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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Charities and their impact on our quality of life

Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Chief Economist Commentary
Sector Research

Recent reports show Canada doing well in broad quality of life (livability) indices for the world’s cities and countries. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary were respectively the 3rd, 4th and 5th most livable of the world’s cities. Interestingly, Canada’s cities maintained their scores and ranking while the Economist noted, liveability has deteriorated in 29 of the 140 cities (20%) surveyed over the last 12 months,” largely for security related reasons. And, according to the 2016 UN World Happiness Report, using a roughly similar approach, Canada is the 6th happiest country in the world.

Expanded definitions of well-being or livability highlight in a very useful way the contributions charities make to the life we lead.

Telling the whole story

While incomes, captured by traditional economic measure like GDP per capita are important to people, they do not tell nearly the whole story. Both the Economist and the UN expand their definition of what matters to include non-economic variables. For example in 2015, John Helliwell notes in the Globe and Mail that compared to the richer U.S., Canada is higher on all five of the remaining variables: healthy life expectancy, social support, corruption, generosity, and freedom to make life choices. The net effect of the latter is much larger than the former, putting Canada significantly higher than the U.S.” Similarly, the Economist’s assessments of livability integrate stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

This means while it remains important to emphasize the role of the charitable sector in traditional measures of income and growth (8% of GDP, 12% of employment in Canada) the impact of charities on broader indices of well-being is even more important. Just look at the elements:  health care, social support, generosity, culture, and environment. These are all areas in which Canada’s charities specialize and make a huge contribution to our quality of life.

Success breeds success

Canada’s future in a world of high technology, innovation and knowledge depends above all on a talented and well educated population committed to economic, social and environmental progress. But in a connected society, people can choose to work from almost anywhere. And what attracts young, skilled, educated, talented and mobile (young) people to locate in a city or country. It is quality of life, broadly defined. Evidence cited by economist and social scientist Richard Florida, for example, indicates that young people choose where they want to live first and seek a job second. This means quality of life counts in the worldwide competition for talent.

The charitable sector provides many of the key components of this equation – the sector is deeply involved in education and medical services, arts and culture, recreation and social services, protection and enhancement of the environment. But more than this, a charitable sector provides people with a community in which to live and participate, to volunteer and donate, and to make a difference in the country and world around them. As one critic put it, charities provide the opportunity to be fully human, the opportunity to participate in imagining what Canada can be.

In the final analysis, this is a virtuous circle. Charities contribute to the economy directly and by providing quality of life that attracts and retains talented people. This adds up to an important if intangible value proposition:  live in Canada, make a contribution, and lead a full life.


About the Author

As the Chief Economist for Canada’s Charitable and Nonprofit Sector, Brian Emmett is tasked with measuring the impact of the sector and bringing economic issues facing charities and nonprofits to the forefront of public policy decision makers. Mr. Emmett is an economics graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the University of Essex in England, and has enjoyed a long and distinguished public service career. He was Canada’s first Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in the late 1990s and worked extensively on Canada’s Green Plan. He also served as Vice-President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in the early 2000s and has been an Assistant Deputy Minister in a number of federal government departments.

The position of the Chief Economist for Canada’s Charitable and Nonprofit Sector is made possible through funding received by Bank of Montreal, The Counselling Foundation of Canada, The Muttart Foundation, and an anonymous donor.

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Submitted by Willy Van Klooster on
Well done, Brian. For all of our complaints as Canadians, we have many fine communities to live in and the charitable sector has played - and continue to play - a significant role in making this so.

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