Senate of Canada to Study Charitable Sector

March 9, 2018 | Susan M. Manwaring, Nicole K. D’Aoust

On January 30th, 2018, the Senate of Canada passed a motion to appoint a Special Committee of the Senate to review issues related to the charitable sector in Canada (the “Committee”).  The Senate confirmed that the Committee’s general mandate will be to examine “the impact of federal and provincial laws governing charities, non-profit organizations, foundations, and other similar groups, and to examine the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada.”

The motion to form the Committee was first introduced in the Senate in June 2017 by The Honourable Terry M. Mercer, who, before being appointed to the Senate, was the Director of Fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada and was a charity executive with the Canadian Diabetes Association and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.  He previously held positions with other charities as well.  His motion outlined the issues he hoped the envisioned Committee would consider, including the declining rates of philanthropy and volunteerism in Canada, the legal and regulatory framework that governs charities, funding gaps, and “innovative ideas that could lead to change where needed.”

In his motion, Senator Mercer also told the Senate that there are many questions about the sector that need to be studied.  Below we have summarized certain of the questions, which, in our view, are the most important, based on the challenges our clients, and the sector as a whole, face today:

  • How do we modernize the sector?
  • How is the Income Tax Act (Canada) performing to support charities and non-profits?
  • Are there barriers (provincial, federal, or other) that prevent charities and non-profits from thriving?
  • How do government departments interact with charities?
  • What motivates donors and giving trends in Canada?
  • How do we encourage greater philanthropy and volunteerism?
  • Do Canadians trust charities and are charities acting ethically?

In the weeks since the motion was adopted, the Committee members have been selected.  They are as follows:

  • The Honourable Terry M. Mercer, Senator
    Affiliation: Liberal Party of Canada
    Province: Nova Scotia
    Committee Chair
  • The Honourable Ratna Omidvar, Senator
    Affiliation: Independent Senators Group
    Province: Ontario
    Committee Deputy Chair
  • The Honourable Michael Duffy, Senator
    Affiliation: Independent Senators Group
    Province: Prince Edward Island
  • The Honourable Linda Frum, Senator
    Affiliation: Conservative Party of Canada
    Province: Ontario
  • The Honourable Dianne F. Griffin, Senator
    Affiliation: Independent Senators Group
    Province: Prince Edward Island
  • The Honourable Yonah Martin, Senator
    Affiliation: Conservative Party of Canada
    Province: British Columbia
  • The Honourable Nancy Green Raine, Senator
    Affiliation: Conservative Party of Canada
    Province: British Columbia
  • Certain ex officio members, including the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition

More information about each Committee member is available on the Senate’s website. The quorum for Committee meetings has been set at three Senators.

As of the date of this article, the dates the Committee has set to meet have not been made public. However, the Committee’s meeting schedule as well as any public documents and information related to the Committee’s work should ultimately be available on the Senate’s website (see link above).  The Committee initially plans to meet with experts who are not related to any particular charity in order to gain background information and to get a sense of the issues before hearing from witnesses from particular organizations.  It is anticipated that hearings will be held in mid-April, 2018.  The Committee’s final report is due at the end of December 2018.

While this project is still at a very early stage, we at Miller Thomson are very excited at the prospect of what the Committee could potentially accomplish.  We anticipate filing a submission that responds to the questions raised and further, we would be happy to assist those in the sector by responding to questions and assisting with representations to be made.  We will continue to update readers on the Committee’s work.


This publication is provided as an information service and may include items reported from other sources. We do not warrant its accuracy. This information is not meant as legal opinion or advice.

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