Making commitments for the year ahead

A study revealed Canadians over 55 are the most generous with volunteer hours

Making commitments for the year ahead

Steve Russell/Toronto Star

How do you solve a problem like 2011? The coming year promises a great many daunting challenges for Canada and the world. Overcoming these obstacles will require fresh and innovative thinking. And Maclean’s is pleased to be a part of that process.

This issue features many stories that bring important new perspectives to current problems. In our cover story, National Editor Andrew Coyne tackles the great bugbear of modern urban living—traffic. With wit and logic, he parses the solutions on offer and finds his way to the inevitable conclusion that drivers must starting paying tolls if they want access to congestion-free roads. You may not look forward to such an outcome, but it’s impossible to dispute Coyne’s common sense route.

Similarly, Senior Writer Jason Kirby shines a light on what will eventually come to be seen as the most significant economic experiment of our generation: the austerity of British Prime Minister David Cameron versus the pump-priming of U.S. President Barack Obama. And Maclean’s award-winning investigative reporter Michael Friscolanti examines a little-known moral quandary at the heart of Canadian foreign policy—how much should the Canadian military pay for accidental deaths and destruction in Afghanistan?

Along with Maclean’s commitment to significant journalism, this issue also features plenty of our famously irreverent opinion-writing. Paul Wells discusses the political year in the making. Barbara Amiel writes on love and murder. Humorist Scott Feschuk reimagines CBC TV’s “At Issue” panel to include his relatives. There’s also a sure-to-be-controversial interview on the dark side of breastfeeding, a look at rugged Hollywood hero Javier Bardem, and much more. Such a package of top-notch writing, reporting and comment is the reason Maclean’s newsstand sales are up 30 per cent over the past year and why our readership is 18 per cent larger than the combined weekly readership of the Globe and Mail and National Post daily newspapers.

With all of this in mind, we’re looking forward to another year of delivering the country’s most important, and talked-about, news stories, reviews and opinion. Hope you can join us.

While their efforts may bring good cheer and sustenance to those less fortunate, lately Canada’s charities have not had much to cheer about themselves.

Statistics Canada reported in November that the observed generosity of Canadians has fallen yet again. In 2009, 5.6 million Canadians claimed $7.8 billion in charitable donations on their tax returns. That’s a decline of nearly $1 billion over the past two years. And less than a quarter of Canadians now claim a donation. Regardless of economic conditions, the long-term trend in dollars and donors is depressingly downward.

Not all charity involves money, of course. Gifts of time and expertise can be just as valuable. Unfortunately, a detailed survey of the volunteering intentions of Canadians sounded another warning bell this holiday season. According to Volunteer Canada, “a small group of über-volunteers” is now responsible for the vast majority of all volunteering hours. And these dedicated few are aging rapidly. A recent Angus Reid survey revealed that Canadians older than 55 are the country’s most generous demographic and their preferred form of donation is via churches, synagogues and other places of worship. With the profile of über-volunteers so closely resembling the declining cohort of Canadians who attend regular religious services, the future for most charities seems clouded with uncertainty.

Then again, the news is not entirely desperate.

In the week prior to Christmas, the Salvation Army put out the call that it was only halfway to its 2010 goal of $18 million for its venerable Red Kettle campaign. With just days to go, and news about charities universally grim, it seemed a big ask. And yet this week the organization announced it had met its goal—by the time a final tally is complete, it may even have set a new record. During Christmas week, the organization raised over $1 million a day. “It’s been very surprising given the economic climate,” says Graham Moore, national public relations and development secretary for the Salvation Army. “But it seems the spirit of generosity is alive and well in Canada.”

Clearly there is no shortage of good will to go around when Canadians recognize an immediate crisis in the offing: be it local, national or international. But the real need is more constant than that. Where possible, all Canadians ought to consider contributing a bit more time and/or money to help out those who find themselves in need throughout 2011. Charity should be more than a seasonal event.

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