Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak in
support of Bill C-224, a private member's bill presented by the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth.
I hope the journalists who cover the proceedings of the House of Commons note that we as members are not always at each other's throats. If the public only watches Question Period and if Question Period is the only parliamentary proceeding that hits the nightly news, a wrong impression of how this House operates can and I submit has developed in the minds of Canadians.
There have been numerous occasions in this Parliament setting it apart from the previous Parliament when members have agreed on the disposition of various subjects. When a good idea is presented it deserves support. This is the view of how the House of Commons should work which my party has tried to get across since all members convened here a little more than a year ago.
While we have not always been successful, politics by its very nature being partisan, I believe we have on many occasions raised the level of debate in the Chamber through mutual co-operation on a number of issues.
The private member's bill presented by my friend from Hamilton-Wentworth deals with an important issue in a way which deserves our support.
This bill proposes that charitable and non-profit organizations that receive public funds be required to declare the remuneration received by their directors and senior officers.
In supporting this bill I want to make it crystal clear that the Reform Party for the most part supports the work of charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada. The Reform Party supports the work of the voluntary sector in Canada. I would like to point out along with the previous speaker of the Bloc that I too thank all of the volunteers across Canada, many of whom give many hours and are not always thanked as they should be.
We recognize the need for volunteers in many organizations and we respect the right of these organizations to exist and to carry out their functions.
However, what we are against, and this is the reason we support this bill, is these organizations not being accountable. If these organizations receive taxpayers' dollars then every penny of every dollar received should be accounted for.
I do not think it will come as a great surprise to many that Reform policy goes further than this bill. It is the policy of my party that no funds should be given by the government to any charitable or non-profit organization. It should be the responsibility of the organization to fund itself. If there is a need or a perceived reason for the existence of an organization then it should be able to sustain itself without the need for government handouts.
I also want to point out here that in my riding over the last year I have been donating 10 per cent of my salary, not because I think MPs are not paid enough or are paid too much, but because I think it was an opportunity for me to show people within my riding that if we are interested in a particular community project or a service group or a food bank then we can show others that it is up to us in the community to support those things.
Reflecting back on the last 15 years it seems to me that with the advent of the charter of rights and freedoms Canada gradually has become a society dominated by special interest groups, each group advocating what it deems to be a worthwhile cause. We all know to each of us the things we are involved in seem more worthwhile than what someone else is doing and it is an understandable feeling.
More often than not these groups receive seed money from some level of government. Because the federal government historically has the most money to give out, most of these organizations end up receiving some handout from the federal treasury.
The problem with this procedure is that the dependence on government grants begins and carries on. It becomes difficult for the organization to function without federal money. For political reasons it becomes difficult for a government, any government, to eliminate that funding.
It is the opinion of my party and it is my personal opinion as well that we can no longer afford to fund these organizations either totally or partially. If there is a good reason for the existence of the organization there should be a good reason for people to support it financially. However as long as these grants continue it is the least we as legislators can do to ensure that there is accountability.
It is shocking to think that not for profit organizations are not required to disclose individual salaries. While I am not condemning any of these organizations, surely the public should know if the reason there is no profit is because a great deal of the money received was spent on salaries or spent on programs. There should be no ambiguity.
The only way to eliminate this ambiguity is for these organizations to report fully on their disposition of funds received. It should, as my friend opposite suggests, be broken down so that there can be no misinterpretation as to which of the organization's programs were funded and how much each particular individual in the organization received as a salary or a bonus.
Full and complete disclosure should also have a chilling effect on any organization that uses the bulk of the contributions it receives on salaries. Perhaps the mere fact that salaries have to be publicly declared may result in more money being put into the programs.
The amounts of money we are dealing with here are not insubstantial. This whole sector of the economy comprises about 70,000 charities, as was mentioned earlier, which spent $82 billion in 1993. There are also 40,000 plus non-profit organizations which probably spent an amount proportional to the amount spent by the charities.
The annual returns required by Revenue Canada are not made public with respect to not for profit organizations. It is important that salaries be disclosed in these organizations because the amount shown will indicate if excessive profits are spent or simply eliminated through the payment of high salaries.
While the public and financial information returns of charities have been available since 1977 they are not policed by Revenue Canada for accuracy or completeness and contain little financial detail. Public accountability requires us to do better than this. The public should be able to know who gets how much.
I believe this bill accomplishes this goal. I am pleased to note that by the wording of this bill all not for profit organizations are affected. Even those administered by the provinces are affected. Therefore, hospitals, universities, research organizations, training schools and other institutions which receive federal funds will be subject to disclosure.
This bill is a good first step in dealing with the issue, however it is only a first step. It is important for us, perhaps in a committee of this House, to review the conditions precedent for having an organization declared to be a charity or not for profit organization. In other words, we should review the conditions an organization has to meet to receive the tax exempt status and to give tax receipts for donations.
Perhaps we may conclude that only organizations which pay their own way should have this status. If they receive a government grant then they pay tax. Such a review could focus on the role and value of purely volunteer organizations in our society, organizations that use all of the money donated to them for programs rather than for salaries.
On the question of grants and contributions by the federal government to these groups, I stated the firm policy of my party earlier. These grants and contributions are to cease.
In my position as the Reform Party's critic for literacy, I have suggested this to my party and will be suggesting it to the minister responsible for literacy, the government leader in the Senate. Most if not all of the literacy budget is distributed in the form of grants or contributions to charitable or not for profit organizations which are involved in the literacy business. These are organizations which encourage literacy through adult training, raise awareness of the problems of illiteracy, or perhaps are involved in family counselling where illiteracy is an issue.
Those are all worthwhile goals. However, it is my contention that they can be achieved without dipping into the public purse. Let us face it ladies and gentlemen, today we have no more money in the public purse.
Private enterprise, the business community, which stands to benefit the most from a high level of literacy should assume the task of training. It should assume this burden because business will reap the benefits.
I have also suggested that in order to treat these literacy organizations in a humane fashion, funding will be phased out over three years. Yes, no government funding to any of these organizations is my ultimate goal, but I appreciate the work done by my colleague for Hamilton-Wentworth. His ideas on this matter of salary disclosure deserve our support and Bill C-224 deserves the support of this House.