Evidence of meeting #57 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was charity.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Mark Blumberg  Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP, CanadianCharityLaw.ca
  • Michael Cloutier  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Diabetes Association
  • Kate Bahen  Managing Director, Charity Intelligence Canada
  • Shawn Pegg  Director, Policy and Research, Food Banks Canada
  • Mary Dodd  Vice-President, Finance and Operations, Women's College Hospital Foundation
  • Allyson Hewitt  Director, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation Generation

3:30 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

I call this meeting to order. This is the 57th meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance.

I want to welcome our witnesses, both here in Ottawa and in Toronto. We have six organizations presenting to us today: CanadianCharityLaw.ca.; the Canadian Diabetes Association; Charity Intelligence Canada—I assume they're still on their way; Food Banks Canada; the Women's College Hospital Foundation; and Social Innovation Generation joining us from Toronto. Welcome to all of you.

You all have a maximum of five minutes for an opening statement, and we'll start in the order that I mentioned. Then we'll have questions from members of the committee.

We'll start with Mr. Blumberg, please.

3:30 p.m.

Mark Blumberg Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP, CanadianCharityLaw.ca

Thank you, Chair Rajotte, for this opportunity to present to the Standing Committee on Finance.

My name is Mark Blumberg. I'm a lawyer and partner at the law firm Blumberg Segal in Toronto. In addition to providing clients with legal advice relating to non-profit and charity law, I'm involved with educating charities on compliance issues. I have a couple of websites, canadiancharitylaw.ca and globalphilanthropy.ca. On those websites I try to put up information on how charities can comply with the law and also information on some of the things going on within the charitable sector.

I've provided two briefs. One was in January, but a few things have happened since then, so I added a few pages to it. If you're wondering if there are two briefs, the longer one is the most recent and up-to-date one.

The charity and non-profit sector in Canada plays a very important role. It provides some of the most important services and helps some of the most vulnerable in our country.

The revenue of the sector is $192 billion. There are 2.2 million employees and 600,000 board members. There are lots of volunteers. And almost all Canadians donate to charities.

My presentation is not going to be about most of that. It's going to be about a few people who are hiding in the charity sector doing things they're not supposed to be doing. This is not so much a reflection on the charity sector as it is on those people with the schemes and transactions that they are involved with. I'm going to discuss transparency and disclosure and the extent to which the Canada Revenue Agency can provide the public with information about non-profit organizations and charities.

What does transparency about non-profits and charities do? And why should we care?

It helps the public understand the work of a particular charity and it helps donors make informed decisions about whether to support a particular charity.

It does not necessarily guarantee that non-profit organizations and charities will be accountable or effective, but it makes it more likely that if there's transparency, they will be.

It can shine a light on certain non-profit organizations and charities, which will hopefully help to reduce the amount of abuse that goes on. People are less likely to abuse charities if they know they'll be more easily discovered.

A few hundred people are involved in most of the abuse of the charity sector. They get away with it, in large part, because the CRA is forbidden under section 241 of the Income Tax Act to provide any specific information about the abuse until many years later, once the charity has been officially revoked. For example, according to the CRA, over the last eight years there has been approximately $5.7 billion in donation receipts issued as part of abusive gifting tax shelter schemes. Of the $5.7 billion in receipts, according to CRA, approximately 1% of that figure was spent on charitable activities.

Over the weekend, the CRA revoked an organization. It's called Help Eliminate Disease and Addiction Canada. It issued $113 million worth of inappropriate receipts. I've known for many years, just by looking at the T3010, that there's a problem with this charity, and now it's confirmed, I guess. But it's probably been about six years since CRA was aware of the problem. Now on Saturday they can tell everyone else, after they've revoked it, that they have revoked it.

Essentially, the non-profit and charity sector is divided into two. On the one hand, you have non-profit organizations. They file a two-page form, the T1044. Then you have registered charities. They file the longer T3010. The T3010 is available publicly, but the T1044 is not available publicly and one cannot access it. Basically, we know a lot about the 85,796 registered charities in Canada because the T3010 is available publicly.

Unlike some other countries, like the U.K., the CRA cannot publish an inquiry report on a charity that is still a registered charity. The CRA cannot notify people that a charity is delinquent in filing its return, as they do in the U.K. The CRA cannot let you know that a charity is involved in a $600 million scheme to issue inflated receipts. Essentially, the CRA can put up the information from the T3010, which is provided by the charity, but it cannot warn the public if it has a huge concern about a particular charity.

3:35 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

One minute.

3:35 p.m.

Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP, CanadianCharityLaw.ca

Mark Blumberg

My recommendations are, first and foremost, that section 241 of the Income Tax Act should be amended so that CRA has the ability to disclose serious non-compliance with respect to the Income Tax Act.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly—and we saw it with the Ornge air ambulance issue that's been covered a lot by The Toronto Star—when you have non-profits where there is no transparency and they work with a few charities, they can get away with doing transactions that are not helpful to the charity sector. Therefore, my second recommendation is that section 241 of the Income Tax Act be amended so that these non-profit organization returns, the T1044 that CRA has on an access database...that basically the information here, or large parts of it, be made available to the public.

Right now there are between 80,000 and 100,000 of these non-profits. We have no idea where they get their money from or how they spend their money. Some of them may have revenues of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. I'm not entitled to know that information, and you aren't either. Hopefully, there will be some changes in that regard.

I guess the main purpose of this committee is to look at the issue of tax incentives. Hopefully, you'll look at transparency as well.

Thank you very much.

3:35 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much, Mr. Blumberg.

We'll now hear from the Canadian Diabetes Association.

3:35 p.m.

Michael Cloutier President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Diabetes Association

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the committee.

On behalf of the Canadian Diabetes Association, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

I'd like to begin by giving you a brief background of our association. We are a national charity and membership association founded in 1953 by Dr. Charles Best, a co-discoverer of insulin.

We lead the fight against diabetes and are committed to improving the quality of life of individuals living with this disease while we work to find a cure. The association promotes the health of Canadians through diabetes education, services, advocacy, and research. In fact, we're investing $6.8 million this year alone in research. In addition, our clinical practice guidelines are internationally recognized.

As one of the largest health charities in Canada, the opportunity to be here to offer our views concerning tax measures to encourage charitable giving is greatly appreciated, especially since today we estimate that more than 9 million Canadians have diabetes or pre-diabetes, and by 2020, one in three will be living with this disease.

Canada's charitable sector is a critical economic driver. We have the second largest non-profit and voluntary sector in the world, which employs two million people and accounts for over $75 billion, or almost 8% of the GDP, which is larger than the automotive or manufacturing industries.

As you have heard from others, conditions remain challenging within the charitable sector. The last recession saw declines in donations of approximately $1 billion. While fundraising efforts were relatively stable until that time, worrying longer-term trends—such as a decline in the number of donors and their increasing age—now coupled with the significant impact of the recession, pose serious questions about the sustainability of the charitable sector in Canada.

The contributions of our sector are crucial to our economy and our social fabric. This is particularly so for health charities because we provide supplementary health programs and services to Canadians, which also serve to alleviate the cost pressures on a publicly funded health care system.

Without the proper funds we will not be able to continue to provide the services that Canadians rely upon, and our economy will decline. This is why it is crucial to determine ways to maximize the impact of charitable donations in Canada.

Given the serious challenges facing our sector, we need to consider the following in order to make the most of our civil assets: one, what social and economic contribution is the charitable sector best able to provide and how; and two, how can financial policy optimize these contributions.

The Canadian Diabetes Association supports the proposal from Imagine Canada for a stretch tax credit for charitable giving. We also note that this committee recommended this credit in 2009. An enhanced tax credit would enable us to expand the many needed services we deliver to people living with diabetes, their families, health care professionals, and the public.

The Parliamentary Budget Office carried out an impact and cost analysis of a proposed private member's bill that would have implemented a stretch tax credit on amounts exceeding $200. They found that the median donation would rise by up to 26% within three years and there would be between 350,000 and 600,000 new donors. It also concluded that after three years the annual incremental cost to the treasury in foregone revenue would be between $10 million and $40 million.

While the current stretch tax credit proposal is more generous, it is not believed the annual cost would be significantly out of line with this estimate. Every dollar invested will yield a measurable return in new charitable giving, since the credit would only be activated when Canadians increased their charitable donations. In addition, we recommend introducing a higher charitable tax credit on all donations over $500 to a single charity. Many charities actually lose money on donations of small amounts, typically those of $20 or less. All charities, and those whom we serve, would benefit from encouraging citizens to give larger amounts to fewer charities. This would serve to keep administrative costs down for individual charities and affect a significant change in donation levels.

Again, on behalf of the Canadian Diabetes Association, thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

I'd be pleased to take any questions you might have at any point.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much, Mr. Cloutier.

We'll now hear from Charity Intelligence Canada, please.

3:40 p.m.

Kate Bahen Managing Director, Charity Intelligence Canada

Good afternoon. Thanks for the invitation to present here.

We at Charity Intelligence are a charity, but we are a different type of charity. We work for donors. We research and analyze Canadian charities; we are the 1-800 hotline that donors call. We do our best to answer their questions.

I'm assuming that the tax incentives package has been put before you with the assumption that it would result in more money going towards Canadian charities. I'd like to share with you three findings.

In all the surveying and polls on motivation about what makes a donor give, tax incentives consistently rank as the least important to a donor. Canadian donors give with their hearts, and they give out of compassion.

The second finding I'd like to share with you is that since 2002, the Muttart Foundation out of Edmonton has consistently used Ipsos Reid to survey Canadians. What their poll results report is that there is a widening trust gap between donors and charities. In the poll taken in 2010, 31% of Canadians said they had a lot of confidence in charities, and 69% of Canadians said they had some, little, or no trust in charities. This is the largest trust gap we've seen in Canada. Tax incentives do nothing to address this gap. Furthermore, in that most recent poll, 71% of Canadians said they would like more information about charities, which goes to Mark's points about transparency. Canadians want to know how charities spend the money and what results they achieve.

Thirdly, there was an extensive survey of 3,000 donors in the U.S. that we think is relevant for this. In that survey, 34% of donors said they would give more to charities if they had more information; they would give 12% more. In Canada, that would result in $1.2 billion in additional charitable giving.

So as we would see it at Charity Intelligence, the incentive to get more money flowing to charities is completely within the charities' hands. They can take steps independently, without the need at this time for increasing tax legislation or tax incentives.

I'm reminded here of Newton's third law of physics: for every action, there is a reaction. What could the potential harm be of expanding tax incentives? Unfortunately, one outcome of the tax incentives is that they drive unsavoury characters into the charity sector.

We haven't shared this research with Canadians; it is not public, but I share it with you today. In May 2010 we began an extensive research project on Canada's 100 largest charities. I hope you deal with this information with all the sensitivity that it is owed. Of the 100 largest charities in Canada, we found two that we strongly suspect are tax fraud schemes.

The research team at Charity Intelligence was startled by this finding. We had always assumed that the tax scam charities were small, bucket-shop operations operating beneath the radar. We never expected to find, in the 100 largest charities in Canada—in the elite—two tax schemes.

If one were to extrapolate from this tiny sample size, that would represent 2% of Canada's 85,700 charities as bad apples, or, in other words 1,715. I would concur completely with Mark's comments that the CRA needs a lot more resources and a lot more help protecting our charitable sector.

These two charities in 2009 received $370 million in donations. If you were to extrapolate that.....

I'm sorry, that would be the equivalent; that is what we estimate tax fraud right now is costing Canada, Canadian taxpayers, and the charity sector.

So before you legislate, I would just ask for a second sober thought. Are tax incentives going to be effective? What is the benefit you would anticipate to flow into the sector? What are going to be the consequences? And what steps can you give the CRA that could possibly mitigate the negative impact of having more of these tax incentive scams corrupting Canada's very precious charitable sector?

3:45 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much for your presentation.

We'll now hear from Food Banks Canada, please.

3:45 p.m.

Shawn Pegg Director, Policy and Research, Food Banks Canada

Good afternoon.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to present before you today.

It's an auspicious time to be here, given that today is the second day of Hunger Awareness Week. I'd like to take a moment to thank the members here today who will be fasting tomorrow to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in our country. Thank you very much.

In my presentation I'd like to give you some information on Food Banks Canada and on the current state of food bank use in the country. Then I'll review our proposal to the committee.

Food Banks Canada is the national organization representing and supporting food banks across the country. Our dual mission is to help food banks meet the short-term need for food assistance and also to find policy solutions to reduce the need for food banks in Canada.

There are more than 800 food banks working in partnership with over 2,900 food programs in every province and territory. These organizations in any given month provide groceries to nearly 900,000 people. They also serve more than three million meals per month. In 2011, food bank use was 26% higher than it was before the recession.

Food banks have been helping more than 700,000 people per month for the better part of the past decade. Of those helped, 38% are children and youth, and 50% of households receiving food are families with children. While half of households receiving food are on social assistance, one in five receives the majority of its income from employment, and 7% of those helped are seniors.

Though Canadians have been incredibly generous in their support of food banks since the economic downturn, the network has struggled to meet the need for their services. In March of last year, 35% of food banks actually ran out of food, and more than half gave less to each household than they had in the past in order to stretch their resources.

As I said, individual Canadians, service clubs and other groups, small businesses, and large corporations are generous supporters of food banks. However, as generous as these donors are, it's not enough to meet the need. We're very happy to see this committee focusing on incentives to charitable giving. We're positively disposed to several of the policy changes being considered by the committee, particularly the stretch tax credit put forward by Imagine Canada.

What I'd like to focus on in the rest of my time is our written brief, which outlines a plan for a charitable food tax credit that we believe will result in a significant influx of food to food banks. Specifically, the brief recommends changes to the Income Tax Act that will create an incentive for food manufacturers to donate from their inventory. The charitable food tax credit, very simply, would result in a reduction of the amount of federal tax owed by companies that donate food to food banks.

We're a member-driven organization, and this is a proposal that originated from our member food banks. You can see from our brief that several of our current manufacturing donors support the proposal. We've worked with the polling firm Angus Reid to gauge support for the idea and have found that 83% of Canadians support tax incentives for manufacturers that donate food to food banks.

Finally, we've seen similar policies succeed in increasing donations of food at the federal and state levels in the United States. This leads us to believe that our proposal, whose cost to the federal government we estimate as a maximum of $15 million per year, will lead to a substantial rise in the amount of food available through food banks to the Canadians who so desperately need it.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much, Mr. Pegg.

We'll now hear from the Women's College Hospital Foundation, please.

3:50 p.m.

Mary Dodd Vice-President, Finance and Operations, Women's College Hospital Foundation

Good afternoon. Bonjour. My name is Mary Dodd. I'm an accountant. I'm the chief financial officer for Women's College Hospital Foundation in Toronto.

I'm honoured to be asked to appear before this committee, and I want to take the opportunity to not only speak on behalf of myself and Women's College Hospital Foundation, but also on behalf of the hospital foundations that are associated with the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network, or TAHSN. TAHSN is comprised of the University of Toronto and its affiliated academic hospitals, each of which holds national and international standing as leaders in their particular fields.

The hospital names will be familiar to you and include Baycrest, Holland Bloorview, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, St. Michael's, Mount Sinai, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto General and Western, Princess Margaret, SickKids, and Women's College Hospital. Collectively we receive 14% of the philanthropic dollars given to hospital foundations in Canada.

I met with my hospital foundation colleagues in February to discuss the goals of this committee's study and to come to a consensus of opinion regarding tax incentives to promote charitable giving. As a group, we're very supportive of the stretch tax credit that's been advocated by Imagine Canada and others. We believe it will help to increase participation in giving levels and be a benefit on a national basis. We strongly encourage the committee to recommend its adoption.

Yet despite our support, we do not expect that the stretch tax credit will yield significant additional dollars for our particular foundations. The reason for this is that the majority of fundraising at the hospital and university level is done at what's called the major giving level. These are gifts from donors in excess of $10,000. In many instances, these gifts represent a transfer of capital rather than income from the donor. It's these gifts of capital that enable new hospitals to be built, life saving technology and equipment to be purchased, and innovative research to be undertaken that will improve health care outcomes for patients and change how we deliver care in the future.

To support this type of transformational giving, we advocate that the capital gains exemption currently in place for publicly traded shares be expanded to encompass gifts of real estate and private shares. Implementation in 2006 of the capital gains exemption on publicly traded stock had an immediate and lasting positive impact on our foundations and the sector as a whole.

We believe that expanding the exemption to real estate and to private shares will have the same impact. In fact, given the large anticipated generational wealth transfer, it will likely have an even greater impact. It may also enable individuals to make transformational gifts in their lifetime rather than as a consequence of estate planning.

We recognize that clear rules need to be established to govern the valuation and transparency of these transactions, but we know it can be achieved. Hand in glove with extending the capital gains exemption would be an undertaking to remove the restriction that charitable donations can only be claimed in one year up to 75% of net income. Why have a provision in the Income Tax Act that restricts extraordinary generosity?

We believe our government has a very important role to continue to promote philanthropy as a core Canadian value. The ability of legislation to increase charitable giving has been demonstrated in the past with the implementation of the capital gains exemption on publicly traded shares. The government's ability to influence charitable giving can be further enhanced with the addition of tax incentives such as the stretch tax credit and the capital gains exemption expansion.

Thank you very much.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much, Ms. Dodd, for your presentation.

We'll now go to Social Innovation Generation in Toronto.

Ms. Hewitt, please begin your five-minute opening statement.

3:55 p.m.

Allyson Hewitt Director, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation Generation

Thank you so much for the opportunity to address the committee. I'm particularly grateful for you giving me the opportunity to speak from Toronto.

My name is Allyson Hewitt and I work at a program called SIG at MaRS. MaRS is an innovation centre in downtown Toronto, and SIG is a national collaborative designed to create a culture of continuous social innovation.

One area of focus for our work, both at MaRS and at SIG, is trying to determine how best to finance social purpose work in our country through the creation of a centre for impact investing. This came out of the work of the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance.

The Canadian Task Force on Social Finance issued its seven recommendations for mobilizing private capital for public good in December of 2010 and a progress report in December 2011. The task force consisted of business and philanthropic leaders, including the Right Honourable Paul Martin, Stanley Hartt, Sam Duboc, and Tim Brodhead, and was chaired by MaRS CEO Ilse Treumicht. Of the seven recommendations from the task force, three may be particularly relevant for our discussion today.

One focuses on mobilizing capital through the creation of impact investing funds. The second concerns modernizing legal and regulatory frameworks, particularly concerned with CRA and removing the restrictions against social enterprise, looking instead at a destinations test. The next one is about enabling private investments via tax incentives, and we're hoping to see the establishment of a multisectoral working group to examine specific proposals.

At SIG we recognize that grants and contributions, along with fundraising, are essential elements of a healthy society. We encourage the committee in its efforts to make that process less burdensome for all involved. We also contend that the extent of the problems of the 21st century require us to think about additional ways to leverage financing to support social purpose work and to tackle these complex challenges.

Many not-for-profit organizations and charities are now run by social entrepreneurs who are seeking new ways of creating social value beyond the traditional fundraised dollars in, social services out. They are joined by their colleagues around the world and the enabling systems that have been created.

In Australia, the Senate recently encouraged the government to incent investments in non-profits through tax measures. In the U.K., they have built on their leadership in this area by establishing Big Society Capital, a £600 million fund from unclaimed bank assets, and have mobilized additional government support. Many provinces, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, are exploring new ways to enable and support social enterprises through enabling legislation.

Again, we applaud the work of the committee in seeking to modernize charitable giving, and we also encourage you to consider looking at other jurisdictions, both inside and outside of Canada, to mobilize more private capital for public good, and ideally to find a made-in-Canada solution to finance the efforts of Canadians seeking to create and enhance social impact.

Thank you.

4 p.m.


The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much for your presentation.

We'll now go to members' questions. We'll start with Ms. Nash for a five-minute round.