Mr. Speaker, since this the first time I have risen to speak since the session began, I would like to begin by thanking the people of Shefford for trusting in me for the third time to defend their interests in Ottawa.
For several years, a number of representatives of not-for-profit corporations have been pressing to have the Canada Corporations Act modernized. In the past decade, numerous people have taken part in consultations, while others have made written submissions to Industry Canada calling for rapid amendments to the Canada Corporations Act. In recent years, some people have expressed concern that the Canada Corporations Act is out of date and no longer meets the needs of the not-for-profit sector. Stakeholders have publicly called for reform of the act and, in 1999, the task force on the voluntary sector, which was created by the federal government, called for improvements to the regulatory framework governing this sector. Industry Canada's proposal to modernize the Canada Corporations Act forms part of the task force's plan.
In July 2000, Industry Canada released a consultation paper entitled Reform of the Canada Corporations Act: The Federal Not-for-Profit Framework Law. After releasing this document, the department held a series of round tables in cities across the country to look at the ideas in the document and consider various legislative options. The government then made concrete proposals to reform the not-for-profit corporations legislation.
On November 15, 2004, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-21, which never reached second reading. On June 13, 2008, during the second session of the 39th Parliament, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-62, which was similar to what the Liberals had tabled. With the hasty election call last September, this bill died on the order paper. On December 3, 2008, a similar bill was introduced for first reading by the Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism). Once again, it died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued on December 4. Finally, the Conservative minister introduced the same legislation on January 28 as Bill C-4.
Since 2004, both Liberal and Conservative governments introduced various bills that all died on the order paper. In spite of everything, it is quite clear that there is a common desire on both sides of the House to modernize the Canada Corporations Act, especially since the bills introduced by previous governments have all been very similar.
To briefly summarize Bill C-4, its primary aim is to propose new legislation on not-for-profit corporations that would establish a more modern and transparent framework for such organizations. The operational framework for not-for-profit corporations would be similar to corporate governance under the Canada Business Corporations Act. The new act would gradually repeal the Canada Corporations Act and would replace parts II, III and IV of that act.
According to the minister herself, Bill C-4 will cut administrative costs facing not-for-profit corporations and will strengthen and clarify the governance rules that apply to these corporations. In more concrete terms, this bill will simplify the incorporation of not-for-profit corporations; clarify the rights and responsibilities of directors; establish defences for directors and officers in the event of liability; provide members with increased rights to contribute to the governance of their corporation; and establish a better mechanism to oversee the corporations' accounts.
Although the bill is complex, the new framework that will govern not-for-profit corporations should considerably simplify and clarify the role of these corporations in our society, both for their members and directors and for the general public.
It is exceedingly clear that extensive changes must be made to the Canada Corporations Act. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle underlying the bill. However, it is evident that some aspects of the bill must be examined in committee.
The Bloc Québécois supports this bill for a number of reasons. First of all, the process for establishing a not-for-profit will be considerably streamlined and much more transparent.
The act currently requires not-for-profit corporations to keep detailed accounts of their activities but does not require disclosure of these accounts. Bill C-4 requires not-for-profits to make their financial records available to their members, directors and officers, as well as to the Director. This will permit directors and officers to better manage and supervise the corporation, to monitor the financial situation of the organization between annual meetings and to ensure that funds are used only in the pursuit of the stated goals and objectives.
The bill also includes a provision to ensure a fair balance between transparency and accountability on one hand and privacy on the other. An organization can apply to the Director for an exemption from disclosing its accounts to its members.
The Canada Corporations Act currently allows anyone to obtain the membership list of a not-for-profit organization. The act sets out the possible uses of such a list. Bill C-4, Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, will give this right only to the organization's members, creditors and directors.
This provision will facilitate communication among members and enable them to better coordinate their activities; it will require administrators to maintain an up-to-date membership list, thereby further facilitating logistics and administration; and it will protect the members of certain types of not-for-profit organizations from the unauthorized use of such lists. The same provisions were included in the Canada Corporations Act to punish such offences. The problem would be resolved at the source by not making such lists public. Any person wishing to consult the list would have to sign a statutory declaration limiting the ways in which the list is to be used. The bill also calls for a fine of up to $25,000 or up to six months in prison or both for anyone using a list for unauthorized purposes. This reminds us of the CRTC's do not call list. We know that such lists have been sold for about $50 for 6,000 names. People wanted their names on the CRTC list because they did not want to be bothered by telemarketers. This provision would compensate for the cost of updating the lists by removing the requirement to make them available to the general public.
Directors and officers of not-for-profit organizations are currently exposed to numerous liabilities under the provisions of certain pieces of legislation including liability for environmental damages, liability for unpaid salaries, fiduciary duty, and liability for their own negligent actions. They should be relieved of those liabilities. Thus, the new legislation addresses the liabilities of not-for-profit directors.
Incorporation creates a legal entity that can be held liable. The organization will protect these people from personal liability when acting according to their responsibilities as defined in the legislation.
That is covered in subsection 37(1).
The bill includes a clear definition of the standards for diligence that do not hold a director liable if he or she has acted honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the corporation.
That is covered in subsection 149(1)
Directors may use the defence of reasonable diligence, which gives them a remedy against unfounded complaints.
This is found in clause 150.1.
There are new provisions to indemnify directors against costs, charges and expenses incurred in respect of an unfounded proceeding or of incidents where the corporation believes the director's actions warrant indemnification.
These provisions are found in clauses 151.1 and 151.5.
The problem with this sort of provision is that highly qualified officers who know the system well might exonerate themselves by invoking the due diligence defence and thus make the members of the organization pay collectively for their errors.
With regard to efficiency, replacing the letters patent system, involving a sort of order signed by the minister, with an as of right system of incorporation makes it much easier to set up not-for-profit organizations. First, the discretionary approval process would disappear and the incorporation process would be simplified, giving corporations greater flexibility. This process would also be more efficient and less expensive, both for corporations and for the government.
Second, eliminating the obligation to have by-laws approved gives corporations the flexibility to create by-laws to meet their particular needs. It is high time the minister's discretionary authority in this area was abolished. This will increase not only the credibility of not-for-profit organizations, but public confidence in them.
I would also like to take this opportunity to point out the main issues the Bloc Québécois and many representatives of not-for-profit organizations have with Bill C-4 and the Canada Corporations Act. The Canada Corporations Act currently includes a classification system for not-for-profit organizations. The bill still does not include any mechanisms to correct this situation.
For the government, the new act does not need a classification system because the framework is permissive and flexible, allowing organizations to choose how to apply many provisions.
However, according to the national charities and not-for-profit law section of the Canadian Bar Association, not including a general classification system is a major flaw in this bill. It then becomes important to specify if the not-for-profit organization is charitable, mutualist, political or even religious, because they would be different. I am only trying to highlight various distinctions, but we believe that the committee should tackle this issue.
As well, section 154 of the Canada Corporations Act currently stipulates that the federal minister may grant a charter of incorporation if the corporation thereby created pursues objects “to which the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada extends, of a national, patriotic, religious, philanthropic, charitable, scientific, artistic, social, professional or sporting character, or the like objects.”
But it appears that the proposed new legislation would not require a not-for-profit organization to include in its statutes the objects it intends to pursue, thus sidestepping the whole notion of specifying what action an organization can take in accordance with its goals.
Since we know that the federal Parliament only has jurisdiction over organizations that do not have provincial goals, this raises the following question: Why does the bill not include some provision to oversee what falls under federal jurisdiction? The Bloc Québécois feels that this question should be studied in committee.
These are legitimate issues that the Bloc Québécois is trying to defend.
Under section 92 of the Constitution, managing the social economy, volunteering and community activities falls within provincial jurisdiction. As set out in that section, all matters of a merely local or private nature fall under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction.
I repeat; it is important to note that the federal Parliament has jurisdiction over only those organizations that do not pursue provincial objects. Section 92, subsection 11 of the Constitution Act, 1867 grants the incorporation of companies with provincial objects specifically to the provinces.
Accordingly, there seems to be a serious flaw in the bill and it must be carefully examined to avoid any potential conflict between the provinces and the federal government. The bill must be amended to limit its application to not-for-profit corporations that operate in several provinces, that have offices in several provinces or whose object comes under federal jurisdiction.
Adding these limitations is not mandatory per se. Constitutionally, the federal government does not have the authority to legislate in areas of Quebec jurisdiction. However, to avoid any confusion that could arise from the new wording of the legislation, it would be wise to include provisions limiting the scope of its application.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that, for some time now, representatives of not-for-profit corporations have been calling for amendments to bring the Canada Corporations Act up to date. For reasons of transparency, efficiency and fairness, the Bloc Québécois believes that these amendments are legitimate and essential. However, certain points need to be clarified in committee.
Whether on matters of classification or the jurisdictions of each level of government, we believe that the committee must provide clear answers. The representatives of not-for-profit corporations deserve to be able to work with a Canada Corporations Act that effectively meets their needs.