Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would also like to thank the members of the committee for inviting Imagine Canada to testify today on behalf of the charitable and non-profit sector.
In its invitation, the committee was careful to stress the importance of an equitable, inclusive and sustainable economy that better serves traditionally disadvantaged people and communities.
Charitable and not-for-profit organizations are in the best position to encourage and advance this kind of intelligent growth agenda.
Charities and non-profits make an enormous economic and social contribution to Canada. We employ more than two million people in every community across the country, and we account for about 8% of GDP.
By their nature as mission-oriented organizations, they are specialists in equity, inclusion, and respect for the natural environment. Despite our social missions, charities are not immune to the fundamental economic, societal, and demographic shifts that are now posing new challenges to all sectors. Indeed, these will probably have a disproportionate effect on our sector.
The aging population, the imminent retirement of the baby boomer generation, the emphasis on immigration to meet labour market needs, and forecasts of lower long-term economic growth all present unique challenges to charities and non-profits. Demand for the services we provide will continue to rise, we believe, while current financing models mean static or declining resources.
Charities and non-profits have always been creative and nimble in finding ways to generate impact from scarcity, but without a fundamental rethinking of the environment in which we operate, our long-term ability to meet coming demands is in question.
In the brief we submitted to the committee, we explained some of the components that should be part of this review, components that are the foundation of a renewed relationship with the federal government.
First of all, we are encountering more and more conflicts between the desire by charities and non-profits to explore innovative financial models and generate new opportunities, and a regulatory regime dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
We are encouraged that the government in its ministerial mandate letters committed to examining and reforming the legal and regulatory framework under which we operate, but if we are going to contemplate root and branch reform of the system that despite its flaws is familiar to us, we need to ensure that we get this process right.
For the most part, charities and non-profits have not had the capacity to give a great deal of thought or analysis to potential reforms on this broad scale. Getting things right will require federal investment, so that issues and options can be thoroughly identified and examined. This means not just consultations, but building the capacity of those organizations whose future is at stake.
There are shorter-term steps that can be taken to strengthen relationships and promote the smart use of resources. We are encouraged by the emphasis the government has put on good data, collecting it, and seeing it used in decision-making. Our current understanding of the scope and contributions of charities and non-profits is limited by out-of-date data. Statistics Canada no longer produces data about the sector, and decisions are being made based on information that's almost two decades old. This would be unthinkable in any other sector, and we believe restoring data collection should be a priority.
We also want to work with government to identify ways to improve the ability of organizations to use data, to innovate, and to have a greater impact. We need to make sure they have the tools to do so.
Finally, as much as charities and non-profits are working to diversify their incomes, they remain important partners in the delivery of government services. Numerous reports have recommended reforms to the grant and contribution process, and the Department of Canadian Heritage recently announced a series of reforms that we applaud. We would like to see these reforms adopted by all federal departments and agencies.
In conclusion, the committee's call for recommendations recognizes that quality of life depends not just on growth, but the quality of growth, on more than the dollars measured by GDP. The reasons Canada ranks highly in measures of quality of life, published by the UN or the ranking of cities published by The Economist, and more highly than countries that have higher levels of gross domestic product, are that the indices used include measures of equity, inclusion, and environmental quality. Canada has a vibrant and growing charitable and non-profit sector increasingly contributing in all these areas. The challenge in the future will be to create a framework that allows charities and non-profits to contribute to a high and increasing quality of life for all Canadians. That is the smart growth.
We look forward to working in partnership with the federal government to achieve this goal.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.