Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to Bill C-239, the fairness in charitable gifts act.
I would like to congratulate the member for Provencher on being chosen to be the first to introduce a private member's bill to the House.
I am very proud to be here today to represent my riding of Yellowhead, home of so many generous Canadians.
We have numerous charitable organizations: food banks, animal rescue centres, historical foundations, and art centres, just to name a few. These are located in every community in Canada. The bill before us is a great bill for all members of the House and their ridings. It would help every riding in this country.
The depth and scope of the non-profit and voluntary sector in Alberta has provided a wide variety of services to the communities. Non-profit and volunteer organizations touch virtually all aspects of our communities.
As was just mentioned, 8.5% of our gross domestic product is made by charitable organizations. There are more than 86,000 registered charities, 81,000 non-profit groups or corporations, and more than 750 community agencies. These all play very vital roles in our communities.
One of the most important things they do is to leverage volunteers from across Canada, millions of volunteers who put in countless hours helping our communities. There is no doubt of the generosity of the people in Alberta and the generosity of Canadians. It is so broad and wide.
I do not think anything could be clearer than what has transpired in Fort McMurray, Alberta, in the last month. Donations flooded into charities from across Canada. Hotels opened their doors, and people donated personal money, food, rations, and gas.
I would like to share a story.
Two days after the fire started, I was en route back to my riding of Yellowhead. I was stopped at the Toronto airport and having a meal. There was a lady sitting beside me and we started a conversation. I asked if she was coming or going, and she said that she was going. I asked her where she was coming from, and she said Fort McMurray. She was right in the heat of the fire, and was going home to Nova Scotia. She said that they ran from the camp, grabbed their vehicle with the fuel it had in it, and headed south. They ran out of fuel and were stranded, but lo and behold, a person came driving up in a pickup truck with jerry cans of fuel and gave them the fuel free. She said she taken aback by that.
I mention this story because of the generosity of Canadians. Canadians give. Maybe we can give back a little bit, and this is what the bill would do.
So far, as of yesterday when I checked on the computer, $125 million has been raised by Canadians to give to non-profit groups and charities for the Fort McMurray fires. It is $125 million that our government has to match, and it could be up to $126 million today.
It is very interesting to note how Canadians pulled together in all parts of this country to support services in their communities. It is the generosity of donors that makes these agencies work, such as the Red Cross, animal shelters, senior centres, and community groups.
However, over the last 25 years we have seen donations drop, and not by a small amount. We have seen donations drop by approximately 33% in the last 25 years, and that is a lot of money. Charities are suffering, and they need that money to operate.
The fairness and charitable gifts act would help. What is alarming to me, and it was mentioned earlier, is that there was more money given in campaign donations than there was to charitable organizations. I find it alarming that people will not give more to charitable organizations that look after people, animals, and communities in need. That needs to change. We need to give more money to these organizations.
Bill C-239 is a great initiative to level the playing field. The primary motivation for donating is the compassion and personal belief of most people. I think people want to give. Some people find it harder than others. Those who are affluent can give more, but if people get a tax benefit from doing so, even those who are less able will probably contribute some money. Bill C-239 ensures that people who want to give larger amounts will be able to. It would be much fairer.
It has been mentioned that it is the current government's desire to strengthen the middle class, giving more help to those who need it and less to those who do not. This is exactly what Bill C-239 would do: give more money to those who need it and less to those who do not and allow those who have more money to give more than those who do not. If we had a fair tax exemption program, as this bill is asking for, people would give more generously.
I have heard it mentioned across the floor that this tax benefit would cost $1.7 billion a year and would come from our national coffers. I am going to read a quote, which says, “increase the costs associated with tax credits for charitable donations by about [$1.7] billion a year, which would diminish the government's ability to pay for important public programs that Canadians rely on”.
Yes, it is a lot of money, and it may increase as time goes on, but we need to look at what the charitable groups and non-profit organizations in this great country of ours do for the communities they serve. If they did not exist and were not helping the needy, the hungry, and the homeless and offering different programs within their communities, the cost to government, whether it be municipal, federal, or provincial government, the $1.7 billion, would be a bit like that.
The government says that it will have a serious economic impact. Madam Speaker, I say to you that it would be a lot more serious if people were to stop giving to the non-profit and charitable groups, so we should encourage Canadians, who are so generous. We know that. Canadians are probably the most generous people in the world. Let us give them the opportunity to give more freely and more comfortably and give them a bit of a tax benefit for doing so.