moved that Bill S-203, An Act respecting a National Philanthropy Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House this evening and bring forward a private member's bill that stands in my name. The bill comes from the other place and is called an act respecting a national philanthropy day.
This will come as interesting news to most Canadians, insomuch as many Canadians believe there already is a National Philanthropy Day, and in fact there is. Last year, November 15 was declared as the first National Philanthropy Day. Our Minister of Heritage at that point made that declaration. Today we are now talking about putting legislation through to backstop that commitment by our Minister of Heritage, declaring November 15 henceforth as National Philanthropy Day.
There are a number of people in our country who know what philanthropy is and who philanthropists are. However, it is important for us to go through this. I will give my perspective of who I believe are the philanthropists, what makes them unique and why it is important that we have a day that recognizes the contributions of those individuals.
As I was thinking about what makes a philanthropist or what is philanthropy, I started to think about my upbringing and what my thoughts were when I heard of philanthropy, or when I started to understand what that word meant. To a great degree, I heard the word used in newscasts. I would hear about a philanthropist who had done this or a philanthropist who had done that. Usually these were people who had great wealth and were making contributions or large gifts in kind to institutions. These were worthwhile and they were important declarations and contributions to important institutions. When I started to think about this, I wondered if that was the only type of philanthropist.
Canadians need to have an inclusive view of who philanthropists are and what philanthropy is. I would use the definition that a philanthropist is somebody who will give of themselves to another person to benefit another person's life.
It is important for us to consider all of those people who continue, on a daily, monthly and weekly basis, to give time, energy and dollars to causes in which they believe. It is important we become very inclusive as to who we are declaring philanthropists as part of this legislation and what in fact philanthropy is.
When I was in Sunday school, I heard the story of a widow who came to give an offering. She had a couple of copper coins and she gave them. There were other people who were giving great gifts. They were giving large amounts of money. I remember the story ended with the declaration that the person who had given the most was the person who had given what most of us would have thought was the least. The lady who had given her last couple of coins she needed to survive on had given freely. The other people, while their gifts were much larger, had given out of their wealth. They had only given a part of what they owned. We have to recognize that there are those people who every day give of themselves, give more than they probably can afford to give to make somebody else's life better.
When I think of my own upbringing, my family was a family that gave. When I was younger, my parents did not have a lot. My brothers and I have this ongoing joke that if there was a pie, or muffins, or cinnamon buns sitting on the counter, we would always have to ask if they were for us or for the neighbours. The joke is that we were a bunch of hungry boys and we basically starved because more often than not, it was for the neighbours. To this day, we go over to my mom's house and we often pester my her by asking if the food on the table is for us or if it is for the neighbours.
This has become a joke in our family because, in truth, my mom is one of those philanthropists, those people who stand up and say, “It does not matter what is going on in my own life. I am going to encourage somebody else by giving my time and energy to support someone who could really use it”.
Interestingly, two weeks ago I arrived home and my wife was making cinnamon buns with my daughters. I walked in and grabbed at one of the pans of cinnamon buns, and my wife said, “No, don't take those”. I asked why not and she said they were for the neighbours. I guess history repeats itself, and I am proud that virtue is being taught and passed on to my kids. It is something that I think most members in the House can relate to at one level or another.
Our government believes very strongly in the opportunities that should be available, and we should make it easier for people to give to the causes they strongly believe in. Over the last number of budgets, our government has brought in different initiatives that have made it easier for Canadians to give donations of different types to charities of their choice. There is now an opportunity for people to pass on investments with tax provisions for those donations.
We also have an opportunity in this country now to make contributions of gifts in kind of lands that are to be protected for ecological reasons. Our government believes that while it can do important things about the gaps in our social safety net and a number of other things, it is not the only partner in this effort. There need to be opportunities and encouragement for people to stand and support their neighbours and important causes as well.
Our Prime Minister and finance minister have led by example through bringing forward legislation, but one of the more poignant moments in the last couple of years that gripped all Canadians was the earthquake in Haiti. There was an outpouring by Canadians for the people who were suffering in Haiti, having experienced one of the most devastating natural disasters I can recall. This, of course, was on top of the fact that they had so little to begin with.
I recall very clearly that people lined up to make donations. It was not just people who were wealthy. It was people from all walks of life. It was such an encouragement to see our Prime Minister standing in line with his wife making a personal donation to this cause. This is a demonstration of what it is to be a philanthropist.
In my own community I saw countless people lined up to volunteer for different charity events and provide their support. There were kids clubs in my constituency that believed they might be able to contribute to help in the devastation in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
More recently, Canadians had the opportunity to donate to causes in Newfoundland. There was a group of students in my constituency that gave to Haiti, which was important because it saw the devastation there, but another group said it saw a lady on the news who had lost her house and it wanted to find out who she was because it wanted to help her. These young people are also philanthropists; they are demonstrating philanthropy.
We know the devastation that many people in Africa have experienced as a result of natural disasters and a number of other things, including the AIDS epidemic and the mismanagement of many of the nations in terms of governance. Many people in our country have stood alongside these folks in different ways.
This past Christmas, I had an opportunity to hold a fundraiser in my constituency for an orphanage in Africa. It is an orphanage that predominantly brings in kids who are orphaned as a result of AIDS.
We as a community raised in excess of $20,000 at a breakfast. We then did a number of other things. In the end we raised more than $250,000 to help support this orphanage that now cares for more than 2,200 kids on a daily basis.
Philanthropy comes in many ways, shapes and forms, and of course there is the legacy that has been established in Canada. Most predominantly, when we look back on the history of this great nation, we can look at the legacy of church groups and church organizations in our country. We look at the Catholic Church, which established missions early on in the exploration and development of this country, and many of those groups continue today to do good work. We look to a number of other churches that may have less of a history in this nation, but are doing important work, when we look at inner city ministries, when we look at the Salvation Army that continues to reach out to those most in need.
When we look at these different organizations and these groups that do amazing work, we can see that they are philanthropists all the way through their process. If it be the people who are standing to collect the money, if be it the Salvation Army bell ringer in the local supermarket, if it be the person who is out there collecting donations of clothes, furniture or different things to be sold at the thrift stores, if it be the people who bring food from their homes so that they can be served at soup kitchens or the people who write the cheque to help support these things, there are so many different philanthropists along the way.
I believe that if we are to have a bill that recognizes philanthropy and philanthropists in this country, we have to make it absolutely clear that we will recognize all of these people. It is not to be the recognition of those people who would otherwise have statues of bronze located at the entrances of hospitals, or those people who will be on the front pages of the newspaper as they hand over their $4 million cheques for a good cause. These people are absolutely important and we want to recognize them in this legislation, but we also want to recognize those people who give out of their poverty, in time, in money or in some other manifestation. I think it is important that we as Canadians make that declaration clear as we proceed with the recognition of philanthropists and philanthropy in this country on November 15.
This summer I had the unfortunate opportunity to spend a fair bit of time at the University of Alberta Hospital. My brother, who is just younger than I, was diagnosed with leukemia. I would spend a fair bit of time there on the weekends. As I was walking through the hospital in between treatments, I noticed that there were several opportunities at every corridor to recognize people who had made contributions.
At that point I knew I would be bringing forward this bill in the House, and I thought it was interesting, so I spent a fair bit of time to try to understand a little bit about the people who were recognized on these walls. Very, very quickly I recognized that there were people of all walks of life, both rich and poor, who had given. That is one of the great things about philanthropy. It is the one place we can all contribute. It is the most democratic exercise of supporting fellow Canadians and fellow citizens in this world.
It is my privilege to support and to bring forward this bill in the House of Commons, and I hope members from all parties will help recognize the men and women who have and who will continue to build this country into the great country that it is.