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.