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.