The Senate recently passed a motion to establish a special committee to carry out an in-depth study of the charitable and nonprofit sector. If you are questioning the importance of this study and the influence of the Senate to enact change, let us bring you up to speed.
The Senate actually has a long history of undertaking in-depth studies of important issues in a way that doesn’t get sidetracked by the latest headlines. Work done in the past by Senate committees has had a significant influence shaping government policies on issues as varied as poverty reduction, health care, and federal support for research. As the Senate increasingly asserts its independence, governments will have greater need to listen to its views.
As to whether we need another study of the sector…
The last time that significant attention was paid to us was in the early 2000’s, during the days of the Voluntary Sector Initiative. The world has changed a great deal since then, but our relationship with government hasn’t evolved to reflect that.
The Senate study is meant to look at the effect of the legal, regulatory, and policy environment we face, and the economic and social impact our sector has. While in some ways it is very focussed, this is actually a broad enough mandate for charities and nonprofits to bring a number of key issues to the fore.
For example, do short-term, project-based grant and contribution agreements leave you operating from one contract to another, unable to plan for the longer term? That’s how government policy affects you, and that’s a legitimate issue to raise during this study.
Or, are you running up against the rules trying to generate revenue, either through business activity or new financing models? That’s the regulatory system, and that’s also on the table.
The Senate’s approach and impact
The Senate committee doesn’t report to the government, and the government won’t have any obligation to implement its recommendations. But, the government itself, through the platform on which it ran in 2015, and through the mandate letters the Prime Minister issued to a number of Cabinet ministers, has committed itself to looking at the same kind of issues the Senate will be studying. Our hope is that the government will take the Senate recommendations, whatever they may be, seriously – this is a real opportunity to get the kind of process that we’ve been calling for in place.
In the coming weeks, the members of the Senate special committee will be named, and the committee itself will set out a preliminary work plan. All we know for certain at this point is that a report is expected by December 31 of this year. This may seem a long ways off, but we all know how quickly time can fly. We also know that the intent is for the special committee to travel across Canada to hear directly from those who are not able to take the time to come to Ottawa.
From our initial discussions with Senators who have a particular interest in the sector, we know that they want a diversity of voices, and that they’re interested in a whole range of issues. Yes, there will be discussion of broader, more esoteric issues like replacing our ancient legal framework with something that better reflects 21st century realities. But there is also wide scope for issues more relevant to day-to-day life, that don’t necessarily require complex legislative responses – issues like grant and contribution reform.
We’ll be following the Senate study closely, and we’ll participate fully in terms of submitting briefs and making appearances. And we’ll do everything we can to keep you informed of what’s going on, and how you can participate as well.
We’d encourage you to start thinking about the kinds of things that government could do to make your life easier – and share your solutions with us and with the Senate. (We’ll keep you posted when the special committee begins its work and puts out a call for submissions.) Let’s take advantage of the opportunity we’ve been given.