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Imagine Canada

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Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the place in his heart for Canada’s charities

Monday, May 5, 2014
Public Policy
Public Policy
Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

Over the last few years, as I have crisscrossed the country talking to charity leaders about how to engage constructively with the federal government, I have repeatedly been asked: Who would you say is the champion for charities in the current Cabinet? My quick and unequivocal answer would often surprise the assembled crowd, “Our champion is Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty.

For many it was an unexpected response because Finance Ministers and their departments, irrespective of party stripes, are more often in the business of saying no, than of saying yes, to requests from stakeholder groups. Given the seemingly incessant demands on the federal purse, Finance Ministers and their staff often have to steel themselves against being too available for meetings or too open to requests for new budget measures. And at a time where Canada was facing global financial uncertainty and was vigilant with regards to new investments, the thought that Jim Flaherty would be our champion at the Cabinet table required some explaining.

Or maybe, it didn’t require much explaining at all. You see, Jim Flaherty had a special place in his heart for charities, and for the disabled community, in particular. Over the latter part of his tenure, Imagine Canada, enjoyed a very positive, albeit nonpartisan, relationship with the former Minister and his office. The Minister’s staff, with his endorsement, welcomed our requests for meetings to discuss measures to increase charities’ impact. They even listened attentively and responded to our concerns when we found ourselves on opposite sides of an issue.

Working with the Charitable Sector

When more than 70 percent of charity leaders appearing before the Finance Committee, during the hearings on incentives for charitable giving, endorsed the Stretch Tax Credit and when Imagine Canada’s Sector Champions emailed the Minister of Finance explaining why the Stretch was so important, Jim Flaherty took note. When he determined that he did not have the fiscal room to introduce the full Stretch in Budget 2013, he did not simply shrug his shoulders and do nothing. Instead, he introduced the First Time Donors’ Super Credit and included a commitment to continue working with Imagine Canada and charities to expand the base of giving. In Budget 2014, when he might have argued that the government had already dealt with the recommendations of the 2012 hearings on incentives for charitable giving, he dedicated a section in the budget to charities and introduced a number of lower cost recommendations from the report, leaving the door open for a possible Stretch Tax Credit in 2015, once the books were balanced.

The last time I met Minister Flaherty in person was at a reception preceding the 2013 Speech from the Throne. The weight of his illness was visible to all as he took to the podium to address the assembled stakeholders. After he spoke, I approached him and thanked him on behalf of the sector for the introduction of the Super Credit as a precursor to the Stretch. He shook my hand, smiled warmly at me, and with that twinkle in his eye, of which many family and colleagues have spoken, said: “You’re welcome. It was the right thing to do.”

So let me say, one last time, “Thank you Minister Flaherty,” and may many more MPs, across all party lines, take up the cause which you championed so well.

About the Author

As Vice-President, Public Policy and Community Engagement with Imagine Canada, Michelle Gauthier works with a very talented team, committed volunteers, and wonderful collaborators from across the country to maximize charities’ public policy impact and advance the priorities for action of the National Engagement Strategy. This summer she celebrates not only 25 years since taking on her first job in the nonprofit sector but also her 25th wedding anniversary. Her most important job of all though, is being a mom to three amazing children: Mireille (17), Elyse (almost 15) and Antoine (8).

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