House of Commons Hansard #185 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.


The House resumed from September 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-399, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (volunteers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise today in the House of Commons to speak to the subject of volunteerism.

Every member of Parliament is obviously proud of their own community and the people they represent. This certainly holds true for me. I am proud to represent the people of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown conference, the meeting where the idea of Confederation was first discussed. It is an occasion that we, in the House, can all be proud of, particularly as Charlottetown is the capital of Prince Edward Island and the birthplace of Canada.

The heart of a country is its people. As I walked to Parliament in the snow today, I was reminded of how much work and effort it took to make this country. From the pioneers out west to the French and British peoples who ventured to an unknown land, it was not easy. The climate and conditions were harsh and isolated. They helped build this country bit by bit, knitting a fabric of generosity and community, and building a better place for future generations. Today we are so grateful to live in a country that is the envy of the world.

We do not face the same challenges in modern Canada as those of many generations ago. Nonetheless, we do have challenges. For all its wealth, power, modernity and success, Canada is still a place where prosperity is not shared equally and where far too many Canadians live in poverty. As a country and a government, we can do more.

I believe that government can and has been a force for good in the past. Government has a role in helping our communities by providing opportunity and hope to those Canadians seeking a better life but living on the margins. Income inequality is the great challenge of our day. Income inequality and poverty do not care much about the federal division of power, nor do they argue over who is responsible. For the poor and those living on the margins of Canada's success, it is that lack of hope and opportunity that is the major challenge of our time. As a country, we must take steps to close the gap.

Just as government can play a role in helping build our communities, I am convinced that its people are the heart of those same communities. In cities and towns across Canada today, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are volunteering in their communities.

At this time of year one thinks of hockey, not about the NHL strike but rather local hockey, which is so important to our communities. On weekends, in the evenings and in the early mornings in communities all across Canada and in Charlottetown, volunteers are selling raffle tickets and volunteer coaches are running young girls and boys through their hockey practices getting ready for the next game. The early bird tournament was held this weekend in Charlottetown. There were teams from all across the Maritimes filling up the hotels and restaurants of our fair city. Next month will be the George Trainor invitational tournament. In January, will come the big Spud AAA tournament, where dozens of teams from all over the Maritimes will be competing in Charlottetown.

These hockey tournaments, as well as those of all other sports that are held in many walks of life, only happen because of dedicated volunteers. In hockey and in all kinds of sports, there are moms, dads and others making them happen. In the summer, parents bring their kids to soccer practice where volunteer coaches are teaching kids teamwork and the value of sportsmanship. Again, there are volunteers there to make it happen.

In my own experience, having taken up running about 15 years ago and competed in road races and marathons, I can attest to the great efforts of volunteers that go into the success of these races and the impact they have on our communities. Events such as marathons rely on volunteers. They make them happen. Amateur sports could not exist, let alone succeed, without the work and efforts of parents and other volunteers. They simply love sports and know that kids need these activities in their lives.

Sport unites Canadians. It is healthy, but at times it can be expensive. For many young Canadians with skill and ability, living without the means to participate is profoundly unjust. How much potential is lost in Canada in all aspects of life as a result of poverty and the lack of opportunity? Yet in communities across Canada, people are helping one another. Whether it is a program such as KidSport or other fundraisers, people are helping others gain access.

Outside of sport, volunteers in our community are helping immigrant groups and newcomers. Volunteers are at the heart of helping immigrant communities succeed and adjust. Newcomers are vital to our country. Immigrants make a contribution to our economy, bringing with them much needed skills and labour. However, we should not fall into the trap of viewing immigrants solely as economic contributors. They also bring their cultures, their values and their sense of community that enhance and make Canada the unique and diverse country it is.

In Charlottetown, volunteers are helping newcomers learn English and integrate into our society. I look at my own riding of Charlottetown and think of how much immigration has helped to make Charlottetown a more diverse and vibrant place. At the heart of welcoming these new immigrants, and usually in the background, are the volunteers.

It is obvious as we look around our shops and stores that we are now fully engaged in the Christmas shopping season. I hope that it will be a successful one for our businesses and for those seeking work or others looking to earn some extra cash. I hope they will be able to do that at this time of year. All members of the House of Commons would agree with me that Christmas is a period of time to reflect on the value of our family and friends and the importance of our communities. It is also a time to count our blessings for what we have, the real things that matter.

In my community, not everyone shares in those blessings, and indeed for some, Christmas can be a difficult time. Mums and dads without much money struggle to provide for their families and put gifts under the tree for their kids. Yet in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, volunteers can be seen helping others who are less fortunate. Whether it is the Salvation Army, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul or volunteers in a working group for a liveable income, or in my province, the Cooper Institute, throughout the city of Charlottetown volunteers are giving of themselves to make life a little better. I would ask Canadians to remember the less fortunate and to seek opportunities to help. It is important.

In closing, let me just say that the thrust of this initiative before the House today dealing with volunteers and recognizing their contributions is important. The act of giving of one's time and effort in the service of others can never be understated. In the opening of my speech today I spoke about the contribution made by our forefathers, who helped to build this country. We are grateful to them for their courage and spirit. Today, we take the time to thank the hundreds of thousands of people who are serving others, building communities and making Canada a better place.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the bill. I would like to congratulate the member for Repentigny for moving it. It is a great idea to have a tax credit for volunteers.

To summarize, the bill would allow a tax credit between $500 and $1,500 for volunteering a minimum 130 hours with 12 trips throughout the year. This is a modest tax credit in recognition of service to one's community. A lot of people volunteer in communities and this is a way to show our appreciation. It certainly would help.

I know that volunteers do not do this for money. Before I was elected to the House of Commons, I did a lot of volunteer work in my community. I certainly did not do it for money and no one else does it for money. However, it would certainly encourage more people to volunteer if there were a tax credit.

I would like to take a few moments to talk about some volunteers in my community. At an event Friday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting a volunteer named Michel Piette who lives in Chelmsford. Every day, Michel volunteers at the Alliance St-Joseph elementary school, where he helps out in many ways, including making photocopies for teachers and helping the children get dressed in their winter clothes. Last week or the week before, he even made taffy for St. Catherine's day. The teachers and students alike all appreciate everything Michel does for them.

I would like to mention three people from my community: Patty Smith-Taylor, Cathy Castanza and Reg Devost. They have been volunteers at the youth centre in Rayside-Balfour since its inception. This is a centre that was built in the late 1990s to give youth a place to go after school to do their homework, play games and get counselling from some of the volunteers. These three volunteers have been there from the start and they are still there today. Although there are others who help at the youth centre, these three people do not and never did have any kids who went to the youth centre. They are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, which is certainly appreciated.

As well, the Sudbury Regional Hospital is manned by so many volunteers I do not know the number. They help people as they come in the door, give them directions and even take them exactly where they want to go. It is a big hospital and can be very confusing for seniors to navigate. These volunteers help them get to their appointments.

On Friday night I went to an event that celebrates co-ops.

The event centred around the Caisse populaire des Voyageurs. As we all know, Desjardins was built by volunteers, and many volunteers are still very active in this co-op. It has become quite an institution in Canada.

I do not think that we need to convince anyone in the House that volunteers play a very important role in all communities.

I would like to give an overview of what volunteers do. They run committees and boards of directors, provide advice and consulting and mentoring services, visit with seniors, prepare and deliver meals, provide transportation, advocate for social causes, and lead sports activities for children and teens. In short, volunteers contribute to the development of their communities and help non-profit organizations provide programs and services to millions of Canadians.

According to the United Nations' State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011, “Volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit people get from volunteering is the satisfaction of incorporating service into their lives and making a difference in their community and country. Volunteering gives a retired person something to do after retirement other than sitting at home. It is a proven fact that volunteering keeps seniors younger.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of hours people spent volunteering in 2010 was 2.1 billion. That is a lot of hours for people to be volunteering. That is equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs. If we had to pay these volunteers for 2.1 billion hours, just at minimum wage of $9 an hour, that would be $18.2 billion. That is a lot of money. However, I said a while ago, these volunteers do not expect to be paid but if they were given a tax credit it would help organizations recruit more volunteers.

Most of us here in the House of Commons have a lot of volunteers in our offices. I have Stéphanie Pépin who does my e-news letter. In my office in Sturgeon Falls, I have a young fellow by the name of Stéphane Bissonette who is 13 or 14 years of age. He does my French website. He does it because he can first of all and because he enjoys it. We are not expected to pay these people and they do not expect to receive any money but I wanted to give members a sample of what volunteers can do.

I have Holly Fryer and Sam Faubert in my office in Ottawa who are doing volunteer work as part of their program at the University of Ottawa. They are certainly enjoying themselves doing this. I also have Ray Pellerin and Denis Noël volunteering in my office in Sturgeon Falls. With the Christmas season coming, we will be having a Christmas parade in Sturgeon Falls and Ray has volunteered to drive the truck and Denis is getting the float ready. This is another good example of volunteerism.

I would like to thank the Ontario Trillium Foundation for providing start-up funding for our newest program called social enterprise in collaboration with the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of this program is to provide training and support for local non-profit groups exploring social enterprises. Social enterprises are businesses owned by non-profit organizations selling goods or services in the marketplace for the purpose of generating income and/or creating social, environmental and cultural values.

We support Bill C-399. We hope to send it to committee to make some changes to it. All private members' bills can be amended to include other things and to make them better.

Volunteers must make 12 trips of one kilometre to the place of volunteering. In a small community, like some of the communities in my riding, one kilometre is not very far. We certainly want to look at that.

I thank all of the volunteers from coast to coast to coast for doing what they do.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the NDP private member's bill, Bill C-399. While we can all agree that volunteers strengthen Canada by bringing positive change to their communities, this poorly written bill would do nothing more than provide costly and duplicative tax breaks for all the wrong reasons.

Despite this bill's numerous technical flaws, which I will explore later in my remarks, it is at odds with the very definition of service. Why do people volunteer? Why do Canadians selflessly give their precious time to organizations that help the less fortunate? It is because they seek personal growth and character through compassion for others. We know for certain that people because they are passionate about a cause and want to do something good for others, not because they are looking for a tax break.

While I am sure this is obvious to the millions of Canadians who volunteer, there is hard evidence to back it up. Recently, Volunteer Alberta commissioned a study on the potential impact of tax credits for volunteer participation funded by the Muttart Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to strengthening the charitable sector. The results were clear. Speaking to its findings, Karen Lynch, executive director of Volunteer Alberta, stated:

There is no evidence that a tax credit incentive would increase the level of volunteerism and in fact, it would change the definition of volunteering fundamentally. Volunteering would no longer be the free giving of a person’s time....

Notwithstanding the member for Repentigny's misguided assumptions about why people are motivated to help their fellow Canadians, this bill appears to have been drafted on the back of a napkin. It proposes to give a tax break to volunteers who perform 130 hours of service a year, helping “vulnerable populations”. It is important to note that the bill gives no further definition, leaving it up to the government to arbitrarily decide which organizations may or may not qualify with no objective rules or guidelines.

It has been a long-standing practice that the Income Tax Act treats all charitable purposes equally, meaning that the government stays out of the business of deciding which charities are more or less deserving of special treatment, meaning that all registered Canadian charities have access to the same benefits.

However, Bill C-399 would require the government to determine what is a vulnerable population and which charities serve it. All charitable work is worthwhile and no volunteer is more valuable than another. Is the NDP member suggesting that the work of a charitable clothing shop is more important than an environmental conservancy? Should orphaned children be considered vulnerable and Canadians with disabilities not? As written, this bill pits Canadian charities against one another and is nothing more than a costly distraction from the important work that they do each and every day to contribute to the health of their communities.

Furthermore, the bill would allow non-profit organizations, or NPOs, to issue certificates for tax purposes, which is also problematic. While the CRA has the tools it needs to regulate Canada's 85,000 registered charities and ensure compliance, this is not the case with NPOs. The Canada Revenue Agency does not keep information on organizations of this type, so it would be almost impossible to determine which NPOs deal with vulnerable populations and which should be permitted to issue certificates. This would raise significant compliance concerns that would almost certainly result in fraud and abuse.

Not only that, non-profits would be responsible for tracking the hours and expenses of their volunteers, burdening charities, many with limited human resources already, with the responsibility of providing this information to the CRA and giving rise to concerns from the sector. Annette Vautour-McKay, executive director of the Volunteer Centre Southeastern New Brunswick in Moncton, stated, “From a management perspective, I would imagine the requirements of the bill would be quite taxing”.

When we think about it, this measure is completely opposed to the bill's intended purpose in its misguided attempt to get more people to give their time to charitable causes. It would increase the administrative workload for volunteers. Charities have an essential role to play by providing valuable services to vulnerable people. While this particular bill is clearly flawed, our Conservative government fully supports the work of the charitable sector and provides it with significant support. In fact, tax support for registered charities in Canada is considered to be among the most generous in the world, providing almost $2.7 billion in tax assistance in 2010.

Since 2006, we have introduced countless measures to make the tax system easier on charities by easing the administrative burden and cutting red tape, cracking down on fraud and introducing more ways for Canadians to give.

For example, in budget 2010 we significantly reformed the disbursement quota rules for charities by reducing administrative complexity and helping organizations focus their time and resources on the people in need. In budget 2011, we brought in a range of measures designed to combat fraud and abuse in the charitable sector, increasing Canadians' confidence that their donations would go toward supporting legitimate charities and would be used for charitable purposes. However, there is always more we can do, and I know this from my colleagues who sit on the House finance committee, where they have been hard at work studying ways to further increase charitable donations.

I take this opportunity to recognize and thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his Motion No. 559, adopted by Parliament in March 2011, which inspired our Conservative government to request that the finance committee undertake this study. I am pleased to report to the members of this House that the committee has heard from more than 50 witnesses, held half a dozen meetings and met with Canadian volunteers from all across the country. Charities have had the opportunity to make their voices heard, bringing forward important proposals on how our government could make things a little easier for volunteer organizations to do their work, along with innovative ideas to encourage Canadians to give even more of their time and hard-earned money.

However, not once in the course of this study did Canada's charities suggest anything even close to resembling what the NDP member is advancing here today. Not once did they propose a tax credit, which is contrary to the essence of service and the spirit of volunteerism, and not once did they recommend that the government saddle them with more red tape, which would make it difficult and costly to provide Canadians with the services and support on which they rely. In fact, Ruth MacKenzie, chairman and CEO of Volunteer Canada, a pre-eminent national voice on volunteerism since 1977, has lamented that this bill's sponsor never bothered to get in touch with her organization. Not only that, but Volunteer Canada is clearly opposed. Ms. MacKenzie stated:

Our thoughts on this bill are in line with our general thoughts on the broader issue of tax incentives for volunteering--that it would not be something we’d support.

Mark Blumberg, a noted lawyer in the field of charities and non-profit law agrees. I believe his words sum it up nicely, when he says, “...I wish they would spend some more time consulting with the sector before introducing private members bills ostensibly to the benefit of the sector”.

Our Conservative government is dedicated to ensuring that charitable organizations, whatever their purpose, have the tools they need to do their work. What they do not need is a costly duplicative tax break for volunteers, pitting charities against one another and creating needless red tape without benefiting the sector or the Canadians it serves.

I look forward to the finance committee's report, and I am confident that its recommendations will help our government build on its outstanding record of support for charities.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this bill, which I support, is to recognize the value of volunteer work. Providing volunteers with a tax credit in respect of travel expenses is an excellent way to do that. Organizations across the country are working hard to increase volunteerism.

This bill also provides an opportunity to improve the relationship between government and the volunteer sector, a relationship that could do with some improvement because the volunteer sector has been neglected for too many years. A more strategic relationship would support volunteerism. This bill could be a starting point for that conversation.

We must recognize how important this sector is to vulnerable populations, particularly in times of crisis. Consider the 1929 crash and, more recently, the record floods that devastated the Montérégie region in 2011. Thousands of volunteers lent a helping hand to the victims and the cleanup effort.

This front-line sector needs human resources because it meets the urgent needs of vulnerable populations. It mitigates the effects of crises, austerity measures and economic slowdowns like the one we are experiencing now through the commitment of the volunteers and the services and support they provide.

However, the sector faces major challenges that must be addressed before they begin to threaten its viability. By supporting volunteerism, the government would be investing in the common good and the greater welfare of the community, as well as in social integration and participation.

Volunteers give their time to vulnerable populations and help people in need. They make our communities better places to live. Historically, volunteerism has always been about people helping people to meet a community's needs.

This bill would provide from $500 to $1,500 to volunteers who perform at least 130 hours of eligible volunteer services and make at least 12 trips in order to do so during the taxation year. I believe that people who volunteer for organizations that help people with disabilities are deserving of at least a little recognition on the part of the government. People volunteer for organizations whose mission is to help those in need.

We know that not enough volunteers are being recruited. Therefore, we must encourage people to volunteer by acknowledging their experiences, sacrifices and the benefits to communities. Most organizations that rely on volunteers work with vulnerable populations.

Many organizations could not operate without volunteers. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, and this jeopardizes the activities of organizations and their very existence. Charitable organizations that provide social services have a growing need for the unpaid work of volunteers.

In times of economic slowdown and fiscal austerity, volunteering takes on a whole new meaning. Helping those in need allows people to put into practice the principle of solidarity. In such times, having the help of as many people as possible is crucial. In difficult times, the demand for services of some organizations is at its peak. That is the case for food banks, soup kitchens, emergency shelters and many other organizations.

The financial uncertainty of charitable and non-profit organizations is alarming. The most recent recession and the government's austerity measures have wreaked havoc. With the weakening of the social safety net, people are turning to such organizations for help.

There is a need for more volunteers and more volunteer hours. Thus, it is crucial that the importance of volunteerism, of giving of oneself, be recognized in these difficult times. Volunteerism has an impact on the quality of life of many Canadians and the vitality of many communities.

Volunteerism is a basic component of civic engagement that is closely tied to the social and economic development of Canada. Volunteerism, especially when it comes to helping vulnerable groups in society, is most definitely a crucial form of community participation, and must be valued appropriately. Tangible measures must be taken to attach value to civic engagement.

There is no denying that, in recent years, stagnating donations of time and money have posed a challenge.

I also want to point out that a small proportion of volunteers account for the largest proportion of volunteer hours.

Organizations have fewer and fewer resources, yet demand for their services continues to grow. The viability of the sector is in jeopardy right now.

As a result, it is time for the government to reconsider its relationship with the volunteer sector, and this bill opens the door to a discussion.

The government should develop a strategic approach. Our policies and regulations for the volunteer sector are lagging far behind those of other countries. It is time to correct this situation and for the government to stop neglecting this sector. After all, Canada's volunteer sector is the second largest in the world, representing 7% of the GDP.

Volunteers make a significant contribution to society, but the Canadian government has yet to provide proper recognition for this civic engagement. We must recognize the contributions volunteers make to our country's economic and social cohesion. The economic value of volunteering is widely recognized and measurable. When we value volunteer work, we acknowledge the value-added feature that it represents. In all types of charitable missions and volunteer organizations, volunteers play an important role in helping to strengthen and energize local communities, which benefits the country as a whole.

Organizations that recruit volunteers recognize the importance and value of what these volunteers contribute. Now is the time for the government to do so. We need a vision for this country's volunteer sector, and it is up to the government to develop one. There is a lot to be done in our communities and we must support those who want to make things better for the most vulnerable members of their communities. These people want to help improve quality of life in their communities. They are pillars of our society and we must enable them to continue to actively participate in our country's social life.

If the federal government has even the slightest interest in the volunteer sector, it must demonstrate that interest by taking real action and providing support for the people who give their time to charitable organizations in their communities. It is also known that, in some cases, the volunteer sector is able to reach certain segments of society more easily and more effectively than the government can.

The services provided by volunteers can thus meet the needs of certain segments better than services provided by the government.

Part of the reason why the volunteer sector exists is to fill a gap; however, that gap is becoming increasingly difficult to fill in the absence of real action by the government. By taking real action to promote volunteer work, the government would also promote community development.

Recruitment is often problematic for many organizations, which threatens their sustainability and that of this sector as a whole.

In these times of fiscal restraint, when thousands of households are living in situations of insecurity and poverty, the demand for such services will increase and must be accompanied by practical measures from the government.

The volunteer sector has deep roots in Canadian society, and it must be allowed to reach its full potential, which it is not doing currently. We must stop underestimating the volunteer sector's contribution to society and to the well-being of Canadians.

That is why the government must strengthen its ties with this sector. One good thing about this bill is that it brings up important issues, such as how to get started on strengthening these ties, by initiating a strategic discussion on the relationship that could be developed between the public and volunteer sectors, and potentially the private sector as well.

This discussion must take place if we want to guarantee that we have a rigorous, active and sustainable volunteer sector.

Naturally, we know that volunteer work in our communities is becoming increasingly important. Volunteers are people who are extremely involved. We find them in every area, helping people with disabilities, helping with sports, and so on. Volunteer work plays a huge role in our communities and small towns. It really is very important. We must ensure that the government takes practical measures and helps these people and organizations to have more backup because right now they do not have any. Asking people to take money out of their own pockets in order to volunteer is no way to encourage them.

We are thus of the opinion that real action needs to be taken.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-399.

It is a costly proposal. It would seek to amend the Income Tax Act and create a new non-refundable tax credit for select volunteers and individuals who perform volunteer service, although it is unclear from the bill exactly whom it would benefit.

Let me begin by saying that there is no question that charities and non-profit organizations contribute to all aspects of Canadian life, including education, health, faith, human rights and the environment, as well as arts and culture. Not only that, I think we can all agree that charities and the volunteers who support them face unique challenges during uncertain economic times.

However, not only is there absolutely no evidence that this costly bill will engage more Canadians in helping others, but charities themselves have also gone so far as to suggest that it may harm volunteerism and result in fewer people giving their time to those in need.

Let us first look at the cost. It is important when members of this House are considering legislation for them to consider the cost of legislation. The opposition has simply deferred this, estimating that it would cost roughly $430 million annually. That is a lot of money. For the people of my riding that would represent about $4,000 per constituent or thereabouts. The would come from their pockets. Even worse, Canadian charities are questioning the wisdom of the idea, as costly as it is.

According to Volunteer Alberta, the voice of volunteerism in that province, a province that the Liberal Party may not want to listen to but I think has an important voice here in Parliament, the proposed tax credit could actually reduce volunteer motivation by attaching a tax benefit and an economic value to something that is otherwise altruistic. That really is at the heart of volunteerism. It is something that we all do because we want to give back. There is something innate within Canadians in actually wanting to help each other. We actually want to be there for our neighbours.

Not everyone volunteers. It is concerning in that regard that some service clubs have seen declining memberships. However, I do not think this is a sign of the people involved seeking to be reimbursed or some kind of cost return to their volunteering. It may be a bit of a statement about how our society has become busier and people perhaps living lives that are a little less interpersonal than before. Frankly we all act interact so much digitally now, with text messages seeming to replace phone calls and Facebook replacing a lot of time people might otherwise spend congregating with their neighbours.

Maybe these are things that we should be looking at in considering how we can restart the growth in volunteerism and service clubs. Nonetheless, I do not think I have ever heard anyone who volunteers or anyone from a service club indicating that they would do more or support their community more if someone would just pay them to do it.

Since 2006, we have demonstrated our commitment to strengthening the charitable sector by enhancing the incentives for people to donate to registered charities and making a number of improvements in the way charities are regulated. These measures include the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to charitable organizations, public foundations and private foundations; the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of ecologically sensitive lands to public conservation charities; and the reform of the disbursement quota to reduce the administrative burden on charities.

This has really worked, whether it was the hospital foundation in Peterborough that has raised a very significant amount of money based on these specific tax changes, or the local university, or local museums that have raised significant funds as well. These have helped charitable organizations.

Then of course there is the donation of ecologically sensitive land. The Otonabee Region Conservation Authority, which oversees very significant wetlands in my part of the province, has in fact received donations of land.

These changes have helped and are bringing about very significant societal benefits.

I am very fortunate and I think a lot of us feel the same way. I have said many times in my own riding that a city and a town are really a collection of buildings, streets, infrastructure and businesses. However, what makes them a community is the people, the people who come together to help each other. I come from such a strong community where volunteerism is something that we do, where donating to charity is something that we do disproportionately, and I am proud of it.

We could all say of our communities that there are people who go above and beyond, because they feel it is their calling. One of the things that I am afraid of, frankly, is that we will start to put some of these folks into a category where they should receive a benefit for what they are doing. The benefit they are getting from what they are doing cannot be measured in dollars and cents or in tax credits. It is a benefit they receive from the hearts of others, a benefit they receive by knowing they have made the community better. Many of them do not want recognition at all. That is one of the remarkable things about so many volunteers. They just want to know in their own hearts that they have made a difference, and believe me, they do.

Not only would the bill place an undue administrative burden on charities, but also, volunteer organizations across the country have spoken out against the idea of a tax credit. For example, Ruth MacKenzie, the president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, the respected national voice of Canadian volunteerism since 1977, has said:

I don’t think tax incentives are necessarily the way to encourage it. More importantly, I don’t think it’s going to increase the quality of the contribution volunteers make or the degree organizations benefit from volunteer engagement.

Not only does Volunteer Canada oppose this costly and ineffective NDP proposal, but it has been quick to point out that the charitable sector does not appear to have been consulted at all by the NDP in its hasty drafting of this legislation, which could actually impede charities' ability to serve vulnerable Canadians.

While decrying the bill in a recent interview with CharityVillage, Ms. MacKenzie agreed with the government's position on the bill, noting that “no one...directly consulted with me or Volunteer Canada” about Bill C-399.

I think this is a core function of ours as members of Parliament. I do not doubt that in its conception, the intent of the bill was that it would do something very positive for people who volunteer. I will not impugn the motives of the person who brought forward the bill; I just happen to think it is a bad bill.

It is really essential that when we bring forward legislation that will have a direct impact on a sector, especially a sector as large as the charitable sector in Canada, one that is relied upon by so many as a sign of the strength of our communities, that Parliamentarians consult with them. It is clear that consultations have not taken place.

When I speak to volunteers in my riding, they are not seeking this kind of tax credit. If the government is to make that kind of $430 million investment, they would like it to go to the people they are volunteering for, not themselves. They are not seeking that, which is remarkable.

The other thing that I think is quite profound is that here we are debating an NDP tax credit, a very expensive one, of $430 million, when it is more often the case that the NDP are simply bringing forward tax increases, such as the idea of a $21 billion carbon tax that would take money from every Canadian, including from volunteers and charities. There is also the potential increase in the HST that has been talked about by one of the NDP members from Toronto, the member for Trinity—Spadina. The NDP talks about tax and spending increases constantly. It seems at odds with that for NDP members to be contemplating a tax reduction in this sector. It is absolutely ironic that this is what we are debating.

We believe that taxes should be as low as possible for every single Canadian, and we believe in supporting the charitable sector.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Repentigny introduced a bill that is very important for all volunteers in Canada. The purpose of Bill C-399 is to provide a tax credit of a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,500, in respect of travel expenses to individuals who perform a minimum of 130 hours of eligible volunteer services and make at least 12 trips in order to do so during the taxation year.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which, I hope, will receive support from the other parties in the House, because volunteer work is often what makes our communities so dynamic. This work, which is done by very generous people either out of charity or solidarity, strengthens ties between people and builds on the values of communal living. There is no doubt in my mind that the volunteers in my riding deserve a tax credit like the one proposed by my hon. colleague, especially those who live in the regions and who have to travel in order to help people.

Whether they are helping young people, seniors, those less fortunate or even veterans, volunteers in Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel give of their time to help organize celebrations, to help with fundraising or to commemorate important sporting, environmental or cultural events, and they therefore deserve to be celebrated, encouraged and thanked. They often work very hard and have to travel a lot. It is possible that they can no longer afford to volunteer.

Papineau has the CR3A, or Comité régional du troisième âge de Papineau, whose mission is to help seniors remain in their homes with respect and dignity, and to end social isolation among seniors. Seniors who still live at home have an even harder time in the regions, since they can often no longer drive. Thus, it is very hard for them to get out of the house to go and see their family and friends. Our wonderful volunteers go and get them and take them to the grocery store, to see their friends, or even just out for coffee. It is very important to end the isolation that seniors sometimes fall victim to when they cannot get around on their own. As long as they can take care of their homes, they do not necessarily have to move into a big institution or seniors' home. It is better for seniors to stay at home and maintain their dignity.

The Centre d'action bénévole d'Argenteuil provides almost the same services. The Coup de pouce co-operative in Argenteuil is made up of volunteers who are trying to improve the lives of people who are isolated because of their age or a physical limitation. It can be very difficult for people who live in the regions to get around because of the large distances that have to be covered.

It is important to point out that this bill takes transportation into account in the granting of the tax credit. In my opinion, that is the most important part of this bill. Of course, volunteer work is already demanding, but people really put their hearts into it. However, the travel required to help others in remote and rural areas is often not taken into consideration. We do not think about how much travel is required. Whatever the cause or objective, volunteers in my region have to travel long distances to do volunteer work.

Sometimes really dedicated volunteers simply can no longer afford the cost of gas, particularly in difficult economic times. Yet it is in more difficult economic times that we need volunteers the most. That is why people who dedicate their time and talents to helping the most vulnerable members of our society must be recognized. We must also encourage other people to get involved and lend them a hand. These volunteers, who are often retired, get involved because they love their community and their fellow citizens, and it is true that they will do this work with or without a tax credit.

However, without these people, life in our cities and towns would not be the same. We must therefore recognize their work and encourage this type of involvement. We must actively respond to the challenges faced by the volunteer sector in these difficult economic times. For example, the cost of gas is increasing, and we are not doing anything to go to the people who are isolated and help them to get out. I am using this example because it clearly demonstrates how this tax credit will really support this type of volunteer work and will allow volunteers to travel more in the regions to help the less fortunate.

Clearly, vulnerable people have even more need of help and volunteers when times are tough, but right now, the government is abandoning these people. They often have to turn to charity. But volunteers are also being affected by the difficult economic times, which are forcing them to limit their volunteer work when needs are on the rise.

The total amount of donations and volunteer hours has not really changed since 2007. However, during this same period, needs have skyrocketed. For example, the number of people who need food aid is on the rise. The NDP wants to tackle this problem. This motion is the first step in the fight to support the volunteer sector.

I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of this bill, which will really help our rural communities in particular.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the members of all parties represented in the House. I would like to thank my honourable NDP colleagues for their support, but I would also like to thank the Liberal and Conservative members. To me, the fact that we sometimes disagree and have different approaches is essential. I also think that this debate about what is happening with organizations across Canada is essential.

Bill C-399, which I call Madeleine Nadeau's bill after my grandmother, is a very important and well-drafted bill, despite what they might say. People have thrown around numbers like $430 million, but the fact is that the Department of Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Officer assessed the cost of the bill at $130 million. Those numbers are miles apart.

The whole point of this bill is to recognize a problem and try to solve it. Across Canada, volunteer numbers are stagnant. Most of the volunteers I talked to during the consultations I held told me that the reason they stop volunteering is that they can no longer do it. Volunteers pay, and that does not make sense. Volunteers provide vitally important services. They are the last bastion of our society. Volunteering produces real results, and the people who do it, who put their hearts into it, have to draw on their own funds just to show up. They are not asking to be paid or to receive tax credits. They just want us to come up with solutions.

MPs were asked to support sending this bill to committee so that committee members can study the range of problems in order to amend and improve the bill so that it meets the needs of all Canadians.

Last week, on November 15, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with approximately 50 organizations, just over 120 volunteers. That is the point I want to raise. This meeting was attended not by volunteers and organizations, but by the volunteers that make up these organizations that they manage on a day-to-day basis. These people were very clear about their support for the bill and said that it represents a step forward. They are looking to move in a certain direction and to get results.

Institution or volunteer? Machine or person? In this place we often have this philosophical debate. The government always says that it provides support to organizations, as though the answer to any problem was to throw money at it in the hope that perhaps the people, the poor citizens, will finally be happy with the results. However, no organization, no foundation can exist without the support of people, without the contribution of volunteers. They are the ones suffering at this time.

Our population is aging, the number of young people getting involved is declining, the economy is very fragile and people have less and less money in their pockets. The government will soon introduce Bill C-458, which has a $400 million price tag. We applaud the effort that has been made. The bill would establish a national charities week and would allow for an additional three months to collect even more money, even though people do not have more.

We will get results by encouraging volunteerism in the community and a human presence.

Knowledge and expertise are important parts of philanthropy and volunteering. Many people at the end of their career give their time and knowledge and share all of the experience they have gained over the years. They are the ones we want to have in organizations because of what they contribute.

In our region, a project to help animals did not succeed, while the same project was a success in another region because of the expertise of the volunteers who got involved. They were former bank directors, committed people who knew how to get money. They managed to purchase a building and create an entity because they invested their time. They never calculated how much money was required. They made the most of what they had.

In conclusion, Bill C-399 is a bill for volunteers. What I am hearing in this House is that we support volunteers and are listening to them. We want the bill to be sent to committee so that we can find the solutions together. Let us work together: that is the message we are sending. We must not use cost and red tape as excuses. On the contrary, the bill was designed to put the onus on volunteers to claim the credit if they are interested.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It being 12:03 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

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

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members



Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those in favour will please say yea.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 28, 2012, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeMinister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-47, An Act to enact the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, our government's priorities reflect the primary concerns of all Canadians, which are jobs and economic growth. Northerners, like all Canadians, want good jobs and access to the economic opportunities that will allow them to prosper for generations to come. The north is home to world-class reserves of natural resources, representing tremendous economic opportunities, not just for northerners but for all Canadians. Our government is committed to doing its part to allow northerners to take advantage of those opportunities.

During his recent trip to the north, the Prime Minister stated, “Our government is committed to ensuring that northerners benefit from the tremendous natural resource reserves that are found in their region”. For the benefits to flow, it is necessary to get resource projects up and running in an effective and responsible way and to put agreements in place with territorial governments to ensure that revenues generated by the initiatives stay up north.

Since 2007, we have taken concrete steps toward this objective. For instance, in 2007 we announced Canada's northern strategy, which recognizes the unique place the north holds in Canada's great history and the important role that it must play in the future for our country. The northern strategy is focused on fulfilling four key goals: first, exercising our Arctic sovereignty; second, promoting economic and social development in the north; third, protecting the north's environmental heritage; and fourth, improving and devolving territorial governance. Building on these priorities, we launched our action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes in 2010. The action plan committed our government to addressing some of the regulatory impediments to job creation in the north.

On November 6, 2012, our government introduced the northern jobs and growth act. This act would fulfill legislative obligations flowing from land claim agreements and it would contribute to improving the conditions for investment that will lead to jobs for Canadians while ensuring the north's resources are developed in a sustainable manner.

An improved regulatory regime will allow aboriginals, communities and others to better participate in decision-making concerning the use, management and conservation of land, water and natural resources in the north. We have been working with our northern partners to develop such a regulatory regime. I am pleased to report that we are well on our way to success.

Bill C-47 represents an historic contribution to an improved regulatory regime for the north. Through this bill, we would create a regulatory regime for resource development in the north that is consistent across the three territories, that is based on sound science, that has clearly defined timelines, that safeguards the environmental health and heritage of the region, that is founded on balanced input from the people who have a stake in development projects, that includes meaningful consultation with and contributions from aboriginal people, that reflects the intent of the land claim agreements, and that puts northerners in an ideal position to reap the benefits of resource development, more well-paying jobs, increasing levels of prosperity and greater long-term economic growth.

As Jane Groenewegen, the MLA for Hay River South in the Northwest Territories said following the introduction of Bill C-47:

But what we have in place here, right now in the Northwest Territories, does not work, so good on the federal government for finally figuring out a way to streamline this and let’s get on with business.

We have had support from others as well. Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak called Bill C-47 “an important milestone in establishing an effective and streamlined regime for Inuit and government to manage resource development in Nunavut together”.

The private sector, too, has recognized the importance of this legislation. The Mining Association of Canada's Pierre Gratton said:

The new regulatory regime will help to enhance the territory's economic competitiveness for mineral investment, while ensuring projects go through a robust assessment and permitting process.

Those are just a few examples of the support for our northern jobs and growth act.

We believe that we have garnered such strong support from the people it would impact the most because we developed it by listening to northerners. Our government recognizes that northern Canada is unique and that resource development must be pursued in a manner that reflects the political, economic and cultural aspirations of the northern people, and that reflects the unique environmental challenges of northern development.

With this legislation, we would fulfill our legislative obligations to the people of Nunavut under the landmark 1993 Nunavut land claims agreement. Specifically, Bill C-47 would fulfill the Government of Canada's obligation to enact legislation governing the development of land use plans and the conduct of environmental assessment processes for resource development projects. With Bill C-47, we would meet our final legislative obligation related to the agreement by legislating the roles and responsibilities of the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board and clearly defining the powers, duties and functions of those two bodies. This would provide the legal certainty and predictability required for resource managers and industry, as well as ensure the sustainable development of northern resources, while promoting economic development by boosting investor confidence. This would provide long-term benefits for Nunavummiut.

Furthermore, the approach proposed by Bill C-47 would establish the Nunavut Planning Commission as the single point of entry for all projects that seek approval. In addition, Bill C-47 would make it possible for territorial and federal governments and Inuit organizations to manage northern resources and lands wisely. The bill would affirm the power of governments and Inuit organizations to nominate members to the Nunavut Impact Review Board and the Nunavut Planning Commission.

We would also fulfill our obligations to the people of the Northwest Territories by using Bill C-47 to establish the Northwest Territories surface rights board. The board would contribute to greater certainty and predictability for long-term economic growth and job creation in the territory. I want to make it clear that the board would not grant mineral or oil and gas rights. The Northwest Territories surface rights board would, on application, make orders related to terms, conditions and compensation only where it has been requested to do so and only after such rights have been previously issued. By putting in place the board and the rules under which it would operate, Bill C-47 would fulfill the Government of Canada's obligations arising from the Gwich'in comprehensive land claim agreement and the Sahtu Dene and Métis comprehensive land claim agreement, both of which refer specifically to the need for the creation of a surface rights board.

The provisions of Bill C-47 are also be consistent with the other two comprehensive land claims and self-government agreements in the Northwest Territories: the Tlicho agreement and the Inuvialuit final agreement. Establishing this new board means that the Government of Canada has fulfilled its obligations to the aboriginal peoples of the region.

That is not all. Since orders of the Northwest Territories surface rights board would be final and binding, rights holders, land owners and occupants would have a powerful incentive to negotiate and agree on terms, conditions and compensation for access that would benefit all parties.

Most importantly, the establishment of a surface rights board in the Northwest Territories would not only fulfill land claim agreement obligations, but it has the potential to improve timely access to surface and subsurface resources. It would also increase the predictability and consistency of the northern resource management regime, which in turn would lead to long-term economic growth and job creation in the territory.

The benefits of setting up this new process go far beyond the limits of smoother transactions. By setting up the Northwest Territories surface rights board, Bill C-47 would create a single, clear, balanced and fair dispute settlement mechanism for access disputes for all of the Northwest Territories.

The Government of Canada has worked with our northern partners to develop this improved regulatory regime. In a very real sense, the bill before us is created by and for northerners. To create the legislation that governs planning and project assessment in Nunavut, we worked closely with a variety of people and groups throughout the territory. The focus of our efforts was the Nunavut legislative working group, which comprised the Government of Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Government of Nunavut, supported by the participation of the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board. Our government also consulted with the public, with industry officials and with representatives of local governments, aboriginal organizations and environmental organizations.

The same extensive consultation went into developing the Northwest Territories surface rights board. Beginning in 2010, we distributed a series of draft legislative proposals to our counterparts in the territorial government, representatives of many industry associations and leaders of 13 aboriginal groups and governments.

We followed up with information and consultation sessions with aboriginal groups and governments with settled claims, those negotiating claims and transboundary groups with interests in the Northwest Territories. We also met and consulted with industry associations, environmental non-government organizations and the Northwest Territories government.

Bill C-47 responds to a chorus of other groups calling for action. Territorial governments have asked for better coordination and clearly defined time periods for project reviews. Resource companies have urged us to make the review process more streamlined and predictable. All Canadians want to make sure that promising opportunities will no longer be delayed or lost due to complex, unpredictable and time-consuming regulatory process.

So much is at stake. Canada has tremendous potential in minerals, oil and gas. As The Conference Board of Canada points out:

The world is hungry for Canada's resources, and much of what we have—gold, silver, copper, zinc, diamonds, oil, and gas...are to be found in our vast Northern spaces....

The Prime Minister drove home that point during his recent annual visit to Canada's north. He said,

Those who want to see the future of this country should look north. ...that great national dream—the development of northern resources—no longer sleeps. It is not down the road. It is happening now.

Right now the mining and energy sectors account for 25% of territorial GDP and directly employ 5,000 northerners. The future looks bright.

Currently, there are 25 advanced mining projects in Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. These projects, worth more than $38 billion in potential new investment, are awaiting federal regulatory approval. If developed, they would create more than 8,000 new direct full-time jobs, the majority of which would go to northerners. Thousands of additional jobs would be created for northerners in sectors that serve and support large-scale mining operations. Not only would this create employment, but development would have a positive multiplier effect in the region and in the rest of Canada by contributing to long-term economic growth and prosperity.

Bill C-47 is the way we turn that potential into reality. Let us seize that promise, and let us generate more jobs, increased prosperity and greater long-term economic growth in the north. Let us fulfill our obligations to northerners. Let us adopt Bill C-47.

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats have some concerns with the fact that two very specific acts were lumped together in one piece of legislation. It certainly may cause some difficulty at committee. We need to have a fulsome discussion of this particular bill at committee, because there are many aspects of it that are extremely important to northerners.

I want to ask the minister a question. Quite obviously, land use plans are an integral part of the Nunavut Act. Over the past dozen years, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act has been implemented, and one of the provisions in that act was land use plans in the various regions of the Northwest Territories. Every group that has looked at it, including the government's own independent consultant who looked at environmental assessment throughout the north, recognized that these land use plans had to be put in place in order for the legislation to work properly. However, to this day, there are no land use plans in place in the Northwest Territories, and the government is considering other changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act that would change the very structure of environmental assessment in the north.

How can the minister guarantee that this Nunavut Act is going to work in a good fashion if the fundamental principle of it is to get the land use plans in place? The federal government has been incredibly slow and inactive on this file. We have a situation where the legislation looks good, but how can we guarantee that the implementation of the legislation is going to move any faster in Nunavut than what has occurred in the Northwest Territories?

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure where the member is coming from with his question. There is growth in the GDP in Yukon and Nunavut, and the only jurisdiction in Canada in which there was a shrinkage in GDP was the Northwest Territories, which is the very area the member represents. If anybody has a vested interest in streamlining regulations, it is the member for Western Arctic.

The legislation we are putting forward has no critics in Nunavut or Yukon. This is widely accepted as a straightforward proposal. There is one issue. In the NWT, there is a series of comprehensive land claim agreements and some unsettled areas and we are overlapping that with some serious devolution negotiations right now with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

When I met less than two weeks ago with some of the aboriginal groups in the Northwest Territories, it became very clear that they are at the point of adopting their land use plans. We are looking at major progress there. I do not see this as any kind of impediment. All I see is great progress and great excitement in terms of this legislation.

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Kenora Ontario


Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his leadership, particularly in this area. I am thinking back to the work on the Eeyou marine agreement. The member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has worked with us to move this kind of legislation, which considers large swaths of land in the northern parts of the provinces for the purposes of the northern jobs and growth act in the western Arctic and across Nunavut. We know there are challenges in the north. Notwithstanding something like a carbon tax, which would increase expenses and operations in the north, there are other things like land claims and the environment and of course regulatory frameworks that seek to strike a balance on a number of these issues. I wanted to take this opportunity to appreciate that and to then pose a question to the minister.

During the consultation process, we understand the Nunavut land claims agreements needed some amendments and that the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. organization was required to accommodate some amendments. Would the minister elaborate on the agreement that was struck with NTI and Canada to ensure that the bill conforms with its land claim agreements, all for the purposes and superordinate goal of unlocking the potential for economic opportunity across vast regions of northern Canada?

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's question is a good example and illustration of the support this legislation has with respect to the Nunavut territory.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is the organization that represents the Inuit in their land claims settlement. It worked very closely on this working group. It is my recollection that it had to make 21 changes to the land claims agreement in order to accommodate what this legislation is proposing. It did that more than willingly, which is what has allowed us to move forward, along with the co-operation of all of the other partners.

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank both the minister and the parliamentary secretary for their roles and participation in this morning's dedication ceremony of the beautiful stained glass window in the outside foyer commemorating the apology for the residential schools and the efforts to reconcile that. It was a great ceremony.

However, I have a question about this legislation. Would the minister describe the extensive consultation process that took place leading specifically to the development of the bill in relation to the Nunavut planning and project assessment act? Would he share that consultation process with us?

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, work on the Nunavut planning and project assessment act began in 2002, so there has been over a decade of diligent negotiations. In my speech I spoke to the Nunavut legislative working group. Obviously, it was the major workhorse in getting this bill together in draft form in the summer of 2006.

There have been several iterations of the bill since 2006. Therefore, many people have had an opportunity to share in this legislation. There have been public meetings since that time. The industry sector also had a good chance to kick this around. I detect wholesale agreement that we have the best possible legislative package, in this case.

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories is a prime example of a mining economy. When the minister talks about our GDP going down this year, that is because the capital investment in the mines took place in the previous year.

We all know the mining industry in the Northwest Territories. We understand its pitfalls and benefits. However, the minister is denigrating the Northwest Territories on its economic performance, when it is really about how the mining industry works. When diamond mines invest hundreds of millions of dollars in one year to do their underground works and then do not invest the next year, yes, we see a drop in the GDP.

Does the minister not agree that is the sort of work we have to deal with in the Northwest Territories and the mining industry throughout the north?

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are many statistics out there.

Recently, I met with members from the Mining Association of Canada and there were representatives there from the north. It is very clear that the economic indicators are of concern for NWT and that is why they are embracing the legislation, which is one of the reasons we are starting to see renewed confidence.

I think this is all good. I am certainly a booster of NWT, the NWT government and the aboriginal organizations, which are working with a spirit of co-operation that I would say is enlightened and progressive.

Northern Jobs and Growth ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this particular bill. It is a bill that is very important to the people of the north. As a northern representative, I look forward to dealing with our northern regulatory issues in good fashion, in a fashion that can promote development but can also protect our environment.

Northerners have lived through all of that. There is no question that in the Northwest Territories we understand the nature of the mining industry. As I mentioned to the minister earlier, it is an up-and-down industry. Mines are created. There is huge capital investment in the mines. Afterwards there is an ongoing process with operations and maintenance of those facilities. That creates an up-and-down nature in the gross domestic product of our very small territory. Our territory has 45,000 people in it. Adding in a very large capital investment causes the GDP to rise. We are accustomed to that. We have lived through these boom-and-bust cycles with the mining industry over and over again.

It is very important that we understand the mining industry. It is very important that we know what mine plans do to our economy. It is very important to understand how much mining will benefit the north and where that line can be drawn. When the minister talks about 8,000 jobs in the mining industry going to northerners, he is not really being accurate. It is pretty hard to fill the existing mining jobs in the Northwest Territories with northerners. We run about 50%, and we are topped up. We are topped up in the mines that we have already.

We do have some room to add on mining jobs in the Northwest Territories. However, when we talk about 8,000 jobs, we are talking about increasing our population by a very large extent if we want to fill those with northerners. When the population of the Northwest Territories is increased, enormous pressure is put on the government because the cost of living and the cost of providing facilities in the north is so high.

We view mining very carefully. It is important for our economy. We live with the results of mining. When it comes to the environment, throughout the Northwest Territories we live with the results of mining. We live with the results of bad decisions, decisions improperly made or made too quickly. Those decisions have led us to projects such as the Giant Mine, the worst environmental nightmare in Canada. The only solution for the 270,000 tonnes of arsenic underground is to perpetually freeze it in place so that future generations can deal with it.

The government is on the hook for billions of dollars for the Giant Mine over the foreseeable future. What we see there is what happens when environmental assessment does not work right. What we see with other projects is the same thing. We can look at the Pine Point Mine and the result of that. There is no money left for reclamation. The site was left abandoned. The investment in the community was abandoned.

These are things that we live with in the Northwest Territories. We understand mining very well. We understand its relationship to the environment. Probably more so, the Yukon has the same understanding. Nunavut is just moving into an understanding of mining and how it will work out in its vast territory. I am glad to see that the Nunavut land claims agreement is moving forward, considering that it has been in preparation for almost two decades. We can perhaps understand the frustration of those people who live in Nunavut, in getting their legislation in place and in understanding how that is going to work.

That is one of the reasons why I would love to see the bill split. Nunavut could move forward very quickly. There would be minor amendments, which we understand people are interested in making. That would open an opportunity for Nunavut's people to have a better hold on their regulatory process, a process that, as I pointed out earlier in my question to the minister, is focused on land use planning.

Land use planning is the key element. It is certainly very important. However, we have seen little progress in the Northwest Territories on approving land use plans, which have been worked on for a dozen years. Whether in the Sahtu, Gwich’in or Inuvialuit areas, land use plans need to be developed. In the unsettled claim area of the Dehcho in the Northwest Territories, an interim land use plan was proposed to deal with the issues. That has not found success with the federal government.

We want to see the bill move forward as quickly as possible. It is a start in the right direction for Nunavut. However, let us hope that when it is put in place the land use plans come very quickly. These land use plans are not written in stone. They are amendable over a certain period of time so that people can adjust them accordingly, so that they work for people in a good fashion. That is exactly what should happen with them. Let us go ahead with Nunavut and get that through.

With regard to the Northwest Territories and the surface rights board, it is a much more difficult issue in some ways. Unlike Nunavut and the Yukon, we have unsettled areas where there has not been an agreement to have a surface rights board. That is not in place yet. That has not been negotiated between the traditional landowners, the first nations of the Dehcho or the Akaitcho, which is quite a large area of the Northwest Territories. Therefore, what we would be doing with the act is putting in place legislation that has not gone through the process that it has for the Tlicho, the Sahtu and the Gwich’in, where this was negotiated and agreed to by both parties. What we have is a situation where it is going to be put in place, regardless.

Within the bill there is a clause that says the minister must review the act upon the creation of any new land agreement with any party in the Northwest Territories. However, is that review sufficient for the people of the Northwest Territories, for the Dehcho and Akaitcho people, who are still negotiating their land claims? Is it sufficient that this would simply be subject to a review? Without qualifications to a review, without understanding what a review could accomplish for those two groups, that question needs to be further outlined in committee. It needs to be answered for a very important part of the Northwest Territories. There are things that have to be done there.

In the briefing, it was indicated that the municipalities have not been engaged on this issue. There was a feeling from the department that they did not have a role here. That is not correct because we have existing mines that are located within municipal boundaries, so there are some surface rights that extend into municipal areas. Therefore, access is important to municipalities. As landowners they have to be part of it. They do have a role here. Consultation has not taken place with them, so we will have to do that at committee as well, in order to understand how municipalities feel about and understand the legislation, which could affect their role.

There are private landowners as well, although not many in the Northwest Territories, that may have some interest in the legislation. Hopefully, we can accomplish this in a fulsome committee examination. We could do the work of government for them at committee. I think that is fair enough.

The minister says this is all about economic development, that the government in effect is passing environmental legislation all about economic development. Is there not something wrong with that statement? Should we not be passing environmental legislation to protect the environment, to ensure for future generations that projects are conducted in a good fashion that yields a good result, and that when companies leave their disturbances are taken care of? That is just what needs to be done.

Good development also ties in with the needs of the people of the region. In the three territories, we have a problem, because we are not provinces. We cannot go to developers and tell them that we want a road in an area as well, that we will work with them to create the infrastructure because it will benefit our people later on. No, under the NWT Act, any new road has to be approved by the federal government; it is a federal government responsibility.

How do we see it playing out in the Northwest Territories? With the diamond mines, which are a great economic development opportunity for the Northwest Territories and for Canada, we have seen very little public infrastructure developed.

Now that fuel prices have gone through the roof, companies are saying that they cannot make a go of it in the future with these prices. However, if we had done it in an orderly, planned fashion, we would have put in hydro-electric power in the Slave province area where the three diamond mines exist right now. That did not happen. The federal government was in charge of that environmental assessment. It chose not to even examine hydro-electric power at the time in 1998, and now today the economy of those mines is suffering. The economy of the Northwest Territories has missed an opportunity to develop more infrastructure and more resources.

Therefore, resource development is a very important tool for human development as well. We miss the connection when we do not have a good say over development. When we do not take a long and careful look at how development would work, we miss the opportunity that could actually enhance and build our territories, which could also perhaps some day become provinces.

These are not areas that are simply set aside for resource development. That attitude should not prevail. The attitude should be one in which the north is for northern people and that they should be served first by development, so that development works to enhance the lives of every single northerner. That is what we look at when we talk about development.

We can look at the past and see that there was one great example of a properly developed resource, although the company did not do a very good job after it finished. That was the Pine Point Mine. The company developed a hydro-electric system and a road and railway, and all of those legacy items remain today as part of the infrastructure and economy of the Northwest Territories.

We want to see that kind of development continue, but we do not want to see big holes in the ground filled with water that have an environmental impact. We have some real goals with environmental assessment, and they are not predicated on slamming things through the system but on careful planning. That is how we make success for the north. We do not make success simply by throwing the doors open, getting through the process as quickly as possible, getting the shovels in the ground as quickly as possible without planning carefully what we are doing.

I do not see that attitude from the government at all. I do not see that planning attitude implicit in what it is doing, and the federal government still holds all the cards when it comes to northern development.

We need to take the part of the legislation dealing with the proposed NWT Surface Rights Board and give it close examination in committee. That is where we want to go. We will find out there what people really think and how to make this work for us. That is our goal.

We had hoped that the bill could be split so that the territories could be dealt with as separate entities. We are not all the same. I do not agree with the minister's attitude that the three territories should be dealt with as one unit; we are not one unit.

Nunavut has one common government and one land claim. It has a system it has designed for itself. The Yukon has a completely different system of party politics, which has been established over many years. In the Northwest Territories, we are different. We have six major claims areas that are going to have self-government and a large say in the resources and the development of those particular regions. We do not want that changed.

If the members were to talk to people in the Northwest Territories, they would see that they are not talking about giving up their unique identity. They are not talking about getting in line with the other two territories and marching to the same drum as good little soldiers for the federal government's plans. No, we have our own way of dealing with ourselves, just as Alberta has its own way and puts up with the representation it has.

We have our own way. I have been elected three times by the people of the Northwest Territories on a strong environmental platform. I did not get elected simply on resource development; I got elected because people knew I would stand here and speak up for the values that we hold in the Northwest Territories. That is what I am going to do every day I am here. I do not care what Albertans say, I do not care what Ontarians say: I am here for the people of the Northwest Territories.

We look forward to the bill coming to committee, but it needs a fulsome discussion there. If the Conservative government thinks this is simply a slam dunk, it can forget about it.