Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois has repeatedly said that it supports Bill C-4, given that the present Canada Corporations Act has become outdated.
Modernization of the act is certainly a step in the right direction, as has been said several times. The new act would take into account the financial resources and size of the organization in establishing its management mechanisms. It offers a flexible framework for the presentation of financial statements and for the internal rules of the organizations subject to it.
As well, we see a significant increase in efficiency and transparency in the process of incorporating not-for-profit organizations. Replacing the letters patent system by an as of right system of incorporation facilitates the creation of NPOs considerably. Elimination of the minister’s discretion in this regard is essential. All of this will enhance public confidence in NPOs and enhance their credibility in the public’s eyes.
I would like to give a little background to the enactment of the not-for-profit corporations act. The Canadian Corporations Act provides the framework for the incorporation and governance of federal not-for-profit corporations. The kinds of corporations governed under Part II of the Canada Corporations Act (CCA) include religious, charitable, political, mutual-benefit and general not-for-profit organizations.
In recent years some concerns have been raised that the act is outdated and that its provisions no longer meet the requirements of the modern not-for-profit sector. There have been public calls for its reform and in 1999 the federal government’s Voluntary Sector Task Force called for improvements to the regulatory structure that governs the sector. Industry Canada’s proposal to modernize the CCA was part of the task force’s plan.
In July 2000, Industry Canada issued a consultation paper, “Reform of the Canada Corporations Act: The Federal Nonprofit Framework Law”. Subsequently, the department held a series of roundtable discussions in cities across the country to consider the ideas presented in the document, and the various legislative options open to it. Following the suggestions made at the roundtables, the government decided to make concrete proposals for reforming the not-for-profit law.
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 adopted substantially the same direction as the Liberals and introduced Bill C-62. With the hasty election call last September, it died on the order paper, as did a number of other good bills, including the one presented by my hon. colleague to provide a tax credit for young people from the regions who go outside their region to study. This was an excellent bill, which had reached the end of the process and unfortunately, because of the Conservatives’ stubborn desire to trigger an election, died on the order paper. I find this regrettable because at last we had a concrete private member’s bill that could really have helped young people, students, to stay in their region. Because of the hasty election call, it died on the order paper. We will recall that what was uppermost in the Conservatives’ minds was to save their jobs, rather than to save the jobs of workers and young people.
This morning I read in the newspaper that scientists—if I can change the subject for a moment—are starting to leave Canada because of cuts to science and research. We have to set the tone.
I want to get back to Bill C-4. On September 3, 2008, a similar bill was introduced at first reading by the Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism).
Once again, it died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued last September 4. This was another bill that died on the order paper because of Conservative ideology. The Conservatives wanted to prorogue the House because they were afraid they would be defeated. Twice in six months they tried to save their jobs.
The minister finally re-introduced the same bill on January 28, 2009. This was Bill C-4, which we have been debating all day. The purpose is to propose new Canadian legislation on not-for-profit organizations that will establish a more modern, transparent framework for them to operate within. To this end, the system for not-for-profit organizations will be similar to the system for companies that fall under the Canada Business Corporations Act. The new bill will gradually repeal the Canada Corporations Act and replace its parts II, III and IV.
According to the minister, Bill C-4 will reduce the administrative costs of not-for-profit organizations and strengthen and clarify the rules governing them. More specifically, the bill will simplify the process for incorporating not-for-profit organizations, clarify the duties and responsibilities of their directors, set forth defences that their directors and officers can advance in case they are held responsible for something, increase the rights of the members of these organizations and allow the members to participate in the governance of their organization, and establish a better mechanism for overseeing the accounting of these organizations.
Bill C-4 is very complex. It imposes a whole new framework on not-for-profit organizations. Here is a brief summary of each of its 20 parts.
Part 1 identifies the purpose of the bill and allows for the incorporation of organizations without share capital so that they can carry out their lawful activities. It defines what a soliciting corporation is, namely any organization that solicits funds from the public or a government or any other organization that receives donations from the public or government grants.
Part 2 replaces the current letters patent system with an as of right system of incorporation. After receiving and examining the required documents, the director immediately issues the certificate of incorporation. This will help not-for-profit organizations establish themselves much faster and start providing direct assistance to our fellow citizens.
Part 3 stipulates that these organizations have the capacity of a natural person.
Part 4 states that these organizations must keep accounting records and a list of their members and directors and must make this information available to their members. My colleagues just asked the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé and his answer with quite clear. Having accounting records and a list of members will greatly improve the transparency and governance of these organizations. There really will be transparency and not just the impression of it. Part 4 also provides measures to protect the privacy of the members of these organizations. We were discussing this point just a little while ago. It is also very important to keep the membership list private. My colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher said that with the advanced technologies of today, people need transparency but also their privacy. Bill C-4 covers that part too.
Part 5 gives corporations the authority to borrow, issue debt obligations and invest as they see fit. It also stipulates that corporations are prohibited from distributing their assets to their members, except in furtherance of their activities or as otherwise permitted by the act.
Part 6 deals with the technical aspects of debt obligations and Part 7 deals with the technical aspects of trust indentures.
Part 8 describes the authority and role of receivers, receiver-managers and sequestrators.
Part 9 stipulates that corporations must have a minimum of one director and that soliciting corporations are required to have at least three directors. It also clearly sets out the obligations of directors and corporations as well as the due diligence defence.
Part 10 stipulates that the by-laws set out the conditions of membership, whereas articles set out the various classes of membership and associated voting rights, which makes a clear distinction between the two.
Part 10 also establishes the voting procedure, including electronic absentee voting. It sets out the rules governing the way in which members can submit proposals at meetings, establishes the procedure for calling meetings of the members, including the obligation to give members advance notice of the meeting, and defines what constitutes a quorum.
Part 11 states that a corporation shall place before its members its financial statements and any report submitted to it by its public accountant. As was said earlier, the bill's purpose is to increase transparency and efficiency, and that aim is furthered directly in this part of the bill.
Part 11 makes it mandatory for soliciting corporations to table a copy of their financial statements and of the report of their public accountant with the director, who will then make these available to the public. Thus, donors to these non-profit organizations will know precisely where the money goes.
As members, we are giving a hand up to the corporations in our ridings. In this way it will be possible to see clearly where the money of our very important organizations is going, especially in more difficult times such as the ones we are experiencing currently. We can see how important this is. I attend numerous activities in my riding, which gives me an opportunity to take the pulse of these organizations and see how they operate. This will allow people to concretely see the expenditures and investments these organizations make to give back to the community, which is, to my mind, extremely important.
In Part 12 we see that the level of financial audit that is required is determined by the level of gross annual revenues of the corporation, and depends on whether or not the organization concerned is a soliciting corporation or not. This part states that the public accountant must be qualified to conduct the financial audit while being independent of the organization. The purpose, as you will have understood, is here again to promote transparency. The bill institutes the obligation of placing financial statements at the disposal of members, directors and officers when the organization is a soliciting corporation which solicits funds from the public, and these documents must of course also be made available to the public.
Part 13 establishes the procedure to be followed when the corporation undergoes fundamental changes, including amendments to the articles or by-laws of the corporation, amalgamation, continuance, reorganization or arrangements.
Part 14 describes the procedure for liquidation and dissolution of a corporation incorporated pursuant to the act. It establishes that in cases of dissolution of soliciting corporations or charitable organizations, any property remaining shall be distributed to one or more qualified donees within the meaning of the Income Tax Act, and not to its members.
Part 15 lists the various powers which a court may confer upon an inspector to conduct an investigation, through an order, to follow up on complaints submitted by an interested party.
Part 16 contains provisions regarding the remedies that a complainant can exercise, specifically, the derivative action, the oppression remedy and injunctions. It establishes a defence against the above-mentioned actions and remedies that is based on tenets of faith. A religious corporation can use this defence when it can prove that the act leading to the action was reasonably based on the beliefs of its members. In this type of case, no order is made under the act against the corporation in question.
Part 16 also sets out the offences and punishments for violations of the Act, mainly, with respect to false and misleading statements, and improperly using information taken from a corporation's register of members or other directories.
Part 17 allows for the use of electronic communications between the corporation and its members. We have been talking about this a lot in the Bloc Québécois, and, in light of technological advancements, we believe that this possibility will become extremely important, crucial, actually—emphasis on “crucial”—to corporations' survival. We are now in the Internet age, and it is becoming more and more complicated to reach certain groups, such as young people, who are big Internet users. Electronic communications such as emails would make it easier for organizations to reach and attract them.
Keep in mind that, as the population ages, it will become important over the next few years to attract young people to community and non-profit organizations. Without new blood, these organizations could cease to exist because of a lack of new members to ensure their survival and continued dedication to causes such as protecting the poor. In my riding of Repentigny, Maison La Trace de l'Assomption helps those most in need. It has an incredible team of five directors who do wonderful work for the town of L'Assomption and its most needy residents.
I do not mean that this organization would not be able to find new volunteers, but sometimes the idea that it might experience difficulties recruiting new volunteers touches me personally. Since I am young myself, I understand that ways must be found to go and find new blood, just as political parties must do. The Bloc Québécois does this and has been encouraging young people for years, contrary to the big federal parties who find it somewhat more difficult to do so. My colleague is nodding his head, showing that he agrees with my position. Honestly, we have to help young people to join these organizations and encourage them to volunteer. As someone who has done a lot of volunteering, I know that this work is extremely gratifying, and helps people to mature. It increases a person's self-esteem immeasurably.
To get back to Bill C-4, part 18 sets out the general administrative provisions needed for the application of the act.
Part 19 identifies the passages of the legislation which apply to bodies corporate without share capital incorporated pursuant to a special act of Parliament. It also provides a procedure to revoke organizations incorporated pursuant to a special act of Parliament and associated with a body corporate that was later dissolved.
To conclude, part 20 provides for a three-year transition, for organizations incorporated under part 2 of the act governing community organizations. It also repeals parts II and III of the CCA.
The main issues are subdivided into four categories concerning four different aspects of the changes created by the adoption of this bill. The first classification concerns flexibility and permissiveness. There is no non-profit organization classification system in the Canada Corporations Act. There is no such provision in Bill C-4 either.
I must conclude but I could talk for hours. You can see that I am very interested in this file and very knowledgeable about it, because of the lengthy discussions that took place with my Bloc Québécois colleagues.
We would have liked to see this in Bill C-4.