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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cost.

Topics

The House resumed from November 19 consideration of the motion.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

When this motion was last before the House, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona had six minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the motion by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo reads:

That the Standing Committee on Finance be instructed to undertake a study of the current tax incentives for charitable donations with a view to encouraging increased giving, including but not limited to (i) reviewing changes to the charitable tax credit amount, (ii) reviewing the possible extension of the capital gains exemption to private company shares and real estate when donated to a charitable organizations, (iii) considering the feasibility of implementing these measures; and that the Committee report its findings to the House.

On the surface of it, I do not think we would have a problem supporting this particular motion but there are some observations that I would like to make about it.

The member indicates that the sector is a very significant part of the economy, that it employs over 1.5 million people, that it generates an estimated $100 million a year and that it represents 7% of our GDP, which is larger than the tourism industry, the automotive manufacturing industry and the agriculture sector. I was certainly not aware of that and I do not think a lot of people would be.

We have a number of issues that need to be dealt with, which is why it is a really good idea to conduct this study. As has been pointed out, there are a number of indicators, bad omens, showing that the number of donations actually dropped during the recession, which has put some pressure on some of the organizations.

There is also a need to cost the item because, with a $56 billion deficit, the government will need to look at dealing with a program to reduce and eliminate that deficit. I think we would want to know, before we approve it, how much revenue the government would be losing as a result of any changes that it would want to make.

I do want to mention an approach that I found quite exciting. It is what is happening in the United States with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Over the last three or four years, they have collectively gotten together and committed to giving away, while they are still alive, I believe it is half of their assets. Since they are worth about $50 billion each, we are probably talking about $25 billion each. More important, they have encouraged other billionaires to get involved in their club and quite a number of American billionaires have joined the club. I think they are on to something. They have certainly started something. They are both very interesting people, if members read about them.

Warren Buffett's attitude toward American capitalism is not what one would think. He is actually highly critical of most of the big corporate elites in the United States and the salaries they get. Warren Buffett, himself, is a man whose salary is $100,000 a year. He still lives in Omaha, although he does have some other houses, but he is easy to find when driving through Omaha. He is a hands on type of guy. He has decided that his children do not need all his money. The children will be well taken care of but they will not be given billions when their parents die.

Bill Gates seems to be taking that same approach. They have now enlisted, and I am not certain what their current numbers are in terms of American billionaires, but their goal is to give away half of their assets while they are still alive.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's charities are heavily involved in sending prescription drugs to Africa, which is a very commendable direction for them to be involved in.

I would encourage Canadian activity in this area. I do not know if there are any Canadian billionaires being invited into this group but it is certainly something that I hope gets a lot of encouragement.

We have indicated that donations dropped off during the recession. There is also the odd complaint about the salaries and benefits of some of the managers of the charities. There was an example in Toronto where the charity head was making very excessive amounts of money, in the opinion of some of the donors.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to lend my strong support for today's motion, introduced by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, to look at ways we can better support Canada's charities. I had the honour to second the motion.

Let me applaud the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for the great job he has been doing here in Ottawa for his constituents. Since his election in 2008, he has proven to be a strong advocate for members of his riding, ensuring that their interests are at the table, as well as contributing to the debate on national issues with great insight and innovative solutions.

He is building on that record with today's forward-looking motion that would have the Standing Committee on Finance conduct an in-depth study on how we could better support the great work of charities in Canada through our tax system.

The member for Kitchener—Waterloo has put forward a strong method for studying an issue, getting members together from all political parties, bringing together the best minds on the issues, bringing in all the charity groups, both small and large, holding public hearings and then coming up, after all of those consultations, with the best recommendations.

I understand that the members of the finance committee welcomed this idea and are more than willing to set aside time to look at this important issue. Indeed, all parliamentarians understand the importance of charities and their tireless work in communities across Canada. Every day, charities both large and small play an invaluable role in the daily lives of Canadians in need and much more.

As Ray Pennings of the noted social policy think tank Cardus observed in the Telegraph Journal recently:

Of Canada's 161,000 charities and non-profits, two-thirds report annual revenues of less than $100,000. Yet, they all combine to provide services, many of them essential, which enrich the social, physical, and spiritual lives of Canadians.

A strong charitable sector including universities, hospitals and hospices, arts and sports groups, poverty and publishing programs, synagogues and churches, provides ways for Canadians to be their best and show compassion to the least.

Charities are not vehicles for greed, excess or profit. They are the products of our generosity, kindness and creativity--vital components of a healthy society without which financial economies cannot thrive.

The recent global economic downturn also highlighted the vital role charities play in our communities and towns, especially in those communities that were harder hit. In recognition of that vital work, the study the member for Kitchener—Waterloo is proposing is the right thing to do. I know all parliamentarians agree that we need a healthy and strong charitable sector. That is something that benefits all Canadians.

I would also hope they believe we need to ensure charities, and the people who tirelessly give of themselves with those charities, have the right tools to keep doing the great work they perform in helping those in need. Canadians value the work of our charities through their generosity, both in time and in financial support.

Indeed, Statistics Canada shows that Canadians given approximately $8 billion to registered charities each year. What is more, over 80% of the population aged 15 or older will make a financial donation in any given year. Even better, nearly 12.5 million Canadians, roughly half of our population, will volunteer about two billion hours of their time to help charities in their communities. That is great to hear and we applaud all those Canadians who give of their time and some of their hard-earned money to support charities. Our Conservative government has understood the importance of encouraging and supporting those who give to charities.

The tax system provides many incentives for Canadians to give generously. The charitable donations tax credit is the most prominent and long-standing incentive in the tax system. The tax credit encourages charitable giving by providing higher tax assistance as donations increase. Specifically it forgoes 15¢ in tax revenue for every dollar donated up to $200, and 29¢ for every dollar donated above that $200 mark. Our Conservative government has built on that tax credit with further incentives to encourage increased giving to support Canada's charities.

Indeed, since taking office in 2006 we steadily have been increasing the generosity of the charitable donation tax incentives. For instance, in 2006 we completely exempted capital gains on the donation of publicly listed securities to public charities. We also extended the exemption of donations on ecologically sensitive lands to public conservation charities. In 2007 and 2008 we further extended the exemption of donations of publicly listed securities to private foundations and to certain donations of exchangeable shares. When those positive tax incentives were announced they were really very well received by Canadians at the time.

Community Foundations of Canada applauded it and exclaimed, “We all win when the government encourages people to give. This tax relief will be welcome news”. Philanthropic Foundations Canada also applauded it as well, remarking, “This tax change will spur donations and enable private foundations to do even more for Canadian communities”.

I am happy to report that in the years following the introductions of those numerous tax incentives the results have been extremely positive and the action effective. Indeed, listen to what was reported in the Toronto Star, which is no fan of our government, in January which I will quote at length: “In 2006, the federal government changed the tax laws to make donations of securities to registered charities exempt from capital gains taxes”.

“It has become much more accessible for the average donor”, said CanadaHelps' chief executive officer, Owen Charters. “We've been quite surprised by the popularity. It was small steps at the beginning, but it has really grown”.

Last year about $1.2 million in donations of securities went through CanadaHelps. That is up 65% from the year before, and it is an approach that is becoming more and more popular as more Canadians learn about the tax advantages.

Canadian hospitals, universities and charities have gained millions of dollars from donations of securities. “We're definitely seeing an increase in this type of giving”, said Julie Gorman, vice-president of resource development for United Way.

However, we realize there is much more to do. During the worst of the global recession we have seen the number of Canadians making tax supported donations fall. We have also heard concerns about the rising average age of Canadians making donations along with the fears that some Canadians may be falling out of the habit of donating. Indeed, as noted through the recent survey findings from Imagine Canada, a national organization representing Canada's charitable and non-profit sector, half of the charities surveyed felt some degree of financial pressure.

Clearly, we should take this opportunity, as parliamentarians, to determine what more we can do in a fiscally responsible manner through Canada's tax system.

The motion of the member for Kitchener—Waterloo provides an excellent opportunity for parliamentarians to do just that. Once more, it will allow us to do that by hearing directly from those involved in the good work of Canada's charities. I strongly support this motion. I urge all members to support it as well, and I applaud the member for Kitchen—Waterloo.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, today, I rise in the House to speak to Motion No. 559, which directs the finance committee to study the tax treatment of charitable donations.

As vice-chair of the finance committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion. Now when I say “vice-chair of the finance committee”, it is just an aspiration of mine, and sometimes I like to pretend I am, but I am really not. Nonetheless, I do want to respect the finance committee for bringing this to the House. I also want to thank the previous speakers for their speeches.

The size of Canada's charitable sector has been described as being as large as the economy of British Columbia. The federal government plays an important role in supporting Canada's charities. The federal treasury provides charities with both direct support through grants, and indirect support, in the form of tax credits on charitable donations.

According to the papers published by the C.D. Howe Institute in 2009, tax-receipted charitable giving in Canada has grown by 140%, from $3.6 billion in 1995, to $8.65 billion in 2007. In fact, it estimated that, in 2009, tax credits for cash donations cost the federal treasury approximately $2.2 billion.

Despite this growth in the total amount of charitable donations in Canada, the number of Canadians making tax-receipted charitable donations is actually in decline. This number has been declining for more than a decade. According to the C.D. Howe Institute, in 1990, 30% of Canadian taxpayers claimed a tax credit for a charitable donation, but by 2007, that number had fallen to 24%. So, charities are relying on an ever-diminishing base of donors. Not only is this unsustainable, but it leaves the charities more vulnerable to even small changes in the level of giving, as we have seen recently in the economic downturn.

On top of this, we are seeing a trend where donations are becoming more concentrated. Larger donations are being made to a small number of large charities and foundations ,while revenues for smaller charities are, in some places, actually in decline.

Imagine Canada, a national charitable organization whose mandate is to support Canadian charities and non-profits through both debate and consultation, has surveyed over 1,500 leaders of charitable organizations. According to Imagine Canada's most recent survey, about half of Canada's charities are finding it difficult carrying out their mission because of increased demand for their services, coupled with stagnating or declining revenues. They believe this increased demand is connected to the economic downturn.

In fact, about a quarter of the charities reported that their very existence is at risk because of the increase in demand that they are facing. It appears that many of Canada's charities, particularly of course our smaller charities, simply do not have the resources they need to carry out their mission.

The question we must ask is, what can the federal government do to improve the situation? It is a pertinent question, I would imagine. What are the policies that would encourage more Canadians to donate to a Canadian charity?

The finance committee is well situated to study this issue and hear from expert witnesses who can provide us with examples of best practices that Parliament may wish to consider. And a couple of ideas that are already on the table include: one, expanding the capital gains tax exemption for gifts of listed securities to include gifts of private company shares and real estate; two, introducing a stretch tax credit in order to stimulate new charitable giving by increasing the credit that would apply to donations exceeding a donor's previous highest giving level.

Malcolm Burrows has written about the first proposal in depth. Perhaps he is an expert witness that the finance committee may wish to hear from in the future. In his paper, “Unlocking More Wealth: How to Improve Federal Tax Policy for Canadian Charities”, Mr. Burrows estimates that the proposal would cost federal and provincial governments between $190 million and $440 million per year. While he generally argues in favour of the proposal, he also brings forward some potential challenges with the idea.

For example, he notes, “concerns about determining fair market value for gifts of taxable real estate. As well, real estate presents additional complexity and liability for charities, such as environmental issues, maintenance and property taxes”.

The finance committee may wish to examine this more closely. I would love to be a part of the finance committee and unfortunately I am not, but there are several things the finance committee could to work on this on behalf of all Canadians and certainly for the charities involved, as pointed out in some of the evidence I put forward.

I would be remiss if I did not point out some of the challenges that the committee is currently facing. Today's debate on the supply motion by the member for Wascana has concentrated on the Conservative government's refusal to provide the documents ordered by the finance committee. The committee has been trying to determine the cost of the government's justice bills and corporate tax cuts. It is certainly a challenge for the finance committee.

The government is deliberately frustrating the work of the committee. Despite the government House leader's intervention this afternoon, the Conservatives continue to refuse to provide the detailed costing information we have requested. They are falsely claiming that it is covered by cabinet confidence.

Section 69 of the Access to Information Act is clear. Detailed cost estimates for justice bills are no longer covered by cabinet confidence once cabinet has made a public decision to introduce the legislation. Therefore, the finance committee has requested a very detailed breakdown of the cost of 18 justice bills that have already been introduced in the House.

At 2 o'clock this afternoon, the government provided very little information on the cost of 13 of those justice bills and no cost for the remaining 5 bills. Clearly the information was not near enough to satisfy—

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize for interrupting the member's remarks, but the debate at hand is on a private member's motion concerning charities and a study that might be done by the finance committee. I would ask that the you consider the relevance of the member's remarks as I do not think they are relevant to the issue at hand.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will ask the member, in his last three minutes, to ensure that his remarks are kept to the subject matter of the motion before the House.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to throw in a few comments of my own. I am a fan of the stretch tax credit and I hope, in future, we will give a lot consideration to it. I made points in my speech about the economic downturn. What we can do is provide legislation, maybe spurred on by this motion, that would allow many charities to find other means by which to raise money.

As I noted in my speech, there are many charities across the country. I am from Newfoundland and Labrador, where some of the most charitable people reside. I hope we are able to provide the flexibility to allow a lot of the charities to use other resources and means in times of economic downturn. That is a pertinent conversation and I want to congratulate the member for bringing this forward.

Let us face it, economic downturns and upturns happen. In the future we need to be flexible. We need to look at our policies in ways as pointed out by many charities, for example, the stretch tax credit. The motion covers that as well.

I support the motion directing the finance committee to study the tax treatment of charitable donations. I also call on the Conservative government to respect the Parliament that Canadians elected. That way all parliamentarians can have a wholesome debate, just like the one today. I hope Canadians will realize there are many ways by which they can make donations to charities, which provide the benefit of spurring on the ability to do so. Many volunteers in the sector depend on it.

An example of helping volunteers would be something like the $3,000 tax credit for volunteer firefighters, as an aside. I apologize if I have offended anybody. Nonetheless, as far as charities are concerned, I believe this would go a long way. What an opportunity parliamentarians have been given to actually flesh out some of the great ideas discussed. The stretch tax credit is another reason.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Motion 559, which directs the finance committee to undertake a study of the current tax incentives for charitable donations with a view to increase giving. A number of stipulations are contained within the motion itself.

On the surface, the idea of conducting a study by the Standing Committee on Finance is something that we can support. I will come back to some of the misgivings we have in a moment.

I would like to address the situation of charities in my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster.

There has been a decline in giving right across the country over the last few years. I will come back in a moment to some of the economic reasons for that. Nonetheless, the charity sector is struggling and having a harder and harder time to make ends meet in the same way Canadian families are struggling and finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

My riding of Burnaby—New Westminster is blessed with an abundance of strong charitable organizations that provide good service to individuals and families. I would like to cite a few of the very credible organizations across the riding that I am proud to represent.

The South Burnaby Neighbourhood House provides services to families throughout southern Burnaby. I will be attending its charitable function on Saturday night in Burnaby, and I am looking forward to it. As well, the Purpose Society of New Westminster, which is a long-standing organization, does good work on behalf of families.

Tragically, an increasing number of Canadian families are having difficulty putting food on the table. The Union Gospel Mission and the New Westminster Food Bank provide support, as do a wide variety of faith-based groups throughout Burnaby and New Westminster. I have often attended the Union Gospel Mission lunches in downtown New Westminster. With very few resources, it does a terrific job of feeding tens of thousands of people in our community over the course of the year.

The Last Door Recovery Society provides addiction treatment programs and does a very effective job. The Credit Counselling Society provides help for those people in the community, who are simply overwhelmed by their financial circumstances, on a shoestring budget.

The firefighter foundations for both Burnaby and New Westminster provide funding for a whole host of programs throughout Burnaby and New Westminster.

The New Vista Society and Century House are examples of seniors organizations, and there are many. The New Vista Society provides support for seniors who are losing autonomy but want to live in a welcoming environment.

The Immigrant Services Society along with many other immigrant-oriented organizations like Success Immigration Services and PICS provide services to immigrants.

A wide variety of organizations provide support for people with disabilities. The Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which I was proud to lead, won a number of business excellence awards and continues to do so in providing support to the deaf and hard of hearing. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind provides support for blind and visually impaired Canadians. The British Columbia Paraplegic Association provides support for physically disabled British Columbians. The Coast Mental Health Foundation provides support for those with mental health issues. I could go on and on in this sector for people with disabilities as there is a wide variety of charities that provide those supports.

Byrne Creek Streamkeepers is an example of an environmental organization that was brought to bear with volunteer labour and has subsequently made a significant impact on environmental education in the community of Burnaby.

These are just examples of a wide variety of charitable organizations.

It virtually all started with volunteer labour that depended on fiscal policy to ensure those who contributed to charities actually had some incentive to provide that support. All of those organizations, and dozens and dozens that I do not have time to mention in these few minutes, provide important contributions to quality of life in the community.

It has often been said, and it is an important point to note, that the political tax credit, which was voted on in the House of Commons, provides more of a fiscal incentive to those who contribute small amounts. We certainly support that. Somebody who provides $100 contribution gets a tax credit back of $75. If more is provided, there is a lessening amount of a tax credit on a percentage basis.

We should look at that same philosophy in the charitable sector. I personally believe we need to look at the charitable sector in a more holistic way and provide those incentives in a way that we can boost the contributions that the charitable sector makes in our communities.

However, we cannot deny that the cutbacks over the past few decades, starting under the former Liberal government and continuing under the current Conservative government, have had a profound impact on the charitable sector. The federal government, through the tax base given by all Canadians, has a major role to play in providing supportive programs so the charitable sector can provide those good programs.

When we talk about people with disabilities and seniors, all of the organizations I have cited, and the many more I have not had the time to cite, provide an effective contribution in the community. The federal government has a responsibility to provide, through some of our tax dollars, that supplemental support, which can make a huge difference in the life of charitable organizations and then, as a result, a significant difference in the lives of families and individuals in the community, whether in Burnaby—New Westminster or in any other community in Canada.

The federal government has a responsibility to fund. Over the past five years, and longer actually, we have seen a direct trend toward massive corporate tax cuts rather than funding the kind of charitable organizations and other programs that support the way of life and quality of life of Canadians. In our opinion, that is just a wrong-headed approach.

I mentioned earlier that I would talk briefly about the causes of why the charitable givings were in decline. It is no secret that Canadian families, middle class and poorer Canadians, have lost income over the past 20 years. That is a fundamental reality. We have seen an increase in inequality that we have not seen since the 1920s. The inequality in Canada in 2011 is exactly the same as it was in the 1920s. We have had wrong-headed economic approaches.

There is absolutely no doubt about this. Canadian families have had to bear the brunt of what simply have been economic experiments, first by the Liberals and now by the Conservatives. During this same period, the debt load of the average Canadian family has doubled. Very clearly the problem is the benefits of these economic experiments have only gone to the wealthiest Canadians. Tragically the wealthiest of Canadians now take most of the Canadian income pie. It is no secret why the middle class and poorer Canadians have seen a decline in real income and a doubling of their debt load. That makes it even more difficult for Canadians to contribute to their charities.

In terms of the motion, there are some components that we would support. However, to look at bigger and broader big business exemptions through some of the mechanisms seen in the motion would be exactly wrong-headed. We need to ensure that individual contributors receive perhaps a larger fiscal incentive.

Ultimately, as parliamentarians we have to make sure that all Canadians are prospering, not just the wealthy, and that all Canadians, the middle class and poorer Canadians, see a rise in real income.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate.

There being no other members rising, I will return to the hon. member for Kitchener--Waterloo for his five-minute right of reply.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to summarize and highlight the points that have been made by all parties involved in this important debate.

I want to begin by thanking all of my hon. colleagues from all parties in the House of Commons for participating in this important discussion. In particular, I want to thank my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London for his excellent speech this afternoon.

My Motion No. 559 asks the finance committee to study the many facets of charitable giving in Canada. As all of us know, Canada is known throughout the world as one of the best countries in which to live. Canadians have a strong sense of social responsibility, and we support through our taxes important programs, such as, universal health care, employment insurance and old age security.

This strong sense of social responsibility also motivates Canadians to give generously to the vital social service organizations and charities that meet the needs of the vulnerable in our society. These organizations help to make Canada the caring and compassionate society that defines us and that gives us a significant sense of pride.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the charitable organizations in my riding of Kitchener--Waterloo for their remarkable work to improve the quality of life in our community. I am committed to strengthening my partnership with these organizations and ensuring that they, and in fact the entire charitable sector across our great country, have a voice here in Ottawa in this place.

This debate has helped to increase our awareness and understanding of the complex challenges faced by those in the charitable sector all across Canada and will inspire us to find ways to further support them.

During the debate I was pleased to hear the widespread agreement on the value that charitable organizations bring to all aspects of our communities. We all agree that the charitable sector is to be commended for its dedication and commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. We agree that the sector needs the support of government and individual donors.

I think we can also agree that the tax system has a role to play in providing an incentive for Canadians to give as much as they are able to the charities of their choice.

Through a comprehensive study by the finance committee, we may be able to bring forward recommendations that will encourage increased charitable giving, benefiting both the charitable organizations themselves and of course the donors who support them.

My motion suggests that the committee look at specific areas of reform, changes to the charitable tax credit for example, and the removal of capital gains tax on donations of privately held securities and donations of real estate. Both of these measures would make a difference in the level of charitable giving. However, it would be up to the finance committee to assess their feasibility and determine whether these changes, or perhaps any other changes, should be made.

In conclusion, I ask all members to support my Motion No. 559. It is incumbent upon all of us as members of Parliament to study this issue that could have a profound impact on the charitable organizations that make such a significant contribution to all communities across Canada.

I would also like to encourage all of my colleagues in the House to become fully engaged in this important dialogue. Let us show the people of Canada that we are united in our goal to champion charities across our country and to work with them to build a better society.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Charitable DonationsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 2 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 is deemed to have been moved.

Public Service of CanadaAdjournment ProceedingsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss a question that I asked a few weeks ago about the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

The commissioner's office has been in a state of upheaval for several months now, since the Auditor General presented a very damning report on its operations and its previous commissioner, who has since resigned.

The mission of the commissioner's office is very clear: to ensure that public servants are able to speak out about any abuse, fraud or wrongdoing that is harmful to the government and the people of Canada.

This was still a fiasco. The commissioner's office was in operation for three years before the Auditor General presented her report. Over those three years, 228 complaints were received but only five of them were lightly investigated. In the end, no charges were laid in any case nor was any follow-up conducted. From 228 to zero—it is not very impressive. The government claims to be open, transparent and accountable. Where is that accountability? How is it that the Conservative government has done absolutely nothing since the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was established?

In its place, after a year, I would have wondered why no complaint ever progressed. After two years, I would have asked myself some serious questions about the work done by the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. Three years without a complaint progressing means that something is not right. Maybe that is what the Conservative government wanted. The government was expecting the commissioner to ensure that there were no complaints, as though everything were fine with the federal government, as though everything were fine with the Conservatives. Now we see that that is not the case.

The Conservatives dropped the ball. They let three years ago by without a single complaint making it to the next step. What kind of deal did the commissioner's office and the government have? What did the Conservative government want? They wanted to ensure that none of the complaints went anywhere, which is rather incredible. As if by chance, cases of fraud went nowhere. One has to wonder.

That is one of the reasons why it is important that the former commissioner appear before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I believe that the parliamentary secretary will say that they did great things and that the commissioner will certainly come meet with members of Parliament. The reality is that no fraud or wrongdoing was reported. In the end, none of the complaints went anywhere. How can government officials and the public trust in a system that cost over $11 million and did not produce any results? It is unbelievable. That is money that the Conservatives wasted, money that many individuals and families could have used.

Public Service of CanadaAdjournment ProceedingsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I rise to respond to the suggestion made by the hon. member opposite, that the government has something to hide because the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner has resigned. This could not be further from the truth. Our record of strengthening accountability, increasing transparency in the public service and restoring Canadians' trust in government holds up to the utmost scrutiny.

This government has a long list of accomplishments to make the public service more open and more accountable to Canadians. The first thing we did when we came to power in 2006 was to establish the Federal Accountability Act.

This is the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history. That act and its supporting action plan contained dozens of measures and hundreds of amendments to some 45 federal statutes, which touched virtually every part of government and beyond. It gave agents of Parliament additional powers. It dealt with issues such as the financing of political parties, lobbying and whistleblowing by creating the new position of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner in the first place.

I must, however, take this opportunity to correct the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche. When he asked the question on December 9, it showed how he obviously does not know the background on how the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner is appointed.

I would like to take a moment to remind the House that the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner is an independent officer of Parliament. She was appointed with the approval of all opposition party leaders and Parliament, but do not take my word for it. Let me provide a quote, which states:

Therefore, we seek unanimous consent that the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates dealing with the certificate of nomination of Christiane Ouimet to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner be deemed tabled and concurred in.

Who said that? It was the Liberal chair of that committee.

Ms. Ouimet's appointment was considered by the government operations committee on June 14, 2007. Her nomination was considered by the Senate on June 19, 2007. The Senate agreed to appoint her on that very same day.

When it comes to accountability and openness, our record speaks for itself. The member needs to stop and examine the historical record. In fact, that is exactly what the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre did. He stated, “We're the oversight committee for the office of the integrity commissioner and we failed whistleblowers and I'm the first to admit it”.

We have made Canada's public institutions more open, accountable and transparent than at any time in this country's history. We have a process in place for ensuring the independence and objectivity of the integrity commissioner. We are pleased that the interim integrity commissioner has indicated that a third party review will take place to ensure no valid concerns were overlooked.

I would simply ask the member opposite, where is the beef?

Public Service of CanadaAdjournment ProceedingsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary should not forget that it was his party, his government, his Prime Minister, who decided on Ms. Ouimet's appointment. It was no one else. It came from that side of the House. They were the ones who decided who would apply for the position of integrity commissioner and how she fulfill that mandate.

When I hear the parliamentary secretary say they wanted a more accountable public service, I wonder what will happen to the minister responsible for CIDA? Her officials had recommended going ahead with funding KAIROS. They said it was a good project and that we should continue to help that agency. What did the minister do? She added the word “not”, to not approve the financial contribution.

They want to make people more accountable. Those are fine words. That is what they are saying on the government side: the officials are accountable. Who is not? The government and its ministers are not. That is the reality. If they want to talk about accountability, they should look in the mirror first.

Public Service of CanadaAdjournment ProceedingsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, when our government took office, we promised to bring accountability to Ottawa, something that was severely lacking under the previous Liberal government.

As part of that plan, we created the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to ensure that public servants can speak out about wrongdoing without the fear of reprisals. We made the position an independent officer of Parliament who reports to Parliament. Not only is the position independent of government, but appointments to that position are approved by all parties. An appointment is made after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the Senate and House of Commons, after approval in the Senate and House of Commons.

In addition, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates examines the qualifications and competence of the nominee and reports to the House. This was the process used for the former commissioner.

Why is the member opposite criticizing the government for the actions of a commissioner approved by his own party? The new interim commissioner has committed to reviewing the disclosures of wrongdoing and complaints of reprisal and to reporting his findings to Parliament.

Status of WomenAdjournment ProceedingsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to address a couple of questions that were raised back on November 5 regarding 600 murdered or missing aboriginal women. Of course, these women were victims of sexualized racialized violence. At that time, I asked the minister responsible if the government would call a public inquiry into the 600 murdered or missing aboriginal women and girls.

Also at that time, I asked the minister responsible why the government had cut funding to Sisters in Spirit, a groundbreaking initiative that has been taking place over five years. It has been largely responsible for documenting the cases of these aboriginal women. It has also been the chief advocate for these women and their families.

In the throne speech and in the budget, the government had committed to move forward on this particular file. In October of 2010, it did announce a $10 million funding grant. However, the funding was not directed specifically toward aboriginal women. It was announced without consultations with NWAC, the Native Women's Association of Canada, and the Sisters in Spirit organization.

In terms of the developments, NWAC summed up its feelings and analyses in a press release. It said that it did not specifically speak to aboriginal women, that it did not include measures to address serious crimes like murder and speak only to violence as a whole. It said that it reinvents and conducts work that has already been done by Sisters in Spirit. It indicated that the announcement did not address the jurisdictional issues of the RCMP and that it allowed any community group to access funding, not necessarily aboriginal or women specific.

Although the government had promised to fully tackle this serious issue, which is a national tragedy, it did not deliver on that promise. In fact, the government denied Sisters in Spirit funding. It indicated that it was not allowed to use its name, its slogan or its logo, Grandmother Moon, which has become so enmeshed with the fight for justice for these women. It indicated that it would not be allowed to perform advocacy work. Some people have said that it was telling aboriginal women to shut up and that it could not speak for these women who could no longer speak for themselves.

The government should revisit its decision to not hold a national public inquiry. I ask this House, as I have asked many times, how it is that 600 people can be murdered or go missing in this country and no national public inquiry is called. When the salmon went missing in the Fraser River, the government said that it would call a public inquiry. However, it will not call a public inquiry for murdered or missing aboriginal women.

I ask the government to revisit its decision to cut Sisters in Spirit's funding and to fully fund it and its objectives, collaboratively and in consultation.

In closing, I would just like to say that these are not nameless, faceless people. There are 600 of them. I would ask anyone listening tonight to visit the NWAC web site, scroll down, look at their faces, read their stories and act.

Status of WomenAdjournment ProceedingsPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for giving me the opportunity to correct some misunderstandings about the government's response to the important issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The member's question is a good example of the misinformation that has circulated. In my opinion, the issue is too important to play petty politics. The lives of young women have been tragically cut short and the families have been devastated by grief. In all sincerity, I would like to respond fully to the member's questions.

On October 29, the Minister for Status of Women announced the seven elements of the government's most recent advancements in addressing this disturbing high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women identified in the Sisters in Spirit report.

What my colleague referred to as a laundry list is a reality, with a carefully balanced and targeted package.

First, the focus is on improving law enforcement and the response of the justice system. This is consistent with the commitment made in the throne speech to treat measures to fight the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murder and disappearance of aboriginal women as a criminal justice priority, and the commitment in the budget to take concrete action to ensure that law enforcement and the justice system meet the needs of aboriginal women and their families.

Consequently a significant portion of the funds will be used to establish a new RCMP national police support centre for missing persons. The new centre will ensure that police officers throughout Canada will have better access to more complete information about missing persons, so that if a person is being held for any reason, police officers will immediately know if a missing person report has been filed.

This measure responds directly to the concerns described in the report by the Native Women's Association of Canada and by others, including the Association of Chiefs of Police who passed a resolution calling on the federal government to show leadership with respect to missing persons, and the recent report by the federal-provincial-territorial working group on missing and murdered women. This will help police forces to search for and, most importantly, to locate missing persons.

The new national police support centre for missing persons will help Canada's police services by coordinating missing persons investigations and will provide specialized support.

The national information website will be modelled after certain provincial websites, such as Ontario's, which have led to new arrests in unsolved cases by encouraging the public to submit information to help identify human remains.

Amendments to the Criminal Code will also help police in their investigations, in response to calls, including calls from provincial attorneys general.

I completely agree with the hon. member opposite. A support centre for missing persons is necessary. I also recognize that resources need to be dedicated to the other factors in this complex issue that lead to higher rates of violence against aboriginal women—