Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Provencher, for bringing forward this bill to encourage Canadians to contribute more to our charities by ensuring fairness in how these contributions are treated as tax credits. More than fairness, this initiative would make a strong statement on how these contributions are respected and valued. There is so much good done by charities in every community across Canada that we as a civil society should be doing more, not less, to promote this.
The people of my constituency of Flamborough—Glanbrook and in fact all of the greater Hamilton area are well known for their generosity. They are above-average contributors to a wide range of local, national, and international charities and causes that make life better for their fellow human beings. I would refer to a comment published in a local newspaper editorial in December 2009 from the director of community relations at Mission Services in downtown Hamilton. He said, “Hamilton is the most generous community I've ever lived in. People have really responded despite the difficult economic climate”.
I see this first hand at hundreds of local charity breakfasts, walks, fundraising dinners and auctions that I attend on a regular basis in the greater Hamilton area. If people want to see how community-based organizations stretch a dollar to make a real difference in people's lives, they just need to tag along to one of these events or join me in serving dinners at the downtown Hamilton mission at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I know many hon. members from all sides and parties in the House can attest to similar experiences in their own communities on a regular basis.
This is why the model proposed by the hon. member for Provencher in Bill C-239 makes so much sense. It would lift up the contributions to charities doing outstanding work on a local, national, and international basis to an equal footing with donations to federal political parties. It is a simple notion that the hon. member has articulated well already: Why should feeding politicians be more important than feeding the hungry, or helping youth who are struggling with addiction, or providing the desperately needed funds for research that would find a cure for cancer? Cancer is something that pretty well every member of this House, somewhere among their families and friends, has been touched by. The answer is quite simply, it should not.
Built on the principle that donations to registered charities in Canada should get equal treatment to political contributions, what Bill C-239, the fairness in charitable gifts act, would do effectively would be to incentivize donations under $750 per year. Frankly, that is the majority of Canadians and it has the potential to have the greatest impact. To reiterate in a nutshell, and I know these numbers are familiar to members of the House, donations under $400 would receive a 75% tax credit compared to the current 15% on the first $200 donated, expanding to 29% on the next $200. Contributions between $400 and $750 would see a 50% tax credit versus the present-day 29%. Meanwhile, the portion of total contributions over $750 would see a modest incentive of 33.3% compared to 29%.
Members of this House and all Canadians can readily see why this would encourage greater participation of Canadians donating to registered charities at higher dollar amounts than they currently do. When we consider that the median level of donations to registered charities claimed on tax returns is currently $280, there is lots of room to grow, and lots of new donors to bring into the family of charities as well.
Why is this so important? One of the reasons is demographics. At a time when there is increasing pressure to provide social services of all kinds in our communities, there is a decreasing participation by Canadians as donors to charities. Fewer tax filers are making contributions. The average age of a donor is also rising. Just as our population ages and the need for many services increases, charities are struggling to meet annual fundraising targets. As my colleague has pointed out, we have seen a staggering drop since 1990 in the number of Canadians who contribute. Add it all up and the long-term trend is less than positive. With greater need, fewer resources, and an aging population, we need to stem this tide, and Bill C-239 is a practical solution to do just that.
This is particularly true when we consider the range of services, support, and medical research that the charitable sector does, and that this reduces the burden on government today and tomorrow. If we can reverse the charitable donations trend, we can help pre-empt a funding crisis in the future.
Is this good public policy? We can bet it is. Is it good economics? Absolutely, and here is why. It helps offset social spending by governments at all levels, freeing up resources for other priorities. It is also very effective because often the local organizations are the closest to the problem, understand the circumstances they are in, and therefore are best suited to help. They know best how to marshal the support of all local volunteers and show compassion in our communities.
We should also consider and review in the debate on Bill C-239 that the reinvestment in the economy of the tax refunds of Canadians has a considerable impact. We know this and it is well documented, especially when local charities stretch those dollars for maximum impact in delivering programs and real world solutions as mentioned earlier. That is why instead of asking whether we can afford to do this, we should really be asking ourselves whether we can afford not to do this.
In closing, I would like to come full circle and mention a few examples from my hometown.
I would like to talk about Liberty for Youth and Living Rock that are there day in and day out to take those youth who many people would write off saying they are not any use to society, to rebuild their lives and help them to be contributing citizens.
Threshold School of Building is another one that helps to educate youth who have not made better choices in their life so they can start at ground level on construction jobs and begin to build a career for themselves.
There is The Bridge and St. Leonard's Society that do a great job taking those who have been convicted of crimes and re-assimilating them, teaching them life skills, helping them to rehabilitate, get out and be contributing citizens in our society.
There is the Bob Kemp Hospice and Good Shepherd Emmanuel House where my own younger brother passed away this past summer during the election.
These places are funded by charitable donations, and they are there at a time of life when people are desperate for love and compassion. They are there to help every day of the week. They rely on those people who are generous to give.
The Salvation Army helps people with addictions. I was just in there the other day in downtown Hamilton. They have a trustee program for people who are recovering from addictions and do not know how to handle their finances. They can pay their rent, and make sure they have money at the end of the month, even though they are on social services. It is extraordinary, but the funding has just been cut. It needs more charitable donations in order to cover that. The hostel program helps those who have been struggling with addiction to get back on their feet. There are 12 separate rooms in the Salvation Army that are helping individuals get back out and reconnect with their families, and be contributing citizens in our society.
Flamborough Women's Resource Centre, Drummond House, and Interval House are helping women who have come across a family tragedy and are dealing with violence.
This past December, my wife Almut and I had the pleasure of serving breakfast on behalf of the Farmers’ Dell Co-operative Preschool fundraiser. This registered charity serves families in Binbrook and Upper Stoney Creek.
Binbrook Scouting Group is also very active, holding massive annual spring cleanup days every year. The group picks up mountains of garbage. It benefits from charitable donations as well.
There is one more that I think deserves special mention. Every year for the past 13 years I volunteered for the annual Ancaster Community Food Drive. Some years my wife and I have helped run routes and have collected food donations from doorsteps. Other times we have stayed inside and have worked six or seven hours just sorting food. I am always joined by Hamilton firefighters and members of the Hamilton Police Service.
The food drive is run with precision by an outstanding group of volunteers, not the least of whom is the energetic retired Ancaster High School guidance counsellor and teacher, Jan Lukas, who welcomes everyone with her bright smile.
The Ancaster food drive is a huge local success story. In its 23 years of operations, it is now approaching 1.5 million pounds of food donated and processed. This food goes to a number of organizations throughout the greater city of Hamilton and helps thousands of families.
I was heartened to learn that the food drive has grown so much over the years that they have now committed to a larger facility to be able to sort all the food that is collected during the food drive. It is simply amazing. While much of the food is donated without getting a tax receipt, financial contributions to the organization that underpin the food drive is what makes it possible.
I could go on and on, but I have limited time for debate. These are great examples of what happens when we allow people to have more opportunities to give, and we give them more incentive to do that. Bill C-239 does exactly that. I encourage all my colleagues to support this bill, to make sure we are giving help to charities, to make sure that we reach all those people who are less fortunate, and build our communities to be stronger ones.