The Senate Report on the Charitable Sector: What You Need to Know

Last week, the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector released its report, Catalyst for Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector. The report is 190 pages long and contains 42 recommendations and over 500 footnotes. So, what do you need to know? Over the course of the next week, we’ll break down the recommendations and content of the report into categories, highlighting the most interesting and relevant portions. Today we’ll look at some of the ‘big picture’ considerations, beginning with context.

Context, they say, is king. And the context of this report is certainly important. First, the report contains non-binding recommendations. Second, the report was released near the end of the Parliamentary session in an election year. Third, the report tasks government agencies, departments, and bodies – some of which do not yet exist – with examining and evaluating issues that the CSSB has simply noted or recognized in the report.

All of this means that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the report, particularly whether and to what extent it will tangibly impact the charitable sector.

For example, the report in Recommendation 25 tasks the new Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector (“ACCS”) with reviewing the common law meaning of charity. Undertaking an evaluation of the very meaning of charity, and whether its definition should remain in the common law or should be legislatively defined is, on its own, a massive question with significant implications for the sector.

Further, the ACCS is going to be made up of 12 senior-level representatives from across sectors, but as of yet only the co-chairs have been appointed. It is to include “registered charities, national umbrella organizations, professional associations, charity researchers/academics, and legal experts.” The Report, in Recommendation 21, adds that the ACCS should also include “smaller organizations, organizations in rural and remote communities, organizations representing and serving newcomers to Canada and organizations supporting and serving Indigenous communities.” Will this prompt the Minister of National Revenue or the Commissioner of the CRA to revisit pending appointments? Will this guide appointments not yet made? We’re left to speculate.

As we noted at the outset, the speculation inherent in elections also plays a key part in understanding the Report. It may be that the Federal Government of Fall 2019 is elected with a totally different mandate than the present government, regardless of which party forms a majority. It could be that a new mandate is prioritized by departments and agencies over and above this report. Or, this report and its recommendations may be central to their priorities. Again, we’re left to speculate.

Since these recommendations are not binding, there may be little reason for the government to make the report a priority and it could simply be shelved. All of this means – you guessed it – we’re left to speculate as to the ultimate impact of the report’s contents.

Depending on if and how the recommendations are understood, applied and advanced, they could have a significant or subtle impact on the charitable sector. Despite the uncertain future of the recommendations, it is important to know what they are, and in forthcoming posts we’ll identify and discuss them by categories such as finance, operations, donations, reporting, procedure and legislation.

Stay tuned!

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Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.