An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (volunteers)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Jean-François Larose  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Nov. 28, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to provide a tax credit of a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,500, in respect of travel expenses, to individuals who perform a minimum of 130 hours of eligible volunteer services and make at least 12 trips in order to do so during the taxation year.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • Nov. 28, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

November 26th, 2012 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the bill. I would like to congratulate the member for Repentigny for moving it. It is a great idea to have a tax credit for volunteers.

To summarize, the bill would allow a tax credit between $500 and $1,500 for volunteering a minimum 130 hours with 12 trips throughout the year. This is a modest tax credit in recognition of service to one's community. A lot of people volunteer in communities and this is a way to show our appreciation. It certainly would help.

I know that volunteers do not do this for money. Before I was elected to the House of Commons, I did a lot of volunteer work in my community. I certainly did not do it for money and no one else does it for money. However, it would certainly encourage more people to volunteer if there were a tax credit.

I would like to take a few moments to talk about some volunteers in my community. At an event Friday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting a volunteer named Michel Piette who lives in Chelmsford. Every day, Michel volunteers at the Alliance St-Joseph elementary school, where he helps out in many ways, including making photocopies for teachers and helping the children get dressed in their winter clothes. Last week or the week before, he even made taffy for St. Catherine's day. The teachers and students alike all appreciate everything Michel does for them.

I would like to mention three people from my community: Patty Smith-Taylor, Cathy Castanza and Reg Devost. They have been volunteers at the youth centre in Rayside-Balfour since its inception. This is a centre that was built in the late 1990s to give youth a place to go after school to do their homework, play games and get counselling from some of the volunteers. These three volunteers have been there from the start and they are still there today. Although there are others who help at the youth centre, these three people do not and never did have any kids who went to the youth centre. They are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, which is certainly appreciated.

As well, the Sudbury Regional Hospital is manned by so many volunteers I do not know the number. They help people as they come in the door, give them directions and even take them exactly where they want to go. It is a big hospital and can be very confusing for seniors to navigate. These volunteers help them get to their appointments.

On Friday night I went to an event that celebrates co-ops.

The event centred around the Caisse populaire des Voyageurs. As we all know, Desjardins was built by volunteers, and many volunteers are still very active in this co-op. It has become quite an institution in Canada.

I do not think that we need to convince anyone in the House that volunteers play a very important role in all communities.

I would like to give an overview of what volunteers do. They run committees and boards of directors, provide advice and consulting and mentoring services, visit with seniors, prepare and deliver meals, provide transportation, advocate for social causes, and lead sports activities for children and teens. In short, volunteers contribute to the development of their communities and help non-profit organizations provide programs and services to millions of Canadians.

According to the United Nations' State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011, “Volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit people get from volunteering is the satisfaction of incorporating service into their lives and making a difference in their community and country. Volunteering gives a retired person something to do after retirement other than sitting at home. It is a proven fact that volunteering keeps seniors younger.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of hours people spent volunteering in 2010 was 2.1 billion. That is a lot of hours for people to be volunteering. That is equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs. If we had to pay these volunteers for 2.1 billion hours, just at minimum wage of $9 an hour, that would be $18.2 billion. That is a lot of money. However, I said a while ago, these volunteers do not expect to be paid but if they were given a tax credit it would help organizations recruit more volunteers.

Most of us here in the House of Commons have a lot of volunteers in our offices. I have Stéphanie Pépin who does my e-news letter. In my office in Sturgeon Falls, I have a young fellow by the name of Stéphane Bissonette who is 13 or 14 years of age. He does my French website. He does it because he can first of all and because he enjoys it. We are not expected to pay these people and they do not expect to receive any money but I wanted to give members a sample of what volunteers can do.

I have Holly Fryer and Sam Faubert in my office in Ottawa who are doing volunteer work as part of their program at the University of Ottawa. They are certainly enjoying themselves doing this. I also have Ray Pellerin and Denis Noël volunteering in my office in Sturgeon Falls. With the Christmas season coming, we will be having a Christmas parade in Sturgeon Falls and Ray has volunteered to drive the truck and Denis is getting the float ready. This is another good example of volunteerism.

I would like to thank the Ontario Trillium Foundation for providing start-up funding for our newest program called social enterprise in collaboration with the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of this program is to provide training and support for local non-profit groups exploring social enterprises. Social enterprises are businesses owned by non-profit organizations selling goods or services in the marketplace for the purpose of generating income and/or creating social, environmental and cultural values.

We support Bill C-399. We hope to send it to committee to make some changes to it. All private members' bills can be amended to include other things and to make them better.

Volunteers must make 12 trips of one kilometre to the place of volunteering. In a small community, like some of the communities in my riding, one kilometre is not very far. We certainly want to look at that.

I thank all of the volunteers from coast to coast to coast for doing what they do.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

November 26th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the NDP private member's bill, Bill C-399. While we can all agree that volunteers strengthen Canada by bringing positive change to their communities, this poorly written bill would do nothing more than provide costly and duplicative tax breaks for all the wrong reasons.

Despite this bill's numerous technical flaws, which I will explore later in my remarks, it is at odds with the very definition of service. Why do people volunteer? Why do Canadians selflessly give their precious time to organizations that help the less fortunate? It is because they seek personal growth and character through compassion for others. We know for certain that people because they are passionate about a cause and want to do something good for others, not because they are looking for a tax break.

While I am sure this is obvious to the millions of Canadians who volunteer, there is hard evidence to back it up. Recently, Volunteer Alberta commissioned a study on the potential impact of tax credits for volunteer participation funded by the Muttart Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to strengthening the charitable sector. The results were clear. Speaking to its findings, Karen Lynch, executive director of Volunteer Alberta, stated:

There is no evidence that a tax credit incentive would increase the level of volunteerism and in fact, it would change the definition of volunteering fundamentally. Volunteering would no longer be the free giving of a person’s time....

Notwithstanding the member for Repentigny's misguided assumptions about why people are motivated to help their fellow Canadians, this bill appears to have been drafted on the back of a napkin. It proposes to give a tax break to volunteers who perform 130 hours of service a year, helping “vulnerable populations”. It is important to note that the bill gives no further definition, leaving it up to the government to arbitrarily decide which organizations may or may not qualify with no objective rules or guidelines.

It has been a long-standing practice that the Income Tax Act treats all charitable purposes equally, meaning that the government stays out of the business of deciding which charities are more or less deserving of special treatment, meaning that all registered Canadian charities have access to the same benefits.

However, Bill C-399 would require the government to determine what is a vulnerable population and which charities serve it. All charitable work is worthwhile and no volunteer is more valuable than another. Is the NDP member suggesting that the work of a charitable clothing shop is more important than an environmental conservancy? Should orphaned children be considered vulnerable and Canadians with disabilities not? As written, this bill pits Canadian charities against one another and is nothing more than a costly distraction from the important work that they do each and every day to contribute to the health of their communities.

Furthermore, the bill would allow non-profit organizations, or NPOs, to issue certificates for tax purposes, which is also problematic. While the CRA has the tools it needs to regulate Canada's 85,000 registered charities and ensure compliance, this is not the case with NPOs. The Canada Revenue Agency does not keep information on organizations of this type, so it would be almost impossible to determine which NPOs deal with vulnerable populations and which should be permitted to issue certificates. This would raise significant compliance concerns that would almost certainly result in fraud and abuse.

Not only that, non-profits would be responsible for tracking the hours and expenses of their volunteers, burdening charities, many with limited human resources already, with the responsibility of providing this information to the CRA and giving rise to concerns from the sector. Annette Vautour-McKay, executive director of the Volunteer Centre Southeastern New Brunswick in Moncton, stated, “From a management perspective, I would imagine the requirements of the bill would be quite taxing”.

When we think about it, this measure is completely opposed to the bill's intended purpose in its misguided attempt to get more people to give their time to charitable causes. It would increase the administrative workload for volunteers. Charities have an essential role to play by providing valuable services to vulnerable people. While this particular bill is clearly flawed, our Conservative government fully supports the work of the charitable sector and provides it with significant support. In fact, tax support for registered charities in Canada is considered to be among the most generous in the world, providing almost $2.7 billion in tax assistance in 2010.

Since 2006, we have introduced countless measures to make the tax system easier on charities by easing the administrative burden and cutting red tape, cracking down on fraud and introducing more ways for Canadians to give.

For example, in budget 2010 we significantly reformed the disbursement quota rules for charities by reducing administrative complexity and helping organizations focus their time and resources on the people in need. In budget 2011, we brought in a range of measures designed to combat fraud and abuse in the charitable sector, increasing Canadians' confidence that their donations would go toward supporting legitimate charities and would be used for charitable purposes. However, there is always more we can do, and I know this from my colleagues who sit on the House finance committee, where they have been hard at work studying ways to further increase charitable donations.

I take this opportunity to recognize and thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his Motion No. 559, adopted by Parliament in March 2011, which inspired our Conservative government to request that the finance committee undertake this study. I am pleased to report to the members of this House that the committee has heard from more than 50 witnesses, held half a dozen meetings and met with Canadian volunteers from all across the country. Charities have had the opportunity to make their voices heard, bringing forward important proposals on how our government could make things a little easier for volunteer organizations to do their work, along with innovative ideas to encourage Canadians to give even more of their time and hard-earned money.

However, not once in the course of this study did Canada's charities suggest anything even close to resembling what the NDP member is advancing here today. Not once did they propose a tax credit, which is contrary to the essence of service and the spirit of volunteerism, and not once did they recommend that the government saddle them with more red tape, which would make it difficult and costly to provide Canadians with the services and support on which they rely. In fact, Ruth MacKenzie, chairman and CEO of Volunteer Canada, a pre-eminent national voice on volunteerism since 1977, has lamented that this bill's sponsor never bothered to get in touch with her organization. Not only that, but Volunteer Canada is clearly opposed. Ms. MacKenzie stated:

Our thoughts on this bill are in line with our general thoughts on the broader issue of tax incentives for volunteering--that it would not be something we’d support.

Mark Blumberg, a noted lawyer in the field of charities and non-profit law agrees. I believe his words sum it up nicely, when he says, “...I wish they would spend some more time consulting with the sector before introducing private members bills ostensibly to the benefit of the sector”.

Our Conservative government is dedicated to ensuring that charitable organizations, whatever their purpose, have the tools they need to do their work. What they do not need is a costly duplicative tax break for volunteers, pitting charities against one another and creating needless red tape without benefiting the sector or the Canadians it serves.

I look forward to the finance committee's report, and I am confident that its recommendations will help our government build on its outstanding record of support for charities.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

November 26th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.
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Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-399.

It is a costly proposal. It would seek to amend the Income Tax Act and create a new non-refundable tax credit for select volunteers and individuals who perform volunteer service, although it is unclear from the bill exactly whom it would benefit.

Let me begin by saying that there is no question that charities and non-profit organizations contribute to all aspects of Canadian life, including education, health, faith, human rights and the environment, as well as arts and culture. Not only that, I think we can all agree that charities and the volunteers who support them face unique challenges during uncertain economic times.

However, not only is there absolutely no evidence that this costly bill will engage more Canadians in helping others, but charities themselves have also gone so far as to suggest that it may harm volunteerism and result in fewer people giving their time to those in need.

Let us first look at the cost. It is important when members of this House are considering legislation for them to consider the cost of legislation. The opposition has simply deferred this, estimating that it would cost roughly $430 million annually. That is a lot of money. For the people of my riding that would represent about $4,000 per constituent or thereabouts. The would come from their pockets. Even worse, Canadian charities are questioning the wisdom of the idea, as costly as it is.

According to Volunteer Alberta, the voice of volunteerism in that province, a province that the Liberal Party may not want to listen to but I think has an important voice here in Parliament, the proposed tax credit could actually reduce volunteer motivation by attaching a tax benefit and an economic value to something that is otherwise altruistic. That really is at the heart of volunteerism. It is something that we all do because we want to give back. There is something innate within Canadians in actually wanting to help each other. We actually want to be there for our neighbours.

Not everyone volunteers. It is concerning in that regard that some service clubs have seen declining memberships. However, I do not think this is a sign of the people involved seeking to be reimbursed or some kind of cost return to their volunteering. It may be a bit of a statement about how our society has become busier and people perhaps living lives that are a little less interpersonal than before. Frankly we all act interact so much digitally now, with text messages seeming to replace phone calls and Facebook replacing a lot of time people might otherwise spend congregating with their neighbours.

Maybe these are things that we should be looking at in considering how we can restart the growth in volunteerism and service clubs. Nonetheless, I do not think I have ever heard anyone who volunteers or anyone from a service club indicating that they would do more or support their community more if someone would just pay them to do it.

Since 2006, we have demonstrated our commitment to strengthening the charitable sector by enhancing the incentives for people to donate to registered charities and making a number of improvements in the way charities are regulated. These measures include the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to charitable organizations, public foundations and private foundations; the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of ecologically sensitive lands to public conservation charities; and the reform of the disbursement quota to reduce the administrative burden on charities.

This has really worked, whether it was the hospital foundation in Peterborough that has raised a very significant amount of money based on these specific tax changes, or the local university, or local museums that have raised significant funds as well. These have helped charitable organizations.

Then of course there is the donation of ecologically sensitive land. The Otonabee Region Conservation Authority, which oversees very significant wetlands in my part of the province, has in fact received donations of land.

These changes have helped and are bringing about very significant societal benefits.

I am very fortunate and I think a lot of us feel the same way. I have said many times in my own riding that a city and a town are really a collection of buildings, streets, infrastructure and businesses. However, what makes them a community is the people, the people who come together to help each other. I come from such a strong community where volunteerism is something that we do, where donating to charity is something that we do disproportionately, and I am proud of it.

We could all say of our communities that there are people who go above and beyond, because they feel it is their calling. One of the things that I am afraid of, frankly, is that we will start to put some of these folks into a category where they should receive a benefit for what they are doing. The benefit they are getting from what they are doing cannot be measured in dollars and cents or in tax credits. It is a benefit they receive from the hearts of others, a benefit they receive by knowing they have made the community better. Many of them do not want recognition at all. That is one of the remarkable things about so many volunteers. They just want to know in their own hearts that they have made a difference, and believe me, they do.

Not only would the bill place an undue administrative burden on charities, but also, volunteer organizations across the country have spoken out against the idea of a tax credit. For example, Ruth MacKenzie, the president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, the respected national voice of Canadian volunteerism since 1977, has said:

I don’t think tax incentives are necessarily the way to encourage it. More importantly, I don’t think it’s going to increase the quality of the contribution volunteers make or the degree organizations benefit from volunteer engagement.

Not only does Volunteer Canada oppose this costly and ineffective NDP proposal, but it has been quick to point out that the charitable sector does not appear to have been consulted at all by the NDP in its hasty drafting of this legislation, which could actually impede charities' ability to serve vulnerable Canadians.

While decrying the bill in a recent interview with CharityVillage, Ms. MacKenzie agreed with the government's position on the bill, noting that “no one...directly consulted with me or Volunteer Canada” about Bill C-399.

I think this is a core function of ours as members of Parliament. I do not doubt that in its conception, the intent of the bill was that it would do something very positive for people who volunteer. I will not impugn the motives of the person who brought forward the bill; I just happen to think it is a bad bill.

It is really essential that when we bring forward legislation that will have a direct impact on a sector, especially a sector as large as the charitable sector in Canada, one that is relied upon by so many as a sign of the strength of our communities, that Parliamentarians consult with them. It is clear that consultations have not taken place.

When I speak to volunteers in my riding, they are not seeking this kind of tax credit. If the government is to make that kind of $430 million investment, they would like it to go to the people they are volunteering for, not themselves. They are not seeking that, which is remarkable.

The other thing that I think is quite profound is that here we are debating an NDP tax credit, a very expensive one, of $430 million, when it is more often the case that the NDP are simply bringing forward tax increases, such as the idea of a $21 billion carbon tax that would take money from every Canadian, including from volunteers and charities. There is also the potential increase in the HST that has been talked about by one of the NDP members from Toronto, the member for Trinity—Spadina. The NDP talks about tax and spending increases constantly. It seems at odds with that for NDP members to be contemplating a tax reduction in this sector. It is absolutely ironic that this is what we are debating.

We believe that taxes should be as low as possible for every single Canadian, and we believe in supporting the charitable sector.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

November 26th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Repentigny introduced a bill that is very important for all volunteers in Canada. The purpose of Bill C-399 is to provide a tax credit of a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,500, in respect of travel expenses to individuals who perform a minimum of 130 hours of eligible volunteer services and make at least 12 trips in order to do so during the taxation year.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which, I hope, will receive support from the other parties in the House, because volunteer work is often what makes our communities so dynamic. This work, which is done by very generous people either out of charity or solidarity, strengthens ties between people and builds on the values of communal living. There is no doubt in my mind that the volunteers in my riding deserve a tax credit like the one proposed by my hon. colleague, especially those who live in the regions and who have to travel in order to help people.

Whether they are helping young people, seniors, those less fortunate or even veterans, volunteers in Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel give of their time to help organize celebrations, to help with fundraising or to commemorate important sporting, environmental or cultural events, and they therefore deserve to be celebrated, encouraged and thanked. They often work very hard and have to travel a lot. It is possible that they can no longer afford to volunteer.

Papineau has the CR3A, or Comité régional du troisième âge de Papineau, whose mission is to help seniors remain in their homes with respect and dignity, and to end social isolation among seniors. Seniors who still live at home have an even harder time in the regions, since they can often no longer drive. Thus, it is very hard for them to get out of the house to go and see their family and friends. Our wonderful volunteers go and get them and take them to the grocery store, to see their friends, or even just out for coffee. It is very important to end the isolation that seniors sometimes fall victim to when they cannot get around on their own. As long as they can take care of their homes, they do not necessarily have to move into a big institution or seniors' home. It is better for seniors to stay at home and maintain their dignity.

The Centre d'action bénévole d'Argenteuil provides almost the same services. The Coup de pouce co-operative in Argenteuil is made up of volunteers who are trying to improve the lives of people who are isolated because of their age or a physical limitation. It can be very difficult for people who live in the regions to get around because of the large distances that have to be covered.

It is important to point out that this bill takes transportation into account in the granting of the tax credit. In my opinion, that is the most important part of this bill. Of course, volunteer work is already demanding, but people really put their hearts into it. However, the travel required to help others in remote and rural areas is often not taken into consideration. We do not think about how much travel is required. Whatever the cause or objective, volunteers in my region have to travel long distances to do volunteer work.

Sometimes really dedicated volunteers simply can no longer afford the cost of gas, particularly in difficult economic times. Yet it is in more difficult economic times that we need volunteers the most. That is why people who dedicate their time and talents to helping the most vulnerable members of our society must be recognized. We must also encourage other people to get involved and lend them a hand. These volunteers, who are often retired, get involved because they love their community and their fellow citizens, and it is true that they will do this work with or without a tax credit.

However, without these people, life in our cities and towns would not be the same. We must therefore recognize their work and encourage this type of involvement. We must actively respond to the challenges faced by the volunteer sector in these difficult economic times. For example, the cost of gas is increasing, and we are not doing anything to go to the people who are isolated and help them to get out. I am using this example because it clearly demonstrates how this tax credit will really support this type of volunteer work and will allow volunteers to travel more in the regions to help the less fortunate.

Clearly, vulnerable people have even more need of help and volunteers when times are tough, but right now, the government is abandoning these people. They often have to turn to charity. But volunteers are also being affected by the difficult economic times, which are forcing them to limit their volunteer work when needs are on the rise.

The total amount of donations and volunteer hours has not really changed since 2007. However, during this same period, needs have skyrocketed. For example, the number of people who need food aid is on the rise. The NDP wants to tackle this problem. This motion is the first step in the fight to support the volunteer sector.

I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of this bill, which will really help our rural communities in particular.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

November 26th, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the members of all parties represented in the House. I would like to thank my honourable NDP colleagues for their support, but I would also like to thank the Liberal and Conservative members. To me, the fact that we sometimes disagree and have different approaches is essential. I also think that this debate about what is happening with organizations across Canada is essential.

Bill C-399, which I call Madeleine Nadeau's bill after my grandmother, is a very important and well-drafted bill, despite what they might say. People have thrown around numbers like $430 million, but the fact is that the Department of Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Officer assessed the cost of the bill at $130 million. Those numbers are miles apart.

The whole point of this bill is to recognize a problem and try to solve it. Across Canada, volunteer numbers are stagnant. Most of the volunteers I talked to during the consultations I held told me that the reason they stop volunteering is that they can no longer do it. Volunteers pay, and that does not make sense. Volunteers provide vitally important services. They are the last bastion of our society. Volunteering produces real results, and the people who do it, who put their hearts into it, have to draw on their own funds just to show up. They are not asking to be paid or to receive tax credits. They just want us to come up with solutions.

MPs were asked to support sending this bill to committee so that committee members can study the range of problems in order to amend and improve the bill so that it meets the needs of all Canadians.

Last week, on November 15, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with approximately 50 organizations, just over 120 volunteers. That is the point I want to raise. This meeting was attended not by volunteers and organizations, but by the volunteers that make up these organizations that they manage on a day-to-day basis. These people were very clear about their support for the bill and said that it represents a step forward. They are looking to move in a certain direction and to get results.

Institution or volunteer? Machine or person? In this place we often have this philosophical debate. The government always says that it provides support to organizations, as though the answer to any problem was to throw money at it in the hope that perhaps the people, the poor citizens, will finally be happy with the results. However, no organization, no foundation can exist without the support of people, without the contribution of volunteers. They are the ones suffering at this time.

Our population is aging, the number of young people getting involved is declining, the economy is very fragile and people have less and less money in their pockets. The government will soon introduce Bill C-458, which has a $400 million price tag. We applaud the effort that has been made. The bill would establish a national charities week and would allow for an additional three months to collect even more money, even though people do not have more.

We will get results by encouraging volunteerism in the community and a human presence.

Knowledge and expertise are important parts of philanthropy and volunteering. Many people at the end of their career give their time and knowledge and share all of the experience they have gained over the years. They are the ones we want to have in organizations because of what they contribute.

In our region, a project to help animals did not succeed, while the same project was a success in another region because of the expertise of the volunteers who got involved. They were former bank directors, committed people who knew how to get money. They managed to purchase a building and create an entity because they invested their time. They never calculated how much money was required. They made the most of what they had.

In conclusion, Bill C-399 is a bill for volunteers. What I am hearing in this House is that we support volunteers and are listening to them. We want the bill to be sent to committee so that we can find the solutions together. Let us work together: that is the message we are sending. We must not use cost and red tape as excuses. On the contrary, the bill was designed to put the onus on volunteers to claim the credit if they are interested.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

September 25th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

moved that Bill C-399, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (volunteers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be here today to introduce this bill, which was drafted with the assistance of many parties. As a member of Parliament, I have heard from a great many people about this subject.

It is a real privilege for me to have this opportunity to talk about Bill C-399 today. This bill would create an income tax credit to offset travel costs for volunteers. I think that this is the first step in an exceptional direction. I am absolutely delighted to be talking about this bill today.

In my 15-minute presentation, I will cover three points.

First, I will talk about how our great nation recognizes the contribution of volunteers. Then I will talk about the problem of economic austerity that Canadians are currently experiencing to varying degrees. There is a lot of belt-tightening going on. Last, I will talk about a long-term, comprehensive vision and strategy.

This bill came about following consultations with various communities, many volunteers and different organizations, primarily in my riding, but also across our great land. I had the privilege of seeing and understanding many things because I had the opportunity to listen to people in different communities tell me about the problems that they are dealing with.

I would like to say that calling this piece of legislation “Bill C-399” seems rather cold to me, even though that is how things are done in the House of Commons. I therefore dedicated this bill to a person who was and still is very dear to my heart: my grandmother, Madeleine Nadeau. To me, this is “Madeleine Nadeau's bill”. She was the inspiration behind this bill—

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

September 25th, 2012 / 6:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-399, tax credits for volunteers' travel expenses.

I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Repentigny for introducing the legislation. I appreciate having the opportunity to discuss ways that we, as a Parliament, can better support volunteers and encourage volunteerism.

I will start by talking about some of what has occurred in recent years, particularly around tax measures to help volunteer emergency service workers or firefighters. There has been a consensus across party lines on some of the measures that we should recognize the important work of, for instance, emergency service volunteers, those who risk their lives in order to protect and make communities safer.

As part of that discussion, the Liberal Party proposed a $3,000 refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters. We made it refundable deliberately. The reality is that if these tax credits are not refundable, it means, perversely, that the lowest-income Canadians, Canadians who need the support the most, do not actually qualify and do not receive the benefit.

Earlier today we had a discussion on income inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor in Canada. The reality is that, to a certain extent, non-refundable tax credits can exacerbate that and make it worse by disqualifying, technically, the lowest-income Canadians who need the help the most.

For instance, we proposed a refundable family caregiver tax credit, which would have benefited all Canadian families providing care to relatives with health issues, in some cases palliative care and in other cases long-term medical issues. The Conservatives introduced, instead, a non-refundable tax credit, which looks like they are doing the same thing, but in reality it is not a lot of resources because it does not apply to a large segment of the population, the people who need the help the most.

What the government has become very effective at doing is establishing boutique tax credits that are non-refundable. They do not take a lot of money out of the federal treasury because they do not actually help a lot of people, but it looks like they are taking action.

People come to my office who are quite disappointed. They expected these new tax credits would somehow benefit them, only to find out that because of the fact they had low incomes, they did not qualify.

Let us take, for instance, a senior citizen on a modest fixed income who drives for Meals on Wheels. If the tax credit being proposed today as part of this legislation is non-refundable, that senior will not benefit because he or she is not paying taxes now. Just to make it clear, a refundable tax credit also benefits people whose incomes are so low that they are not paying taxes. A low-income senior who drives, for instance, for Meals on Wheels is still incurring expenses to volunteer. In fact, those expenses represent a very significant portion of his or her income. He or she still has to put gas in the car to get to the volunteer site or pay for public transit.

That brings me to the design of the tax credit under Bill C-399.

Bill C-399 would establish a tax credit to help volunteers defray some of the travel expenses they have because of their volunteer work. Unfortunately, the tax credit potentially established under Bill C-399 is non-refundable. We hope this could be addressed and corrected as part of the legislative process. Perhaps if this were to get to committee, it could be part of the discussion.

We support sending Bill C-399 to committee so we can discuss, among other things, design issues, including making the tax credit fully refundable.

We have a concern about the growing number of non-refundable tax credits. We believe it is in some ways exacerbating the issue of income inequality in Canada. These tax credits fail to meet the fairness test. It just seems wrong for the government to protect its own bottom line by deliberately excluding the most disadvantaged Canadians.

Beyond the non-refundable nature of the tax credit, Bill C-399 sets out some interesting parameters. To qualify for the tax credit, one must do a minimum of 130 hours of eligible volunteer work and so one must make at least 12 trips that tax year. For the purposes of Bill C-399, this would involve travelling a minimum of one kilometre from home to wherever it is one does their voluntary work.

In terms of the monetary value of the tax credit, Bill C-399 establishes a minimum value of $500 and a maximum value of $1,500. With a 15% federal personal income tax rate, the proposed tax credit would translate into a benefit of between $75 and $300 for the volunteers who qualify.

Finance Canada has estimated that Bill C-399, as it is currently written, would cost about $130 million per year. However, officials were basing their estimate on past data and assuming that there would be no change in behaviour as a result of the new tax credit. They assume that this tax credit would not encourage new volunteerism or enable existing volunteers to travel more extensively.

Officials used data from the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, which shows that 1.2 million Canadians would meet the criteria of performing at least 130 hours of qualified volunteer work. They assumed that the average volunteer who had about $430 of travel expenses would be eligible for a tax credit under Bill C-399. They also assumed that the average volunteer would claim a further $500 in weekly travel expenses based on an average claim of 15 kilometres a week at 55¢ per kilometre.

The officials then estimated that one-quarter of the 1.2 million volunteers would not get any benefit from the proposed tax credit because it would be non-refundable and these volunteers would not make enough income to qualify. However, using the Department of Finance's own numbers, we extrapolated that it would cost about $40 million to make this non-refundable tax credit into a fully refundable tax credit, which would benefit all low-income Canadians who would be currently excluded.

I encourage the member for Repentigny to consider such a revision to Bill C-399. The initiative is worthy of the consideration of the House. I hope the proposed legislation will receive second reading so we can more closely examine the proposal and consider making it fully refundable.

It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to recognize the vital contributions that volunteers make to Canadian society. We should not base that recognition on how much money is in their wallet. There are a lot of low-income Canadians who, if we were to move forward with this kind of measure, would deserve the same benefit. However, because they are low-income, they would not benefit by the bill in its current form as a non-refundable tax credit.

Those are some of my thoughts and I hope government members see their way to support taking the bill to committee so we can have a more fulsome discussion on how we can strengthen our support mechanisms in the tax system and other direct support for volunteerism in Canada.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

September 25th, 2012 / 7 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address a key issue in the debate on Bill C-399, a flawed piece of legislation, and to relate it to other more thoughtful ways in which we are helping charities and volunteers.

Before I highlight some of these areas, let me give a quick recap of what this legislation intends to do. Bill C-399 proposes a costly, new, non-refundable tax credit for individuals who perform a minimum of 130 hours of volunteer services for select organizations during a year and who make at least 12 trips in order to do so.

This proposal would cost over $100 million each year, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for charities to track and administer.

One would hope, and I think Canadians have an expectation, that when members of this House introduce legislation it would be with the intent of benefiting Canadians. How would Bill C-399 benefit Canadians?

The member for Repentigny might be thinking that Bill C-399 would make it more attractive for Canadians to volunteer at their church, local youth group or community centre. As it is, a large number of Canadians donate some of their time to volunteering. In fact, according to a recent report by Statistics Canada, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered some of their time through a group or organization.

Clearly, Canadians like to volunteer. However, it is unclear whether the proposed tax credit would have any significant effect in increasing the rate of volunteerism in Canada. After all, proposals to provide tax assistance for volunteerism have been suggested before.

That being said, studies in recent years suggest that tax assistance, much like the tax credit we are debating today, would in fact not lead to an increase in volunteerism. In fact, a report out of Alberta, entitled The Potential Impact of Canadian Federal and/or Provincial Tax Credit Incentives for Volunteer Participation, suggests that not only would the introduction of such a tax credit not lead to an increase in volunteerism but it might lead to a decrease in volunteerism.

The report states:

The motivations of volunteers to “donate” their time may not be shaped nor directed by the “value” of their donation. The principle motivations are altruistic and egotistic in nature. The attachment of economic and specifically tax value to the “altruistic donation” may in fact reduce the motivations of volunteers to participate.

Similarly, a volunteer group in Quebec, Réseau de l'Action Bénévole du Québec, RABQ, found that tax credits did not result in more people wanting to donate their time to volunteering.

In fact, according to the former president of the RABQ, Rosemary Byrne, tax credits:

....didn't seem to have made a difference in terms of the numbers of people volunteering.

Byrne even went on to say:

No one in a lower tax bracket would have benefited at all; that was another disincentive.

If such findings are to be believed, it is doubtful that Bill C-399 is the correct approach to encourage more Canadians to get involved in volunteering. Quite the opposite, the facts seem to suggest that if the House were to pass such a bill, it would be harmful to the rate of volunteerism in Canada.

For these reasons, I am very skeptical as to whether introducing a tax credit such as this is the right course of action. Furthermore, after the comments by the president of the RABQ, I am skeptical as to whether or not any volunteers would even be interested in taking advantage of such a credit.

That is not all. Another issue that must be considered with this proposed piece of legislation is the administrative burden it would place on charitable organizations and non-profit organizations.

It will be the charities, churches, youth groups, et cetera that will be responsible for documenting the information that will be needed by volunteers and the Canada Revenue Agency to confirm that individuals qualify for the credit under the Income Tax Act.

This means that for each volunteer, these organizations would have to track and record how many hours people are present, what they are doing and if they travelled to the location. Simply put, this sounds like a huge waste of time and effort for these organizations. Not only would this be a drain on their human and financial resources, but it would take away from the ultimate goal of charitable and non-profit organizations, helping people.

In recent years, many charitable organizations have been criticized for not using their resources in the most efficient means possible. Understandably, Canadians are frustrated when they hear stories about the donations they make to their favourite charities being used more on administration costs than on the research, aid or cause to which they donated their money. My concern here is that this legislation would not only heighten this frustration but would force charitable and non-profit organizations to divert their precious resources away from the good work they do to overcoming this obstacle. The evidence shows that this would be a significant new obstacle for these organizations.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians volunteered nearly 2.1 billion hours in 2010. I am no expert, but I am willing to bet that it would take anyone a lot of time to record 2.1 billion hours of volunteerism. I do not understand why we would want to impose such an unnecessary burden on these organizations. What would that achieve?

What does this bill offer to those wanting to volunteer or for those seeking to attract volunteers? The answer, it seems to me, is not much. While at first glance Bill C-399 might seem like a good tool to encourage Canadians to volunteer some of their time to a cause they hold dear, this bill falls short of the mark. In my view, it would do nothing more than place an unnecessary administrative burden on charitable organizations and non-profit groups, all while having no effect on increasing the rate of volunteerism among Canadians. Evidence indicates it would likely cause a decrease in the number of volunteers.

While I feel this bill was introduced with the best of intentions, I am not convinced it would benefit Canadians. I urge my colleagues to think carefully before casting their vote in support of Bill C-399.

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

February 16th, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jean-François Larose Repentigny, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-399, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (volunteers).

Mr. Speaker, the bill to amend the Income Tax Act as it pertains to volunteers is very important. Right now, volunteerism is growing rapidly and, contrary to what some may say, more and more people are volunteering. In my riding alone, there are 225 organizations that hold over 500 events and create partnerships to help the community and the private sector. There is the Marché de Noël, a volunteer organization that supports small businesses and generates many economic spinoffs. In Repentigny, there is the International Junior Tennis Open, which is an international event.

In total, Canadians do 2 billion hours of volunteer work a year, which is absolutely incredible. What is more, 54% of non-profit organizations and charities are run entirely by volunteers. A total of 12 million Canadians claim to do volunteer work. Statistics Canada estimates the value of volunteer work to be $14 million.

Volunteer work is imperative. The support we receive from people we hold dear, family members and friends, is of great value to us.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)