Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Provencher on his initiative.
I rise today to speak to Bill C-239. Although I recognize its spirit and good intentions, I cannot support the bill given the serious economic impact it would have.
The fact is, the bill would increase the costs associated with tax credits for charitable donations by about $1 billion a year, which would diminish the government's ability to pay for important public programs that Canadians rely on.
As the Minister of Finance indicated when he tabled budget 2016, the government believes that Canada is at its best when all citizens have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Canada enjoys an abundance of wonders and resources. Its greatest wealth, however, resides in the generosity of Canadians, who are well known for their compassion, tolerance, and kindness. Our nation's social fabric is strengthened by the many citizens who donate their time and hard-earned money to a variety of very worthy causes.
In fact, as part of National Volunteer Week, tonight I will have the privilege of honouring a number of volunteers in my riding, Gatineau.
Canadians value and embrace inclusion, honesty, and hard work, and they express themselves through their generosity of spirit. For example, Canadians have opened their hearts and communities to welcome Syrian refugees. Every day Canadians spend countless hours feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and committing a million other acts of kindness that build communities. To the best of their ability, Canadians share the blessings they have been given. The impressive size of the charitable sector in Canada is the result of Canadians' compassion.
Canada's charitable sector accounts for an incredible 8.1% of our GDP, making it larger than our retail, automotive, and manufacturing sectors. We have more than 86,000 registered charities, 81,000 not-for-profit corporations, and more than 750,000 community agencies. These institutions play a vital role in every neighbourhood all across Canada.
The government believes we must support this important sector. That is why we support tax incentives for charitable donations. Canadian tax incentives for charitable donations are among the most generous in the world. The federal government already provides $3 billion in tax assistance annually to the charitable sector.
When we add provincial tax relief to the equation, Canadians can expect to get 46¢, on average, for every dollar donated above $200. A tax credit is also available for up to 75% of an individual's or couple's net income and can be carried forward for five years.
Of course tax credits are important, but they are not the only or the main reason a person chooses to make a donation. In fact, many individuals would probably donate even without any tax credits.
According to Statistics Canada's 2015 general social survey, only 26% of donors said they made a donation mainly to get an income tax credit. More than 91% of donors reported that their donations were motivated by compassion towards people in need, and 86% said they were motivated by a personal belief in a cause.
As a government, we want Canadians to have the means to take action. Effective economic policies and a prosperous economy require strong social policies that create opportunities and build communities where diversity and equality can grow. Charity begins at home.
The impressive size of the charitable sector in Canada is the result of Canadians' compassion. To believe otherwise is doing a disservice to millions of hours spent in the service of others.
Federal tax assistance for charitable donations is approximately $3 billion per year. This places Canada's system of tax support among the most generous in the world. As others have already mentioned, Statistics Canada's information shows that what drives charitable giving is personal belief.
Our government's efforts, as contained in budget 2016 and in budgets to come, do not seek to change that balance. Rather, what the government proposes is to strengthen the middle class by giving more help to those who need it and less to those who do not.
The mandate letter to the Minister of National Revenue contains, as a top priority, addressing some of the critical areas facing charities in Canada today. The Minister of National Revenue is expected to “Allow charities to do their work on behalf of Canadians free from political harassment, and modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors, working with the Minister of Finance”.
In fact, the Minister of National Revenue has recently announced that the Canada Revenue Agency will be winding down its audits of the political activities of charities and will instead consult with charities to clarify the rules. This is in recognition of the critical role that charities play in society and their contribution to public policy and public debate on behalf of all Canadians. These consultations will help charities continue their important work in a regulatory environment that respects and encourages their contribution.
However, we believe that society as a whole, through its Parliament, must also take action. That is exactly why budget 2016 provides immediate assistance to the people who need it most and lays the foundation for sustainable economic growth. Even more importantly, this budget focuses entirely on the people and the issues most important to them, such as strengthening the middle class, creating jobs, and growing the economy.
Even before the budget was tabled, almost nine million Canadians were already benefiting from the middle-class tax cut that went into effect on January 1. The government introduced the Canada child benefit in the budget. Compared to the current system of federal child benefits, the Canada child benefit will ensure that nine out of 10 families will receive more money than they receive under the current system beginning in July 2016. This measure will help lift hundreds of thousands of Canadian children out of poverty.
The Canada child benefit represents the most important innovation in social policy in a generation. Together with the middle-class tax cut, the Canada child benefit will ensure that middle-class families have more disposable income that they can use to support their families, their work, their communities, and many other worthy causes where the not-for-profit sector is so effective.
Charity begins at home, but we can do more. Investing in measures that will improve the living conditions of Canadians will ensure that our country once again becomes a world leader. Canada will make a valuable and tangible contribution to its own prosperity and will embody the best Canadian values: generosity, compassion, and openness.
Budget 2016 contains measures that fulfill the promises made to Canadians and lay the groundwork for a better Canada today and for future generations.