Congratulations, Mr. Speaker.
First, I would like to thank the residents of Ahuntsic for once more giving me the honour of representing them in the House of Commons. It has always been an honour.
I am pleased to rise today to tell the House about one element of the Speech from the Throne that is part of my responsibilities within this new government. I am referring to the importance of the social economy in Canada.
I will quote the Speech from the Throne:
The Government is determined to foster the social economy—the myriad not-for-profit activities and enterprises that harness civic and entrepreneurial energies for community benefit right across Canada. The Government will help to create the conditions for their success, including the business environment within which they work.
Social Development Canada was created to become the point of convergence for all social policies and programs for children, families, persons with disabilities, seniors and the volunteer sector.
I have always been one of those who believe that that the government has a role to play as an economic and social catalyst. I am also very much aware that the quality of life in Canada is greatly enhanced by the work of organizations in the volunteer and community sectors which, day after day, accomplish incredible things.
In our communities, they have contributed greatly to the quality of life of millions of Canadians. Their work reflects the values that we, on this side of the House, believe are truly Canadian.
We as politicians see this in our everyday lives while we tour our ridings. I wish, and on behalf of all members, I believe, to pay homage to all the volunteers and those compassionate and caring individuals who contribute so much to our society and to their fellow Canadians.
Canada's non-profit and charitable organizations, community groups and volunteers are important allies of our government in that they build strong and resilient communities. The volunteer sector organizations fill a need that is both real and growing.
In this country there are over 160,000 non-profit organizations and some 6.5 million Canadians who give their time to voluntary organizations. That adds up to more than a billion hours of work per year. Not only does this bear witness to the vitality of our communities, but it is also an important economic force that generates revenues of $14 billion a year.
These volunteer hours make it possible for the organizations to contribute to their community by serving meals to seniors, offering respite care to families in need and enabling our children to develop to their full potential through sports and cultural activities.
The social economy is an area in which the non-profit and charitable sectors excel. I want to thank the Prime Minister again for giving me that responsibility because I think it is going to be a great trial and, as we evolve in the next few months, we will see it having direct implications in terms of communities in this country.
Many people are unfamiliar with this concept of social economy enterprises. The social economy is everywhere. People only have to look around their neighbourhoods: it may be the day care centre, the housing co-op, seniors' support services or a local community economic development organization.
The term “social economy” may be new but it is simply a variation and a continuation of what social, non-profit enterprises already do, such as, for instance, the trade union movement or the cooperative movement in this country. Simply put, it is people working together to solve challenges that confront us in our communities. It is people empowerment, in a way, and community based community action.
Moreover, social economy enterprises operate like businesses. They produce goods and services to generate revenues but manage their operations on a not for profit basis by reinvesting all revenues to achieve a social purpose rather than generate a profit for their shareholders.
For example, AMRAC, an organization from my own riding of Ahuntsic, refurbishes and builds new furniture and employs and trains people who are having difficulty finding work. The organization has two storefronts, one for the furniture it sells to the general public and one that provides household items at prices that are affordable to individuals and families with low incomes. The revenues generated are then reinvested in training programs for the unemployed and in equipment.
This example demonstrates what can be accomplished when community networks get built, when people who care come together to do something about the challenges they see in their communities. There are numerous examples of this all across the country. They come up with new ways to solve long-standing problems. Social enterprises have great potential to provide a flexible and relatively sustainable means for achieving a range of community goals.
Social economy enterprises are not always small. For example, the Cirque du Soleil began as a small business and is now internationally known. It is still active in the social economy, however, through activities such as the Tohu in my colleague's riding.
In Canada there are nearly 10,000 social enterprises and agencies that employ some 100,000 people and whose yearly sales amount to approximately $20 billion, which is an average of $2 million.
The government is determined to foster the social economy. In our budget commitments of 2004 we identified three priority areas for the social economy: capacity building, financing and research.
The funding is allocated as follows. There is $100 million over five years in support of financial initiatives that will increase lending to social economy enterprises. With that money, they can also then leverage funds from the private sector. This whole endeavour requires that there be a partnership between the three levels of government and the private sector. The funding also includes $17 million over two years for a pilot project for strategic planning and capacity building of community economic development organizations and $15 million over five years to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in support of community based research on the social economy. These programs are just down payments, as I have always said since we started back in January toward building a foundation for Canada's social economy.
As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will also introduce a new not for profit corporations act that will aim to reduce the regulatory burden on the not for profit sector, improve financial accountability, clarify the roles and responsibilities of directors and officers, and enhance and protect the rights of members.
We must also identify and share the strategies that work best and work with others to develop a longer term framework for the social economy, which will guide our future efforts in building strong, vibrant and sustainable communities. For that reason, I established a national round table to which I have invited the main stakeholders from the volunteer sector, such as, for example, the United Way, and also from the private sector, VanCity from B.C., the cooperative movement, the trade union movement, and le Chantier de l'économie sociale, to name just a few, to advise me and federal government ministers on moving forward on these commitments.
In conclusion, since today's debate is on the Bloc Quebecois's amendment to the amendment, I would like to emphasize that in my opinion, which is shared by most of the Liberal members from Quebec, it is a way of asking for a blank cheque from the government.
The Prime Minister will hold a meeting with the provincial premiers. I believe that will be the forum for a serious discussion on the subject of the country's finances. This government has never abdicated its responsibilities.