CNS photo/Chaz Muth

Senate report gives Canadian Christian charities top marks

By 
  • July 8, 2019

OTTAWA -- Christian charities have praised a recent Senate report on the charities that affirmed religious organizations are an essential piece in serving charitable needs.

“They did far more than what we were hoping for,” said John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC). “In the report itself they make reference to the great benefit of advancing religion.”

Pellowe noted that Senators went even further in describing the positive role religion plays in Canada during a press conference June 20 after after the publication of the report.

Responding to question from a reporter from Le Devoir on whether religion should be included since they seem to promote only themselves, Senator Terry Mercer, chair of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector, affirmed religion has a charitable purpose.

"Yes, they are promoting their own religion, but I think religion is a good thing,” said Mercer. “It depends and I'm not going to single out any particular religion each person has a relationship with their god that is very personal and how they express that is important.”

“Churches, synagogues, mosques have been the focal point in many communities; they have been the cement that's kept communities together,” he said.

Senator Ratna Omidvar, deputy chair, added that religious institutions “do more than simply preserve their religious beliefs.”

“They extend themselves in very significant ways, and we should appreciate and recognize that, as opposed to looking at whether they should qualify (for charitable status) or not,” she said.

The committee retained the charity categories “the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and other purposes beneficial to the community in a way the law regards as charitable” in its June report entitled Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector.

Pellowe cited research that shows the benefit of religion goes far beyond the mere spiritual benefits, “which the general public doesn’t value.”

“What they have found is people who attend a place of worship once a week or more are very different from all other Canadians,” he said. Those who attend less than weekly have different outcomes more similar to that of the general population, he added.

The weekly attenders or more have “have better mental health, better life outcomes because they are making choices more wisely,” he said.

“People of Christian faith are other-centred, focused on being on a community of other people,” he said. “The others may not be other Christians. They feel responsibility towards other. This makes them more generous and more likely to volunteer.   

“Stats Canada data on giving and volunteering reveals that religious people support secular charities more than non-religious people do, greatly increasing the support that the non-religious have available to them,” Pellowe said.

The Senate committee was struck in January 2108 to examine the charitable and non-profit sector that accounts for more than seven per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product and employs more than two million people, according to the report, which estimated there are 86,000 registered charities and another 85,000 non-profit organizations providing public benefits.

“The charitable and non-profit sector has suffered from benign neglect for too long. Legal rules have been reformed in a piecemeal fashion; task force recommendations have gone unimplemented; and kind words have all too often served as a substitute for meaningful action. The time for real change has come.

The committee made 42 recommendations to shore up the sector, among them: ways to encourage volunteers, seeking diversity on boards, and study whether to increase the tax benefit of charitable donations.

According to a Cardus 2016 report on a charity roundtable, 18 per cent of Canadians give 80 per cent of common good resources. The Senate report shows most giving is done by those over age 55.  As this cohort grows older, charitable giving is shrinking.

Milton Friesen, Cardus program director of social cities, said the Senate report signals the definition of charity and the role of religion is “a matter for ongoing debate.”

“We need to understand what generates volunteering and donating much better than we do now,” he said, noting that if it declines “you can’t just put it back” by increasing tax dollars or having the government step in.

“If giving has a social dimension, we need to figure out what social dimension leads to giving,” Friesen said.  He also noted the needs of large, government-funded charities such as educational and health institutions are very different from small, local charities with little or no paid staff.

The Canadian religious landscape is changing and religious diversity is increasing, he said.  Religion has been traditionally a source of giving, and there is “some sense of decline,” so the question is whether the “government going to pick up the slack” even if in some things “government is not well positioned to take over.”

Under Friesen, Cardus initiated the ongoing Halo project in 2016 that examined the impact of program spending by religious communities. It revealed for every dollar a congregation spends, the wider community receives a benefit worth $4.77.

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