Mr. Speaker, I rise today to second private member's Bill C-470 put forward by the visionary member for Mississauga East—Cooksville. I call her visionary because she brought in a bill on proportional sentences for murderers that was so good for Canadians that the government adopted it. I hope the government takes the same lead on this private member's bill as well.
Charitable giving is part of our nature as Canadians. Charities across the country receive billions in contributions from Canadians of all income levels, of all backgrounds, and from every province and territory.
That being said, I am well aware of the challenges that charities have faced in recent years. In 2008 Canadians donated $8.19 billion, a 5.3% drop from the previous year. Although the figures for 2009 have not been released yet, the charities I have spoken to have told me how difficult 2009 was as well. The global economic downturn has had a huge impact in this regard, and like businesses, charities have felt the pinch.
There was good news however. The number of donors did rise to 5.8 million, which represented a 1.7% increase from the year before. This bill is about those 5.8 million Canadians.
The first component of this bill has to do with transparency, which is a standard that each and every charitable organization should be trying to achieve.
Those that give to a cause want to know that their gift is going to the right place. So we ask about a charitable organization's administrative costs, and how much of a donation is actually making a direct impact.
But surprisingly, up until last year, the Canada Revenue Agency never required charities to report the salaries of their top executives.
The charitable filings for 2009 mark the first time Canadian charities have disclosed compensation information for their ten highest paid officials. Previously, charities only had to provide limited information about their five best paid staff positions.
Yet, there is still great ambiguity with this disclosure. There are no exact salary figures for these individuals. Instead, there are only categories, like the top bracket of $350,000 and over, which leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to information.
The bottom line is that if someone chooses to make a contribution, they have a right to understand exactly what the leadership within their chosen charity is being paid.
Donors are like shareholders of any public company, so disclosure needs to be a lot more specific to give donors the information they need to make informed decisions about where they choose to donate their hard-earned money.
The second aspect of this bill is about introducing a salary cap of $250,000 within the charitable sector.
As the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan mentioned, there was great confusion and even anger when last year it was revealed that one of Canada's largest charities, the SickKids Foundation, paid its former president $2.7 million in 2008. To many this is a figure that is very hard to comprehend, particularly when considering how hard it is for a charitable organization to raise that kind of money. It is especially hard to see how someone can faithfully accept that kind of salary for doing good deeds.
The salary cap in Bill C-470 would allow charities to pay their top executives salaries comparable to federal deputy ministers who run even larger and more complicated organizations. If a charity wants to exceed the cap, it would fall to the federal minister. If he or she does not accept the justification, he of she can decide to de-list the charity.
I have an issue with those who say that the House of Commons should not be involved in the salary decision-making process.
As I mentioned previously, tax receipts were given to over 5.8 million Canadians in the year 2008. The Government of Canada encourages charitable giving through these subsidies. This is a long-standing tradition and I will go as far as to state that it is one of the essential components behind charitable giving in our country. Thus, we as members of Parliament have every right to scrutinize the salaries of executives that are, to an extent, being partially paid by way of Canadian taxpayers.
This past December, the Fraser Institute released its 2009 Generosity Index. The Generosity Index measured charitable giving for both Canada and the U.S. in the year 2007 and detailed the percentage of tax-filers who donated and the percentage of income that they gave to good causes.
For Canadian charities, the numbers were troubling. Americans donated 1.6% of their aggregate income to charities while Canadians donated less than half of that, at 0.73%. In dollar figures, Canadians donated approximately $8.5 billion to charitable causes, but if we had given at the same rate as our southern neighbours, the total would have been in excess of $17 billion.
Bill C-470 is an attempt to assist charities with this gap by instilling greater confidence in their practices among the Canadian public. The successful passage of this legislation will ensure that not only will Canadians be able to access more information, but they will also be able to have confidence in compensation packages that are equitable and fair in consideration of their charitable gifts.
As the economy recovers, the rate of charitable donations will recover. This bill would open the books of charities so that Canadians can open their wallets to charities with confidence.
Once again I thank the hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing in this important measure as a private member's bill.