moved that Bill C-458, An Act respecting a National Charities Week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-458, an act respecting a national charities week and to amend the Income Tax Act.
Canada is known throughout the world as one of the best countries in which to live. One of the reasons for this reputation is our strong sense of social responsibility. We care about our fellow citizens and we work together to ensure that everyone can fulfill their potential and enjoy a high quality of life.
Charitable organizations put these core values into practice. They do valuable work in our communities, helping those in need and creating a strong, compassionate and inclusive society.
As the member of Parliament for Kitchener—Waterloo, I have been working since first being elected in 2008 to foster valuable partnerships with the many charitable organizations in my community and across Canada. I have to say that I am constantly impressed by the remarkable work they are doing.
I commend them and all of their volunteers for their commitment to improving the lives of others and for contributing to the quality of life we enjoy here in Canada. However, I do recognize that charities face complex challenges, and adequate funding continues to be an overriding concern.
During the global recession, many organizations saw a drop in donations while demand for their services increased. Stats Canada reported a decline in donations of over 5% in both 2008 and 2009, and while the latest statistics show an increase as our economic recovery takes effect, the current level of donations is still below that of 2007.
With respect to the overall donor base in Canada, the 2010 Canadian survey of giving, volunteering and participating indicates that 25% of donors provide almost 85% of all charitable donations. In other words, charities find themselves relying on a small number of people to make large gifts, and older donors tend to give more.
People give for a variety of reasons. While compassion and altruism remain the primary motivation for charitable donations, 23% of Canadians cited the tax credit as an important factor. This is what motivated my private member's motion in the previous Parliament, which was passed unanimously by this House in 2011 and resulted in the finance committee study on tax incentives for charitable donations.
The finance committee study reviewed the current tax system and considered changes that could motivate increased giving. By all accounts, this was a very worthwhile exercise. The study brought together charitable organizations, experts and stakeholders and generated a comprehensive discussion about the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector.
I would like to thank the finance committee members for their excellent work, as well as the witnesses who contributed their expertise and suggestions.
I am pleased with the recommendations contained in the report, which focus on tax incentives, transparency, red tape reduction for charitable organizations and public awareness.
I am optimistic that this will lead to real action to benefit our charities and the donors who support them.
Building on the momentum of this committee study, I am pleased to now have the opportunity to advance an initiative that I believe will continue to raise awareness of Canada's charitable sector and lead to increased support.
During the committee study, I was intrigued with the proposal to extend the charitable tax donation deadline. It was suggested that this extension would make it easier for Canadians to donate to the causes that are truly important to them.
To ascertain the sector's response to such a measure, I held a round table with a number of charities in my riding and consulted with representatives from national charitable organizations. Many felt that this was a common sense idea with great potential. Based on this positive feedback, I proceeded with this initiative and tabled my bill on October 31, 2012.
My private member's bill, Bill C-458, proposes to extend the deadline for charitable donations by 60 days, so that eligible donations made up until March 1 may be claimed in the previous calendar year. In addition, my bill proposes to establish the last seven days of February as national charities week in Canada.
There are a number of reasons I believe this measure will lead to enhanced support for charitable organizations. The current deadline of December 31, as we know, falls during the busy holiday season. At this time, of course, Canadians are not usually focused on strategic financial planning.
Further, many charitable organizations are challenged to provide staff during this busy time in order to seize year-end donations and to process receipts. Then when tax time comes in February, people may realize that if they had made a charitable donation, they could have reduced their tax payable and maybe even received a tax refund. Of course, by then it is too late.
While many Canadians give generously during the holiday season for altruistic reasons, my proposal, I believe, would create a second season of giving in the first 60 days of the year, a period that many charities have told me does not typically see a high level of donation activity.
In addition, moving the deadline to the tax preparation season in February would provide a motivation to increase giving in order to maximize existing financial tax incentives. It would raise awareness of the charitable tax credit and encourage Canadians to give more prominent consideration to including charitable giving in their financial planning and tax preparation decisions.
My proposal would enable individuals to have a complete picture of their financial situation when considering charitable donations, the same as they currently do with the registered retirement savings plans, or RRSPs. This would benefit the many Canadians who are not salaried employees: small business owners, part-time workers, students and those whose income varies throughout the year.
In fact, Canadians who plan their charitable giving tend to give more. According to the 2007 Canadian survey of giving, volunteering and participating, fewer than 20% of donors plan their charitable donations. However, those who do plan their donations give an average of almost $800 annually, compared to $350 for those who do not plan in advance.
Other studies have shown that people who build charity into their financial plans are much less likely to decrease their level of giving during an economic downturn. The finance committee's report on tax incentives for charitable giving emphasized the need to raise public awareness in order to promote increased giving and I believe this is what my bill would help to achieve.
It would also contribute to creating a culture of giving among Canadians that will support and sustain the charitable sector over the long term so that charitable organizations can continue their valuable work in our communities. To further underscore the importance of Canada's charitable sector, national charities week would present charitable organizations with the opportunity to highlight their work and tell their stories, and for all Canadians to celebrate their achievements. Canadians demonstrate their generosity when they see how their donations make a difference in the lives of others.
Since introducing my bill last fall, I have received a great deal of positive feedback from across the country, from individual Canadians, charitable organizations, many of my colleagues and the media. For example, an editorial in my local newspaper, the Waterloo Region Record, stated:
Braid’s bill strikes us as a non-partisan, common sense proposal that deserves support across the political spectrum. It should be passed.
An editorial in the National Post observed the following:
This is a small change, but a significant one. It will ease the burden on charities, and individuals, by providing a little end-of-year breathing room for those who would like to donate but find that the cut-off date has passed before they are able to.
One of my constituents stated, “As a person who works in leadership in a charitable organization, and sits on the Boards of several others, I think this makes very good sense and I appreciate it”. A second constituent wrote to me and said, “After a lifetime as a tax practitioner and also having a close association with charitable organizations, I think you have identified a simple solution to increasing charitable giving among Canadians. Well done”. Lastly, another constituent wrote, “Bravo! ...I do wish I had thought of that, as a lifelong professional fund raiser, now retired. If there is any way that I can help you in your endeavour, please do contact me”.
Twitter, that great litmus test of public opinion, gave a great deal of positive encouragement to my initiative, including a tweet that said, “Could be a fascinating game changer for charities to raise funds”.
However, as with any new initiative, the bill has also raised some concerns regarding its implementation. For this reason, it is important that the bill receive a full examination at committee to ensure, as I believe, that the advantages will far outweigh any potential perceived disadvantages.
As a government, we need to further enhance our partnerships with charities to seek their input and expertise and to further promote the important role that charities play in our society. As members of Parliament, all of us in the House are here to work for the greater good and are striving to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve. I encourage all members to support my bill, which will further support our charities and help them to fulfill our shared goal of building a better society.