Mr. Speaker, I have tremendous respect for some of the things the member said about volunteers, because as we all know, they are some of the greatest Canadians in doing some tremendously important work in our country. However, I do have some concerns about the bill.
The NDP has been known to repeatedly promise Canadians some extravagant things. It insists on saying it is going to build this, start that program, focus on giving this group a tax credit and so on. However, to be very frank and honest, this would grow government. It would cost Canadians more money. Taxpayers pay for these things.
Therefore, when I asked the member where he got the $800 million cost figure he provided, I was quite surprised at his response, because I did not expect him to be defensive. I inquired because Canadians want to know how we are going to pay for this. I am going to continue to ask the member to consider putting forward exactly where those numbers came from.
As my NDP colleague said, this would cost $800 million. However, he did not want to say where he got that number or who reviewed and confirmed the cost estimate. Since this would involve considerable new spending, did the NDP determine where the money would come from? What tax do they plan to increase? What program do they plan to make cuts to?
Again, I am saying this with tremendous respect because I too feel that volunteers have done a number of things to ensure that the country goes forward and succeeds.
I would like to applaud and thank all volunteers for the hard work they do right across Canada. We all know someone in our community who has done some remarkable things. They have given time selflessly to improve the quality of life for those in need and they do it without expectation of reward or any kind of recognition but because they care and want to make a difference in their communities. This is what drives them. I thank them, on behalf of the government, for all that they do.
As writer Erma Bombeck once remarked “Volunteers are...[those] who reflect...compassion, unselfish caring, patience and just plain love for one another”.
Currently, Canada has one of the largest charitable and non-profit sectors in the world, with more than 160,000 charities and non-profit organizations helping those in need from coast to coast to coast. Our Conservative government stands right behind those charities with special tax support, considered to be among the most generous in the world. This includes the charitable donations tax credit, which encourages Canadians to support those great organizations. In fact, federal tax support for Canada's charities is nearly $3 billion each and every year.
However, we all recognize that it is always possible to do more to help our charities accomplish their work. That is why, since 2006, the Conservative government has been providing increased support to charities through special tax assistance measures and tax incentives.
I am referring specifically to the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to charities and private foundations; the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of ecologically sensitive lands to public conservation charities; the reform of the disbursement quota to reduce the administrative burden on charities and allow them to devote their time and energy to helping people in need; and the crackdown on certain unscrupulous people who take advantage of the charitable sector.
I am pleased to say that all these measures have helped charities across Canada and the volunteers that support them by increasing the donations made to their noble causes.
In fact, the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of securities has been tremendously successful. For example, the United Way of Toronto alone estimates it receives tens of millions of dollars a year because of this change. It has declared that “The tax benefits are certainly having a very big benefit on local charitable organizations”.
Owen Charters of CanadaHelps, an online fundraising portal for charities, has also noted, “We've been quite surprised by the popularity. It was small steps at the beginning, but it has really grown”.
Nevertheless, even with all of these positive steps to help charities, we know that more could still be done.
That is why shortly after the 2011 election our Conservative government asked the House of Commons finance committee to undertake an open public study to find out from Canadians directly the best way we could further increase charitable donations.
I should note that the inspiration for that study and the government's request was Motion No. 559 by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, a motion that was adopted by Parliament in March 2011. I thank my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo for all he has done and continues to do in support of the charitable sector here in Canada. Rest assured that charities and volunteers could have no better or stronger advocate in their corner than Parliament and our member himself.
The finance committee, which I am a member of, has been vigorously undertaking that task since January of this year. We have already had dozens of meetings and received submissions from over 50 charitable groups as well as Canadian volunteers from all across the country.
Throughout the hearings and in reviewing the submissions, we have heard a range of proposals from charities and volunteers about what we can do to further support Canada's charitable sector. I must note they have all been very appreciative of the measures this Conservative government has put forward since 2006. They were disappointed that the NDP did not support many of them.
None of these charities or volunteers have let it be known that the proposal presented today by the NDP would constitute an effective way for them to help people in need. In fact, this came up only once during the review by the Standing Committee on Finance. The reason for this is obvious if we examine the NDP's proposal a little more closely. This proposal raises serious issues and concerns. It would be very costly, extremely difficult to control and it is not clear if it would be worth it. It would also impose a large administrative burden on charities and volunteers.
Before I talk more about these concerns, I would like to clearly inform Canadians that volunteers are already receiving special tax treatment to support their efforts. More specifically, volunteers receive a tax exemption on the reimbursement of their expenses, which means that any costs incurred by volunteers, including travel costs, can be completely reimbursed on a tax-free basis. Thus, if people have to travel on behalf of a charity, they can be reimbursed for their expenses—mileage, gas, meals and other costs—and that reimbursement will not be taxed.
The NDP's proposal raises many concerns.
First, it would increase the administrative burden on charities by requiring each charity and non-profit that believes it deals primarily with vulnerable populations to precisely track the number of hours and to keep records of such travel.
Second, it would require government officials to subjectively determine what constitutes a vulnerable population and determine on a case-by-case basis if each of Canada's 85,000 registered charities serves that subjectively determined group, and then determine whether or not each qualifies for the special tax break. That would be a radical departure from the existing practice of treating all registered charities objectively.
Third, the cost would be significant.
These are just a few of the preoccupations the bill raises. I would encourage the member across the way to think about those preoccupations of Canadians as he moves forward, and to perhaps address some of the concerns so that we might better understand how his party intends to pay for this without raising taxes and without further damaging the process.