By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
[Ottawa – CCN] – It is not easy to put a number on it, but there is no doubt that religious Canadians and religious institutions have a massive impact on Canada’s economy, according to a new economic impact study.
“The data are clear. Religion is a highly significant sector of Canada’s economy,” said a report released by the Cardus religious think tank called “The Hidden Economy: How Faith Helps Fuel Canada’s GDP.”
“Religion provides purpose-driven institutional and economic contributions to health, education, social cohesion, social services, media, food, and business itself,” said the report released towards the end of September.
According to “The Hidden Economy”, religion’s annual contribution to Canadian society is worth an estimated $67.5 billion a year.
“That’s large enough to be the ninth biggest enterprise in the country,” according to the report that was released on Sept. 21, 2020, as Canada, like the rest of the world, sees its economy being battered by the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Religion is an active force in the public, professional, and personal lives of many in Canada,” the report said.
“Safeguards for religious freedom – including constitutional protection of freedom of conscience and religion as a fundamental right – help to ensure a dynamic religious marketplace, including the ability of each person to have a religion, change religions, or have no religion at all.”
More than half of the $67.5 billion figure cited “comes from the activities of tens of thousands of religious congregations (churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues) in Canada,” a Cardus press release said when the report was released. “Nationwide, they have a $35-billion ‘halo effect’ – the value congregations provide to their surrounding communities.”
“The balance of religion’s estimated $67.5 billion contribution to Canadian society comes through activities related to schooling, health care systems, charities, media, lives saved through congregational substance abuse support programs, as well as kosher and halal food sales,” the Cardus release said.
The economic study and report’s findings show how important religion and the religious sector is to the continuing economic health of the country, according to Cardus executive vice-president Brian Dijkema.
Dijkema said that economic impact benefits religious and non-religious Canadians alike, and has a significant impact on the “common good of all.”
“If religious activity is hindered – through zoning, regulation, taxation, or even intolerance – there are massive economic spill-over effects that negatively affect Canadians as a whole,” he said.
“We all benefit economically, when religious life thrives,” Dijkema said.
The Cardus report was prepared by Brian and Melissa Grim, two American-based researchers with the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.
The Grims, who are a father-daughter research team, have also prepared similar reports on the religious impact on the economy in the United States.
And while the report acknowledges there are “several important limitations of this study” such as “it does not take into account the value of financial or physical assets of religious groups” and “it does not account for the negative impacts that occur in some religious communities”, in general it gives a starting point that can be used to further examine the economic impact of religion on Canada’s economy.
“Despite these limitations, we believe that the data and estimates discussed in this paper will be a useful starting point for further studies of the socioeconomic contributions of religion to Canada and perhaps other countries as well,” the “Hidden Economy” report said.
According to the Cardus report, “the faith sector is undoubtedly a significant component of the overall Canadian economy, affecting and involving the lives of the majority of the country’s population.”