people in small First Nations communities have no time. They are dealing with emergencies every day. They have no time to apply and can’t write these complicated CAs or proposals and deal with that paperwork.
As another example, we rely on subsidy programs, so Service Canada and summer student programming. Last year, we didn’t get funding for that until the middle of July. We normally have our summer students start in May. That was a bit of a surprise, and we had to go to our MP to try to find out where the application was and he didn’t even know. That kind of stuff is a challenge. You know that summer students start in May, so funding shouldn’t come through in July. I’m not sure what happened there.
Another thing that would be useful is checklists, streamline templates and things that would allow NGOs and First Nations who are applying for these things to know that they have all the different pieces in place.
Those are just a few observations I have had. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, and I appreciate the opportunity to present and argue our case for simplicity and ease of access to some of the government funding. Thanks.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Scott. We do appreciate your thoughts.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you to both of you for speaking to us today.
Ms. Warren, you have actually embroidered out in great detail the burden of application compliance, or reporting, in a very granular way. Even though we have heard about the burden of reporting, I have not seen it laid out in this way. I hope this will be mentioned somewhere in our report because what small charities have to go through is stunning.
I was happy to hear from you, Mr. Scott, and maybe you’re one of the few witnesses we have had who have actually said they are happy with the CRA. So I’m happy to hear some things are working well. I have two separate questions for both of you. I’ll start with Mr. Scott.
You talked about a community coordinator: the government has a community coordinator who facilitates access to information grants. Which department is this community coordinator attached to? I wonder if that’s a best practice we should recommend to every department, or every region of the country, that we need to have a small group of community coordinators working with charities and not for profits. I just want you to embroider that out for me a little.
Mr. Scott: Sure. I don’t know all the details, but I know this is something that has been talked about for a while, and there are two departments. One is CIRNAC, formerly INAC, and the other is Health Canada. They are not actually staff people within those departments. They are contracted out. One is within the GNWT, the other within the Department of Natural Resources, and the other is with the Northwest Territories Association of Communities.
It’s basically a contracted position in that they are not really there to help NGOs, but they are there to help First Nations communities, which we have a lot of in the North. One of the things that we have noticed in the last couple of years is there are so many different funding pots. That is a bit overwhelming, in particular, when you don’t have a lot of capacity to deal with these things. Just knowing which pot of funding you need, how to find it, how to find the paperwork and how to get there is a real challenge. These community coordinators have been a real benefit for First Nations and some of the NGOs who work with them, including ourselves.
Senator Omidvar: That’s an interesting idea. Ms. Warren, we have had different departments appear before this committee, in particular, in response to our questions about improving the relationship between the government and grant seekers. We were told about the changes that they have made, that long-term funding, three-year and multi-year funding is now more usual than it used to be. Have you noticed changes, and have you benefited from these new operational guidelines and processes?
Ms. Warren: Well, I’ve been with the organization for 23 years, so yes, there have been changes over time. When I first started, with respect to HIV/AIDS, we had five-year strategies. I believe we had two of those. Then after that, it started to be one year, maybe two years, maybe an upward amendment. Again, that just was very cumbersome.
I will say that recently, our latest contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada is a five-year contract. Given the burden of preparing proposals, I want to tell you that it’s a relief not to have to do it every year. We spend six months writing and doing paperwork and trying to do 12 months’ worth of work in six months. So yes, there have been changes, and yes, the longer term certainly works best for us. They also have the harm reduction fund, and those are two years. So again, much better than having one year, for sure.
Senator Omidvar: Have you experienced, as I did when I worked in the sector, the generosity of the Government of Canada on March 1 of any fiscal year because they have to get the money out by March 30 and you have to do a year’s work in a month’s time? Have you had any experience with that?
Ms. Warren: Sure. We always say you have to hurry up and spend. We are coming toward the end of the year, and we haven’t spent all the money. We could carry it forward, but that’s a whole other pile of paperwork that even the civil servants aren’t happy to engage in with us. It’s not a good use.
As a taxpayer, I begrudge having to spend that money. I’m in that process right now for three projects, trying to hurry up and spend. That’s why my recommendation for at least the two-year projects is just let us roll it over. We’ll make much better use of it. We can only buy so much paper; you know what I mean?
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
The Chair: I always remind people who criticize the use of paper that I come from a province that manufactures paper, and I think using paper is a good idea.
Senator Martin: Thank you both for your presentations.
Mr. Scott, at the end you were saying it would be ideal to have streamlined templates. I was just wondering if you could describe what a streamlined template would look like. I suppose in terms of some of the reporting, it would be the paper burden that you have, so obviously streamlined templates, I understand it. But would you describe what would help ease the paper burden and the reporting process from your end?
Mr. Scott: Yes, and this might be a little different for every project. It can be complicated, depending on the size of the project. But I would say yes, there are some examples of these templates out there in terms of writing proposals, for sure. They tend to make it a bit easier than having a free-form proposal to write.
Some of the things that I think would be useful is budget templates and having all the government budgets having the same budget line items. An example is printing and project equipment. Every department seems to have totally different budget line items, which then makes it really hard for us to try to put that within our own budget because we have line items in there.
If there were clear, fillable templates. We’ve had some really bad examples of these fillable templates that are full of glitches and things that don’t add up correctly. If they were all based on a Microsoft Excel model or something so the lines would sum automatically. Simple things that don’t take a rocket scientist to figure out would really benefit the sector, especially if all the departments used the same kind of format.
Senator Martin: This is just a comment to the chair and our analysts: it seems as though a lot of these organizations are applying to funding programs in different departments. I’m curious to know how inconsistent or different things are and whether or not we could streamline. I don’t know who checks that and who has the information regarding that. I guess you have lots of examples of different types of forms that you’ve had to fill out. Ms. Warren, you’re chuckling. Do you have any comments about this from your experience?
Ms. Warren: To Mr. Scott’s comment about having a consistent form, I have to tell you sometimes it can be literally a nightmare. You’re trying to write this, you’re trying to input information and the formatting is all over the place. If you hit a return button, it might go to the bottom or top of another page. It surely would be very nice if there could be some semblance of commonality. I recognize government is large and it could be quite a task, I’m assuming, but not impossible to find some common parts.
When you look at the submission, for example, and some of the things we’re asked for, are they really necessary? We’re asking you for funds. When you approve it, I could see some of the other components having to be added in, but you’re asking us to do this 100-page submission with the hope of being successful. Certainly some templates and some commonality would be a lot of relief.
The Chair: Senator Martin, you’re asking for utopia here. However, it’s worth asking and worth thinking about.
Senator Duncan: Thank you. Thank you to the witnesses. This is a follow-up question to Senator Martin’s. What I’ve heard is that there’s a need for a common template and a common approach. My question is this: Do you have any concerns about the common template, other than the formatting, which I understand?
The reason for my questioning is that perhaps you both will have experience with this. Continually, from the North, what I’ve heard and what we tend to argue is one size does not fit all and there has to be room to argue about our specific different region and why this project should be funded over, say, Southern Canada. I suspect Eastern Canadians feel similar in presenting their arguments that we’re special and this is different.
My fear would be that a common template doesn’t allow for recognition of that. That’s my sense. I’m wondering if you have any concerns about a common template.
Ms. Warren: I’ll speak to that. As Canadians, we’re all unique and individual, but there are some commonalities. We need to have some structure. Certainly, these are public dollars we’re applying for. I think we need to have at least some basic parts that are common in the request. Do you qualify? Are you a registered charity? What’s the work plan? What’s the evaluation? What do you hope for outcomes? I think there needs to be some common parts of those.
For example, when you talk about differences, when we have been assessed in the past, it’s about burden of the disease. In Atlantic Canada, just by the mere fact — and it’s smaller in New Brunswick — that we’re small numbers, I’m going to use the number of 100 people infected compared to thousands in the larger province, so we lose funding to the larger places through the burden of disease assessment.
Our argument is: Are 100 people with HIV or Hepatitis C as important as 1,000? I understand where those come into play, but in a perfect world, everybody would get what we needed. Unfortunately, we have limited resources and our government can’t be all things to all people. But there can be some common ground together.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you very much for your presentations. Ms. Warren, I thought you did an excellent job of outlining, and in your written submissions, all of the things that go into these massive proposals. I think you were talking about the risk that an organization takes investing all that time and effort, and you just don’t know if you’re going to get the money or not. When you do that level of investment, do you want to talk a little bit about that, the risk that organizations take preparing these proposals?
Ms. Warren: For sure. We’re a small organization, and there are five of us. Most of all of us are front-line workers. I have a title. It sounds good, but basically I am the paper pusher. So I’m not able to be there to work on the front lines with my staff because I’m writing these proposals.
To give you an example, a group of us were making a joint application and $7,000 is a lot to smaller organizations. We hired someone on the advice of where we were applying. It ended up that this work plan looked nothing like what was developed by a very professional proposal writer who is very experienced in our field. We are on version number 11 of the work plan. It doesn’t even resemble what we started with, based on requests for changes. So we have spent the last two years trying to get a work plan in place, and that is my time taken from the front line. We have 832 people struggling with addictions. To me, that is more important than all that paperwork.
We know what our outcomes are and we present them.
It is a financial burden, but morally it’s hard because morale gets very low when we’re struggling so hard to try to apply for the funding. When you look at that list for financial reporting, it almost feels like they don’t trust us with our taxpayers’ money. We are taxpayers. We’re frugal. I heard someone say earlier today in a presentation to you that they did a project for something like $150. They were doing some computer work, as I recall. We are very frugal and resourceful so it’s almost an insult to ask us to give you a general ledger, line by line, for every single expenditure. It makes us feel we’re not valued and can’t be trusted.
I want to tell you about the outcome when I report into government. Mr. Scott mentioned that as well. I wanted to hear the successes and differences we’re making. You don’t need to know that I passed out 151 brochures. So what?
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you so much. I spent 23 years in the not-for-profit sector, and I probably would have said the exact same thing.
The last question I have is this: Sometimes there is a real tension in very small organizations around what skills you hire for? If you’re a service delivery, if you’re doing social justice or health or those kinds of jobs, my preference would be to hire somebody who is good at relationship building, highly empathetic, understands clientele and really is a community engager. But your funding depends on someone who can write proposals and can do reports and this tension therefore exists on what do you hire for, maintain your funding or do the work in the community? If either of you disagree, I would love to hear about that, or agree if you have experiences with that.
Mr. Scott: We have 12 staff right now and we have a mix of staff. I rely on interns in the Mitacs program, and I’ve got a mix of other staff who deal with communications and the different project areas. I write a good chunk of the proposals. My job is to bring the money in and administer these projects.
Yes, hiring people is obviously a challenge, and keeping those people. It’s not very fulfilling to write proposals as a full-time job. Some people can do it but not many people can. It’s hard to find someone who is good with people and also able to write and likes that kind of stuff. The hardest part is dealing with the bureaucracy and dealing with the back and forth with the reporting and the interim reporting and all these different things you have to deal with on a regular basis through the life of a grant or a proposal.
We do a lot of small proposals — $20,000 or $15,000 proposals. You can imagine at any one time we probably have eight or ten federal government projects on the go and have to deal with all those things. Juggling staff is a challenge and I think we probably spend 30 per cent of our time on the administrative burden of dealing with contracts when we could spend that time doing the actual work. It would have saved the government a lot of money, not to mention the time the government employees are putting in making us jump through hoops.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: In your budget lines, what is there for administration; is it 10 per cent, 12 per cent?
Mr. Scott: Good question. That varies depending on the department. We’re typically trying to get 10 per cent; 15 per cent is maximum. Many departments know you can’t put any admin costs in and it’s not consistent across the board. Often they will have a suggested admin fee. If there isn’t an admin fee that makes it challenging to get the most out of a project and deal with staffing and things like communications and time to write proposals that aren’t often paid for.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: It’s very difficult to run an organization on 10 per cent administration but that’s typically what is being asked.
The Chair: If you go beyond it and report the numbers as is, it affects the approval rating of the application. You often wonder as you write these proposals, as the people at the other end who will be on the approval side, if they’ve ever tried to do it on that percentage of administrative costs.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: We did an analysis at one point for the same services being done by the government, they run at 40 per cent admin and they were trying to get us from 10 per cent to 8 per cent admin. So the inequity of all of that sometimes is just mind-boggling. Although I agree with Ms. Warren; nobody wants to waste money. You want to run as lean as you can. I get that. But you also want to run and not run yourself into the ground.
The Chair: If the organization is small and you’re not successful, then it has an effect on employment because you can’t afford to keep people if there’s not enough money for the programs. Then you’re in a Catch-22. Sometimes you wonder whether the people at the end actually know what the objective is.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Maybe there’s cross-purposes about what the objective is, for sure. Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: We have so much technology now, and perhaps it’s utopian of me to consider a solution that’s grounded in technology. Your organizations do wonderful work. You should be able to go on to a federal government website once and upload all your information once on who you are, what your vision is, what your mission is, your bylaws, your letters patent, your X, Y and Z. And once you’re on the website, you’d be linked to a database of government funding opportunities. It’s almost like I get on Amazon, you’re this person, so you will like this, how they pair you up because I buy a book, you like this other book. Is that naive of me? I’d like to ask all of us, but we’ll do that later. I’m going to ask both of you: Can technology create pathways out of complexity?
Ms. Warren: When I fill in those application forms, and I’ve been doing it for 22 years, I keep asking myself why I have to tell them I’m still a registered charity and that my address hasn’t changed. You’re absolutely right. It’s like they don’t know us. I understand if you’re a new organization for the first time. I get that. But when you’ve been getting funding for 20-some years, it’s like they don’t know us. It might sound like utopia, but I’m with you, I don’t think it is utopia. I think that’s just something that makes common sense.
The Chair: These may be the same people that brought you the Phoenix pay system.
Thank you both. It has been very informative. You’ve reminded us about problems that sometimes we don’t remember. Filling out those forms is not an easy thing. Sitting there waiting for approval is even tougher. And finding out that you have to redo them is a royal pain, as most of us know.
Thank you very much to you both for your appearance tonight.
Our next panel is, from the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, David Lau, Executive Director; and from Free Geek Toronto, Ryan Fukunaga; and from MCIS Language Solutions, Latha Sukumar, Executive Director. Thank you all for being here. We do appreciate the fact that you’re here at this hour of the day. We’re going to start with Mr. Lau.
David Lau, Executive Director, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society: Thank you sincerely for asking me to speak on this important topic.
I’m the Executive Director of a newcomer settlement agency that, with a staff of 30 and a budget of under $2 million, we assist approximately 3,000 people each year.
Our agency was founded by three refugees in 1989 who felt compelled to create better services to help people overcome barriers that they experience. Our three founders encountered services that were prescriptive and did not address their needs, hopes or aspirations. This was the impetus for the creative services that addressed clients’ actual needs and is the DNA of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. Because our mandate has us questing for continual service improvement, we tend to find gaps and approaches that solve intersectional problems in our clients’ lives.
I often feel like a greengrocer to a chef who only cooks with potatoes, and most of my competitors are called PotatoMart. Not every human service agency is wired to innovate. Although departments consult and research to find service gaps, they rarely explore innovative methodologies. As a result, federal contracts have sometimes prescriptive call for proposals and run processes that screen for compliance to specific outcomes. This puts agencies like mine at a slight disadvantage.
With respect to public service and the status quo, essentially innovation must have its own processes. Having spent almost a decade in a regional federal office, I’m familiar with federal career progression. In many cases, as staff are internally promoted, they rely on their skills from previous roles to execute their new ones. If innovative granting or CFP processes are staffed by people lacking broad, multi-sectorial experience, they may lack a lens to see the advantages of innovation. Those at mid-range career levels may aspire toward innovation but may not be willing to risk public funds nor jeopardize their career futures on innovative yet untested services. Staff who are tasked with exploring development of innovation must be people who have networks external to the federal public service. They should have career tracks that show a wide range of experiences in many sectors and an inclination to adaptability and creating partnerships outside of the public service. It’s critical that the staffing involved in innovation-based processes see themselves as change agents in the community. Financial risk assessment and risk management need to be part of how innovation programming is explored, but it must be a second line priority. The onus should be on the government to ensure it’s not-for-profit partners do not enter cash-crisis situations because of innovation programming.
Quite recently, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Assistant Deputy Minister David Manicom has broken out plans to explore intersectional and innovative proposals, and we are looking forward to that. It has been some time since there has been exploration in that area. The charitable non-profit sector is not conventional contractors. We are societies that are the expression of the people in the region where we operate. We are democratic, and the best of us respond to civil organizations.
The closer we engage with public service staff in determining innovation, the better we can perform because it releases us from fitting innovation into a narrow margin. Returning to the greengrocer metaphor, we do not need to disguise a pineapple as a potato.
Innovation happens when empowered public servants develop partnerships and networks with innovative organizations. It has been our experience that when a public servant has approached us asking specifically to suggest innovative solutions, and they participate actively in the development process, that’s when we do our best work.
Recently, Canadian Heritage staff, under the direction of Regional Director Erica Tao and Regional Director Derick McNeil, asked us to give briefs to advise them on reducing racism. My brilliant staff delivered some really truly inspiring proposals that focused on unconventional and intersectional solutions.
Innovation is often intersectional, which means creating solutions alongside partners in other service areas. Because of its departmental nature, the federal government is somewhat stove-piped. Federal-provincial jurisdictional relationships further subdivide human problems, and problems and opportunities are not stove-piped. Many are intrinsically cross-linked and intersectional by nature.
My staff recently proposed a self-employment project that brings local Indigenous people with disabilities and newcomers with disabilities together to explore self-employment outcomes. It’s difficult to find a department that is mandated to get behind that sort of thing. It doesn’t follow within employment. It works with newcomers working with Indigenous people. And that’s about as intersectional as things can become.
Our service models use common needs, common discrimination experiences within a context of reconciliation where newcomers and Indigenous people, who both suffer from internal discrimination, can help each other and achieve solutions bespoke to their individual barriers. We believe that is how responsible settlement agencies should be programming to create a better Canada where Indigenous and newcomer people solve problems together.
More recently, agencies working with Family Services of Greater Victoria, partnered to create the Victoria Social Innovation Centre. We were recently selected by B.C. to open Canada’s first trauma-informed daycare facility. This unique trauma-informed daycare will allow us to help a wide variety of children from a wide variety of backgrounds who have a common problem. The intersectional service developed because we realized we both have similar specialties helping children with severe traumas, and they just happen to come from different client groups.
Survival. Much of our sector struggles financially, as we have heard today. The cost of rent and utilities are not the daily cost considerations of many public servants, but for the non-profit sector, they are serious problems. When a government business manager trims our overhead costs, we shut down. Public budgets are finite, but we cannot be innovative partners if our partners don’t consider what happens when our lights go out.
Two years ago, my agency, located in a high-rent region of the country, was forced to find an affordable location. In response, I developed partnerships with like-minded agencies in the creation of Victoria Social Innovation Centre with a goal to stabilizing rent costs by cooperatively purchasing a building. The Social Innovation Centre is a society founded to create administrative efficiencies for its members and also to foster intersectional collaboration for service innovations.
When I approached one of our public service contract managers to see if they could support us, the response in assisting us and stabilizing was zero. What I received was a caution about having funding potentially pulled if the facility was substandard.
So I went to the United Way of Greater Victoria that was mandated to support local human services. They granted us $10,000 to explore the model, which we did. Then I went to VanCity Credit Union, which understood that stabilizing several agencies in a mortgage was good community business. They 100 per cent financed the purchase of a $2.7 million building and then gave us about $170,000 to renovate as a grant.
This new organization will create human service innovations in a financially stable environment. We already have brought in two small agencies who pay low rent and utilize our networks and amenities and will bring in more as long-term partners in the social innovation centre. It’s in our mutual interest to support our permanent partners.
Whereby the federal government is recommitting to affordable housing nationally, it might be worth considering supporting our sectors by finding permanent locations for us to operate. From the business case perspective, when a portion of contract funds just go to pay our landlord’s costs, that’s wasted money that could go back into services if we existed in federally owned buildings or we owned our own buildings, supported by capital grants.
Federal councils. To get beyond stovepiping and into exploring intersectional solutions, the federal government has an ideal structure, the federal councils. I suggest to you that the federal councils are led by a cadre with vision and position to direct the exploration of innovation with a non-profit charitable sector as partners.
Those seconded to Pacific Federal Council projects tend to be public servants with vision and a fairly aggressive attitude of change-making. Once again, staffing for innovation projects should screen aptitudes and abilities aligned to a mentality of change-making and ability to develop multisectoral partnerships.
Thanks very much for allowing me to spend the day. I have enjoyed watching your discussions. I appreciate your exploration of this topic and allowing me time to present an idea.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. We’ll now hear Ryan Fukunaga, Executive Director, Free Geek Toronto.
Ryan Fukunaga, Executive Director, Free Geek Toronto: My name is Ryan Fukunaga, the Executive Director of Free Geek Toronto. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present to the special committee this evening on the topic of innovation. It is an important one to us at Free Geek.
Free Geek Toronto is a federally incorporated not-for-profit that operates as an employment social enterprise in Toronto. We were founded around the innovative concept of using discarded computers and other e-waste to help connect more people to technology. This means we build upon existing social innovation of ethical recycling while primarily impacting the environment to full-scale solutions that address environmental, social, economic and cultural challenges facing our country with regards to digital inclusion.
While our impact is widespread and growing, our capacity for innovation is stymied by the reality that legislative and regulatory policy and program ecosystems at both provincial and federal level was not created nor efficiently supports our model of social impact. The result is that we must focus much of our innovative thinking on how to keep the lights on and our staff paid instead of opportunities for innovation that help us expand our reach and deepen our impact.
Free Geek Toronto is one of several Free Geeks across North America and one of two in Canada, the other one being in Vancouver. Each is uniquely shaped to reflect the local context. Our model involves a storefront and warehouse located in downtown Toronto. We seek out electronic waste donations from individuals and organizations, refurbished computers and then resell them, along with other reasonable technologies, at an accessible price.
We believe in the right to repair and the value of a circular economy. In collaboration with our social sector partners, we also build digital inclusion by providing skill building and employment opportunities to community members facing barriers to social and economic participation. The majority of our employment program participants are on social assistance, and while most face multiple barriers, a common thread is lived experience with mental health challenges.
We also offer digital literacy workshops, host a community hub and promote free and open-source software. If it helps increase the equity across the technology, we are there.
In our short 10-year history, we have grown from a completely volunteer run organization in an out-of-way office impacting a small number of individuals to a federally incorporated not-for-profit operating as a social enterprise with almost $100,000 in revenue.
We have had many recent accomplishments, but the one that we’re most proud of is being able to be a part of the growing innovative sector in Toronto specifically around social investment and social engagement. But we have found that our capacity for innovation is stymied by the sustainability challenges we face as an employment social enterprise.
There is an expression, “Necessity is the mother of all invention,” but when the necessity scenario you are facing is a negative cash position, our innovations are often small and reactive versus big and bold.
For Free Geek Toronto, sustainability means having sufficient resources through a mix of self-generated revenue and support from our outside funders to maintain our operations and expand and deepen our social impact, including effectively supporting our employment program participants.
Free Geek Toronto has succeeded in consistently increasing our self-generated revenue, in particular our non-grant sales revenue in recent years. This positively impacted our sustainability. However, we have historically had difficulty in obtaining non-designated grant revenue, that is grant revenue that supports our core costs as an employment and social enterprise that runs employment participant programs outside of our primary funder, the Toronto Enterprise Fund, which is run by the United Way Greater Toronto, which has been a strong supporter of us for several years.
We have had some important successes in recent years in terms of bringing in grant revenue. However, we are limited in the funds we can apply for due to our status as a not-for-profit, as a number of funding opportunities are restricted to organizations with charitable status.
We can accept cash donations and corporate sponsorship. However, we cannot offer charitable tax receipts, which limits our ability to formally fundraise, as does the lack of staff resources to lead such a campaign.
The result is that we consistently struggle to move beyond subsistence existence, wherein our core permanent staff must make unacceptable choices such as delaying paycheques or reducing hours in order to take outside employment to keep our doors open.
While becoming a charity allows for new revenue streams, these new streams require investment to get and to keep charitable status and then employ staff with fundraising expertise who, hopefully, can help us realize a return investment.
Innovation for a small non-profit like Free Geek Toronto is directly tied to sustainability. This is why we support many of the recommendations Imagine Canada made to this committee last fall and why we are here to tell you about our impact and our barriers.
We need the federal government to provide leadership around the review and renewal of legislative, regulatory, policy and program ecosystem to better support the unique position of employment, social enterprise and our capacity for impact and innovation. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Latha Sukumar, Executive Director, MCIS Language Solutions: Thank you very much for this opportunity.
I come here not just as an executive director of MCIS, a non-profit social enterprise in Toronto, but also representing the collective voice of a number of different organizations that we serve and connect with. We have a unique advantage point because we serve a multilingual population, so communities that want to access critical information to services.
What is MCIS? What I will be presenting is a boots-on-the-ground perspective from our own experience growing a social enterprise.
MCIS is a non-profit, as I said. We are located in Toronto. We have 70 staff and 6,000 interpreters and translators across Canada. We serve over 800 organizations in the broader public sector and provide language services, interpretation, translation, training programs and so on in over 300 languages and dialects. We represent the cross-section of the country.
What is unique about us is of our overall revenue and projected revenue of $12 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year, less than 10 per cent is from grants. All of the revenue that we have earned right now is earned revenue.
We got here with great difficulty. We faced a number of challenges. We want to share some of that experience with you.
While talking about experience, I want to focus on three key topics as they pertain to innovation in the not-for-profit sector. The first is to talk about the conditions that are necessary to support innovation, research and development. Second, I would like to talk a bit about the CRA regulations which stand in the way of non-profit innovation. Third, I would like to talk about the role of non-profits and public policy innovation.
In terms of the definition, it’s important that we define social innovation not just as bringing about disruptive change, but also incremental change. In our case, for example, in 2006, we were fully funded, and we wanted to get out of this funding cycle. The board said, “Go out and start earning revenue.”
Our conundrum was we didn’t have capacity to go out and earn revenue. How do you build capacity when you don’t earn revenue? That’s when we had to come up with a number of patchwork solutions. One of them was partnering with the Rotman School of Business, hiring MBA interns and getting them to help us design our operations. We went after some project funding and so on.
The path we took, was long and painful. It took us 10 years to get to a point of self-sufficiency. Even at this point, when we want to innovate, we have barriers we face.
What I want to talk about is that the situation is not very different from most organizations, as we have heard. We find that most of them want to innovate, but they don’t know how to scale, how to diversify, or how to get out of the dependence on government funding.
Based on our own experiences and consultations, we suggest that we need a dedicated innovation role in organizations. We need non-profits to have money to innovate. We would like this innovation role to shape the organizational culture, introduce design and systems thinking, technology literacy and so forth. We have made a number of recommendations in this regard.
The second condition that we believe is needed for innovation is the following of an emergent social innovation strategy. At the moment, you go after funding and most government funding bodies give funding to organizations in a very siloed manner. Organizations are often pitted against each other, and there is a lot of duplication and wasteful spending.
We believe that if there was a digital platform where we could identify all the programs that are being funded in the not-for-profit sector, we could identify duplication, as well as the gaps in services.
This emergent model will mean that a number of different players — funders, private sector, public sector, academia and community members — will come together in collectively solving their problems. They will do it as they learn, so issues will be tested as people are learning.
The second issue that I want to talk about is CRA regulations. Four years ago, we reached a point of self-sufficiency. At this point, we started to earn a surplus. My board was really concerned because we were now accumulating revenue, and we needed the surplus in order to invest in our technology projects and so on, but we were not at all clear about how CRA looked upon this whole issue. We went out and got a legal opinion, and then we had to create a framework whereby we justified all of our investments and tied it back to our vision and mission.
What we are recommending is that the Income Tax Act be based not on a homogenized view of non-profits — which it is right now — but be much more specific in addressing the range of non-profits that exist in the sector, regarding what is permissible and what is not for an agency to qualify as a non-profit.
Finally, I just want to say that non-profits should have a role in public policy innovation. We are, after all, in close contact with our communities.
Last month, we had what was called a Language Policy Hackathon. We engaged with members of the community that face language barriers, and we found the experience to be extremely rewarding. We find that if you have inclusion, then you end up having diversity, and then diversity leads to greater innovation. We want all levels of government to create deliberate opportunities for non-profits to manage and lead public policy.
In conclusion, the best way to support non-profit innovation is to commit to innovation in a very broad sense, to remove financial barriers, with a dedicated innovation budget for innovation staff, a budget for research and development, and for collaboration among multiple stakeholders. You have to commit to digital platforms so you have this information available, centralized, so everyone has access, and there is greater transparency in terms of the work that is being done by the not-for-profit sector.
Thank you for this opportunity to contribute.
The Chair: Thank you as well. As you can see, we have another witness who popped up on the screen, whom we have been trying to reach. We will now hear from Mr. Vincent van Schendel, President, Le Réseau québécois en innovation sociale, and then we will go to questions.
Mr. Schendel, you have the floor.
Vincent van Schendel, President, Le Réseau québécois en innovation sociale: Good afternoon. I apologize for the short technical delay. Thank you for the invitation. I want to briefly draw your attention to two contextual factors, and perhaps provide some suggestions to help inform the discussion.
First, as we know, there are thousands of non-profit organizations across Canada. Quebec, where I’m from, has thousands of non-profit organizations. There are tens of thousands of these organizations across Canada. Most of them were established voluntarily by groups and individuals seeking to resolve issues that hadn’t been resolved yet, in order to address the needs and aspirations of different populations in various regions, neighbourhoods, territories and sectors. These organizations have developed a real innovative capacity to find solutions in terms of food, culture, local services, environmental protection and community development, and to address poverty and inequality issues, not only by directly helping people, but by building the capacity of populations and communities.
Second, a great deal of funding is available. There are a number of foundations, hundreds now across Canada, that distribute funding or that have hundreds of millions of dollars to distribute. A number of organizations depend on this funding to fulfill their mission and support social innovation. If pieces of legislation need to be amended, the amendments must enable these organizations to carry out their activities and must ensure that philanthropic and private funding can be provided in keeping with the spirit of the current legislation.
I’ll briefly provide some suggestions. First, Le Réseau québécois en innovation sociale and I both believe that the relief of poverty criterion should be expanded to include capacity building in general. The goal is to help communities strengthen their capacity to develop their own solutions and therefore their capacity to innovate.
Second, the understanding of the advancement of education criterion should be broadened to include an experience transfer aspect and support for this transfer and experimentation, which is also a part of education. I don’t know where the legal framework should be included exactly, but I’ll still launching the discussion. The legal framework should generate revenue as long as the revenue is used within the organization to fulfill its main mission. The legal framework should enable foundations to invest, and not only provide grants. The framework must enable them to invest in what are called mission related investments, or MRIs, in these organizations. Of course, in keeping with the spirit of the legislation, the investment should be made for a recognized charitable purpose. The foundations should also be accountable to the Canada Revenue Agency for the portion of the investment made in the MRI. Currently, aside from the 3.5 per cent of revenue distributed, the rest can be invested in places or missions that have nothing to do with the reasons for the legislation’s existence.
Lastly, without going into detail, we believe that there should be different mechanisms for direct discussions between NPOs and public authorities, since public authorities, through tax deductions, also partially fund these organizations. The challenge is to provide better access to the charitable number and the funding given to support the volunteer sector’s capacity to work and develop innovative solutions. That way, the volunteer work can help improve public policy.
I’ll make one last suggestion, which may be on the periphery of this legislation issue, but still relates to it. The tax credits aren’t currently refundable, but they could be. We believe that this would improve tax fairness for the thousands of low-income people who donate to these organizations. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Schendel.
Now, I will go to questions from senators.
Senator Omidvar: You’re really all remarkable in your capacity to innovate and generate new solutions to new and old problems. I’m going to make a comment about social innovation and ask you all — because you’re all social innovators — to respond to it.
I believe that social innovation thrives best when organizations, individuals, leaders, communities, are free to take risk, fail, and learn from failure. We live in a risk-averse society. When I think about the kinds of things that occupy us on Parliament Hill, it sort of gives further foundation to my observation that governments don’t take kindly to risk. So I wonder what comfort, what risk-mitigation strategies you can talk about, such that public servants and their ministers embrace risk in the way each one of you has and succeeded. How do you persuade us to embrace risk and fail if necessary? Anyone?
Mr. Lau: I’ll take that one. I don’t like failing. I really, really dislike failing. When I fail, the results are dramatic for my staff, so we do spend a great deal of time considering, reconsidering, drafting and redrafting the programs that we propose. We re-propose them a number of times to a number of different funders until it sticks. We have a very tenacious group of people. That’s how we get our innovative programming out there. Sometimes it’s not a federal, municipal or provincial granter that will give us the money. Sometimes it’s foundational support or it’s organizations like United Way who work with a different set of rules than public service does.
But things that can ameliorate, as I mentioned before, is really creating a separate section that is looking at particular problems they want to solve and they are looking for particular types of programming or they want to explore programming that might help.
Developing personal relationships is really key. In order to create a complex solution, you can’t put out a CFP and say, “Okay, I’ll get a bunch of different answers and one will be the right one.” It’s important to find organizations that have proven themselves to be innovative, and have dialogues with them and co-develop solutions with them.
Knowing what the organizational needs are and working to support that organization as they develop, committing to a multi-year program, and develop a promulgation program afterwards, supporting intersectional solutions, so it may not be one organization. My organization might say these four organizations need to participate in this because the problem is more complex or the outcomes could be much greater. If we work together, we can serve more people from different communities.
Having an active championship at a fairly high level, ADM level or above, that is something that, from my experience, causes public servants to relax a little bit. It’s difficult with Public Works to change how the business managers look at money. If there can be new ways of exploring how to examine financial risk with this sort of exploratory process, that would be a good way so that it doesn’t feel like everything is a failure if money is spent in the wrong category. Or if brochures aren’t handed out, then it’s a failure.
Senator Omidvar: Any other comments?
Ms. Sukumar: In our case, I think we’ve fostered an organizational culture, which is a start-up culture. Everybody is right on board, willing to try things out without having thought it through to the nth degree, so we don’t experience the risk as subjectively as others would, who would have considered all the possible consequences.
The other thing is we try to have contingencies in place whereby we have fallbacks, and we also try to be nimble, flexible and adaptable. So if something doesn’t work, we do damage control. We do have a good risk radar, and we try to be as preemptive as possible, but if it comes down to corrective action, we’re also nimble and try to act quickly. We don’t overthink everything to the nth degree. That’s part of the culture.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you for those responses. My question wasn’t how you deal with it. My question is how can you help government deal with this?
Ms. Sukumar: I think I kind of answered that in a long-winded way. I think we study things to the nth degree and sometimes we just have to try different solutions.
The Chair: Mr. van Schendel, do you have a response?
Mr. van Schendel: Yes. First, I think that’s an excellent question. It’s a paradox, because organizations that work on the ground and in urgent situations often aren’t allowed to make mistakes. They want support from the public authorities. There’s a paradox, because we have an extremely skilled public service in Canada. It’s not an individual issue or the fact that people are cautious. However, they’re confronted with rules that lead them to make certain decisions or adopt certain behaviours. The people who came before me talked about working differently. Certain rules must be changed and we need to work together. That’s the principle of joint development of public policy. We could talk in various forums with officials from different levels, organizations and networks about experiences, rules and assessment mechanisms.
I think that assessing the measurement of the impact of action taken is quite crucial. Could we agree on assessment criteria that would be acceptable to the governments and officials that apply them, and that would also be acceptable to the organizations on the ground? There could be funding. The proposal to set aside part of the budget for non-standard innovation measures has often been made in Quebec, but has never been implemented. It would be a matter of improving certain methods and working together to implement these measures.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: Ms. Sukumar, in your presentation, which was excellent, you say that the Income Tax Act is based on a homogenized view of not-for-profits. We tend to agree with you. I do. We’ve also heard proposals here that Canada would be better served if we parsed out not-for-profits in terms of member benefit and private benefit.
Would that be a correct way of identifying what you mean by not painting everyone with the same brush but different strokes for different folks?
Ms. Sukumar: Right, exactly. I think the distinction between member and public benefit is the most obvious one. But also in the interpretation bulletins, the way they have said that you can operate exclusively for a not-for-profit purpose, it’s just that the wording is confusing, and it doesn’t say where to draw the line in terms of where you can accumulate surplus.
For example, if I have a big technology project that will cost me half a million, I have to accumulate surplus year over year to save money for that. Yet if I look at the interpretation bulletin, I can’t clearly understand if I can do that or not.
Senator Omidvar: Not-for-profits can’t have a surplus. Mr. Fukunaga, I have a question for you and I’m trying to understand. I think I heard you say you’re a not-for-profit, that you are not yet a charity, you can’t issue charitable receipts, and therefore, you can’t access charitable donations. So why don’t you apply for charitable status? What’s holding you back?
Mr. Fukunaga: The number of regulations and the financial requirements for being a charity around audits and keeping records are a huge challenge for an organization our size. If we have to put 15 per cent of our budget toward accountant fees, that’s 15 per cent that we can’t put toward helping people.
So we’ve maintained our not-for-profit status currently to allow for some flexibility in our mission statement and in our growth strategy so that we can have something that is concrete, developed and sustainable. The last thing we want to be doing is not helping as many people rather than trying to make sure we are meeting the financial requirements of maintaining our charitable status.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: I have a bit of a preamble then a question for Mr. Lau.
One of the things that I have found in my past life, when I was working in the not-for-profit sector, is innovation is often killed by pedantic checklists that people use for adjudicating proposals. To the detriment of being innovative in your proposal and thinking outside of the box to answer a very complex social issue going on in our community, the innovation is killed by this checklist that the proposal reviewers have to use to check. One of my small experiences was having a proposal rejected because we didn’t cut and paste their outcomes into our proposal. Therefore, it didn’t qualify for money.
Has this been your experience at all around getting money, especially around complex social problems that are happening?
Mr. Lau: What I said a bit earlier about that supporting social innovation needs to be its own process is probably my answer to that. If you use the same staff that work on the regular, meat-and-potatoes call for proposals, and they’re using particular methodology, which is very structured and very good when you need to look at a wide range of proposals to see which proponent has the best chance of fulfilling those services with a very small departmental budget, that’s very good for that type of process.
It’s really not very good when you’re looking at gaps that they haven’t addressed in their CFP or you’re looking at creating an intersectional solution. Then everything starts to go wiggly, and that’s why I mentioned sometimes we need to disguise a pineapple to look like a potato.
Yes, it is really important that if social innovation in programming is to be supported, I think departments probably need to help identify what they want to solve. Then bring it to an executive level, have that financed separately and have collaboration between whatever organization that could be and the department and the groups that are creating the programming. Just watch what happens. See what direction it goes. Sometimes you get really unexpected results.
About four years ago, my organization started a gardening project. The basic idea was to partner newcomers with seniors. It solved a whole bunch of different issues, but it was a very oblique way of providing a service. It looked like a garden. We said, “What are the people getting?” It was fresh vegetables. But they’re learning language in a peaceful way and they’re developing multi-generational relationships after they’ve lost all their neighbours and friends and family, such as aunts and uncles. Seniors are getting visits. Everyone is getting activity and they happen to get some fresh vegetables.
There are so many different types of positive things that are happening in the 60 gardens that we created in tiny Greater Victoria that if I say this is an ESL program, it’s not, and if I say it’s this, it’s not. It’s just so many different things. The type of social inclusion we’re creating with that programming is difficult to express to one particular department.
That’s why the Victoria Foundation said, “here’s a bunch of money, make it happen.” When it was successful, the federal government said it looks like a good program. Last year, the federal Minister of Seniors visited one of our gardens and it was lovely. But for us to get to that point we had to take a circuitous route to get that started.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Is there a concrete recommendation for the federal government around building innovation into their adjudication process, to not lock these checklists and scoring sheets down so firmly that you squeeze out that capacity? There has to be some way of doing that.
Ms. Sukumar, I just want to say I loved your presentation. I agree with 99 per cent of what you said. I’m not being argumentative. I heard you talk about the digital platform that would get rid of duplication. But in my experience, when outside people look at duplication, they may see duplication where, actually, in a very nuanced way there is no duplication. There might be a cultural construct of one service coming from this way and it’s kind of the same service as this one, but they’re actually very different. How would this digital platform not squeeze out the little guy who is doing things very differently?
Ms. Sukumar: You make a very good point, and what I’ve presented is somewhat simplistic. The idea is for greater transparency so we know what programming is out there. At the moment, we’re completely unaware if someone else is doing what we are proposing. There’s a risk of duplication. But you’re absolutely right; there may be a very nuanced approach to what someone else is doing in the local community.
Senator Martin: Thank you so much for your presentations and your good work.
Ms. Sukumar, one of the recommendations that struck me is under conditions to support innovation, where you say all program funding that not-for-profits receive from all levels of government have a dedicated line for investment in R&D and innovation. We talk about how important it is to innovate and I see how this could be very important.
If you’re allowed 10 to 15 per cent for administrative purposes, what is a reasonable number for this line, if this were to be included? In terms of the mandate to demonstrate an improvement in program delivery year over year, you talk about how it took about 10 years to get to a place. I could see how you could put in that line, but it would take some time. I was wondering how you see this recommendation being implemented effectively.
Ms. Sukumar: In our organization, we probably have a $2 million payroll budget and we have one person dedicated to social innovation. In fact, she’s here today and she helped write the presentation; that is Eliana, sitting in the back.
It’s a very small percentage of the overall payroll budget, yet she has the space to dedicate herself to that and to come up with the ideas and the community engagement pieces that we’re looking for. For example, we run hackathons and we get all members of the community involved in order to address language access issues. This gives us a better idea of the kind of programming that we want to engage in rather than blindly going based on our own instinct or intuition as to what’s needed out there. Does that answer your question?
Senator Martin: I was thinking for a larger organization you may be able to dedicate certain funds to do this.
Ms. Sukumar: Right, but what I’m thinking about, in terms of a percentage, is it depends on the grant and obviously it depends on the organization. But it just takes one headcount to do it.
Senator Martin: Thank you. I have a question for Mr. Fukunaga. For organizations that have a real niche market and a specialized service in programs, do you think it’s harder to attain government funding, or is it similar to what other organizations face if they’re competing with a whole lot of other groups? In your case, are there a lot of organizations competing for the same funding, and are you also really having to search for programs that you can apply to?
I’m curious about the more specific or niche area that you’re serving and whether it makes it more difficult or equally difficult. What are some of the barriers that you have faced?
Mr. Fukunaga: It does make it a little more difficult because with what we’re trying to do, we’re hitting a bunch of different issues that challenge the communities we’re trying to help. When we do try to apply for funds, we’re not sure what aspect of our organization to put at the forefront. Should we say we are an environmental organization because we’re dealing with the problem of electronic waste? Should we say we’re an educational organization because we’re dealing with teaching people about digital literacy and 21st century skills? Should we be an employment agency because we’re actually hiring people who face barriers? We can even fit into a tech start-up one.
It does sometimes become a challenge, especially when it’s one person trying to do a lot of the administrative aspects of it to say what part of the organization we will highlight with this or that grant, and if we are doing enough in that area to really meet the criteria for the funds. So we’re trying to think innovatively and solve a bunch of different issues. It becomes a challenge to highlight all the good works we’re doing.
Senator Martin: So you just have to search and be creative.
Mr. Fukunaga: We have a lot of volunteers who are working and having the webcast allows them to watch it, so they’re all watching right now. That’s how we do it. We try to reach out to the community. Because we do something around free and open source software, which has a backbone of collaborative culture, we are able to reach out to a lot of organizations that are in a similar place as us, like other e-waste organizations, like the other Free Geeks who are part of the network. We reach out to each other and share resources and that’s how we build out that way.
We’re looking for non-traditional means of increasing our capacity so that when we go to government we can say: Here’s what we’re doing. This is the best we can show you what we’re doing in the best way possible.
Senator Martin: On that note, one last question.
The Chair: I wanted to see if Mr. van Schendel had a comment.
Mr. van Schendel: There are a number of small things. Earlier, someone said that social innovation is a process in itself. We’re talking about issues to resolve. We learn by taking action and we find solutions. The important thing is to support the people who are finding solutions. Someone said earlier that many organizations don’t have a charitable number. That’s indeed an issue. A number of organizations likely don’t have a charitable number as a result of changes to criteria that were initially valid under the legislation. These organizations then end up in a different situation. That’s why access to the charitable numbers must be expanded.
I want to point out something else. It was asked earlier whether the federal government can boost innovation. I want to remind you that, a year and a half ago, the federal government set up a steering group in charge of the joint development of a social innovation and social finance strategy. The group submitted its report last summer. We’re still waiting for the follow-up to the report to determine whether there will be a federal strategy. This is a good way to provide concrete support, through a federal strategy, for social innovation across Canada. Employment and Social Development Canada was the department responsible for this issue.
The last speaker mentioned the culture of collaboration. This is fundamental, and it’s the foundation of the networks to which I belong. I work with a number of organizations, not only with Le Réseau québécois en innovation sociale, but also with social economy organizations. We try not to duplicate the work, in order to pool our resources and collective intelligence. We can’t afford to make mistakes, so we must be very efficient.
This pooling, sharing and transfer of expertise is very important, and it must be supported on its own. The idea is to not have simply thousands of organizations operating on their own. Often, the organizations may be required to compete. However, collaborations and mergers should still be promoted so that we can better learn from our many experiences.
Senator Omidvar: I just wanted to make a comment that maybe our witnesses may or may not be aware of. The federal government has announced the launch of a social innovation strategy and committed $755 million to it. I’m certainly hoping that some of your needs will be met through that institution when it is launched. Right now, it’s still in the conceptualization stage.
The Chair: A very good point to end on. Thank you very much.
Mr. van Schendel?
Mr. van Schendel: There was a $755-million fund and another $50-million fund. This comes to a total of $805 million for social finance. However, there hasn’t been a follow-up yet to another component in the steering group’s report on social innovation. There were two components. I think that many people across Canada are very happy with this fund, but there’s another component to support social innovation initiatives in a different way.
The Chair: Thank you.
Colleagues, I would like to thank the witnesses for being here this evening. You’ve added a lot to our study and we appreciate it. Colleagues, it’s been a long day and we’ve had a good session. I want to thank Senator LaBoucane-Benson and Senator Duncan for joining us today. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. You’re welcome back at any time. We appreciated your contribution to the discussion.