Mr. Speaker, last December, the Government of Canada established the Department of Social Development to provide a centre of expertise for social policies and programs, thereby enabling Canada to maintain and strengthen its reputation as a nation that cares about the well-being of its population.
In the past 10 months, Social Development Canada has taken bold steps in support of its mandate. Now, in introducing a bill to provide a legal basis for the department, we are building on the work accomplished and laying the foundation for a more aggressive approach to social issues at the federal level.
With its 161,000 non-profit organizations, the Canadian volunteer sector represents both a social and economic force in our country. Once again, I want to stress that, when we say that there are 161,000 non-profit organizations across the country, we have to pay attention to this great force.
The basic purpose of volunteer work and non-profit organizations is to ensure that we can help not only our region, our city or our province progress further, but the whole country. It is therefore extremely important to work with and support these organizations which, in practice, make a useful contribution, very often, in more specific ways than the government or other institutions could.
Non-profit organizations, including charities, provide a full range of services to meet human needs: child care, elder care and youth recreation.
Many organizations focus their efforts on the members of groups which are often marginalized, such as persons with disabilities, aboriginal people and new immigrants. They provide services such as education and training, housing and shelter, and places of worship. In so doing, they improve the quality of life of millions of Canadians.
While providing essential services, non-profit organizations also give Canadians an opportunity to reach out to their fellow citizens. Newcomers to Canada, for instance, get acquainted with their adoptive country through volunteer work, not to mention that this is an opportunity for all these newcomers to gain valuable and fulfilling work experience.
All in all, more than six million Canadians give their time to non-profit or community organizations. This is a donation of more than deux billion hours of work every year. I want to say that despite my full schedule, both in the past and the present, I have taken part in voluntary activities many times. I thought it was very important, not for myself, but like those millions of other Canadians, in order to help and encourage the rest of the population. In fact, when we belong to an organization that provides assistance to the public, we are certainly not doing it for our own personal good.
The assistance provided to these organizations is often dismissed as marginal. Nevertheless, we must never forget that without the concern of the people who keep voluntary organizations and volunteerism going, it would be even more difficult to ensure that everyone in our country is very well taken care of.
Two billion hours of work is a great deal. The Canadian people give many hours of their time so that everyone in Canada can benefit. Two billion hours of work per year is quite a contribution for the entire population of Canada and for its well-being.
Whether they are delivering meals to seniors in their homes, coaching in minor league sports or offering respite care for families in need, our volunteers are doing essential work that reflects well on Canada's dynamic communities.
When we talk about delivering meals, I would just like to point out that in my home region the Canadian Red Cross offers this service. But the service does not appear simply by saying, “We will do it”. It can only be provided by hundreds of volunteers all over Canada who donate their time and energy to help those who need it most.
Our volunteers also contribute to community life outside Canada's borders. They give their time to organizations that create awareness of the need for pollution controls, that establish bridges of hope and understanding between cultures, and that increase the ability of developing countries to help themselves.
These actions show compassion and well-understood personal interest. Once again, I have been aware for a number of years of the importance of working with these organizations and with the people who are attracted to them. It makes it possible for us, in our communities, to ensure that we can help others with needs greater than ours, and contributes to social progress in this country.
At the end of the day, what is given comes back. In other words, as sustainable development takes root in these countries, the entire Canadian population will benefit from the emergence of a safer world that is more stable and more prosperous.
The not for profit and community organizations in Canada are important allies in creating solid and dynamic communities. Not only do they fill a real and growing need, but they speak on behalf of the most vulnerable in Canadian society. Since they are close to ordinary people, they give the government valuable information that can help improve social policy.
When I say they give the government valuable information, I believe that it is important, as parliamentarians, to take some time to talk to these people and get involved in these organizations in order to have a better understanding. That is not to say we do not understand. Nonetheless, we have to make sure we have a better understanding of the needs and the benefits of the not-for-profit organizations that work in the volunteer and community sector. This will facilitate the establishment of a link to provide information to the government so that we can move closer toward really good social policies, as we are doing today.
The volunteer and community sector is at the heart of what is most often called the social economy. It includes all the not-for-profit companies and activities utilizing people and companies to benefit communities across the country.
In Canada, some 10,000 social enterprises and organizations employ roughly 100,000 people and produce $20 billion in annual revenues. This is extremely significant in terms of revenues, but even more significant in terms of the number of people who have the opportunity to work at these social enterprises. Some 10,000 people working at 100,000 companies is significant, and it is extremely important to recognize and promote these companies.
The government is determined to foster the social economy. In fact, it has already started to reach its budget commitments of 2004 in this regard. The funding has been allocated to three priority areas. First, there is $100 million over five years in support of financial initiatives that will increase lending to social economy enterprises. As I mentioned, we can see that this contribution is important to help these social economy enterprises move forward and prosper in the country.The funding in the second initiative includes $17 million over two years for a pilot project for strategic planning and capacity building of community economic development organizations. Finally, in the third initiative, $15 million over five years will go to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in support of community based research on the social economy.
It is extremely important to recognize these social economy enterprises and the importance of social economy in this country. It is important to recognize them because, often, they do not get the attention, but people need a little help that is often more moral than financial.
This investment in the social economy will total $132 million. However, funding is not enough. The government is committed to helping foster the environment that supports social economy enterprises. To this end, as the Speech from the Throne said, the government introduced a new Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, an initiative of Industry Canada.
The new legislation will modernize the regulatory framework, increase public confidence and streamline rules for charities. It will help create the necessary conditions so that social economy enterprises can prosper. In principle, everyone will benefit, since these enterprises put their surpluses back into the community.