Pictured: A group of six delegates with MP Tony Van Bynen, including Chantal Edwards, Lisa Davey, Rabia Khedr, Lori Vaanholt, Cathy Taylor and Megan Feltham
In the heart of Ottawa, this past September, advocates gathered for an annual effort to center the priorities of the charitable and nonprofit sector. It was the Imagine Canada Hill Day, a dynamic gathering that brought together passionate policy leaders, nonprofit advocates, and change-makers from across the country to champion the causes that shape our nation's future. Let's take a closer look at this inspiring event and the lessons learned for other advocacy activities:
Setting the Stage
The Imagine Canada Hill Day is an annual event that serves as a platform for nonprofit organizations to engage directly with policymakers, legislators, and government representatives. The event takes place on Parliament Hill, where participants have the unique opportunity to influence the federal decision-making that shapes Canada's nonprofit landscape.
This year, 45 organizations from across the country participated and were split into 8 delegate teams that each took meetings over the course of September 26th.
With an ambitious agenda focused on five key policy priorities (below), participants delved into discussions that covered a wide range of critical issues. These included:
- Making federal funding more equitable and effective: Exploring ways to modernize federal funding models to ensure the longevity and resilience of nonprofit organizations.
- Home in Government: Discussing the importance of a strong link between the sector and our federal counterparts, to shape public policy and strengthen the sector.
- Labour and Workforce: Addressing the urgent need for a federal strategy for paid and unpaid work in our sector, as well as consideration for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the sector workforce.
- Data for effective decision making: Promoting the need for more and better data about nonprofits
- Alternative Minimum Tax: Asking for more time for the emerging AMT to be studied, and for the potential impacts on donations in the sector to be transparent to decision makers
The 2023 Imagine Canada Hill Day was not just a gathering of minds; it was a catalyst for change. Several key takeaways emerged from this key event:
- Unity in Diversity: The nonprofit sector delegation that participated was diverse, representing a wide array of causes and organizations. However, participants demonstrated a unity of purpose — a shared commitment to building a more equitable and compassionate Canada. This was on display in each meeting, where MPs frequently commented on the unique makeup of our delegate teams.
- Who Are Our Champions?: Hill Day emphasized the need to clearly identify our policy advocates, both within the sector and in Ottawa. After Hill Day, several actions were spurred with these individuals, including support for various pieces of legislation, parliamentarians asking questions during Question Period, and witnesses from the sector being invited to future committee meetings.
- A Voice in Policy is Possible: The event underscored the power of nonprofits to shape public policy. Participants (particularly local/regional orgs) left with a strengthened sense of purpose and an understanding that their voices matter in the halls of power. One participant noted that they were thrilled to see that “even a glimpse of our work” helped to “address the very limited understanding of our sector” within the government. Several delegate organizations have also reported that they are now actively seeking to organize their own days of advocacy, and this multiplying effect will hopefully continue strong relationships.
- Bundling Meetings Increases Alignment: During Hill Day, meetings with multiple targets occurred at once (eg: several MPs from one or multiple parties). This inadvertently caused shared views of key issues to emerge and small coalitions of understanding to form within meetings, achieving more alignment on the urgency of certain issues.
- Empowering our Meeting Targets: It was made clear that government officials have a variety of tools at their disposal that can help to bring awareness to certain issues. Examples include submitting petitions, asking questions in Question Period, writing letters to Ministers, co-signing calls to action, calling witnesses in committees, and issuing statements. These were seen by delegates as underutilized tactics for our sector.
- Broader Participation is Necessary: Due to legislative constraints, only a fraction of parliamentarians actually participated in this engagement opportunity with delegates from the nonprofit and charitable sector. Similarly, only a fraction of organizations were able to take the time to participate in such a gathering and advocacy effort. This demonstrates the long road ahead for these types of engagements, and the necessity of time and capacity for important conversations about the sector.
The Road Ahead
The collective efforts behind the nonprofit Hill Day 2023 were undoubtedly a success, but they also marked a new beginning. The conversations and connections made on that day continue to provide new connection points. Advocates returned to their communities with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to create positive change.
In the words of one participant, "Our work has only just begun." And indeed, as we look to the future, we can be confident that the nonprofit sector will play a pivotal role in shaping the Canada of tomorrow. While Hill Day acts as a catalyst for conversations, the real work of follow up meetings, sending briefing notes, expanding the networks through introductions created on Hill Day etc. is underway. The result is sustained pressure designed to realize our policy goals for Budget 2024 and beyond. This joint effort has shown us that together, we can turn imagination into reality.