moved that Bill C-239, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable gifts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak to Canadians about my private member's bill, a bill that I believe is fair, would benefit all Canadians, and that will foster a culture of generosity from coast to coast.
Parliamentarians get very few opportunities during their time as elected officials to present legislation. I consider myself privileged to have my name drawn as one of the first MPs to introduce a private member's bill in this, the 42nd Parliament. It took a great deal of consideration to arrive at Bill C-239, the fairness and charitable gifts act, and I consider it important to take a few moments to explain how I arrived at this idea.
When I learned that my name had been drawn first to present a bill, I quickly decided to gather information from my constituents. I asked for feedback and consulted with individuals and organizations in my riding. The input I received was overwhelmingly clear that people wanted a law that would protect the rights of the unborn, so I did a little research. Here in Canada, there are no laws in place that protect the rights of the unborn child. There are no guidelines governing when and why a termination of pregnancy can be procured.
In 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada, in a divided decision, struck down Canada's existing law banning abortion, it also indicated that Parliament had the right to establish protection for the unborn child. In recent Supreme Court decisions overturning laws on prostitution and euthanasia, for example, the court directed Parliament to draft new legislation to protect the rights of individuals, while at the same time providing protection for vulnerable Canadians.
Our current and past governments have risen to that challenge, and have and are drafting legislation to meet these objectives. Unfortunately, past governments have not modernized human rights protections for individuals at early stages of life. We are among a handful of nations in the world that lack these protections. I believe this to be a serious failing on the part of previous governments. Many Canadians think there are at least some regulations governing this issue, but that is not the case.
Here in Canada, there tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to the word “abortion”. I am sure that some members here, and some at home, felt some reaction or emotion as they heard me speak the word. It has been polarizing issue in this country, and the word has various associations for every individual.
This became apparent to me when I was originally crafting a private member's bill that would have at least aligned our laws with those of our allies and other developed countries. However, after a great deal of discussion and consultation, it became apparent that I would not be able to garner sufficient support from the hon. members in the House, despite the strong commitment that many of my colleagues show toward protecting the vulnerable. I recognize that a private member's bill updating these protections would not become law at this time.
If Canada is going to continue to be a nation that is blessed, I believe it must draft and pass legislation that protects the rights of women, which was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court, but it must also provide for protection of the unborn child. We need to start a national conversation, and I believe that Canadians are capable of discussing this issue with open hearts and informed minds to ultimately come up with the right solution. To have no law is not a solution.
However, there are things that we can all agree on. Therefore, I changed direction and sought out an issue that would make a difference and could be supported by all parties in the House and all stripes of political affiliation. I decided to draft Bill C-239, the fairness and charitable gifts act. This is a bill that would correct the considerable gap between federal tax credits given for donations to political parties and individuals as opposed to federal tax credits given for donations to charities.
Feeding politicians should never be more important than feeding the hungry, healing the sick, educating the poor, or restoring the broken-hearted. This is not right. It is not fair. I do not believe that the current tax treatment of charitable donations reflects our Canadian values. The work that charities do is indispensable. There are many people who benefit from the services they provide. Charities change lives. Organizations that depend on charity of community to function have a unique feature, which is that they are directly accountable to their donors. People who donate their time and money to support a charity directly are more engaged with the effectiveness of that charity. This has generally resulted in both efficient and accountable charities.
I ask members of the House if any of them have been through the heartache of watching a family member or a close family friend slowly lose the battle to illness, a time when they relied on the charity and kindness of others to help them through that difficult and painful time. Are there any members who have witnessed the incredible blessing of seeing a friend or loved one beat a terrible illness due to advancements in medical research? Are there any members who have benefited, or have family members who have benefited, from a university scholarship?
Are there any members of this House with children who have attended a summer camp where they developed new skills and built lasting relationships? Are there any members whose children are involved in the arts community, through music, theatre, dance, and other pursuits? Are there any members who have experienced the joy of giving their time and money to help a charity that they deeply believe in and have seen the changes in people's lives and circumstances?
We can all agree that we have been touched in many ways by the great work that charities have provided to our communities. Make no mistake: Government provides much-needed help to Canadians who are struggling. However, let us be honest. Government cannot do it all; we in this House cannot do it all. There are many gaps in our system, and charities fill those gaps.
Every single day and night across Canada, charities provide food for the hungry, beds for the homeless, help to the hurting, support for the aging, and hope to the sick. Charities advance science and medical research. Charities promote education and care for our environment. Charities, especially faith-based charities, have been very instrumental in the resettlement of refugee families. Charities are invaluable.
However, despite the incredible impact that charities have had on our lives and our country, the fact remains that Canadian charities are faced with an aging and ever-declining donor base. In fact, the number of Canadians donating to charities has been on a long-term decline right across the country. The percentage of tax filers claiming charitable donations has fallen from a high of almost 30% to just over 20% over the past 20 years.
I fear that should this trend continue, Canadian charities that provide important services will be forced to close their doors. When Canadians were surveyed by Statistics Canada, it was discovered that the number one reason that people do not give more is that they simply could not afford to. This was the reason given by 71% of Canadians surveyed.
Given the trends in charitable giving, I believe the bill to be especially important now. With only a little over 20% of Canadians donating, this bill could re-inspire Canadians and continue to foster that culture of generosity, a characteristic that I believe is Canadian and central to our country and its people. The bill would make it more affordable for Canadians to donate to charitable causes.
How do we accomplish this? How do we encourage Canadians to get into the practice of making regular charitable donations?
As we are aware, an imbalance exists in how different types of donations are treated in Canada. Federal tax credits for political contributions—and make no mistake, colleagues, that is us here in this chamber—far exceed federal tax credits that are available to donations made to charities. I hope we all agree that this is just not right.
I am proposing to correct this inequity with my private member's bill, the fairness in charitable gifts act, Bill C-239. With this bill, donors to registered charities would receive the same generous federal tax credits that donors to political parties currently receive.
The bill would provide the largest incentive to the largest segments of the population, those who currently donate under $400 per year and those who currently do not donate at all. If we accomplish this, our favourite charities, and indeed charities all across Canada, will benefit greatly, as more dollars will be freed up for donations. This would make it easier for small donors to become large donors and for people who do not currently donate to start.
Here is how it works. Under the fairness in charitable gifts act, Canadians donating to registered Canadian charities would receive the following: a 75% federal tax credit on the first $400 of total annual donations; a 50% federal tax credit on the next $350 of total annual donations; and the 33.3% tax credit on total annual donations over $750. These federal tax credits would now be in line with the federal political tax donation credits, receiving the same percentage benefit at the same thresholds. Now, that is fairness.
Allow me to give one real-world example of how charities really do make a difference. Cliff and Jen Friesen live near the small town of New Bothwell, Manitoba, in my riding of Provencher. They are a close, hard-working family of five, but, sadly, they used to be six. They, like so many other Canadian families, have been touched by tragedy. Their young son Cash passed away three years ago from a brain tumour at the age of only two and a half. Of course the family was devastated, but they have resolved to ensure that Cash's death from cancer was not in vain.
The family has experienced tremendous support from various charitable organizations, both while they were going through Cash's illness and after he passed away.
The Canadian Cancer Society helped Cash receive chemotherapy at home in a safe and familiar environment. As well, it provided the family with all the information they needed for the difficult road that lay ahead of them.
The Children's Hospital Foundation of Manitoba provided state-of-the-art equipment and medical research. The foundation also provided toys for Cash and the other children to play with to help ease their fears while going through treatment.
The Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Support group made it possible for the family to go on special outings with Cash. They organized movie days, trips to the local amusement park, and a trip to family camp where Cash and his family could meet other families who were going through the same struggles. In fact, they are still providing support to this day.
Maranatha and the Word of Life Mission Church in Niverville made it possible for Cash's parents to spend the large amounts of time that were needed to tend to Cash in the hospital. The members of these churches stocked the family's refrigerator and freezers with food and supplies to help ease the burden. The church members made sure that Cash's siblings had lunches prepared for school, and of course they provided emotional and spiritual support.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation made it possible for the family to take Cash to Disney World just three weeks prior to his passing. The trip together as a family is a very special memory that they will cherish forever.
Finally, Southland Church in Steinbach provided Cash's family with a venue for the funeral at no cost and assisted with a great deal of help in the funeral planning. It also provided full pastoral care, including emotional and spiritual support and grief-share counselling.
By raising the federal donation tax credit simply to the level that we as politicians enjoy being able to offer to our donors, we can accomplish this: charities all across Canada would benefit greatly as more dollars would be freed up for donations.
I have highlighted only one aspect of charity in the previous story. Charity is much bigger than that. There are many types of charities, and charity touches every aspect of our Canadian life and culture. The changes that would take effect under the fairness and charitable gifts act would provide a very powerful incentive that would encourage more Canadians to give to the charities of their choice.
If trends in charitable giving continue and the doors of charities begin to close, more government programs will be needed to fill that gap. This means that people will pay more in taxes and have less control over how their money is spent. Not only that, people will suffer as they lose the indispensable support that charities provide to people who need it the most.
Charities exist to help, to educate, to advocate, and to provide valuable research and development. They are an integral part of Canada as know it.
To summarize, the fairness and charitable gifts act would level the playing field between donations to political parties and donations to registered charitable organizations; it would encourage charitable giving by offering a more generous federal tax credit; it would increase the number of Canadians giving to charities; it would strengthen and empower charities; it would make it easier for small donors to become large donors and for people who do not currently donate to start; and it would reduce the burden on government social services, thus freeing up public resources for other important priorities.
We need to put an end to a system that is both unfair and unjust. Feeding politicians should never be more important than feeding the hungry. This is a bill for all Canadians and, I believe, a bill that could be supported by all parties in this House. I ask parliamentarians across the country and across party lines to support Bill C-239, the fairness and charitable gifts act.