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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Let’s be proud about charities on Canada Day!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Chief Economist Commentary

Canada Day is a time not to just celebrate but also to reflect. We are blessed to be living in a country with a standard of living and quality of life that are the envy of most of the world’s countries. But what has made Canada a country of which we can be justifiably proud? And how can we work together to make it better?

Geography and geology have been generous to Canada and our natural resource wealth has played an important part in growth and development. But the essential ingredient has always been people. The success of Canada is the success of its population from the earliest first peoples to the successive waves of immigration and natural population growth that have created the multicultural Canada of today. It has been our collective talent and ingenuity; enterprise and courage; and commitment to democracy and social justice that have shaped the country we are proud to call home.

As Canada enters the globally competitive knowledge economy of the 21st century, the skills and talent of Canadians will become an increasingly dominant factor in success. It’s a trend which will serve to highlight the value and importance of charities to Canada because charities are in the people business.

On one (often under appreciated) level, charities are a big sector of the Canadian economy – generating some two million jobs and 8.1% of GDP – bigger than the natural resource sector or agriculture for example. Moreover, charities provide high value jobs for individuals dedicated to community service and making a difference.

Charities in Canada as an Economic Sector

The discussion paper, by Chief Economist Brian Emmett and co-author Geoffrey Emmett, invites Canadians, governments, businesses and communities to not only think of charities as purpose driven but also as an essential component driving Canada’s economy.

Download (PDF)

In addition, charities are an important service sector providing key components of quality of life – education and medical services, social welfare and community support, arts and culture, recreation and social services. An aging population is demanding more and more of these services – a factor which explains why the sector has grown more rapidly than the economy as a whole in the last decade or so. It also explains why forecasts indicate that demographics will require charities to continue their relatively rapid growth in the coming decades.

Here the sector must confront a difficult reality. Demands for what the sector provides will grow but the sector can only grow as quickly as its funding will allow. It will be a test of us all – governments, businesses, individuals. Will we be there to support a sector that is a key component of our success and national character when it’s likely to be even more important going forward?

A healthy sustainable charitable sector not only provides essential and increasingly in-demand services. It also 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 creating what Canada can be.

Our collective challenge then is to keep the charitable sector strong and sustainable so that Canada can be all that Canadians want it to be. Something we can be proud of when we stop to think about our country on each and every Canada Day.


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 office of the Chief Economist for Canada’s Charitable and Nonprofit Sector is made possible through funding received by The Muttart Foundation, Ontario Trillium Foundation – an agency of the Government of Ontario, Vancouver Foundation, an anonymous donor, and the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation.

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