By Don Hutchinson and guest blogger Rick Hiemstra, Director of Research, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) does not generally engage in the number crunching of the government budget process. But we do believe that a budget is, fundamentally, a moral document, and as such that Biblical principles are relevant to the budgeting process. Biblical principles inform us, and the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life applies those principles to concepts for public policy initiatives that we believe to be of benefit to the nation. For reasons noted in Part 1 of this series, the EFC decided to make a submission in the 2012 federal pre-budget consultation process – based on principles rather than numerical recommendations – and we have been invited to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to engage further in the conversation.  The EFC has urged the Government to consider and address three key building blocks of our nation: families; compassion; and, charities. We will briefly consider each of the three – families, compassion and charities – in a series of blogs of which this is the second: COMPASSION.

Canadians have long been highly regarded worldwide for the well-earned reputation of both our citizens and government as being compassionate toward the less fortunate both at home and abroad.

In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul notes a key feature of his work that was approved by other leaders, “that we should continue to remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). We encourage the Government of Canada, in developing policies and budgets, to also remember the poor; those in less fortunate circumstance, often for reasons beyond their control. We know Christians will remember the poor; as reflection on the Bible leads us to prayer and other practical action.

The Evangelical Christian community is actively engaged with the lives of people struggling with poverty and homelessness, both in Canada and internationally, through the efforts of individuals, congregations, denominations and a variety of Christian ministry organizations. The relationship building and service that is undertaken is consistently delivered on a non-discriminatory basis to those in need. While many efforts are entirely self-funded, others take place in cooperation with the compassionate expression of Canadians through government funding and available tax incentives.

Canadian Poverty and Homelessness

The Canadian Christian community has long been a leader in caring for the less fortunate in Canada. From church groups inspired to serve sandwiches on a local street corner to those offering a place of refuge in extreme cold or heat or the operation of multi-million dollar addictions rehabilitation centres, hostels and food service programs, love is shared in practical expression that meets human need.

In June 2003, Street Level: The National Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness was established as a self-directing partnership operating under the auspices of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  StreetLevel is composed of experienced leaders from significant Canadian Christian organizations and programs from across the country that work among our nation’s poor and homeless and are dedicated to addressing systemic, sociological, economic, cultural and spiritual deficits that contribute to poverty and homelessness in Canada. Some of these organizations have well over a century of positive contribution in working with the less fortunate in Canadian society.

Faith-based groups such as the ones that make up Street Level have the infrastructure and expertise to both stretch individual contributions and multiply the effect of government funds in the delivery of service (through, for example, adding the value of charitable donations of money or goods-in-kind along with committed staff and volunteers). As a service provider to poor and homeless citizens, second only to government, faith-based charities and their communities offer a significant experience-based resource. And, they have for some time been calling for improved consistency in the standards for meeting the needs of Canadians in poverty from coast to coast to coast.

The Government of Canada has engaged in several initiatives designed to help prevent Canadians from slipping into poverty and assisting those who have, including: the guaranteed income supplement and other support for low-income seniors; reducing the tax burden on the businesses that create jobs, particularly small and medium size businesses; enhancing the work-sharing program; investments in skills upgrading programs; and, infrastructure renewal programs along with others including the Working Income Tax Benefit, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and partnering in the Housing First initiative.

We encourage the government  to maintain and extend its commitment to existing strategies.  We also affirm the recommendations made in the November 2010 report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (the HUMA Committee) Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada. The existing initiatives along with the recommendations of the HUMA Committee provide a foundation for the federal government to use its unique gathering power to lead in:

  • establishing a national poverty reduction strategy that includes an array of measures, targets, timelines and measurables; and,
  • developing, in partnership with the provinces and territories, a national housing strategy that is clearly defined.

Members of Parliament from all three national parties have arrived in this report at conclusions that affirm those in the 2009 Senate report In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. Canada’s most vulnerable are in need of a federally coordinated strategy that will provide standards to make more effective use of the time, efforts and funds of Canadians – those funds provided individually and through the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.

International Development and Aid

Canadians – government, NGOs and individual citizens – are recognized as being among world leaders in international development and emergency aid delivered in response to alarming disaster.

Canadian Evangelicals have long engaged individually, organizationally and with the federal government in partnering to improve the quality of life for those living in developing nations. In a manner similar to Christian work with those who are poor and homeless in Canada, efforts overseas have stretched government contributions to greater impact. The 34 members of the Canadian Christian Relief and Development Association (CCRDA) sent over $537,000,000 overseas in 2010, of which only $32,400,000 (6%) was CIDA funding as accessed by 17 different agencies. Additional funds were expended by Christian churches and denominations that are not members of the CCRDA.

The Government of Canada is applauded for continuing overseas development assistance provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); the Crisis Pool Quick Release Mechanism (including established matching fund partnerships with identified Canadian charities); and, the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

As the Government of Canada considers expenditures for overseas development and aid, we encourage that the evaluation be guided by consideration of Canada’s continuing prosperity relative to other nations, the generosity of Canadians, the quality of the work undertaken by Canadian organizations overseas and CIDA’s assertion that “the need for humanitarian assistance is increasing due to the greater frequency and impact of weather-related natural disasters, and to the complex humanitarian situations…” (CIDA Report on Plans and Priorities for the period ending March 31, 2012, p. 12). Certain initiatives are required to address crises, but others are required to avoid crises.

The Government of Canada is encouraged to continue to work cooperatively with organizations that have positive impact on the ground in foreign nations: continuing to provide incentives for Canadians to give; strategically matching donor dollars where appropriate; and reflecting Canadians’ generosity in the financial expression of our federal government.

Canadians are a generous people. We also desire to attain the maximum benefit from our investment of time, effort and money both at home and abroad. We know the Christian Church is accepting increasing responsibilities in meeting the needs of the poor, and government at all levels is engaging as well. We call upon the Government of Canada to use powers granted it uniquely in our constitution to help facilitate better coordination of those efforts.

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