The decision for our National, Regional and various Central Councils to engage in more formal, organized types of advocacy through our Voice of the Poor committees has raised concerns for some Vincentians. The following points attempt to address a few of the questions that Vincentians might have concerning the topic of advocacy, and how it fits into our Vincentian mission, tradition and spirituality.
ADVOCACY AND THE RULE
1.1 FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES, states in part that “Vincentians work as a team within the Society and also in collaboration with other people of good will to…discover and help redress situations of social injustice that cause poverty, suffering and need”.
3.4 ADVOCACY, outlines the roles of the various levels of the Society regarding advocacy. Central, Regional and National Councils coordinate and inform each other of the advocacy initiatives undertaken at their particular levels of jurisdiction. Care is taken to maintain ‘political independence’ as dictated by the Rule by advocating for specific policies, not for particular political parties or candidates.
7.1 – 7.9 INTERNATIONAL RULE, contains several references to our responsibilities in this area. 7.1 states that the Society is “committed to identifying the root causes of poverty and to contributing to their elimination”. 7.2 includes “As citizens of the world, Vincentians listen to the voice of the Church which demands their participation in creating a more equitable and compassionate social order…”. 7.6 clearly indicates that “Where injustice, inequality, poverty or exclusion are due to unjust economic, political or social structures or to unjust legislation, the Society should speak out clearly against the situation, always with charity, with the aim of contributing to and demanding improvements”.
CANADIAN NATIONAL OPERATIONS MANUAL, 8.01 asserts that the Society has a “responsibility to advocate for the poor” and establishes guidelines regarding the attendance at public demonstrations.
ADVOCACY AND CHARITABLE STATUS
In Canada, the legal right of a charitable organization to issue receipts for donations is subject to certain provisions regarding the type and degree of advocacy in which it chooses to engage. Basically, the charitable status of an organization is not threatened if 1) it does not support a specific political party or candidate and 2) does not expend a significant portion (generally 10%) of its revenues on advocacy.
As long as these guidelines are followed, nothing precludes a charitable organization from engaging in advocacy. The Voluntary Sector Initiative, established by the federal government, released a framework in 2002 that endorses and encourages the role of nonprofit organizations in participating in advocacy and policy dialogue with the public sector.
TRADITION OF VINCENTIAN ADVOCACY
In keeping with this tradition, many of our Vincentian brothers and sisters in other jurisdictions have established well-organized advocacy programs. The Society in Ireland, England and Australia are especially adept in this regard, becoming respected and effective spokespersons on behalf of the people they serve.
When Toronto Central Council advised Archbishop Thomas Collins of its intention to pursue a more active advocacy agenda, he warmly endorsed the initiative. He remarked that due to the level of involvement and experience gained through home visitations and the operation of Special Works, Toronto Central Council had a duty and responsibility to advocate on behalf of the people and communities served.
EXAMPLES OF VINCENTIAN ADVOCACY
As reported in the Vincen-Paul Canada, National Council has communicated with federal legislators on at least two occasions. They pressed our government before the last budget to provide appropriate funding for social policy that might help address the obstacles faced by our neighbours in need. They have also spoken out on behalf of Canadians facing capital punishment in other jurisdictions.
Ontario Regional and Toronto Central Councils have worked jointly in contributing to the dialogue that led to the Ontario government’s Poverty Reduction Act. They prepared a written submission and met with a senior policy advisor to present the Society’s input into the Poverty Reduction Strategy released last December.
Both Councils are members of umbrella organizations promoting the cause of people living in poverty. Vincentians, along with members of Catholic Charities and Bishop Hundt, participated in a Prayer Vigil organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition held at Queen’s Park in the days leading up to the unanimous passing of the Poverty Reduction Act in April.
It is clear that we, as Vincentians, are called to bring the message of love and hope to those we serve as Christ’s disciples. There are various ways and means of accomplishing this mission. Engaging in appropriate, thoughtful advocacy initiatives according to the Society’s guidelines and tradition provide us with another tool to help build a better life on behalf of those we serve. They will know we are Christians by our love.