moved that Bill C-244, an act to require charitable and non-profit organizations that receive public funds to declare the remuneration of their directors and senior officers, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and pleasure to rise today to speak on behalf of Bill C-224, an act that would require charitable and non-profit organizations to declare once a year the salaries and benefits of their directors and senior officers.
This is a votable bill. If passed into law it will have a profound effect on all Canadians. It is a first step in bringing public accountability to a huge sector of the Canadian economy that has never been under meaningful public supervision.
I am speaking of the not for profit sector, the charities and non-profit organizations that pay no taxes and yet account for at least $120 billion in revenues and expenditures each year, about one-sixth of Canada's gross domestic product. Let me repeat, $120 billion, a sixth of GDP.
Incredible though it may seem, Canada has had few rules of public accountability governing this huge sector of the economy. The financial affairs of charities are but thinly disclosed to the public while those of non-profit organizations are entirely beyond public scrutiny. Even though charities and non-profit organizations are funded directly or indirectly by the taxpayer, they have been allowed to operate at whatever level of secrecy they choose.
Oh, yes, they will argue, they have to keep books. They have to be prepared for an audit by Revenue Canada. However there are 70,000 charities and 60,000 plus non-profit organizations. What are the chances of a spot audit? Even if an organization is audited, the Income Tax Act forbids public disclosure of the financial details or the results of the examination. The public has no right to know even when a charity or non-profit organization is discovered to have failed to keep the public trust, neither right nor opportunity.
This is a situation that has gone on forever. The potential for abuse is huge. The scope of the likely waste is difficult to comprehend. If only one-quarter of this $120 billion is being frittered away, soaked up in excessive salaries, improper contracts or bureaucratic inefficiencies, then Canadians are losing $30 billion annually, which becomes $30 billion out of the economy.
No wonder Canada has a debt and deficit crisis. I must say it never made sense to me that Canada, with all its resources and given its fine entrepreneurial spirit, should be in the cellar with Italy in terms of debt among the G-7 nations. Now it does.
No nation can possibly let an economic sector worth one-sixth of its GDP run along without scrutiny, without public accountability and not run up serious bills. And not have the financial crisis that Canada now faces.
There is irony here. As the finance minister casts around for spending cuts and savings crucial to the budget soon to be tabled, he looks in every corner of the rest of the economy; consumers, corporations, social programs, the public service and so on. He does not look at charities and non-profit organizations. Is there no waste here, no savings? Of course there are. I can only guess at the reason why charities and non-profit organizations have not yet come under the deficit reduction microscope.
It may well be because there has been no decent financial overview of the not for profit sector. It has literally been a case of out of sight, out of mind, for a generation of finance ministers.
No doubt this is true of non-profit organizations. There were 60,000 of them in 1986 and up until two years ago they did not have to file an annual financial information return equivalent to that required of charities. They only had to file as incorporated companies or trusts. If they were neither, they did not have to file at all.
Consequently, as the Auditor General stated in 1990, Revenue Canada "has no effective check on the right to enjoy tax exempt status". He could have stated further that the public, private citizens, journalists and even members of Parliament have no opportunity whatsoever to see how they manage their affairs.
However, thanks to the information returns required of charities, though very inadequate in terms of public disclosure, we can at least glimpse the huge dimensions of Canada's charity industry. I would like to refer my colleagues to an excellent paper, "A Portrait of Canada's Charities" which was produced by the Centre of Philanthropy, based on a study of 1993 charity returns.
Briefly, here are some of its findings. Canada has 70,000 charities through which $86 billion passed in 1993 for 12 per cent to 13 per cent of GDP. This amount is equal to the GDP of the entire province of British Columbia and considerably more than the entire agricultural sector. Forty billion dollars was paid out by charities in salaries and benefits-a huge sum.
Government funding of charities amounted to $49 billion in 1993, slightly more than half of all the charities' revenues. Hospitals and teaching institutions received 58 per cent of all
revenues, or about $50 billion. By contrast churches received only 6 per cent of revenues or about $5 billion.
Here is the problem. Anyone can find out how much a minister of a church is making for 6 per cent of the charity take. But it is usually impossible, right across this country, to find out the salary of a hospital or university president for 58 per cent of the charity take.
Why not? Hospitals and universities are all fully funded directly or indirectly by the taxpayer. Why does the taxpayer not have the right to know how much of his hard earned tax dollar is being spent on the salaries of their chief administrators? Why not?
The answer is, and I am sure that 90 per cent of Canadians will agree, that the taxpayer should know. We do have the right. If you are paying the bill you have a fundamental right to know how your money is being spent. That is a given. That is what Bill C-224 addresses.
It would require every not for profit organization to file a statutory declaration showing the total remuneration and benefits received by all directors and senior officers of charities and non-profit organizations. The minister of revenue would then make this information available to anyone who wanted it.
This I should add is no less than what is required now by publicly traded companies in Canada. If for profit companies are required to provide this kind of disclosure to shareholders, why should not charities and non-profit organizations do the same thing for their shareholders, the taxpayers of Canada?
It seems so reasonable, so obvious, so morally right. The fact is, however, that hospitals for instance have often ferociously defended the secrecy of their books and denied absolutely, even to members of their own governing boards, details on the salaries paid their top administrators. Indeed, trying to find out how most hospitals run themselves is akin to trying to assess the administrative practices of the government in Beijing from city hall in Thunder Bay. Most hospital board meetings are held in camera. The public and press are excluded.
This is all the more mystifying in that governments at all levels are told that hospitals are hurting, that beds must be cut back unless funding is sustained or even increased. Yet not even the politicians deliberating the problem of health care spending are entitled to know how much a hospital president is making. Why not?
Some might argue that the current charity information return already provides enough information about remuneration. It does not. It only requires totals and sadly, some charities filling out the form step around the spirit of openness.
For example, the charity return asks for the "total remuneration paid to employees who are executive officers, directors or trustees of the charity". Then it asks for the total number of people involved, which invites division of that number to get the average per individual.
Alas, often the trustees of charities are unpaid. Therefore the number you are dividing by is inflated and the average remuneration appears far lower than it actually is for key administrators.
Sadder still is the fact that many charities simply skip the remuneration lines altogether. The Canadian Cancer Society of Ontario reports paying over $8 million in salaries and then leaves the following lines on executive remuneration blank. Therefore we do not even get totals.
This practice is common. Any random sampling of annual charity returns will come up with many where the remuneration lines are not filled out. There is obviously an unwillingness by many charities to provide this elementary information. They get away with it because there is no penalty for their omissions short of revoking their charity status. There is no adequate screening of the filled out forms either. Errors abound and some must be deliberate.
Bill C-224 partially plugs this loophole. The legislation provides a penalty for the failure to disclose. A fine of up to 50 per cent of the funds received from government is a law that has teeth. Perhaps that sounds tough but in fact legislators in the United States have been tearing their hair and trying to bring to task not for profit organizations that have been giving executives excessive compensation.
The lifting of charitable status is too slow, the ways of concealing excessive compensation too intricate. I have to add that the United States is years ahead of Canada in trying to tackle this problem.
How bad is it? In the United States the information returns of both non-profit and charities are available to the public. There too, they have this phenomenon of organizations skipping the lines pertaining to executive remuneration. Prodding by the Internal Revenue Service has disclosed salaries exceeding one million dollars annually, $300,000 or $400,000 is not unusual.
This is undoubtedly happening in Canada as well. Our charity information returns are primitive in the detail they require in comparison to those of the Americans. The Canadian public, citizens, journalists or politicians cannot even see the returns of non-profit organizations. While these are available to every American on demand at the office of the non-profit organization, the equivalent information in Canada is denied to Canadians.
While my remarks have tended to focus on charities it is only because there is at least some public information on them. There is nothing on non-profit organizations. Nothing at all.
Revenue Canada is not even sure how many there are. The only figure I could obtain, 60,000, is nine years old and nobody-I mean nobody-knows how much money flows through them yearly. If it is even half that of charities, that is $40 billion. I suggest that that figure is conservative. I suggest that it could be considerably more. I suggest the combined figure that I have been using, $120 billion, is also conservative.
Last week I received a visitor at my constituency office in Hamilton-Wentworth riding. He was from Manitoba and while on business in Toronto he drove over to meet me because he had read in his local paper that I was investigating the not for profit industries.
He told me that he headed a for profit company in the business of recycling building materials. He said that he was being killed by a non-profit organization in the same business which enjoyed a competitive advantage because it did not pay taxes.
That same week, I received a call from the president of a Toronto union local representing jail workers. His problem was with a non-profit organization hired by the provincial government to manage group homes for youths convicted under the Young Offenders Act. The union wanted access to the company's financial statements for the purposes of negotiating a collective agreement. Denied. A non-profit organization does not have to disclose financial details to anyone. Secrecy is absolute, no matter how the taxpayer's dollar is being spent, and so it goes.
The real problem is that we do not know the net negative effect non-profit organizations are having on the economy. That many exist purely to pay inflated salaries to their principal officers there is no doubt. In doing so, with the advantage of not having to pay taxes, are they forcing out of business legitimate for-profit enterprises which would pay taxes? How damaging to a free market economy is a plethora of businesses which only have to compete sufficiently to line the pockets of their executives rather than sufficiently to show a profit to pay shareholders? How much of Canada's deficit is rooted in non-profit companies doing barely enough and no more?
There is only one quick way to get at this issue: require non-profit organizations to declare the remuneration of their principal officers, as Bill C-224 proposes, and the benefits as well.
MPs are often accused of having a too rich pension plan. I agree that is so and that it should be brought into line with industry. Tax exempt charities and non-profit organizations are dependent upon the taxpayer too, no less so than MPs. What kind of pensions do their executive officers get? Chances are given that this information has never been available, many of their pension plans would make current MP pensions look starved and stingy.
Just as the public demands accountability of its politicians, so it should demand accountability of those organizations dependent upon public and governmental generosity. There is no excuse for secrecy when tax dollars are being spent, directly or indirectly.
Finally, it is clear that the entire $120 billion not for profit sector is urgently in need of review and oversight. However, a problem of such magnitude cannot be solved overnight.
Nevertheless, something must be done immediately because the loss to the economy is undoubtedly enormous. The floodlight of public scrutiny must be brought to bear as quickly as possible. That is the intention of Bill C-224. It cannot cure in a stroke an industry that has been allowed to function unsupervised for decades but it can bring into sharp relief the fundamental nature of the problem. By forcing into daylight those executive salaries and benefits which are obviously excessive, it can show the greed.