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Shore up charities to accomplish platform goals: advocacy group to political parties

OTTAWA — Canadian charities, which are carrying a heavy load during the pandemic and meeting ever-rising calls for help despite dwindling donations, say they are feeling ignored by federal election campaigns.

OTTAWA — Canadian charities, which are carrying a heavy load during the pandemic and meeting ever-rising calls for help despite dwindling donations, say they are feeling ignored by federal election campaigns.

While their work involves many of the issues being debated by party leaders, charities say the major parties haven't put forward a plan to help the sector recover along with the rest of the economy. Charity groups have said they have struggled to keep providing services to the growing number of people who rely on them for everything from child care, mental health support, and economic and racial equity. 

“It's frustrating to feel invisible after being such a critical part of the backbone of this country,” Owen Charters, CEO of BGC, formerly Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, said in an interview Friday.

A recent survey by charity advocate group Imagine Canada, involving more than 1,200 charities, indicated that 82 per cent had lost revenue in the last year, with an average loss of about 45.5 per cent. About 40 per cent of those surveyed reported experiencing more demand than could be handled.

Late last year, Charters was driving through his East Scarborough neighbourhood in Toronto and noticed a large crowd of people outside the local BGC centre. He said he was shocked when he realized the people were in line for food hampers. 

The organization saw a similar spike in demand in Montreal, where one centre went from supporting 100 families to almost 1,000 in January. 

Charters said charities will be left holding the bag without added support from the government to help shoulder the load.

“We're actually going to see failure of organizations, not because they've lost money — although that will be the case (for) some of them. It'll also be because they just can't meet the demand in their community,” he said.

“They'll overstretch as they always do, try to do the best they can, and that can be sort of ironically, the beginning of their demise.”

YMCA Canada president Peter Dinsdale said the charity lost $320 million in 2020 and was forced to close 17 locations across the country. The centres provide non-profit childcare, settlement services, as well as employment and other programs.

“The real challenge is YMCA will lose the capacity to be there for Canadians throughout the pandemic," Dinsdale said.

Bernadette Johnson, director of Imagine Canada, said charities and non-profit organizations such as the YMCA and BGC should be treated as partners when it comes to delivering on party platforms. 

“The federal parties have released, to varying degrees, comprehensive plans to support business," Johnson said in a recent interview. "There is no corresponding comprehensive plan to support non-profits and charities, and we're disappointed by this."

The Liberals have promised to expand eligibility to charities and non-profits for the Canada Small Business Financing Program, designed to help small businesses get loans by sharing risk with their lenders.

There are also specific pledges to give $25 million for women’s shelters and other non-profit groups to make menstrual products available to vulnerable people, and support to black-led non-profits that offer mental health support and community programs.

The Conservative platform includes a new pilot program to give $150 million over three years in grants to non-profits and charities that provide mental health services. The Tories are also offering support for programs to get women into the skilled trades.

The NDP have pledged support for not-for-profit child-care centres, a fund to help get non-profit housing built more quickly, and to work in collaboration with non-profits to increase the reporting of hate crimes.

Charters urged parties to commit to recovery funds, funding reform and regulatory changes to support the charitable sector before Monday's election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press