House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize for interrupting the member's remarks, but the debate at hand is on a private member's motion concerning charities and a study that might be done by the finance committee. I would ask that the you consider the relevance of the member's remarks as I do not think they are relevant to the issue at hand.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will ask the member, in his last three minutes, to ensure that his remarks are kept to the subject matter of the motion before the House.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to throw in a few comments of my own. I am a fan of the stretch tax credit and I hope, in future, we will give a lot consideration to it. I made points in my speech about the economic downturn. What we can do is provide legislation, maybe spurred on by this motion, that would allow many charities to find other means by which to raise money.

As I noted in my speech, there are many charities across the country. I am from Newfoundland and Labrador, where some of the most charitable people reside. I hope we are able to provide the flexibility to allow a lot of the charities to use other resources and means in times of economic downturn. That is a pertinent conversation and I want to congratulate the member for bringing this forward.

Let us face it, economic downturns and upturns happen. In the future we need to be flexible. We need to look at our policies in ways as pointed out by many charities, for example, the stretch tax credit. The motion covers that as well.

I support the motion directing the finance committee to study the tax treatment of charitable donations. I also call on the Conservative government to respect the Parliament that Canadians elected. That way all parliamentarians can have a wholesome debate, just like the one today. I hope Canadians will realize there are many ways by which they can make donations to charities, which provide the benefit of spurring on the ability to do so. Many volunteers in the sector depend on it.

An example of helping volunteers would be something like the $3,000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters, as an aside. I apologize if I have offended anybody. Nonetheless, as far as charities are concerned, I believe this would go a long way. What an opportunity parliamentarians have been given to actually flesh out some of the great ideas discussed. The stretch tax credit is another reason.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Motion 559, which directs the finance committee to undertake a study of the current tax incentives for charitable donations with a view to increase giving. A number of stipulations are contained within the motion itself.

On the surface, the idea of conducting a study by the Standing Committee on Finance is something that we can support. I will come back to some of the misgivings we have in a moment.

I would like to address the situation of charities in my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster.

There has been a decline in giving right across the country over the last few years. I will come back in a moment to some of the economic reasons for that. Nonetheless, the charity sector is struggling and having a harder and harder time to make ends meet in the same way Canadian families are struggling and finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

My riding of Burnaby—New Westminster is blessed with an abundance of strong charitable organizations that provide good service to individuals and families. I would like to cite a few of the very credible organizations across the riding that I am proud to represent.

The South Burnaby Neighbourhood House provides services to families throughout southern Burnaby. I will be attending its charitable function on Saturday night in Burnaby, and I am looking forward to it. As well, the Purpose Society of New Westminster, which is a long-standing organization, does good work on behalf of families.

Tragically, an increasing number of Canadian families are having difficulty putting food on the table. The Union Gospel Mission and the New Westminster Food Bank provide support, as do a wide variety of faith-based groups throughout Burnaby and New Westminster. I have often attended the Union Gospel Mission lunches in downtown New Westminster. With very few resources, it does a terrific job of feeding tens of thousands of people in our community over the course of the year.

The Last Door Recovery Society provides addiction treatment programs and does a very effective job. The Credit Counselling Society provides help for those people in the community, who are simply overwhelmed by their financial circumstances, on a shoestring budget.

The firefighter foundations for both Burnaby and New Westminster provide funding for a whole host of programs throughout Burnaby and New Westminster.

The New Vista Society and Century House are examples of seniors organizations, and there are many. The New Vista Society provides support for seniors who are losing autonomy but want to live in a welcoming environment.

The Immigrant Services Society along with many other immigrant-oriented organizations like Success Immigration Services and PICS provide services to immigrants.

A wide variety of organizations provide support for people with disabilities. The Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which I was proud to lead, won a number of business excellence awards and continues to do so in providing support to the deaf and hard of hearing. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind provides support for blind and visually impaired Canadians. The British Columbia Paraplegic Association provides support for physically disabled British Columbians. The Coast Mental Health Foundation provides support for those with mental health issues. I could go on and on in this sector for people with disabilities as there is a wide variety of charities that provide those supports.

Byrne Creek Streamkeepers is an example of an environmental organization that was brought to bear with volunteer labour and has subsequently made a significant impact on environmental education in the community of Burnaby.

These are just examples of a wide variety of charitable organizations.

It virtually all started with volunteer labour that depended on fiscal policy to ensure those who contributed to charities actually had some incentive to provide that support. All of those organizations, and dozens and dozens that I do not have time to mention in these few minutes, provide important contributions to quality of life in the community.

It has often been said, and it is an important point to note, that the political tax credit, which was voted on in the House of Commons, provides more of a fiscal incentive to those who contribute small amounts. We certainly support that. Somebody who provides $100 contribution gets a tax credit back of $75. If more is provided, there is a lessening amount of a tax credit on a percentage basis.

We should look at that same philosophy in the charitable sector. I personally believe we need to look at the charitable sector in a more holistic way and provide those incentives in a way that we can boost the contributions that the charitable sector makes in our communities.

However, we cannot deny that the cutbacks over the past few decades, starting under the former Liberal government and continuing under the current Conservative government, have had a profound impact on the charitable sector. The federal government, through the tax base given by all Canadians, has a major role to play in providing supportive programs so the charitable sector can provide those good programs.

When we talk about people with disabilities and seniors, all of the organizations I have cited, and the many more I have not had the time to cite, provide an effective contribution in the community. The federal government has a responsibility to provide, through some of our tax dollars, that supplemental support, which can make a huge difference in the life of charitable organizations and then, as a result, a significant difference in the lives of families and individuals in the community, whether in Burnaby—New Westminster or in any other community in Canada.

The federal government has a responsibility to fund. Over the past five years, and longer actually, we have seen a direct trend toward massive corporate tax cuts rather than funding the kind of charitable organizations and other programs that support the way of life and quality of life of Canadians. In our opinion, that is just a wrong-headed approach.

I mentioned earlier that I would talk briefly about the causes of why the charitable givings were in decline. It is no secret that Canadian families, middle class and poorer Canadians, have lost income over the past 20 years. That is a fundamental reality. We have seen an increase in inequality that we have not seen since the 1920s. The inequality in Canada in 2011 is exactly the same as it was in the 1920s. We have had wrong-headed economic approaches.

There is absolutely no doubt about this. Canadian families have had to bear the brunt of what simply have been economic experiments, first by the Liberals and now by the Conservatives. During this same period, the debt load of the average Canadian family has doubled. Very clearly the problem is the benefits of these economic experiments have only gone to the wealthiest Canadians. Tragically the wealthiest of Canadians now take most of the Canadian income pie. It is no secret why the middle class and poorer Canadians have seen a decline in real income and a doubling of their debt load. That makes it even more difficult for Canadians to contribute to their charities.

In terms of the motion, there are some components that we would support. However, to look at bigger and broader big business exemptions through some of the mechanisms seen in the motion would be exactly wrong-headed. We need to ensure that individual contributors receive perhaps a larger fiscal incentive.

Ultimately, as parliamentarians we have to make sure that all Canadians are prospering, not just the wealthy, and that all Canadians, the middle class and poorer Canadians, see a rise in real income.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate.

There being no other members rising, I will return to the hon. member for Kitchener--Waterloo for his five-minute right of reply.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to summarize and highlight the points that have been made by all parties involved in this important debate.

I want to begin by thanking all of my hon. colleagues from all parties in the House of Commons for participating in this important discussion. In particular, I want to thank my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London for his excellent speech this afternoon.

My Motion No. 559 asks the finance committee to study the many facets of charitable giving in Canada. As all of us know, Canada is known throughout the world as one of the best countries in which to live. Canadians have a strong sense of social responsibility, and we support through our taxes important programs, such as, universal health care, employment insurance and old age security.

This strong sense of social responsibility also motivates Canadians to give generously to the vital social service organizations and charities that meet the needs of the vulnerable in our society. These organizations help to make Canada the caring and compassionate society that defines us and that gives us a significant sense of pride.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the charitable organizations in my riding of Kitchener--Waterloo for their remarkable work to improve the quality of life in our community. I am committed to strengthening my partnership with these organizations and ensuring that they, and in fact the entire charitable sector across our great country, have a voice here in Ottawa in this place.

This debate has helped to increase our awareness and understanding of the complex challenges faced by those in the charitable sector all across Canada and will inspire us to find ways to further support them.

During the debate I was pleased to hear the widespread agreement on the value that charitable organizations bring to all aspects of our communities. We all agree that the charitable sector is to be commended for its dedication and commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. We agree that the sector needs the support of government and individual donors.

I think we can also agree that the tax system has a role to play in providing an incentive for Canadians to give as much as they are able to the charities of their choice.

Through a comprehensive study by the finance committee, we may be able to bring forward recommendations that will encourage increased charitable giving, benefiting both the charitable organizations themselves and of course the donors who support them.

My motion suggests that the committee look at specific areas of reform, changes to the charitable tax credit for example, and the removal of capital gains tax on donations of privately held securities and donations of real estate. Both of these measures would make a difference in the level of charitable giving. However, it would be up to the finance committee to assess their feasibility and determine whether these changes, or perhaps any other changes, should be made.

In conclusion, I ask all members to support my Motion No. 559. It is incumbent upon all of us as members of Parliament to study this issue that could have a profound impact on the charitable organizations that make such a significant contribution to all communities across Canada.

I would also like to encourage all of my colleagues in the House to become fully engaged in this important dialogue. Let us show the people of Canada that we are united in our goal to champion charities across our country and to work with them to build a better society.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Charitable Donations
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 2 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 is deemed to have been moved.

Public Service of Canada
Adjournment Proceedings
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss a question that I asked a few weeks ago about the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

The commissioner's office has been in a state of upheaval for several months now, since the Auditor General presented a very damning report on its operations and its previous commissioner, who has since resigned.

The mission of the commissioner's office is very clear: to ensure that public servants are able to speak out about any abuse, fraud or wrongdoing that is harmful to the government and the people of Canada.

This was still a fiasco. The commissioner's office was in operation for three years before the Auditor General presented her report. Over those three years, 228 complaints were received but only five of them were lightly investigated. In the end, no charges were laid in any case nor was any follow-up conducted. From 228 to zero—it is not very impressive. The government claims to be open, transparent and accountable. Where is that accountability? How is it that the Conservative government has done absolutely nothing since the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was established?

In its place, after a year, I would have wondered why no complaint ever progressed. After two years, I would have asked myself some serious questions about the work done by the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. Three years without a complaint progressing means that something is not right. Maybe that is what the Conservative government wanted. The government was expecting the commissioner to ensure that there were no complaints, as though everything were fine with the federal government, as though everything were fine with the Conservatives. Now we see that that is not the case.

The Conservatives dropped the ball. They let three years ago by without a single complaint making it to the next step. What kind of deal did the commissioner's office and the government have? What did the Conservative government want? They wanted to ensure that none of the complaints went anywhere, which is rather incredible. As if by chance, cases of fraud went nowhere. One has to wonder.

That is one of the reasons why it is important that the former commissioner appear before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I believe that the parliamentary secretary will say that they did great things and that the commissioner will certainly come meet with members of Parliament. The reality is that no fraud or wrongdoing was reported. In the end, none of the complaints went anywhere. How can government officials and the public trust in a system that cost over $11 million and did not produce any results? It is unbelievable. That is money that the Conservatives wasted, money that many individuals and families could have used.