I support this bill very much. I am little concerned because there has been some misinformation of which I think members should be aware. Probably the best reason this bill should go to committee is to enable the charitable institutions and foundations to provide some input. I understand there was concern in the charitable sector initially, but that actually has turned around. I believe there are some 85,000 charities.
I approach this not from the standpoint that I am looking for some charity that is doing something that it should not be doing. What is needed is greater transparency, openness and accountability. We are talking about taxpayers' dollars. When people make a charitable donation, they claim that donation and get the appropriate tax credit on their income tax return. All Canadians, all taxpayers, are subsidizing the contribution to various charitable organizations and foundations. From that standpoint, it is very consistent that disclosure of relevant information should be made available to all Canadians about how their tax dollars are being spent.
I do not think there are many people who have not heard some conversation about exactly who is getting how much and how much of their dollars is actually hitting the ground and helping the people they want to help. The United Way is asked this question all the time, and it reports on it and it boasts about it. Campaign 2000, which helps deal with the issue of child poverty, is constantly looking at how much money is actually going toward helping people and promoting the alleviation of child poverty in Canada.
It is extremely important that we look at this from the accountability aspect.
Today I received a letter from the Prime Minister's chief of staff, who subsequent to his appearance before the ethics committee on the subject matter, provided copies of the letters that he sent out to the ministers indicating that it is a responsibility of the government to promote accountability, transparency and openness. I think the House concurs. It is the law. It is a charter right.
I know where some of the confusion has arisen for some members who may have looked at this. It is one of those cases that if we just hear the short version, or the summary, we may get an impression which is not reflective of the full detail of the bill. The summary of this bill states, “This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to revoke the registration of a charitable organization, public foundation or private foundation if the annual compensation it pays to any single executive or employee exceeds $250,000”, period.
That is how the summary was drafted, but that is not exactly what the bill would do. The bill would not revoke the registration of a charity, or a private or a public foundation, if it pays any one person more than $250,000. The bill requires the disclosure and the minister may look at it. It is not absolute; it is optional. It is a matter that the minister may invoke if there is clear abuse. There is some ministerial discretion. This is not a black and white situation, that if a charity pays somebody over $250,000 that, all of a sudden, the registration of the charity is revoked.
I hope that members will look carefully at this. This is one question that has to be totally clarified in committee to absolutely ensure, to the assurance of all hon. members, that this bill is not an attack on charities.
The government deputy House leader had made an indication that in his view there was a royal recommendation required for the bill, and I think he made an interesting argument. However, the bill effectively only amplifies or adds further criteria under which the minister responsible for the act in question, the Income Tax Act, can have the latitude to take decisions if it is appropriate.
The Speaker ruled that in fact there was not a need for a ways and means motion for this amendment to the Income Tax Act. I think members should take some solace from that. The bill is a sound bill, it is a clean bill and it should go to committee to hear from the stakeholders who may be affected and may be concerned.
It is always good when we can have people on side. They will come before committee, they will ask their questions or make their representations and things will be clarified. Then it is not just what a half dozen people happen to say during the debate at second reading in the House based on their own information or knowledge, but it is the experts. It is those who are in the business and who can provide the details and the commentary on the legislation and its implications and make recommendations for changes to the bill if necessary. That is what the committee is for.
We cannot make amendments here on second reading. We can say that we have some concern about this aspect and we hope that the committee will do that. Those are the kinds of things that happen from time to time. The committee stage is extremely important.
I believe this is an important bill, primarily from the standpoint of the openness and transparency requirements and the accountability requirements that we expect from all matters as they relate to governing the taxpayers' dollars.
The member in question has been here for more than 20 years. I know she does her homework. Anyone who knows the member knows that she is a member of great integrity. She has not brought many bills before this place, but when she does, look out, because she is responding to critical issues in which the public interest is to be served.
I am not going to get into this, but people may want to look at her background. The member has a reputation for bringing matters that I think are extremely important for us to consider.
This is not an inconsequential bill. It is a significant bill. It is a bill that I believe will get a thorough hearing at committee, and I believe it will pass at all stages and become law.
There was a question that came up in one meeting I was at that I want to raise as well, about whether or not this would affect universities, and people were talking about foundations.
As we know, many hospitals have a fundraising wing that is separate from the hospital operations themselves, separate and incorporated entities to raise money for hospitals. These would be maintained separately. The bill would not affect hospitals or other foundations that are set up for that purpose. It is a small detail, one question only, but it is the kind of question that has come up.
Therefore I wanted to rise in the House today to say that I have taken the time to look at it. I heard the member present her bill in debate. I heard her represent her position last week in the media. After people asked their questions and got the answers, to fully understand, it is amazing how the outlook on the bill has turned so dramatically.
I want to leave it at that, and I want to encourage all members of Parliament to please vote for the bill on second reading and to encourage the committee to do appropriate hearings to ensure that we make good laws and wise decisions.