Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support Bill S-203, sponsored by the member for Peace River. I note that this bill has had a torturous route from the beginnings in the Senate. It was introduced as Bill S-217, then Bill S-210, then Bill S-204 and then Bill S-46, all introduced since October of 2004 by Senator Jerry Grafstein. Therefore, it should be an inspiration to all of us that if we embark on a good idea and a good bill, it might take six years and we might not even be around by the time it ends up passing through the House. However, we should not give up hope because there is proof that patience is a virtue and this bill will make it through after all these iterations and all these years.
The bill is very straightforward. It is only a page long. There were some excellent speeches today indicating a number of different forms philanthropy can take in our society. We tend to think of the rich people who get their names in the paper donating millions of dollars and we do not necessarily think of all the volunteer work that is done and has been dealt with and covered rather well in the speeches in the House this hour today and the hour before.
I want to make note of a constituent of mine who grew up in my constituency, one Clara Hughes, whom we see on national television every night in ads for depression. She is a six-time medal holder in both summer and winter Olympics, and I think she is the only athlete in that class. However, at an earlier point in time she donated 100% of her entire winnings from the Olympics, which was only $10,000, to the Right to Play organization doing work in Africa. That speaks volumes to her dedication to charity. Also, her mother, Maureen Hughes, and Dodie Lester are also still constituents of mine. I want to give Clara credit, and I have wanted to for a long time now, for her very thoughtful donation to Right to Play.
Also, the role of Habitat for Humanity was mentioned by one of the other members. It plays an important role in my community as well. In fact, it has just developed a very large development of houses for people.
The member for Edmonton—Strathcona indicated that while $10 billion was raised in charitable donations in Canada in 2007, donations dropped off substantially during the recession to the tune of perhaps $1 billion. That is very serious in any sort of activity. A $1 billion drop is a 10% drop in a recession, which is very serious.
A number of years ago, probably in the 1970s, there was recognition that somehow governments should expand their involvement and their role in social services and that people should not have to rely on the good will of churches and charitable organizations.
Manitoba expanded social services greatly under the Schreyer government in 1969 to 1977. There was this feeling that charities had somehow outlived their usefulness, that it was the state's responsibility to provide for the social good of its citizens. However, over time there is a recognition that no matter how many programs the state developed, no matter how much money it spent, the needs were still there. In fact, charities actually expanded their role, both in numbers and involvement, over those years. Therefore, there is no possible way we could fulfill all of the demands and needs in society without charitable giving.
I definitely want to talk about something I see is very positive, and that is the move by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to commit half of their fortunes to charities and have it be given away while they are still alive.
I have read a number of articles on this topic. It was initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. They have called fellow billionaires together in the United States and coaxed them, cajoled them and shamed them into joining their group. They have done quite well. They have a huge number. I do not know what percentage of billionaires in the states are members of this organization, but it is expanding. The organization is gaining converts every day. It holds private parties to get people involved. It is not without a certain amount of uncertainty because there are disagreements among families, among spouses and it is actively working to pull these people together. It will be a tremendous help because the Gates Foundation and Buffett Foundation are doing tremendous work in Africa on AIDS. Those two have shown some very positive direction.
There are others as well. I believe Mr. Zuckerberg has recently donated $100 million to the state of New Jersey for education. Ted Turner has donated $1 billion.
People who have made a lot of money over the years recognize they will not take it with them. Warren Buffett is a great example. I had the experience of driving by his house in Omaha about a year and a half ago. He is a regular guy. The local folks know him very well. He has no address on his house, by the way. However, he has concluded that his children do not need the $50 billion. He said that he would take care of his children, maybe a few million here and there, but that is it. He has said that it is time for him to take his billions and make the commitment while he is still alive rather than have people deal with his estate after he is gone. It is groundbreaking that he is prepared to do that. This man does not live the lavish lifestyle by any means. He still has the same wife for 40 years. His income is $100,000 a year. He works in the same office. He is just a regular person.
This is the type of direction and leadership that we should be promoting. I would like to know where the Canadian billionaires are. In the first hours of debate I asked the member for Peace River if people were approaching Canadian billionaires about involving themselves. Maybe Warren Buffett will come across the border and make his approach to them and get them involved.
Warren Buffett started something and we should encourage it and try to get as much movement in this as possible. It only takes one or two people to get the ball rolling. The worst thing that can happen is it gets bogged down and comes to a standstill. Anything the government can do to encourage Canadian billionaires to do the same thing would be positive.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been involved with the Manitoba government over the last several years on a number of different projects. The Gates are certainly approachable. They are not hard to get hold of. Nor is it hard to deal with them. I would encourage the government to do more than just pass bills, which is good, but we should be a little more proactive in encouraging our Canadian billionaires to follow the lead of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in the United States.