House of Commons Hansard #224 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-55.


National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the words of my hon. colleague and the support of both he and, I presume, the Liberal Party.

I could not agree more with respect to the importance of charitable organizations and the important role they play in our respective communities across the country, the important work they do and the difference they, their staff and their volunteers make in the lives of people who live in our communities.

Like many of us, I have had the great fortune of being involved in a number of charitable organizations. I have seen them first-hand and I have been inspired by the work they do. It is important for me, as I have been working since first elected, to find mechanisms and opportunities to encourage Canadians to increase their support of charitable organizations so they continue and perhaps even enhance the important work they do serving our society.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise on this important debate. I want to say in advance that the official opposition will be in support of the bill. However, it would take it to committee where we think it must be examined before we can sign on entirely to what would at first blush seem to be a fairly straightforward and sensible bill. Let me explain.

I salute my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo for introducing the bill. It has, as he indicated, two separate points. The first is that the Income Tax Act would be amended to provide that charitable gifts, crown gifts, cultural gifts, and ecological gifts made by an individual within 60 days of the end of a taxation year may be deducted from the taxable income of the individual for that taxation year. It would be like, as I understand it, RRSPs, for which there is a later timeline after the taxation year and which can be counted retroactively. That is the first part. The second is to establish a national charities week.

There are essentially two issues that need to be addressed, two separate components that need to be taken into account. We need to examine at committee very carefully the impact on federal revenues the bill might have, total charitable giving and the distribution of charitable giving. All must be taken into account if we are to accept this in the House as a positive step. The true cost is very difficult to examine. I will come to that later, but that is what must be taken into account if we are to examine the bill carefully.

As I understand it, the origin of this concept was a recommendation made by tax lawyers Drache Aptowitzer, who appeared before the finance committee in its study of tax incentives for charitable organizations in October 2012. I think my colleague alluded to that. This occurred before I had the honour of serving on the finance committee. I was not there for that report. I will have more to say later about it.

There have been a lot of challenges facing charities in this country resulting, of course, in part, from the very precarious economic environment facing Canadians during the fiscal crisis of the last couple of years but also, it must be said, based on the attacks on the charitable sector by the Conservative government.

As the member for Victoria, with a strong environmental presence, I have had numerous constituents come to me and ask what is going on in Ottawa. Why is it that the CRA is targeting charities, requiring in some cases, I am advised, hundreds of thousands of dollars in audit costs because these primarily environmental charities were not well liked by the government. That is a very serious accusation. Yet charitable organizations are suffering not only under that concern but also from an increase in red tape, which is ironic, because that was one of the key recommendations of the report on charities alluded to by my colleague. I will have more to say about that in a moment as well.

In order to understand the first element of this, which is the creation of a week, as I understand it, at the end of February to salute charities, we need to take into account that there have already been other statutes proposed and enacted to deal with the charitable sector. For example, there was Bill C-399 on a tax credit for volunteers, Bill S-201 to create a national philanthropy day, tax incentives for a charitable donation study, which the finance committee has undertaken, and so forth and so on.

The context needs to be understood. Is it going to add value to have such a week to salute our charities in light of that reality? That needs to be understood. Again, it is something a committee could look at more carefully. We recommended and support this initiative so that a committee can look at it in the context I have just described.

The government's approach seems to find ways to increasingly transfer what we used to think of as government responsibilities to the private sector. Charities, in short, are often required by the government to take up the slack in what used to be governmental activities.

In my community, we have The Mustard Seed and Our Place. There are innumerable food banks from coast to coast to coast. These charities are doing what many Canadians think is the responsibility of the government. That is something that is increasingly a problem.

No less an authority than the Fraser Institute has indicated that Canadians give only about half as much as our American friends do to charities. Perhaps we are taxed more. Perhaps we are less generous people. I do not know. My friend has indicated that the donor base is in fact going down. Therefore, we need to understand the implications of the second part of the bill in an already quite fragile situation.

I indicated that the government on the one hand is encouraging Canadians to give more. At the same time, it is taking away essential public services.

I want to go to the place the bill originated, which was with the recommendations of the law firm Drache Aptowitzer. I looked at some of the writings they have posted on their website to try to understand where the bill would fit. Sadly, they report that the Conservative government is making charitable donations even more difficult for Canadians.

In an article called “T3010: Mounting Complexity for Charities”, they report that it is getting harder and harder, despite recommendations to the contrary. The breadth of information now required, they state, is enormous. They give a list of forms and information charities are required to provide that is astounding. A booklet of 40 pages in length is provided. There is form T3010, the registered charity information return; form TF725, the registered charity basic information sheet; the financial statements of the charities; and the directors/trustees and like officials worksheet. There are pages of schedules.

What they say, the same people who have recommended this 60-day period, which is the second phase of the bill, is that we now have schedule 7, another form, and that “this has to do with political activity which of course is a hot topic for government”. They continue that in the 2012 budget “there were several announcements about third party political funding and in particular, funding from outside Canada”, and the author states: “How dare those Americans meddle in a Canadian environmental issue!”

They say that the request for information would be very difficult to comply with and point out that a lot of expensive audits would be required.

The official opposition is concerned about the way charities have been targeted if they are not popular with the government. That is something I am hearing daily in my riding.

Imagine Canada and the charitable organizations it represents have a lot of mixed feelings about Bill C-458. They like the concept, but like us, they are very concerned about the administration.

The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants has said that by extending the deadline date by 60 days, from December 31 to the end of February, there will be administrative issues that will create concerns, namely the provision of receipts from the charities to donors to meet the deadline dates for personal tax returns, April 30, and trust returns, March 31.

The Canadian Bar Association, of which I am a proud member, has expressed similar concerns.

The costs are hard to imagine and hard to estimate. Would it result in an increase in personal donations? Perhaps. One would hope so. However, we need to examine carefully the real cost of this initiative.

The NDP will be supporting the bill so that it can be examined with the care it deserves at the finance committee or at the appropriate committee.

With that, I would just like to say that on the one hand the Conservatives are claiming to be helping charitable organizations, but on the other hand often cutting funding for those charities and making it more difficult with their red tape for them to continue to make the contribution they make to our society.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-458, which my Liberal colleagues and I will be supporting.

Bill C-458 proposes the establishment of a national charities week at the end of February, in order to showcase and celebrate the work of Canada's charitable organizations. Canada's broader not-for-profit sector is as diverse as Canada itself. Charities are wide-ranging in focus and in scope, working on issues as varied as medical research, children's rights and heritage preservation. From food banks to hospitals to synagogues to theatres, Canada's charities make a difference in communities across the country. They do great work and they deserve our support. They certainly have the country's support, for there is no doubt that Canadians are generous, compassionate and community-minded.

According to the 2010 Canada survey of giving, volunteering and participating, nearly half of Canadians aged 15 and over volunteer. All together, they give 2.1 billion hours of their time to charities and not-for-profits; 84% give financially, contributing an average of $446. People of all ages share in this effort, from youth, who are the most likely to volunteer, to seniors, who give more hours and more money than any other cohort.

Canadians who give to charity can and should take advantage of the tax relief available to them. However, not all donors claim tax credits for their donations. At the moment, the most generous donors and the donors most likely to claim tax credits are those who give on a regular basis and who plan their giving in advance, which leads us to the crux of the bill.

To give one example, monthly donors to Girl Guides of Canada make sure they get income tax receipts. Those of us who buy and enjoy the cookies every spring and autumn do not. The number of people who give in this way is declining. By establishing a national charities week, however, we can work with the not-for-profit sector to encourage Canadians to practise planned giving and to make them more aware of charitable donation tax credits.

Bill C-458 also proposes amending the Income Tax Act so that taxpayers can claim a tax credit for gifts made during a calendar year and during the first 60 days of the following year. In effect, the deadline for eligible charitable donations would coincide with both the national charities week and the deadline for registered retirement savings plan contributions.

In their earlier submission to the Standing Committee on Finance, Mr. Drache and Mr. Aptowitzer made a similar proposal that suggested such a move. They said:

This would allow donors to make decisions when completely informed of their tax situation for the previous year. It would also allow charities and donors to focus on the tax aspects of giving and increase the opportunities for educating taxpayers on the tax incentive of donating.

During his testimony to committee on February 9, 2011, Mr. Aptowitzer stressed that moving the deadline to February would give charities the opportunity to campaign and to get donors to think about charitable giving in the tax context, which is something that the committee talked about as being a new thing for the tax code.

While it is true that Canadians associate the end of February with the tax preparation and the RRSP deadline, we should note that the parallel between RRSP contributions and charitable donations is not exact. They both reduce taxable income, but Canadians who contribute to an RRSP are also putting money toward their own retirement. Essentially, they are paying themselves. It is important that we bear that difference in mind and not assume that Canadians will start thinking about charitable giving in the same way that they think about their RRSPs. That said, there is no doubt that the considerable efforts made to educate Canadians about the tax aspects of RRSP contributions have led more people to contribute to their RRSPs and that making the same effort on behalf of charitable donations could have a decided impact.

There are certain issues that a committee study would need to address. In particular, we would need to hear from charities and non-profit organizations about how the proposed changes to the tax deadline might affect their fundraising strategies and annual cycles of donations. Currently, the tax deadline coincides with the end of the winter holiday giving season. Many charities base major fundraising campaigns around the December holidays. They are the experts on what works and what resources they have available and we should take our consultations with them very seriously.

It should also be noted that the fiscal impact of Bill C-458 is still unclear since it will be largely dependent on donor behaviour. At the moment, donation tax credits for individuals costs the federal treasury approximately $2.4 billion per year. If the bill's outreach measures are as successful as we hope they will be and more Canadians claim the charitable tax donation tax credit, that figure will rise. A committee study should include detailed modelling so that parliamentarians have an accurate idea of how much Bill C-458 would cost.

While it raises some questions that would need to be answered at the finance committee, Bill C-458 provides Canadians with an opportunity to celebrate their charitable sector and educate each other about charitable giving. I thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for introducing the bill and invite all members to join me and the Liberal Party in supporting it.

On the point of charitable giving, I personally am from the most charitable province of all, Newfoundland and Labrador. I do not mean to play favourites, but nonetheless it is a bragging point for a small province such as we are. I like to think that on all occasions we punch above our weight, certainly when it comes to charitable donations. Our volunteer base is incredibly large for our small communities. In my riding alone there are over 198 communities. There are well over 800 communities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador alone. Many smaller remote communities in both areas, on the island and the mainland of Labrador, benefit from charitable donations, not just financially but also in volunteer hours spent at bake sales and dinners in these areas.

Our most treasured volunteer groups in the province would be the volunteer firefighters and the volunteer search and rescue. These people spend an incredible amount of hours involved in raising money, keeping our communities safe and in many ways allowing our communities to thrive. Our children have activities and get involved in their communities based on what inspires them, and what inspires them are the people who give hours to their community.

All of that would not be possible if it was not for the generosity of many individual Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Many companies and businesses give an incredible amount of money to their local communities, whether it be for local festivals or a fundraiser for a person who needs help for health reasons.

I have been to several fundraisers in my riding and throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, as my colleagues from Random—Burin—St. George's and Avalon can attest to. They have been to many fundraisers where certain people need help, whether it be for health reasons or to get somewhere for some sporting event. We do this all the time. It is inbred within us to give, as our children will give and our parents give. This bill is the type of measure that allows better contributions. It allows people and companies to give and financially plan better.

Therefore, as a party we support the bill for all the reasons mentioned, such as the planning aspect and the end of year coinciding with RRSP contributions. I would advise the committee to consider how they would publicize this tax credit in order to take full advantage of it. Whether it is the biggest city or the smallest community, this definitely is of benefit to not only the small communities but the volunteers who give and make it worthwhile.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-458, a private member's bill introduced by my friend and colleague, the member for Kitchener—Waterloo. I will support this bill at second reading and I hope all members on both sides of the House do the same. It has certainly received some positive support in the speeches I have heard thus far, which I also appreciate.

As the member for Kitchener—Waterloo pointed out, the bill would establish the last seven days of February as national charities week and would extend the tax deadline to claim charitable donations from December 31 to the end of March, matching the deadline for RRSP contributions. The member's objective is obviously quite noble, seeking to encourage a greater number of Canadians to give more generously to charities, supporting these organizations in their valuable work both in Canada and around the world. As chair of the finance committee, I hope and fully expect that Bill C-458 will be supported by all parties and I look forward to further discussion and analysis of this proposal, including hearing from the member and from a wide range of groups in the charitable sector.

However, before I speak directly to the legislation before the House today, I will take an opportunity, as his colleague, to recognize the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his truly outstanding record in support of the charitable sector since first being elected in 2008. In 2010, he sponsored Motion No. 559, which called for the Standing Committee on Finance to study tax incentives for charitable donations, a motion that was supported by all parties. Having a colleague supported by all parties is quite unique in the House. I am very happy to report that after extensive work last year and into early this year, the finance committee completed that important study, and I encourage all parliamentarians and Canadians to view that study.

As chair of the committee, I can tell the House that we heard important evidence showing the need for the government to help foster and promote a culture of giving. Not only that, but we learned that tax incentives had a definite role to play in increasing the number of new donors and encouraging existing donors to give even more. I am pleased to report that the committee's study brought attention to the importance of charitable giving. I am confident it will help inform the government's further action to support charities.

With this outcome, we can all agree that the member's contributions to date have truly been invaluable. His reputation in this regard is well known. Imagine Canada, the leading umbrella organization representing Canadian charities, has praised the member's willingness to consult with it on new ideas, saying, “[The member] has been and continues to be a real champion for the charitable sector...He demonstrates a sound understanding of the issues we’re facing”. I am sure my colleagues on both sides of the House will agree with that assessment and will join our government in sending the bill to the finance committee for the hearing that it deserves.

In supporting this proposal to committee, a proposal which was raised during the previous study which I mentioned, we can ensure that it will be carefully considered by both parliamentarians and charities alike. At committee, we can answer the questions that have been raised by members during this debate today. We can conduct a thorough examination of the bill.

An important consideration is how this proposal will be effective in encouraging Canadians to increase their donations. A study at the finance committee will help us to determine to what degree a later deadline for annual contributions will impact donations and at what cost. We will also hear from charities about the potential impact of a March 1 deadline on their ability to deliver important services to Canadians.

Currently, organizations have about six to eight weeks following the end of the year to get tax receipts to donors for early filing. If the deadline were to be moved 12 weeks later, charities would obviously have to make the necessary administrative adjustments. However, the most important reason for members to vote to send the bill to committee is that charities could share their views on this important bill and on this topic.

On the larger issues of charities, which I want to address and which some other members have spoken about today, I emphasize that our Conservative government fully supports the important work of charities to improve the lives of Canadians who rely on their support. Each and every day, selfless and remarkable volunteers make a difference in lives all across the country without expecting anything in return. In fact, there are over 160,000 Canadian charities and non-profit organizations that support worthwhile causes in our communities. That is an amazing number, of which all members should be proud.

That is why our government is committed to the charitable sector and we have continuously strengthened that commitment, including successive actions to improve tax incentives for donations. I will remind members of a few of these actions.

Budget 2006 exempted gifts of publicly listed securities from capital gains tax and extended that exemption to donations of ecologically sensitive land to public conservation charities.

Budget 2008 extended the exemption to certain donations of exchangeable shares.

Budget 2010 significantly reformed the disbursement quota rules for charities, reducing administrative complexity and better enabling charities to focus their time and resources on their charitable activities.

Budgets 2011 and 2012 introduced important integrity measures to ensure transparency and accountability for charities designed to combat fraud and abuse in the charitable sector, helping to increase the confidence of Canadians that their hard-earned dollars would be used exactly in the spirit that they were intended.

Our government wholeheartedly supports the intent of Bill C-458, and I applaud the selfless efforts by my hon. colleague to better support charities in carrying out their important work. Indeed, the bill has the potential to encourage Canadians to give more generously to charities than ever before, empowering these organizations to make an even bigger difference in communities across our country.

Nevertheless, it is vital that my colleagues on the finance committee and all parliamentarians have an opportunity to examine the bill in greater detail to ensure charities have an opportunity to share their perspective on this unique and very exciting proposal.

I would like to quote from a recent National Post editorial that praised the legislation before us today, noting that:

Too often of late, private member’s bills have served explicitly partisan ends. [The member for Kitchener—Waterloo's] Bill C-458, however, seeks to improve the lot of needy citizens simply by adjusting a bureaucratic formality. This is the sort of effort we’d like to see more of in parliament...

Speaking as someone who has been in this chamber for over 12 years, the member for Kitchener—Waterloo serves as an example for all of us in terms of how we can have an impact on a policy process, how we can have an impact on the budgets that are presented in the House of Commons and how we can truly improve the lives of Canadians from coast to coast.

I am therefore very proud to support the bill at second reading. I hope we can study it at the finance committee as soon as possible. I encourage all members on both sides of the House to support it.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, naturally, we are going to support Bill C-458 since it is well-intentioned and the NDP supports the charitable sector.

Nevertheless, I would like to say that the Conservatives' rhetoric is causing confusion. On the one hand, they claim to support charitable organizations, but on the other, they are cutting funding for such organizations and constantly attacking them. There is every reason to believe that the government's approach to the charitable sector is to gradually transfer its responsibility toward Canadians to the private sector. I would like to remind the government that it is and must remain responsible for, among other things, essential public services.

Now, I will explain the two main components of this bill. First, this bill seeks to amend the Income Tax Act by extending by 60 days following the end of a taxation year the period during which people would be eligible for a tax credit for donations made to charities for that same tax year. Second, the bill seeks to establish a national charities week during the last week of February.

We support this bill in order to send it to committee. There, we will try to make the changes necessary to make it into a financially responsible bill that meets the needs of Canadian workers.

For the moment, the financial cost estimates are based only on hypotheses about how people will react to the extension of the tax credit deadline. I do not think that is good enough, and I think we could do much better.

The Standing Committee on Finance needs to have a more specific idea of the cost of such a measure and it needs to know that this bill is an appropriate response to the problems faced by charitable organizations. We also do not have any evidence to show that a national charities week in February would really benefit this sector.

Many charitable organizations also expressed concerns that were mainly administrative in nature. They intend to raise these issues when the bill goes to committee. They are also of the opinion that the bill could help to solve this sector's problems but that it is certainly not the be-all and end-all.

Efforts to increase charitable donations are commendable and we support them. However, we also have to ensure that an in-depth analysis is conducted of the impact this bill would have on federal revenues, as well as on the total amount of donations and their distribution. That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about some of the most fundamental aspects of this bill and the Canadian tax system.

Although charity work is important, the government's actions are as well. A lot of churches and other shelters for the homeless, run by the private sector, keep people from freezing to death on the street, but governments here and elsewhere in the world have found that the only long-term solution is affordable housing.

Cancer research centres can be managed privately, but some of the best research comes out of publicly funded universities and hospitals. Yes, it is important to ensure that charities can continue to function, but when the government abandons its responsibilities toward vulnerable groups by delegating those responsibilities to the charitable sector, damage can be significant.

People who count on systems that the government puts in place may not find the private sector alternative right away. When the government behaves this way, it hurts the people directly affected by government assistance and communities as a whole.

Furthermore, if the government tries to make the legislation work through the tax system, it could end up abandoning the less fortunate. Often, the government's special tax exemptions are given only to individuals who are well off.

This does not mean that they do not need it—far from it—and we must continue to work at lowering the cost of living for everyone. However, all I am saying is that a single mother with three children who earns $23,000 a year needs more help than a family with two people earning $50,000 each. Up until now, the government has chosen to ignore the single mother.

In 2009, 33.4% of Canadians did not pay taxes. They therefore could not benefit from the government's many attempts to legislate through taxes. Critics consider them lucky, but these are seniors living below the poverty line.

These are students who cannot eat balanced meals because they do not have enough money left over after paying for books and tuition. These are the least fortunate who work for minimum wage or even less if they work in the service industry. If they have children, their expenses double or triple.

When the government promises tax breaks, all these people hear is that they will receive fewer resources from this government. In many cases, the least fortunate are not informed of the tax breaks offered by the government and they obviously do not get an accountant to fill out their tax returns. It is not complicated. Even if they pay taxes and are entitled to exemptions, these people often do not have the knowledge or expertise to take advantage of them.

Some will say that these people should simply go to an accountant, but if the single mother of three I mentioned earlier can save $60 by filling out her tax return on her own, so she can buy groceries for her kids, it is obvious which choice she will make.

We need to be realistic. This government has used targeted tax exemptions to solidify its slim support in ridings across the country as it saw fit. It did so with little regard for those most in need, and with even less regard for a balanced budget for the country. Another year goes by with another deficit and another round of cuts to social programs, jobs and employment insurance benefits.

This government has a bad habit of saying that it helps charitable organizations, but then cuts their funding and attacks organizations that defend positions that are not in keeping with the government's policies. Take Rights and Democracy, for example. The government decided to put an end to that non-governmental rights group, which had gained worldwide clout and an international reputation since its creation in 1988. The Conservatives interfered politically and appointed people who defended the Conservative ideology within the organization. At the time, dozens of public servants denounced the Conservatives' political interference.

That is how the government works. When an organization refutes its ideology, it simply cuts that organization off. If no specific organization is in the crosshairs, the government simply slashes international development aid, as it did in the last budget.

Although we support the charitable sector, we deplore the Conservative government's lack of long-term vision for the sector. This sector needs a comprehensive, coherent, long-term policy. Expecting the charitable sector to become an alternative to essential government services is completely absurd. Organizations working in this area should not replace government in offering services to the people. If that is the case, then that does not bode well for the country.

If we want to avoid an explosion in demand for charitable services, the government simply needs to do its job and maintain and invest in social programs. We will support this bill at second reading so that it can be examined more closely in committee. It is important to support the charitable sector in Canada as part of a long-term vision and without losing sight of the government's responsibilities towards the public.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate, before I recognize the hon. member for Crowfoot, I will just let him know that we will need to interrupt him at 18 minutes after the hour, so he have about 6 minutes, roughly, not the full 10 minutes that he might be expecting.

The hon. member for Crowfoot.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

March 19th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.


Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents in the Alberta riding of Crowfoot to participate in the private member's debate brought forward by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Kitchener—Waterloo.

First, I would start by saying that the Good Book says that it is more blessed to give than to receive. For all members of Parliament from all sides, as we look around our constituencies at the various charitable organizations that are volunteering their time and are doing everything they can to support good causes, we want to thank them. We also agree that there is a satisfaction, a feeling of being blessed, when we can be part of that and give in a charitable way. Anything we can do to help enhance that type of giving is to be commended.

Therefore, I thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo. I had some questions about Bill C-458 initially and I sat down here in the House with the member for Kitchener—Waterloo. I understood that this was a member who had a passion for charitable organizations and for trying to do the right thing. There is no hidden agenda here. It is simply a question of how he can better move charitable organizations forward so that people can be part of that blessing, so to speak, of being able to give and to donate to these good causes.

In that stand, he has introduced Bill C-458, which proposes mainly two changes. The first change would create a national charities week in the last week of February each year. My colleague also wants to amend Canada's Income Tax Act. He would extend the deadline for people claiming charitable gifts for tax purposes from December 31 of the taxation year to 60 days after that to match the deadline for contributions for RRSPs.

This is an admirable attempt to help Canadians contribute to those less fortunate. All members of the House want to commend our colleague for bringing these two ideas to debate here in the House of Commons. The member for Kitchener—Waterloo, as it has already been stated, is earning quite a reputation for himself and his constituents as being one who cares about charities. We congratulate him and recognize that.

Previously, his private member's Motion No. 559 prompted a study by the House of Commons finance committee, which brought major attention to the needs of charities. In turn, his motion prompted a national conversation about the good work of these organizations in Canada. The committee's subsequent work report will no doubt inform the government's future action on support for those charities, potentially as soon as the upcoming budget 2013.

I can say to my constituents and to all Canadians listening to this debate that our Conservative government understands the value of the selfless work of charities and of the volunteers that make them successful. I see the value of this work in my constituency. It is remarkable to see the generosity and hard work of many churches, youth groups, schools, seniors groups and local organizations in my riding. I take this opportunity to commend all of them.

I am invited to many charitable events and fundraisers throughout the year in my riding. As a former businessman who owned an auction company and was an auctioneer, I am able to be the auctioneer for some of these events. I tell all of the charities in my riding that nobody wants to hear my speech, but they all want me to come and do the auction sale for them. Through this work, I have the opportunity to meet with many key people in the community, both in the volunteer sector and those who contribute through their finances.

Bill C-458 has some potential to increase the incentives that already exist for Canadians to give money generously to charities. It would facilitate even more good work in communities here in Canada and around the world. That is why it is important for the bill to be studied closely.

Canadians support the House engaging in a full assessment of the implications of the bill. We will be paying close attention to what stakeholders and those involved in carrying out our charitable work have to say. As my colleagues have noted, Canada already has one of the most generous systems of tax support for charitable donations in the world.

Our Conservative government has already introduced several measures in recent years to enhance incentives for donations. We have taken action to improve transparency and accountability in the charitable sector, including through measures announced in economic action plan 2012.

I want to thank the member for bringing this bill forward. A study in the House of Commons would be a very positive thing, and I look forward to the bill passing.

National Charities Week ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Crowfoot will have four minutes remaining when the House resumes debate on this bill.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have taken so much money from the employment insurance fund in the past that we are no longer able to provide benefits to workers all year round. In order to make up for the lack of money and competence, the Liberals brought in pilot projects in an attempt to cover the black hole that appears in the spring.

The Conservatives are now eliminating this vital program. Additional weeks of employment insurance benefits are designed to help seasonal workers make ends meet before the work season starts. Otherwise, they end up in a black hole of several weeks without income.

The pilot project must continue. It is shameful for a government to leave thousands of workers in poverty. It is even more shameful on the part of the Conservatives because they have not learned from past mistakes when the Liberals tried to bring in EI reforms in the 1990s.

In the long term, we need a real reform that will actually meet the needs of workers. After all, employment insurance belongs to the workers and to employers. It is time to stop taking away what is rightfully theirs.

The minister must understand that her reform is having direct, serious consequences on thousands of workers and employers. She would know this if she had asked for impact studies before pushing ahead with a reform that is so out of touch with reality. However, the minister refuses to listen.

When representatives of the entire eastern Quebec region went to her to explain how her reform will affect them, she called the evidence given by representatives of the Coalition de l'Est myths. As they say, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

The employment insurance reform is having serious consequences, but the minister continues to call those consequences myths. It is not a myth when thousands of people are all saying that this reform is hurting them.

However, what is a myth is the minister's assertion that inspectors do not have a quota, when we now know that they are all supposed to cut nearly $500,000 each in benefits per year. The minister should be able to distinguish something that is a myth from something that is not.

Clearly, real studies and real consultations are needed before any reforms are made to something as important as employment insurance. However, the minister recently admitted that no impact studies were conducted. She said simply that some analyses were done, but we know nothing about those analyses. We cannot be sure of anything in terms of what those analyses were based on. Once again, the government is working in the dark.

How can such major changes be made without any studies? Will the minister make those analyses public, so we can see what she based her reform on?

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I think the question we had on the order paper tonight was about Parks Canada, but I am always happy to talk about job growth and creation in Canada.

On my colleague's question and point, first, with regard to the EI reforms that our government has made, they have been made with one key principle in mind, and that is the sustainability of the program, to ensure it is there for the future for those who need it.

My colleague spoke a lot about jobs and job creation. It is always a wonderful opportunity to speak about our government's jobs and growth record. I believe the figure, which we can be very proud of, is that our government has seen the creation of over 900,000 net new jobs in the country since we have taken office and since the turn of the economy in the country. That is a record that we can be proud of not only at home but, comparatively speaking, internationally.

Our country is one where we have seen economic growth, month over month, quarter over quarter, slow, steady, predictable growth because of the way our economy has been managed and because of our focus on ensuring prosperity in all industrial sectors.

To be able to speak in the House to ensuring jobs growth is a wonderful thing. It is also timely given the fact, and again because environment was on the order paper and it is a subject I love to speak to, of the Leader of the Opposition's recent trip to the United States.

He spoke today at length in question period about value-added jobs. I wish I would have had the opportunity to stand and ask him what he would say to the value-added workers in the oil sands sector, the manufacturing sector and the finance sector and if he would try to explain to them why he would potentially advocate against energy infrastructure for our country.

We talk about jobs. We talk about employment insurance. To educate the Leader of the Opposition just a touch on how the energy sector works, we need energy infrastructure to get our product to other markets. To lobby against projects so openly, I have to wonder how the members in his party can get up and talk about employment insurance, job creation and all these things when he is lobbying against a key project that would create job growth and prosperity for all the country in an environmentally responsible manner.

Our government has been so focused on asking how we can ensure that our environmental assessment process is robust, how we can ensure that the build out of these projects are environmentally sustainable and how we can ensure that our economy is sustainable long into the future.

The energy sector plays such a key part of that. If we are to talk about employment insurance reform, how can my colleague even bring this up when his leader cannot even make up his mind. He came to my city of Calgary and said that he would not speak against the energy sector and then he did that very thing in Washington the next week.

There needs to be clarity from the NDP on what its job policy is. To me it says that it does not value people in the energy sector and it does not value people who create growth through that sector. This is something the NDP should be a little more clear about.

We were supposed to be talking about Parks Canada tonight according to the order paper. It is always a good opportunity to talk about how our government has actually increased the amount of protected park land in our country by over 50%. It is something we should be cognizant of: jobs, growth and economic prosperity.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment for her flexibility. There clearly was a certain clerical error.

I appreciate her answer. I will point out that in my riding, in the Gaspésie, we have been blessed with both natural resources and a series of public parks and we also have issues with employment and employment insurance. We need to find a proper balance between all of them.

We have a problem with unemployment in Parks Canada in my riding. Services have been cut dramatically. We are back to the problem where even Parks Canada is an employment issue in my riding. We need to develop the economy and have the proper support.

When we created Forillon National Park, we had a plan. Again five years ago, we had yet another confirmation of the plan to bring forward the economy and how we would develop the park to be an economic engine in the riding. We seem to have now abandoned that plan entirely.

Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could address that issue as well. I would ask her to possibly wrap it up within the constrict of employment insurance if she could.

Employment InsuranceAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I accept my colleague's challenge to change or stretch my debate skills tonight on parks and employment insurance. First, with regard to Forillon National Park, the member knows it has been our government that has actually invested millions of dollars into infrastructure for that park specifically. I should have him note too that if he checks the record of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, when we looked at the last estimates, officials spoke about how year over year it had been our government that invested more into parks than when we took office.

We try to ensure that our visitor experience of people in our national park is exceptional, that the ecological integrity component of Parks Canada mandate is also exceptional and that we do this while we expand the amount of protective space in the country. We have done that in the context of creating jobs and growth for all Canadians. It is always a good thing when we can tell Canadians there are future employment prospects for them.

Foreign InvestmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening in adjournment proceedings to follow up on a question I initially asked on November 30, 2012. That question related to the Canada-China investment treaty, but was much more specifically directed to the concerns that were growing not just in Canada, but around the world about the process of arbitration resolution to disputes that existed between so-called investors or transnational corporations and states, meaning governments around the world. Investor state agreements have proliferated since the first one, which was part of NAFTA, chapter 11.

What I tried to shine a light on in my question was unfortunately missed in the response that came from the hon. President of the Treasury Board. What I was trying to talk about was the problem of global ambulance chasers, an elite within global law firms that represent corporations in suits against nations and drum up the business. They go to countries and say that they think they can sue over a new environmental law that country X just brought in and they can help make that happen. Even if the country where it is based does not have investment business in the country where they could sue, they tell it open an office over there and then it can sue.

This was all brought to light as I referred in my question in a report called “Profiting from Injustice. How law firms, arbitrators and financiers are fuelling an investment arbitration boom”. This is a very important aspect of the pending Canada-China investment treaty. The cabinet of this country has the authority, without a vote in the House of Commons, to approve a treaty that would bind Canada for 31 years. Under the terms of that treaty, should a state-owned enterprise of the People's Republic of China find one of our laws to be impinging on its expectation of profit, it can go to arbitrators. This is not a court, not a lawsuit in the typical sense. This is appealing to an arbitration in which three powerful lawyers from this elite group of global ambulance chasers will hear both sides and make a determination for which there is no appeal.

In the course of my question on November 30, I pointed out that this report from Europe blew a hole through the idea that arbitration was impartial and unbiased. In fact, these lawyers, who are working at $1,000 an hour, are part of the same law firms that encourage governments to enter into these treaties and then profit from the arbitrations.

Just to give a sense of this, 15 arbitrators from Europe, Canada and the U.S. have settled 55% of the cases. One of these arbitrators, Juan Fernández-Armesto, an arbitrator from Spain, said:

When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all...Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.

In other words, this process of arbitration to which we will be binding ourselves in the Canada-China investment treaty puts us at the whim of three elite lawyers who are part of a club that is generating millions from legal fees. Countries like the Philippines have had to spend tens of millions of dollars to defend themselves from lawsuits from cigarette companies. We must stop our blind assurances that investment treaties hold no threats for us and really look at whether arbitrations are impartial.

Foreign InvestmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to respond to the question posed on November 30 by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands regarding foreign investment. While she has been talking to one very specific point, my answer is part of a much broader context.

First, I would like to reaffirm this government's commitment to welcoming foreign investment that benefits Canada. The fact is that foreign investment is crucial to the Canadian economy and the prosperity of Canada. It introduces new technologies and practices that promote growth, employment and innovation here at home. Foreign investment brings some of the most productive and specialized firms in the world to Canada and results in some of the highest paying jobs for Canadians.

This government also recognizes that Canadian businesses must compete in a globalized economy, and we are committed to creating the right conditions for Canadian business to succeed internationally. Canada has signed foreign investment promotion and protection agreements, or FIPAs, with numerous countries, which helps connect our firms to the rest of the world and creates a stable, secure environment for two-way investment between Canada and other countries.

FIPAs accomplish their objectives by setting out the respective rights and obligations of the countries that are signatories to the treaty with respect to the treatment of foreign investment. FIPAs seek to ensure that foreign investors will not be treated worse than similarly situated domestic investors or other foreign investors. They will not have their investments expropriated without prompt and adequate compensation, and in any case, they will not be subject to treatment lower than the minimum standards established in customary international law. As well, in most circumstances, investors should be free to invest capital and repatriate their investments and returns.

We will continue our work to secure access to foreign markets in order to ensure the success of our own Canadian businesses abroad. Most recently, Canada entered into a FIPA with China. The agreement will be tabled in the House of Commons pursuant to the government's treaty tabling policy. It will then come into force once the order in council has been approved by the Governor General of Canada and the ratification process in the People's Republic of China has been completed.

With respect to foreign investments, our government has a sound process in place to ensure they benefit Canadians. We have made targeted amendments to the Investment Canada Act that provide greater transparency to the public, more flexibility in enforcement and an alternative to costly and time-consuming litigation. As well, in December, the Prime Minister announced clarifications related to state-owned enterprises to ensure our foreign investment review processes continue to carefully examine investments to ensure they are of benefit to Canada.

Foreign InvestmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to my friend, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. Let me just counter a few of the points that he made.

Not only are foreign investors treated as well as domestic investors under this particular type of perverse treaty, foreign investors are treated way better. There is not a domestic company that could sue the Parliament of Canada because we passed a law it did not like.

That is what Ethyl Corporation of Richmond, Virginia did when it did not like a law passed by the Parliament of Canada to restrict the exposure of Canadians to a manganese-based gasoline additive that causes neurotoxic health effects in people. If it had been manufactured in Canada, that particular company would have been out of luck. Because it was a foreign corporation and had benefit of chapter 11 of NAFTA, it could sue.

Not only that, we do not need investor state agreements to open markets or to get investment. Examine Australia, it is a perfect case. It has 10 times more investment from China than Canada. The Australians are at over $600 million in investments from China, but they have refused to sign an investment treaty because they have decided, with a cost-benefit analysis, that such a treaty could create more cost and more damages than benefits.

Foreign InvestmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, often from the other side we hear of their opposition to these free trade agreements we are making. Under this government, Canada is open for business.

We will continue to provide an economic climate that allows Canadian firms to prosper. To that end, we welcome foreign investment that provides net benefit for Canadians and helps grow the economy. We will not go down the path of protectionism. Canada cannot afford to fall behind. Instead, this government will take a responsible approach to foreign investment.

The recent foreign investment promotion and protection agreement that was entered into with China will help protect Canadians investing in China, and lead to jobs and economic growth here in Canada.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I spoke in question period on February 7, I shared with the House a major concern that many stakeholders have with regard to the government's current strategy for oil exploration and development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is a valid concern that is shared by the Commissioner of the Environment in his most recent report dated February 2013.

Right now, the people of the Magdalen Islands and eastern Quebec are worried about the serious environmental impact of developing the Old Harry prospect.

As things now stand, a spill could wipe out the regional economy of the islands in one fell swoop and cause considerable damage to both the environment and the area's seasonal economy, which is mainly based on the fishery and tourism.

The Commissioner of the Environment's report is damning in terms of the lack of consultation and the absence of a mandate for stakeholders who would have a role to play in the event of an environmental disaster.

The report confirmed that there are gaps in the risk assessments and that, at present, no one is prepared to respond to an oil spill.

Bernard Richard, former New Brunswick ombudsman, also expressed serious concerns about the Old Harry project. With regard to what we learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he said that, although we seemed to have learned a lot, we also seem to quickly forget.

Commissioner Scott Vaughan's report is clear. He states that the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has not obtained adequate assurance that operators are ready to respond effectively to a spill.

In light of the most recent report, and also the unanimous request made by the National Assembly of Quebec in 2010, the federal government, the Government of Newfoundland and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board are being asked to wait for the results of strategic environmental assessments requested by the Government of Quebec before issuing any drilling and seismic testing permits for Old Harry and to suspend existing permits.

The government must stop shirking its responsibilities and impose a moratorium on the development of Old Harry.

It is one of the largest and most productive marine ecosystems in the world. It is also of great economic significance as it is used extensively for fishing and recreational activities, as well as being an important shipping route.

We also learned in Scott Vaughan's report that the Canadian liability limits in the offshore oil and gas sector are totally archaic.

For example, if an accident were to occur in the Atlantic, the penalty would be $30 million. The public, not the oil companies, will assume the risks of offshore development with their tax dollars and also because environmental impacts will affect coastal ecosystems.

We recently learned that public consultations on the Old Harry project that were to be held by New Brunswick were quietly abandoned. Environmental experts in all areas are criticizing the way in which the government is managing the development of offshore oil in the Old Harry sector.

The request is coming from the Government of Quebec and our party. We are asking the government to impose a moratorium on any current development and exploration until things have been clarified and the concerns expressed by the commissioner have been addressed by the government.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for providing me with the opportunity to share with the House the environmental review process for the Old Harry project in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It is important that we take a look at the facts and not at fearmongering. As members know, Canada has very strong environmental laws and standards. We have a robust safety regime and experienced independent offshore regulators. Oil and gas rigs in Canada's offshore, including equipment and operator training, must meet strict standards that are among the highest in the world.

We recognize the importance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to all Canadians and understand that some stakeholders have very legitimate concerns about environmental sensitivities in this region. Many Canadians have an interest in oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its potential impact on the five surrounding provinces. That is why we rely on arm's-length independent regulatory bodies to make science-based decisions on development in Canada's offshore.

The 2005 strategic environmental assessment for western Newfoundland and Labrador is currently being updated, and consultations have been held in all five provinces. The strategic environmental assessment update seeks to ensure that any drilling in the gulf will be safe for the environment and Canadians.

The assessment by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is an important step to ensure that the safety of the environment will be protected. I want to assure all members that Canadian regulators will not allow any offshore activity to take place unless they are convinced that the environment will be fully protected.

As we know, the Old Harry project is currently on hold. Last January, Corridor Resources requested a prohibition order by the board until a strategic environmental assessment of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is complete.

In summary, the strategic environmental assessment of the gulf is going forward as planned. That means we have an independent regulatory body that is doing its job in the best interests of Canadians. The environmental assessment of Old Harry is on track, and the project will not proceed until we are convinced that the environment of the gulf coast will be protected. That is the bottom line.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, experts at Environment Canada found a number of errors in the scenario Corridor Resources developed to predict the effects of an oil spill as part of its exploratory drilling plans at Old Harry, in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. According to the documents submitted by the oil company, its impact study determined that the effects of an oil spill would be very limited and would last less than 24 hours. Any respectable expert would find this scenario laughable.

The work was not done properly. It is clear that the Canadian government is completely incapable of getting all those who would be involved in controlling the spill to agree.

In the absence of any strategy from our government and in the absence of a credible scenario that would show that the government is in control, we are calling for and hope to obtain a moratorium until a full environmental assessment in Quebec is complete and the government has assured the public that there will be appropriate intervention.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite seems to be opposing this project before a scientific environmental assessment is even completed. That is regrettable. That is precisely why we have environmental assessments: to ensure that politics do not colour the conclusions of the report. That is why it is independent and why our government waits until hearing from experts before making a decision.

I have noticed this same proclivity to judge before hearing the facts is apparent across the way. Instead, we often hear opposition members say that they know the facts better than the scientists, that they know environmental effects better than the experts and that they know the economics of projects better than economists and businesses. It is this disregard for any scientific review of projects that I find very dangerous coming from the opposition benches. I recommend that the member opposite wait and listen to the conclusions of the independent scientific reviews. It is what our government is doing and it is the responsible approach.

I repeat that this project will be reviewed by an independent group of experts. We look forward to reviewing that report before making a decision, and I hope that the member opposite will do the same.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:46 p.m.)