"Social enterprise" is not a legal expression in Canada. No "Social Enterprise Act" or regulation defines it or gives it a specific structure, abilities, and limitations. Without that, social entrepreneurs have no clear rules regarding the governance of these organizations or the disposition of their assets. They cannot issue shares. They must be sure to operate at "arms length" from charitable parent organizations. It is not even clear how much profit they can make.
Co-op, nonprofit, corporation, charity - none of these options is equal to the range of interests that many social enterprises are meant to serve. That's why many successful social enterprises are disguised as "projects." Their very financial success poses a threat to their parent organization.
Imagine how legal recognition could allay all this fear of success! Imagine the energy unleashed for the real work of social enterprise. Imagine the jobs that could be created for the disenfranchised. Imagine the time and attention available to create quality goods and services for the marketplace. That's what the United Kingdom has experienced since it legislated the Community Interest Company (2004). That's what the United States may achieve with its Low-Profit Limited Liability Company (L3C).
Happily, there is now a move afoot to catch up with our friends and neighbours. Legal expertise and funding is coming available to begin designing a separate legal structure for social enterprise in Canada. To achieve a federal policy decision such as this, however, we need a critical mass of support. We have to collect data to demonstrate the need for such legislation and the shape it should take. To work, the legal definition of "social enterprise" must be an expression of the will and the wisdom of the sector itself.