Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to add my voice to the unanimous support for Bill S-201, including the support of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and my colleagues from Sudbury and Halifax West.
Today we are exploring an idea that should meet with unanimous agreement across this House. It is an idea that seeks to properly recognize, honour and further encourage the important work of Canada's philanthropic sector and the millions of citizens who daily donate their time, energy and money, even now in times when all these precious resources are challenged.
In legislative terms, this bill is relatively simple. However, the core message it sends to volunteers and the organizations they support is long overdue. It is a message that simply says “Thank you, we hear you, we see you and appreciate your efforts”. Although it seems that we live in an age of cynicism, this is a message and an idea that can and must resonate far beyond the walls of this House. The impact that charitable work and philanthropy have had on our history, the crucial role they play in sustaining communities from coast to coast to coast, as well as the potential contribution they will make to our common future is an idea that is well worth recognizing.
A responsible government has an absolutely essential role in supporting the most vulnerable members of our society and it can do so in a number of critical ways: by providing social, economic and personal security, and a viable infrastructure and a sustainable environment. However, government cannot do it all. This is where the compassion and the passion of individuals to do for themselves and for others comes into play. Throughout our history, conscientious citizens have acted autonomously to address the imbalances and imperfections of their generation. It is those individuals who contributed to the building of our society, who contributed to the building of our social safety net, and who enfranchised women and those who were kept apart from the dominant mainstream culture. It is those who fought for civil rights for all. It is those who encouraged the most desperate to get back on their feet, and it is a legacy that lives on today. It lives on in the work of countless community groups, advocacy organizations and faith-based and cultural groups who enrich our communities daily. It lives on through the volunteer firefighters who risk everything simply because it is the right thing to do. It lives on when a church, a synagogue or mosque rallies to provide for its followers, and when a coach forfeit his or her weekend for the chill of a rink. It lives on when Canadians lead the world in per capita donations to earthquake-ravaged Haiti or tsunami-ravaged Japan.
The premise or idea of this bill brings to mind words from one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said that philanthropy was commendable but must never give even the most generous philanthropist an excuse to overlook the circumstances of injustice that make philanthropy necessary. In these times, the circumstances that make philanthropy necessary are more evident. The gifts of time and financial support are getting harder to find, not because of cynicism but because those who would give have less to give.
With a budget looming on the horizon that potentially threatens the foundations of the social programs upon which so many people count for assistance, and similar austerity measures anticipated at the provincial and municipal levels, there is a real likelihood that an even more crushing weight will be assumed by volunteer organizations. Already we hear disturbing accounts of long lines at food banks or of over-strained shelters and declining access to social services for those fortunate enough to be employed.
As parliamentarians, we are by definition representatives of communities. Whatever small part of this nation we represent, each of us has surely come to know the everyday Canadian heroes and heroines this bill seeks to honour.
In my riding, Jeanne-Le Ber, I see the enormous contribution that volunteers involved in social causes that affect their communities make to our society every day.
There are hundreds of outstanding examples of social commitment among volunteers and the organizations they represent: the Regroupement Information Logement de Pointe Saint-Charles seeks to improve conditions in social housing and empower people to improve their living conditions; the Table de concertation Action-Gardien encourages groups and individuals to mobilize around social, political, economic and urban issues; the organization called J'apprends avec mon enfant works with young people to prevent them from dropping out of school and promote the joy of reading; the Réseau d'entraide de Verdun does food security work with disadvantaged people in the community; DESTA Black Youth Network offers mentoring for marginalized young adults in the areas of education, employment and personal growth; the Centre communautaire des femmes actives offers a full range of activities to break down isolation and develop greater autonomy among women in Saint-Henri and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
All these examples illustrate the tremendous work done every day by the organizations and activists in my community to combat poverty and promote a fairer and more just society.
They are the conscientious, compassionate and engaged citizens who when seeing someone in need are compelled to come to their aid. They make the fight their own. Seeing persistent injustice, they choose not to sit on their hands. They, acting as individuals, personify this nation's fundamental decency, and by extension they become ambassadors of the Canadian spirit. It is only right that we honour them, but we must go further. It is my hope that we do more to support and encourage those who give so much to their communities.
My friend from Halifax West deserves immense credit for his efforts. As such, I close by expressing my support for the bill on behalf of the many people and organizations in my riding and invite all of my hon. colleagues to do the same.