Decline in charitable activity corrodes society – think tank head

June 25, 2012

OTTAWA - Charity in Canada has a political problem that is contributing to an alarming drop in charitable giving and volunteering in Canada, says the president of Cardus, a think tank devoted to renewing civil society.

"A declining number of people are giving less - less time, less money, less of themselves - to their neighbours, their communities, and their country," Cardus president Michael Van Pelt said June 13. "Nothing, at the moment anyway, seems to be on the horizon to change that."

Charity is often a key part of how society deals with issues such as the environment, income inequality, law and order, and homelessness, Van Pelt said at a reception drawing politicians, lobbyists and charitable organizations.


A decade-old study showed 18 per cent of adults were responsible for 80 per cent of charitable giving; nine per cent contributed 80 per cent of volunteer hours; and only 20 per cent of adults "were responsible for 66 per cent of all civic participation in Canada," he said.

"It gets gloomier."

People begin to move away from volunteering at about age 55, and the drop in participation increases sharply when they reach their mid to late 60s, he said.

On the political scene, two strains of thought underlie policy choices, he said.

On the political right, Van Pelt said, those with libertarian views tend not to see charitable institutions as important to the community.

"We witnessed another example of this in the government's recent budget with the crackdown on charities involved in political activity," he said.

Charities must be accountable to the public, he said. But the crackdown has created a sense that there is widespread abuse among charitable agencies.


On the political left, there is often a conviction that only government can dispense aid to the poor in a neutral manner, he said.

"Charity became more than a dirty word. It became the means by which power and oppression were perpetuated so that any act of giving or benevolence had, as its true intention, the perpetuation of social hierarchy for the giver by inflicting humiliation on the receiver."