There is a Private Member’s Bill before the House of Commons right now that, in the name of transparency “seeks to empower the Minister of National Revenue with the discretion to deregister any charity, private foundation, or public foundation that paid any employee more than $250,000 annually in total compensation.” (Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations website). This is, in effect, a salary cap on the sector – a sector that we know includes most of the organizations we work for.
Many of us in the Arts (including me, at first) may think that this cap will not matter to us. After all, how many Arts Administrators even come close to that kind of compensation? But this cap is grossly unfair to our industry and is based on some false assumptions. Moreover, it makes clear a frustrating double-standard between charities and the private sector.
The Liberal MP putting this bill forward, as well as the other MPs in the Liberal Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP who support it, are supporting the overall effort to improve transparency among charities. What they fail to acknowledge is the high degree of transparency that already exists. All of us spend significant portions of our time not only applying for funding and/or soliciting donations and sponsorships – there is nobody in the Arts who hasn’t been involved in this work in some way. We also spend significant time reporting on this money. There are seemingly endless grant reports at all levels of government and for any foundation grants received, as well as the T3010 Charitable Return and the annual independent financial audit. The latter two become matters of public record, available to anyone who searches for them on the Canada Revenue Agency website (in the case of the former) or who requests it (in the case of the latter). This type of reporting is not required of private sector organizations – even those in receipt of public funds.
Even though much time is spent reporting on grants and donations, I don’t think very many of us begrudge having to be responsible to the public for the money they give us. It is, after all, their money, and we have committed in our mandates to performing a service to our communities. We should be accountable for that. What I have problems with are those who are quick to point the finger at our sector, without looking at the levels of accountability we already have.
The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations has a link to Imagine Canada’s very good, concise brief on this bill, as well as links to Carters Professional Corporation’s and Mark Blumberg’s writing on the matter (direct links to each are included here as well). All are very interesting and offer some good alternatives to the issues Bill C-470 seeks to address.
In light of this, I believe it is time to follow Imagine Canada’s example as outlined in their brief and begin to educate our MPs and those who work for them about the high level of professionalism and accountability we have already attained, and about the concerns we have about Bill C-470. Imposing a salary cap will not help us to attract and retain the highly skilled professionals we need to manage our sometimes complex organizations, and publishing the names, titles and exact salaries of the top 5 employees of each of our organizations (which in some cases will mean the salaries of the entire staff of an organization will be published) will not help the sector. It can be a very frustrating process, I know, but conversation instead of confrontation is the only way to have our voices really heard.
On another front, we can also begin to open a dialogue with our donors and sponsors, engaging them in a dialogue about these issues. Many of them are our biggest supporters and letting them know that they can help us by joining the conversation with their politicians will – I hope – begin to develop the kind of grass roots support that will sway those who depend on these supporter’s votes. Many of the donors and sponsors I work with recognize the level of professionalism required in our relationships. I have developed many relationships that include a high degree of personal and professional respect on both sides of the partnership. I know I’m not the only one. All of us can point to these examples in our own work.
It is too bad that “Bill C-740 has involved no consultation with the charitable sector whatsoever.” (Carters Professional Corp) Perhaps if those who drafted the bill knew us a little better, we could resolve many of our issues together and more productively.