Mr. Speaker, I understand that I have 10 minutes with no questions or comments, with no actual real debate in the House today.
I rise today to speak to Bill C-21, an act respecting not-for-profit corporations and other corporations without share capital. The bill would also commonly be known as the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act.
I want to begin by addressing the new practice of the Liberal government of sending bills such as Bill C-21 to committee before second reading. Bill C-21, like the other industry bill before the House, Bill C-19 on competition policy, which we addressed a week ago, has been referred to committee for study.
In theory, the purpose of sending a bill to committee before second reading is to allow the committee members to introduce a broader scope of amendments to the legislation. The committee is allowed to propose changes that are outside the principle of the bill, which is what we debate at second reading: the principle of the bill.
In my view, however, the government is abusing this process. Eleven of the 23 bills that have been introduced by the government have gone or are going to committee before second reading. Debate in the House on this issue is limited to 180 minutes instead of the unlimited debate that would occur under regular second reading rules. Thus, through the back door, the government is limiting debate on this and 10 other bills. We are limited to 10 minute speeches with no time for questions and comments and no time to question the minister on the bill.
The fact is that a reference to committee before second reading is a handy scapegoat for a minority government. Rather than giving each legislative initiative careful thought and defending it, the government can tell Canadians that if they do not like the bill they can take their concerns to committee. This is also a very effective way and a strategy of this government to tie up a committee's time. A committee is supposed to be the master of its own house, to debate and deliberate policy on its own.
The Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology has a bigger mandate in this Parliament with the addition of the combination of natural resources and industry. This is a minority government and the opposition wants to discuss issues like smart regulations and energy policy, as advanced by the member for Kelowna, but the fact is that those issues then get pushed to the back because we are studying these complex bills that are introduced one week before.
I just want to touch upon the process here. This bill was introduced last week. It is about 152 pages long with well over 300 clauses. A briefing was set up for the opposition last week. The member for Kelowna--Lake country went to the briefing. The briefing for Liberal members was extended so the briefing for Conservative members was essentially cancelled. Finally a briefing by the department was set up again for yesterday. The bureaucrats were late, by the way, so my colleague from Kelowna and I sat there twiddling our thumbs waiting for the government bureaucrats. They came in with an eight page briefing, in size 20 font, and here now are some of some of the wonderful things those officials told us.
They said the bill is complex and technical; well, that really indicates to us what is in the bill. They said information kits will provide essential elements; we are still waiting for these information kits. They also said that the bill was expected by stakeholders and some of them will seek to participate in the committee review process. Of course they will. This is the most common, basic information. Of course people interested in the bill will appear before the committee. Did we need a briefing to tell us that?
That was what we were told at the briefing on this very complex bill that the government wants sent to committee before second reading to tie up the committee because the government does not want to actually debate the issue in the House. Quite frankly, with respect to the minister and his staff, I have dealt with four industry ministers in a row and I have to say I am very disappointed with the way they have dealt with the opposition, particularly in a minority government. If the government is interested in passing this legislation, perhaps it ought to pass it over to us and give us maybe a week to prepare for it.
The government could tell us what it likes in the bill and what it thinks we should support about it because “we as a minority government recognize that we need at least one other party, in some cases two other parties, to support our legislation”. That is what it could say. Instead, the government is introducing Bill C-21 without debate, sending it to committee before second reading and frankly, in my view, avoiding the entire legislative process.
Having gone on that tirade, I do want to touch briefly upon the actual substance of the bill. I do not know if I will have time within the 10 minutes allotted, but I do want to also state publicly that the Conservative Party does not support sending this bill to committee before second reading and we are also not supportive of the substance of the bill at this time.
We have some concerns about this bill, the first under monitoring and enforcement. The fact is that Industry Canada has drawn up a very complex set of regulations and laws for record keeping, conflict of interest within these corporations, communications with membership, and financial reporting, to name just a few issues. But there will be no one at Industry Canada who will police or monitor the not for profit corporations' struggles with these requirements.
This is similar to the Elections Act. The government is setting up a huge bureaucracy and yet Industry Canada will not have someone who will actually assist all of these not for profit organizations across the country in terms of trying to fulfill all these requirements. Instead of setting up an arbitrator to help these organizations, most of whom I think rely on volunteers, this legislation would force disputes directly to the courts.
Having a lawsuit, either criminal or civil, because both are possible under this bill, would cost a not for profit organization time and money. In terms of the cost, there would be a larger financial burden on not for profit corporations in trying to meet the legislative requirements to change their bylaws and constitutions, to hire auditors and for liability insurance, to name a few areas. If the House passes this bill, a federally registered not for profit corporation would be required to make the transition to the new act within three years of the new act coming into force. Failure to do so would result in the director of not for profit corporations at Industry Canada taking action to dissolve the corporation.
In terms of the issue of how complex this bill is with respect to regulations, when someone is stalled in getting an organization up and running quickly by government inaction or by government regulatory burdens, the fact is that it costs the organization money and it delays what the organization does and what its purpose is. Frankly, the government has paid a lot of lip service, as the parliamentary secretary just did, to smart regulation when in fact it has failed to implement its own government committee on smart regulation, which came out just this year.
In addition to the bylaws contained in this bill that must be adopted by not for profit organizations in order to be allowed to exist by Industry Canada, there is a regulatory package that accompanies this legislation.
Under the proposed regulations, the degree of financial reporting is divided into five classes. For example, the type of financial report a not for profit corporation is required to submit to Industry Canada depends on the revenue of the not for profit corporation. The more revenue earned, the more formal the reporting requirement. There are no exceptions, so if a corporation has an exceptional fundraising year, the reporting responsibilities would increase as would the costs of the corporation for possibly redoing their books and paying for a more professional audit.
The regulations outline a very strict schedule for issuing notices of meetings. The minimum notification for a meeting of members is 14 days. This is in the actual legislation. This bill would make it illegal to call an emergency meeting within less than 14 days, thus removing some of the flexibility that smaller organizations rely upon to resolve important local issues.
The regulations do allow for some exemptions, such as the publication of membership lists if, for instance, the not for profit corporation is a battered women's shelter. One could apply to the director at Industry Canada not to have that membership list published. However, this application for an exemption would have to appear in the Canada Gazette and Industry Canada estimates that it would take at least 18 months for this process to be completed. It seems rather pointless to have to wait two years for an exemption if they only have three years to comply with this legislation in the main.
I do want to touch upon one other aspect, which is the whole issue of membership lists. It is a concern. What this legislation would allow is that if someone is a member of a not for profit corporation, that person would be able to access the entire membership list of that not for profit organization. The concern there obviously relates to privacy. Many members join these groups, but they do not feel they should have their personal contact information shared with anyone else who happens to be a member of that group.
The answer we were given by the people who gave the briefing was about how what if they want to contact these people in advance of the annual general meeting to advance one of their issues or to discuss something at the AGM and they want to inform people ahead of time. That may be a legitimate point, but should there not be another way to do that other than allowing an entire membership list of that organization to be eligible to just one person who signs up for a membership for $10 a year or something like that? Therefore, we do have some serious privacy concerns as well.
We also have some concerns with respect to liability. Many directors in the not for profit sector are volunteers. However, under this new scheme they will be liable for the actions of the not for profit corporation. I think organizations across Canada should read that section carefully.
Under the new standard of care, directors will have to act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the corporation, exercise the care, diligence, and skill that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances, and comply with the act, articles, bylaws, and any unanimous member agreements. My concern is that this type of liability will deplete the pool of volunteers in the small, local, not for profit corporations that are simply trying to help their communities.
I could go on, Mr. Speaker, but I assume my 10 minutes are up.