Opinion: Putting charities and non-profits on the election radar

Opinion: Putting charities and non-profits on the election radar

The vast contributions and latent potential of social purpose organizations are being overlooked in the federal campaign.

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In Montreal, like elsewhere in Canada, this federal election is like no other.

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Here’s a sampling of the extraordinary issues facing voters: defeating the Delta variant; fashioning an equitable economic rebuild; combatting climate change; achieving meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; fighting systemic racism and inequalities; addressing poverty, and strengthening senior and child care.

But troubled times and high-stake issues bring opportunity. Voters now have more power than ever to influence the federal parties to bring about innovative and inclusive solutions to these unprecedented challenges.

Selecting the party best able to achieve your vision of life after the pandemic, however, can be daunting. But there is a way forward to help voters choose wisely. That pathway involves harnessing the vast latent potential offered by Canada’s 170,000 charities and non-profits to propel transformative change. When you think about it, social purpose organizations are on the front lines of every major societal, environmental and economic issue facing Montreal and the country.

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An important example of value creation is the work of the Old Brewery Mission, a social organization dedicated to helping the city’s homeless men and women meet immediate needs such as food, shelter and housing. The mission adapted quickly when physical distancing measures reduced its capacity. With its partners, the homeless shelter transformed arenas and hotels into emergency shelters. In total, it managed 79,905 overnight stays.

Our national response to COVID-19 further illustrates the sector’s resilience and enormous capacity to relieve hardship. While most businesses were forced to close, many tens of thousands of social good organizations worked beyond their capacity to meet what were often unparalleled levels of need for services. Moreover, 60 per cent of those organizations say they expect demand for pandemic related services to continue to increase.

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Charities and non-profits are a driver of social, environmental and economic good that must be recognized by our federal parties if we are to help people and communities get through these tough times and thrive.

Nationally, our sector employs 2.4 million Canadians, engages with 13 million volunteers and accounts for 8.5 per cent of GDP.  Charities and non-profits are working hard to address the lack of mental health support, inadequate health care and youth unemployment. These organizations are also the experts in what it will take to eradicate poverty, provide affordable housing for all, and deliver quality and affordable childcare.

Yet despite this enormous capacity, the political parties vying for our votes have so far said precious little about how they intend to strengthen communities by strengthening the sector.

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To be fair, the Conservative Party has put forth some policy ideas of direct relevance to our sector, and the Liberals and the Greens have pledged to include non-profits and charities in some programs or initiatives. However, these parties have fallen short of addressing many of our sector’s policy priorities. The NDP and the Bloc Québécois did not reference the sector at all in their published platforms.

It is almost unforgivable that, for decades, federal governments have disregarded our sector’s potential to advance vibrant communities. This pattern of ignoring the value-creation potential of our sector must be broken.

We are asking voters to help our sector get on the political radar in this election, so we can all get on with fixing the health, social, economic and environmental challenges we face.

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Ask your candidates where they stand on supporting charities and non-profits. And let them know that your vote will be influenced by how effectively their party engages with and strengthens social good organizations.

Together, we can send a powerful message for transformative change.

Melissa Bellerose is vice-president of marketing communications at the Old Brewery Mission. Bruce MacDonald is president and chief executive officer of Imagine Canada.

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