Chapter 1—The Sight of the Forest

There are 33 pages of legislation regulating the production and marketing of maple syrup in Canada.

After a decade of research, negotiations and the garnering of feedback from consumers and the industry, and based on recommendations from the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI), a common maple syrup grading standard for Canada and the United States was unveiled through amendments to the Canadian Maple Product Regulations Act in 2014.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the new standards introduce “flavour descriptors that will help consumers make more informed choices when buying maple syrup…descriptors that will categorize pure maple syrup on a scale ranging from “Golden Maple Syrup with a delicate taste” to “very Dark Maple Syrup with a strong taste.”

Canadian Senator, Nancy Greene, a beloved Olympian skier who won gold at the 1968 games in Grenoble, France weighed in on the subject when the new regulations were unveiled.

“Not only will these amendments provide maple producers greater freedom to market their products internationally,” she said, “they will make it easier for Canadian consumers to purchase the syrup they prefer. The new grades and colour classes will help Canadians make more informed choices when shopping for our high quality maple syrup.”

Nancy Greene dominated the sport of skiing when she was active during the sixties and seventies. She is now 72-years-old and it seems like she would know as well as anyone what she was talking about on the very Canadian matter of maple syrup.

Canada is responsible for 84 per cent of the world’s maple syrup production. Canadian exports of maple syrup exceeded CAD $145 million (approximately USD $130.5 million) last year. The United States kicked in a plucky 16 per cent of world output, mostly from the state of Vermont.

And although hipsters are winning the day in some quarters and maple syrup is losing cachet as an international hostess gift (what exactly does one do with it?), Canadians continue to take their maple syrup seriously.

In 2011, the country couldn’t turn away from news of a brazen robbery coming out of Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec. In what amounted to the biggest maple syrup heist in history, a ring of thieves stole 16,000 barrels of the world’s back-up supply of maple syrup, known as the Global Strategic Reserve, held in case of a bad sap year, just by trucking it out of the warehouse and re-filling the barrels with water. The syrup wasn’t guarded or even locked up because people couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to steal it. But the thieves understood the market. They saw that every barrel in that warehouse was worth more than 30 times the price of a barrel of oil which, at the time, averaged USD $110. They built up a network of drivers, rented warehouse space and made the necessary industry connections to fence six million pounds of contraband. And it was just sitting there for the taking. Only one quarter of it was ever recovered.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye in the land of maple syrup.

And just like maple syrup, our perception of charities, the topic of this book, can be pretty sweet. But, similarly, what’s going on underneath that feel-good taste is all business. What looks straightforward on the surface can be far more nuanced and complex when that surface is scratched.

The story of charities, in Canada and the Western world, is nothing if not complex.

Charity’s provenance is scriptural. In the Christian Catholic tradition, for example, charity is one of the seven heavenly virtues that, along with prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith and hope can form a path to true happiness. In that tradition, charity means love. Love in the sense of an “unlimited loving kindness towards all others.” It is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to “both glorify and reflect the nature of God.”

Charity is necessary for salvation, Christian teachings allow, and with it you can take comfort that you will never be spiritually lost. However, the teachings specify, it should not be confused with the “more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving.”

We can probably consider the barn door closed on the interpretation of charity as a path to the “perfection of the human spirit.”

Here on this mortal coil, we have given in to our confusion and unequivocally embraced the concept of “charity as equal to benevolent giving.” When thoughts of charity occur, if they occur at all, they are most likely to be triggered by a child holding a box of cookies in her outstretched hand or the subject line of a friend’s email declaring he is “riding for a cure.”

The result is the same. We dig into our pockets.

And all that digging has turned charity into a world of big business and big money.

It’s a big pie.

In Canada, charities generated $246 billion of revenue from all sources in 2014, an amount of money that situates the sector between the number 43 country of Ireland and the number 44 country of Pakistan on the World Bank’s GDP Rankings of 195 countries. The charitable sector in Canada employs more than two and a half million people in full and part-time positions, second only to the retail sector. It is currently sitting on $373 billion of assets including cash, investment funds, endowment funds and real estate. Each year, cash rich charities invest in everything from national bonds to foreign currency to hedge funds.

It’s a similar story throughout the industrialized world. Although harmonized data is impossible to come by, we do know that in 2013 U.S. charities generated USD $1.73 trillion of revenue and were sitting on USD $3.22 trillion of assets. U.K. charities generated £64 billion in revenue and were holding £142 billion in assets.

In 2014, the first year the figures became available in that country, AUD $103 billion of revenue flowed through Australian charities as they held onto AUD $202.9 billion in assets.

And because charity mirrors the society in which it operates, the top one per cent of charities is holding onto ninety-nine percent of the charity pie.

In Canada, there are ten pages of legislation regulating the registration of charities.