Special Election 2021 Digest

In the latest News Digest, we are publishing a special pre-election issue, with a survey of advocacy campaigns on a range of federal issues that matter to Canadians, and which the charitable and non-profit sector are working on.

In the latest News Digest, we are publishing a special pre-election issue, with a survey of advocacy campaigns on a range of federal issues that matter to Canadians, and which the charitable and non-profit sector are working on.

Editor’s note: In this week’s News Digest, we are publishing a special pre-election issue, with a survey of advocacy campaigns on a range of federal issues that matter to Canadians, and which the charitable and non-profit sector are working on. Canada’s philanthropic sector has a long history of contributing valuable ideas to the policy mix, in fields as diverse as housing, education, social finance, and the environment. (Check out our 2019 election coverage, here and here.) We will update this roundup next week with further survey results and a news section on international development policy and the election.

Climate change/environment

In light of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reportdubbed “code red for humanity” by the United Nations – environmental non-profits aren’t mincing words. “We are in an emergency, and we need to act like it,” the Climate Action Network (CAN) writes in Real Leadership in the Climate Emergency, a summary of five election policy priorities. “Climate is intertwined with every other aspect of our lives: health, jobs, housing, education, social justice, and security. It impacts the well-being of every person, as well as every other species that shares this planet with us.”

CAN’s recommendations include a strategy to redress environmental racism and reduce domestic emissions by at least 60% below 2005 levels by 2030. As Politico recently pointed out, Canada hasn’t hit a climate target in three decades.

Some conservation groups are shining a light on species extinction in their election advocacy. One in eight species is currently at risk, notes Nature Canada in a Toronto Star op-ed, which outlines a “Nature Platform.” It calls for five key actions to reverse nature loss, including restoring urban biodiversity and supporting Indigenous-led conservation efforts.

In Healing Path Forward: 2021 Federal Priorities for Strengthening and Rebuilding First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) repeats its call for a “‘whole-of-society climate mobilization’ at all levels of government,” which follows the AFN’s 2019 Declaring a First Nations Climate Emergency. AFN says that all federal parties must ensure that First Nations are “full and effective” partners in our quest for survival, through actions such as supporting Indigenous protected and conserved areas (IPCAs) and Indigenous Guardians.

Forming partnerships is not only an important step toward reconciliation, as Indigenous-led network Conservation through Reconciliation notes; these could be our only hope. A growing number of reviews conclude that Indigenous communities play  a “critical” role in reducing global emissions and promoting conservation. In “A Decade of Broken Promises: How Canada Failed to Meet Its Goal for Protecting Land and Water,” Eli Enns, co-founder of the IISAAK OLAM Foundation, makes the case for combining reconciliation and conservation as a way to get Canada back on track.

Canada’s pledge to protect at least 30% of lands, freshwater, and oceans by 2030, well above the 17% target in the UN’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (Canada’s current level is 11.7%), won’t happen without respecting Indigenous communities, Enns says. “I would argue you’re probably looking at more like 40 to 50% of the country currently that’s being safeguarded and stewarded by Indigenous people.”

Other climate links

  • A rundown of the main parties’ environmental platforms can be found here and here.
  • Famous Canadians call for an emergency leaders’ debate on climate. Read more here.
  • Confused about what “net-zero” really means? Check out “Dangerous Distractions,” an explainer by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The care economy

In a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives podcast, senior researcher Katherine Scott and Pamela Uppal, policy advisor at the Ontario Nonprofit Network, examine what’s at stake in the care economy this election, asking, “Are we on the cusp of generational changes?”

In the wake of shocking reports that detailed long-term-care (LTC) homes with walls splattered with feces and vomit early in the pandemic and residents dying “in circumstances that would cause public outrage if they were revealed in a livestock operation,” as Maclean’s noted, national seniors’ advocacy group CanAge has highlighted three priorities: fix seniors’ care, prioritize vaccinations, and protect financial well-being. For more details, check out CanAge’s Voices of Canada’s Seniors: A Roadmap to an Age-Inclusive Canada, which stresses multi-sectoral solutions. “What this pandemic has taught us as a country is that no one single organization or government can ‘fix’ seniors’ issues.”

To assist voters, CanAge has published a report card with a list of party platforms tracking “wins.” Every party agrees that the broken LTC system requires infrastructure, workers, and better aging-at-home options, as well as federal–provincial cooperation. This consensus doesn’t surprise Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Ageing (NIA), which has published a slew of reports, an LTC COVID Tracker, and a COVID-19 Visit Risk Calculator. “It would be frankly political suicide to not recognize [that the COVID-19 LTC crisis] was a policy failure,” he told the Star.

Childcare will be the defining issue of the election, according to some observers and policy analysts, who point out that this service is key to Canada’s economic recovery in a Globe and Mail op-ed. “For those who did not already know that childcare is a lifeline for parents and the economy, it became abundantly clear during the pandemic. So clear that business organizations such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce have joined long-time childcare advocates in identifying childcare as key to our economic rebound, especially to power the return of women to the workforce.”

A report called Resetting Normal: Women, Decent Work and Canada’s Fractured Care Economy, co-authored by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Ontario Nonprofit Network, and Fay Faraday, shows that nearly 40% of single mothers experienced job loss or reduced hours during the pandemic and calls for an increase in public investment in childcare, “to ensure women and parents of all genders can return to work and to stimulate GDP recovery.”

Two opposing election platforms – the Liberals’ national $10-a-day childcare plan, for which several provinces have already signed agreements, versus the Conservatives’ refundable tax-credit plan, are causing a stir.

Childcare Canada calls the latter a “back to the future” move and says a tax credit scheme won’t build a comprehensive system of affordable, quality services. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the average family could save thousands of dollars with the national childcare plan, up to $8,000 in Iqaluit and $10,000 in Toronto. (The averages in BC and Alberta range from $5,000 to $8,000.) Only 6,600 families in all of Canada would be eligible to receive the Conservatives’ full $6,000 refundable tax credit.

In a recent Children First Canada report, Raising Canada 2021: Top 10 Threats to Childhood in Canada: Recovering from the Impacts of COVID-19, the authors note the negative impacts caused by a lack of childcare facilities, saying that Canada spends only half of the international benchmark for government spending on early learning and childcare. Canada’s tight purse strings put it in 29th place out of 37 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, according to Century Initiative’s National Scorecard.

Other care economy links:


It’s been called the “sleeper issue” of the election by some pundits. Advocacy groups agree: “This election is about housing,” says Vote Housing, a national coalition of more than 160 organizations. “No one in Canada should ever have to choose between food and rent, or worry if their kids will be homeless when school starts. This is solvable. It’s time we fixed it once and for all.”

In Recovery for All: Proposals to Strengthen the National Housing Strategy and End Homelessness, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) says COVID-19 “demonstrated the consequences of Canada’s housing crisis, and the urgency to progressively realize the human right to housing.”

Vote Housing’s election platform cites Canada’s 2019 National Housing Strategy Act, which enshrined a human-rights-based approach to housing (for more about what this means in plain English, click here).

The campaign’s six “actionable policies” include a call to commit to housing as a human right, reducing impacts caused by the financialization of housing (responsible for the loss of more than 320,000 units of rental housing between 2011 and 2016), and addressing the needs of equity-seeking communities that experience “the historical and ongoing impacts of stigma, prejudice, and oppression.”

In an APTN National News video about Vote Housing, Tim Richter, founder and CEO of CAEH, blames government policies for creating the crisis, particularly in Indigenous communities, calling it a “legacy of residential schools, colonization, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

Other housing links

Indigenous rights

In this election, Indigenous women are saying enough is enough. “We’re done asking, we’re voting,” the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) website states. “We’re done asking for action, we’re taking action.” In July, APTN News reported that NWAC had called the federal government’s process for addressing violence against Indigenous women “dysfunctional” and created its own 65-step national action plan. “We were clearly an afterthought and perhaps even an unwelcome intruder in the government’s process,” said NWAC president Lorraine Whitman.

NWAC has released a 2021 Voting Guide for Indigenous and 2SLGBTQQIA+ Voters. It offers detailed information about how to vote, as well as a history lesson about the right to vote, examples of Indigenous women in politics (from Ethel Blondin-Andrew in 1988 to RoseAnne Archibald in 2021), an outline about Canada’s system of government, and why, in an election NWAC says is “more important than ever,” it’s time to come to the polls. “I vote so that we vote, so that we are stronger together,” the document states.

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report included 94 calls to action. But according to the Yellowhead Institute, only nine had been completed as of 2020. At this rate, CTV News reported, the TRC won’t be fully implemented until the 2060s.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, told Global News that the government has had plenty of opportunities to address issues facing Indigenous communities. “Governments are used to doing complicated things if they have their political will behind it. Where things stall is when they don’t really have the political will,” she said.

Earlier this summer, Blackstock pointed out on Twitter that the international space station provides clean water, yet dozens of First Nations communities with long-term boil-water advisories languish on planet Earth, despite the Liberal government’s pledge to end this crisis.

Other Indigenous rights links:

A home for the sector

In a crisis like a global pandemic, governments should see the non-profit sector as an ally, and shape its policies accordingly. As the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) notes, “building a fair, inclusive and green recovery for Canadians cannot be achieved without the partnership of the non-profit sector.”

In its Election 2021: A How-To Guide for the Next Government of Canada to Engage Nonprofits in the Recovery, the ONN offers four key policy recommendations, including stabilizing the pandemic-battered sector. Imagine Canada’s Sector Monitor: The Uneven Impact of the Pandemic on Canadian Charities shows that more than half continue to struggle, which demonstrates the importance of establishing a home for the sector in government “as a partner rather than a service provider.”

The examples set by Newfoundland and Labrador this year, with the appointment of a Minister Responsible for the Community Sector, and British Columbia, which appointed a Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development and Non-Profits in 2020, give hope that a home is possible.

In a recent op-ed, Kevin McCort, CEO of the Vancouver Foundation, and Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada, urge voters to choose their post-pandemic leaders wisely, suggesting that “a way forward” is to harness “the vast latent potential offered by Canada’s 170,000 charities and non-profits to propel transformative change.”

The sector employs 2.5 million; accounts for 8.7% of GDP; is already positioned “on the front lines of every major societal, environmental and economic issue”; and is ready to offer its expertise, they say.

In its voting guide, Election 2021: Imagine Canada’s Policy Priorities for the Nonprofit Sector, the group calls for a “fundamental shift,” saying it’s time to “seize this moment of transition.” Priority one is a home in government (yes, underlined), the authors write, noting that the absence of a seat at the table has meant the absence of “even very basic data on our country’s non-profit sector,” unlike the detailed data collected regularly by Statistics Canada for other sectors.

Other priorities include funding reform, with more core operational funding to fairly compensate a workforce that is 77% female, in alignment with the decent work movement, and solutions to structural biases that have led to inequities, such as “dramatically underfunded” Black-led and Black-serving organizations.

Other sector policy links:

Arts and culture

COVID-19 has been called “the nail in the coffin“ for the arts and cultural sector, which contributes more than $53 billion to the Canadian economy each year and provides employment to more than 660,000 Canadians. Revenues declined by more than 80% for some arts sector organizations during the pandemic, according to Imagine Canada, but its latest report says the sector is “showing signs of cautious optimism.”

Arts groups are still pushing for reforms during the election, however. For instance, The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is calling on parties to value cultural work properly. TWUC’s four main asks include tax-exempt status for subsistence grants from public arts funders and the creation of a guaranteed basic income.

Access Copyright, the copyright collective, is advocating for government to fix the “broken” marketplace for the educational use of Canadian content that has already cost creators and publishers $150 million in copying royalties. It calls on parties to implement the “unanimously endorsed” recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in the 2019 Shifting Paradigms report.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists’ (ACTRA) election website stresses the importance of the $12.2-billion television and film industry. It urges ACTRA members to cast a ballot and, ahead of the federal leaders’ debates, submit questions, such as “What is your plan to support Canadian content and ensure Canadian talent is broadcast in Canada?”

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (FCB) warns of threats to Canada’s cultural independence, with a campaign entitled I Am Canadian Content. FCB is asking Canadians to sign a pledge to vote only for a party that “promises to revitalize the CBC and defend all Canadian journalism and storytelling.” Companies such as Netflix and Amazon make more than $1 billion per year in Canada, they point out, but aren’t required by law to finance original Canadian content. “They do invest here (when they feel like it), but dressing up Toronto to look like New York does nothing to advance Canadian culture and society.”

The British Columbia Museums Association (BCMA), which represents 400 members across the province, has published Election Primer 2021 – a detailed election and advocacy guide. Noting the damage caused by pandemic closures, the group warns of immeasurable damage to BC’s museum and cultural sector, and potentially catastrophic long-term effects. One BCMA policy ask is for an update to Canada’s national museum policy, which hasn’t been revised in nearly three decades, “to create a bright, sustainable, and just future for the museum sector.”

Other arts and culture links:

Immigration and refugee policy

While all parties have promised to settle Afghans, Senator Ratna Omidvar, who spearheaded the Syrian refugee response in 2015, is calling for deadlines and details. Omidvar points to Operation Syria for guidance, where 25,000 Syrians were resettled in 100 days. “Canada can use this know-how,” she says, “to meet its Afghan target in very little time.”

In addition, she notes, Ottawa needs to increase its initial target of 20,000 refugees, suggesting 80,000 as a reasonable goal. The government also needs to expediate application processing through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. According to UNHCR (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) Canada, more than 327,000 privately sponsored refugees have arrived since the program began in 1979.

The Canadian Campaign for Afghan Peace, a coalition of organizations spearheaded by the Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative (AYEDI), makes similar demands and has been critical of the government response thus far, according to the Toronto Star. The campaign has asked Ottawa to double its target to 40,000 this year, and to 95,000 over the next two years.

Although none of the major parties are calling for cuts to immigration, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) says it’s not enough to just tick off numerical targets. “For newcomers to succeed and realize their potential in Canada, we believe we must strengthen the programs and supports that enable them fully to engage in our economy,” TRIEC and several other immigration-rooted organizations noted in a Submission for the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the Upcoming Federal Budget 2022.

They cite research showing how immigrants, especially those who are racialized, have been more adversely affected by COVID-19 compared to the average Canadian-born worker and want governments to increase funding to create more inclusive spaces and to support mentorship and workplace-supported learning.

Other immigration/refugee links:

Engagement and advocacy

In “Canadian Election 2021: Risk-Averse Charities, Civil Society Groups Must Show Up,” the sector is urged to share their “wealth of first-hand experience and research on wide-ranging public policy issues” with the Canadian public and not “go silent” as they have in the past.

Both Miller Thomson LLP and Canadian Charity Law offer advice about how to do this without getting into hot water here, here, and here. For more detailed information, read Elections Canada’s Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors. Imagine Canada provides a clear explanation of what all this means, with a link to common questions and answers.

The Democratic Engagement Exchange urges organizations and local leaders to join the Canadian Vote Coalition. For resources and shareables, check out their Federal Election 2021 tools. For younger voters, Apathy Is Boring offers a host of tailor-made resources, including a  voting plan. The Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations has its own advocacy guide.

International development aid

“If there was ever a time for us to come together, it is now,” says Cooperation Canada – we’ve never been more interdependent. “The key issues Canadians worry about – poverty, inequality, climate change, global health, sustainable economies – are all rooted in collective global problems. To solve them, we must all do our part.”  

In a letter to the Leaders’ Debates Commission, Cooperation Canada joined the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, the Canadian International Council, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, and Global Canada to demand the inclusion of foreign policy and international development in election 2021 debates. Despite issues such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan dominating the headlines, this didn’t happen. “Our global recovery from COVID-19 and the risk of losing two decades of progress on women’s rights in Afghanistan are just some of the important global conversations that cannot be swept under the rug,” they wrote in a post following the last federal leaders’ debate.

Their Together Project maps out a way to remedy this, starting with increasing official development assistance (ODA). In This Together: A Case for Canada’s Global Engagement notes that Canada gives “well below its international commitments and the contributions of peer countries” in terms of spending relative to gross national income. While an article in Open Canada analyzing the 2021 federal budget shows a nearly 8% rise in ODA in 2020, don’t crack open the champagne yet. “Canada has been a global laggard in terms of aid generosity,” writes Stephen Brown, a professor at the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

“The [COVID-19] crisis calls for a sustained, decade-long re-engagement with international development, not a two-year temporary increase in funding,” Brown notes, citing predictions from a World Bank report that one billion people will be living in “extreme” poverty by 2030.

Oxfam Canada’s 2021 Federal Election Action Guide emphasizes that women are experiencing the most extreme effects of the pandemic. “Oxfam believes that inequality is the main driver of poverty and injustice. Addressing unequal power relations is deeply political, and we see elections as a crucial opportunity to engage in conversations about the root causes of inequality and press politicians to take deliberate steps toward reducing poverty and achieving gender justice,” they write.

One of Oxfam’s main global development and foreign policy asks is to “champion a feminist recovery globally,” noting how COVID-19 has “eroded decades of women’s rights gains,” disproportionately impacting women who form the core of care work – from healthcare to childcare – and weakening social protections. “Putting women at the centre of decision-making is essential to achieving an equitable COVID-19 recovery everywhere,” they say.

So far, the COVID-19 response is “falling short of addressing threats to gender equality and women’s rights,” according to the latest Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities’ (CCSA) report. The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker shows that 20% of countries lack any sort of gender-sensitive response measures, such as strengthening women’s economic security or supporting unpaid care.

In 2017, Canada adopted a Feminist International Assistance Policy (after consulting with more than 15,000 people in 65 countries). However, the Feminist Foreign Policy Working Group, which includes Amnesty International Canada, the Equality Fund, and Oxfam Canada, points out they’re still waiting for a policy document outlining principles, approach, and commitments.

“Given that recovery from COVID-19 will depend on women leading everywhere around the world, what will your party do to invest in women’s leadership?” CARE Canada urges voters to ask, highlighting systemic inequities that need to be addressed. While women comprise 70% of global front-line health workers, they hold only 25% of health leadership roles, according to a 2019 World Health Organization study. “When women have had the opportunity to lead, they have achieved great things,” CARE notes. “But more often than not, their voices have been absent from decision-making.”

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is asking leaders to take a hard look in the mirror when it comes to global vaccine distribution. In “An Open Letter to the Leaders of Canada’s Federal Parties,” they say Canada cannot be complacent in what’s been “an inexcusable, deep global inequity in the international response.”

MSF is calling on government to share “our own vast COVID-19 vaccine surplus” with those who remain unprotected, and also to support efforts to increase global vaccine supply, such as the proposal presented at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines.

In late July, Amnesty International wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remind him of Canada’s human rights obligations in this respect. A letter from the People’s Vaccine Alliance strikes a similar tone: “Canada is more interested in protecting monopolies for vaccines than scaling capacity to ensure more can be produced and at lower prices at a time when both are desperately needed.”

News that Canada is donating millions of soon-to-expire doses to African countries left Jason Nickerson, an MSF humanitarian representative, unimpressed. “Less wealthy countries should not be dumping grounds for doses on the cusp of expiry,” he told the Globe and Mail.

According to the latest figures from Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), only 3.18% of the population is fully vaccinated, as compared to 67.8% of the Canadian population.

Other international foreign aid links:

  • Curious about Canada’s OECD Development Co-operation profile? Click here.  
  • What does a feminist foreign policy really mean? Click here to find out.
  • Cooperation Canada’s fact sheet about elections advertising and partisan activity, plus a handy video.
  • Listen to a panel discussion starring Senator Ratna Omidvar and Dr. Samantha Nutt about Canada’s role in contribution to global development, hosted by Engineers Without Borders.

Feedback from our advisory committee

The Philanthropist Journal distributed a three-question survey about election priorities to the 23 members of our Editorial Advisory Committee. Here is what we heard back:

1. What are your top three policy priorities for the next government?

The responses included: a home in government; climate change; licensed non-profit childcare; care economy; affordable housing; reconciliation and implementing the calls to action; disabilities backlog; veterans’ issues; homecare; long-term care; pharmacare; full cost of service delivery reflected in federal grants; reforming rules around qualified donees and direction and control; sustainable, inclusive economic recovery; universal basic income; increasing overseas development assistance, including agriculture; vaccination; gender equity.

2. What, in your view, is the most pressing policy priority geared specifically to the charitable/non-profit sector?

The responses included: stabilizing the non-profit sector, including better wages; creating a home in government for the sector; better sector data; increased disbursement quotas; easing restrictions on charities/foundations in operating social enterprises. One respondent wrote: “The most pressing priority would be a permanent and inclusive policy/program whereby members of the sector performing a necessary service could rely upon financial support to stay alive, especially in unforeseen times. This sector provides a safety net that extends beyond what government can do for its citizens and is a crucial part of Canadian society, contributing immensely to this country’s well-being.”

3. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most optimistic, are you pessimistic/optimistic about this priority being addressed in the next four years?

The responses range from 1 to 5, from very pessimistic to cautiously optimistic. “I think we can do a lot in the next four years, but it is going to take working across party lines for the collective good of the country and the most vulnerable,” one EAC member commented. “I am an optimist, and we have made great strides as a sector, sharing our stories and impact,” added another. “Non-profits and charities are essential to the future of our communities and economy. I hold hope that we can build a stronger relationship with government.”

The national parties’ positions on sector-related issues

Disbursement quota reformn/aRaise DQ to 7.5%n/an/a
Charitable sector supportSmall business financing available to NFPs & charitable social enterprisesn/an/an/a
Development aidIncrease aid each year through 2030“Reform but not reduce” aid; defund groups not aligned with Canadian valuesRaise aid to 0.7% GDPMeet 0.7% target by 2030
Gender$25m for menstrual products for NFPs, charities Support union and NFP training programs for womenPrioritize pay equity$40m/4 years for shelters, pass pay-equity legislation
Non-profit servicesFunding to boost PSW pay to $25/hr n/aFunding for social/co-op/non-profit housing; non-profit childcareBuild 350,000 supportive/deeply affordable non-profit housing units by 2030
Arts and culture$300m for recovery support n/a$ for Indigenous theatre, income tax averaging for artists/cultural workers $1b over 3 years to arts and culture orgs
MiscellaneousEliminate charitable status for “dishonest” anti-abortion groups

For a more detailed platform analysis, Imagine Canada has itemized how the parties would approach issues of concern to the charitable and not-for-profit sectors, here.


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