House of Commons Hansard #325 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was affairs.


Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #887

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare the motion lost.

It being 5:55 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

moved that Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, for those who may not already know, I have been a long-time advocate of organ and tissue donation in Canada. In fact, a few years ago I passed a bill in the Alberta legislature as an MLA, resulting in the creation of the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry. It also put in place a strong and robust education and awareness program that included adding donor hearts to our Alberta driver's licences.

However, the reality is 4,600 Canadians are still awaiting a life-saving transplant and we need to do more to find those critical matches to save more lives. This is an issue that transcends political lines and offers us, as parliamentarians, the opportunity to make a difference in every corner of this country.

The Humboldt Broncos tragedy last spring highlighted the issue across Canada when Logan Boulet signed up as an organ donor just weeks before his tragic death. This incredibly kind gesture prompted thousands more to register, but it is still not enough because while over 90% of Canadians say they support organ donation, only 25%—

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Everyone, debate is taking place and I am having a hard time hearing what the hon. member for Calgary Confederation is saying. I want to remind you that if you have a conversation maybe just either keep it down or go outside.

The hon. member for Calgary Confederation.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

I will continue from where I left off, Mr. Speaker.

The Humboldt Broncos tragedy last spring highlighted the issue across Canada when Logan Boulet signed up as an organ donor just weeks before his tragic death. This incredibly kind gesture prompted thousands more to register, but it is still not enough. While over 90% of Canadians say that they support organ donation, only 25% are registered. In the meantime, hundreds die every year waiting for a donor. Sadly, Canada has one of the lowest donation rates in the world. A single organ donor can save up to eight people and a single tissue donor can help up to 75 individuals.

My bill, Bill C-316, proposes a very simple, very effective method to increase the size of the organ donor base here in Canada. It would also help update existing databases, but most important it would save lives. I am proposing that we use the annual tax form to ask Canadians if they would like to become a registered organ donor and if they consent to have this information passed to their provincial government for addition to its existing organ donor registries.

Before I go further, I must thank the 20 members of Parliament from all parties in the House who have stepped forward to officially second my bill. I will just let that sink in. There are members from all political parties in this House who have signed on as official seconders to this bill. That is a rare occurrence indeed. This extraordinary non-partisan approach demonstrates how a sensible idea can bring us together as a House to improve the lives of all Canadians. This collaborative approach has extended to the health committee, the committee that I serve on along with nine other colleagues of mine who have been extremely supportive of improving the organ and tissue donation situation here in Canada, and I deeply appreciate the support on this issue and with this bill.

This is not a political issue; it is a human issue. Any one of us could be in need of donor organs or tissues at any time. Just asking this simple question could increase the number of donors. Just recently, donor registration jumped up 15% in British Columbia when drivers were asked directly at licensing locations across the province if they wanted to be donors. It jumped up 15%, so we can imagine what we can do on a national scale.

Tax forms, by law, are restricted to collecting data for the purposes of taxation only. This is why we need to amend the law to allow for this common-sense approach to a national problem. My bill is modelled on the successful inclusion on the tax form of the question asking Canadians if they want Elections Canada to be kept informed of their current information. My bill has been crafted in keeping with this successful precedent.

Other initiatives to improve organ donation have been voted down in the past here in this House of Commons, as some felt the proposals were an infringement on provincial jurisdiction. My bill would not infringe on the provincial responsibility of managing donor lists; it would just support their existing work. My proposal is so simple and could be implemented so quickly. The federal government, via the Canada Revenue Agency, already successfully shares data every day with all the provinces and territories via encrypted networks with strong and reliable privacy safeguards. In addition, the existing infrastructure would support this change at virtually no cost. The CRA already shares dozens of data fields of information on every taxpayer with the provinces and territories and this would simply be one more data exchange. The tax form is a way to update this information annually via a legally binding document. It would allow for provincial lists to remain current and relevant.

While some methods used by the provinces such as driver's licences and health care cards help register donors, as they do, none has as far a reach as the tax form.

The existing voluntary online method of registering is neither proactive nor fully effective. For example, those who move from one province to another rarely update their information. The tax form approach overcomes these common problems.

As the federal government would simply be collecting the data and passing it to the provinces, we would not be opening the jurisdictional can of worms. The federal government would not be encroaching on provincial jurisdiction because we are not setting up a federal registry. We would provide the information to the province and it would use the information as it sees fit. The provinces would still maintain their own lists. We would just be supplying them with data for that purpose.

When someone dies, the tax department is often one of the first government agencies to be notified. This too would help update provincial registries and keep them current. This is a huge opportunity for the House to show leadership in organ and tissue donation efforts.

Stakeholders have been universally supportive of the bill, and the thousands of affected families with loved ones on waiting lists will welcome this additional help. One stakeholder, the Ontario Trillium Gift of Life Network, is the largest registry in Canada. Its CEO, Ronnie Gavsie, says:

...we would support creating an opportunity for Canadians, when filing their income tax returns, to register their consent for organ and tissue donation.... The online income tax return becomes a gateway and an annual reminder to drive Canadians to organ and tissue donor registration.

We share with you the goal of substantially improving awareness of organ and tissue donation and improving health for Canadians by increasing the number of life-saving transplants.

The federal agency responsible for organ donation is Canadian Blood Services and its vice-president, Dr. Isra Levy, said:

Just like our colleagues, we support a transactional touchpoint that will raise the awareness, especially if it leads to the conversation.... But for sure this is something to be welcomed.

Elizabeth Myles of the Kidney Foundation of Canada has written to the Prime Minister expressing the foundation's support for this change. Dr. Amit Garg of the Canadian Society of Nephrology, a society of physicians and scientists specializing in the care of kidney disease, and Dr. West of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program also expressed their strong support for the bill. The list goes on. Support for this legislation reaches far and wide across the country, into every community.

The health committee just tabled a report on organ donation this very morning in the House, with a number of key recommendations. The committee wanted to know what role the federal government could play in strengthening Canada's organ donor donation and transplantation system. One of the key recommendations in the report deals directly with the debate we are having right now. If this bill is passed, it would go a long way toward fulfilling that key recommendation. We have the opportunity to leverage the resources of the federal government to help our provincial and territorial partners improve their registries, and I hope we do.

I and, most importantly, 4,600 Canadians awaiting life-saving transplant hope we can count on all MPs to support the bill.

I want to deeply thank a particular individual, a friend, Mr. Robert Sallows of Calgary. Robert received a double lung transplant 13 and a half years ago, at the age of 17, which granted him a new lease on life. Since having the transplant he has been very active within Alberta and Canada, raising organ and tissue donation awareness. He helped me immensely with the passage of my bill in the Alberta legislature, which created the Alberta organ donor registry. Sadly, Robert has recently entered the palliative care process. I want him to know that his determination, his struggle and his advocacy for organ and tissue donation have provided me with so much inspiration and motivation to improve the lives of others in need of a transplant.

I dedicate this effort to my friend, Robert Sallows.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his devoted work on this file at the health committee. He was tenacious to ensure we had the conversation. I was so pleased to see the health committee come in today with a unanimous report on organ donation.

The member's proposal is a simple change to the tax form. Is there a cost implication at all related to that?

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I stated in my speech, there is minimal, if any, cost with regard to implementing this change to the tax form, other than the ink to be printed on the forms.

It is a question that individuals would tick off a box, signalling whether they wished to be an organ donor. It would take virtually seconds to do. The cost is little to nothing.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Calgary Confederation on his bill.

Organ donation is an extremely important issue in Canada. The Standing Committee on Health report presented on this topic was unanimously adopted this morning, which goes to show that this issue transcends party lines.

I want to say publicly that I will support my colleague's bill. On Thursday, I plan on moving a motion on this very subject.

Has my colleague consulted with provincial medical authorities? If so, what was their response?

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his ongoing work with regard to organ and tissue donation awareness. It is an honour to serve with him on the health committee. I respect the member immensely, and thank him sincerely for his support on this bill.

His motion will come up in a couple of days, and I absolutely support it. Any type of awareness of organ and tissue donation, any talk in the House, any talk around Canada is so important. It is important that as Canadians we ensure our families know that we wish to donate our organs upon death. Just signing the registry is not enough. What is in place right now is also the ability for families to trump those decisions, unless they know for certain this is something people wish to do.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague, the member for Calgary Confederation, who has done such wonderful work, putting organ donation not only before our committee but before the House and, by extension, before our country.

I have two questions for the member.

First, it is a wonderful idea to add a question to Canadians' tax returns in order to encourage people, on an annual basis, to consider being an organ donor. I think that will increase the rates of organ donation in the country. Of course it is only adults, probably over the age of 18, of working age, who file tax returns. Does the member have any ideas or suggestions as to how we can encourage Canadians who may fall between those cracks to become organ donors?

Second, as we have heard at committee, countries like Spain have extremely high levels of organ donation, probably due to a variety of factors, but primarily because they have a presumed consent system. All Spanish citizens are presumed to be organ donors, unless they specifically opt out. Does he have any comment or position on that as a potential way to help increase organ donor rates in our country.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the hon. member from Vancouver for his work on the health committee and his devotion to organ and tissue donation as well. He is a great man, and I thank him for all his support on this bill.

With regard to young people who do not drive or do not do income tax returns because they are not income earners, there are many other ways to sign up on the registry, such as through Any young adult can register as a donor.

With regard to the opt-out of presumed consent system in Spain, it is one of the recommendations in the report we tabled today. It is a recommendation to look into the opportunities involved with opting out of presumed consent. I look forward to the study on that from the government.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just put on my “Be a Donor” ribbon and assume I am allowed to wear it in the House.

I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-316. I want to applaud the member for Calgary Confederation for all of his tireless efforts on improving organ donations across Canada, first in Alberta and now here in the House of Commons.

Organ donation rates across the country are, quite frankly, pathetic. Here in Ontario, more than 85% of residents are in favour of organ donation, but only one in three Ontario residents has registered his or her consent to donate. This trend is similar across the country. There is clearly a disconnect between people's wishes and their actions and, sadly, without an individual registering in advance, the family is often faced with this decision at a time of crisis, dealing with the loss of a loved one when so many emotions are in play. Too often we have not discussed our wishes with our loved ones.

We know that health care delivery is a provincial responsibility and I applaud the member for finding a way to engage the federal government in this important issue while still respecting our constitutional jurisdictions. This bill would make it easier to gather information: a simple check mark on one's income tax return and, voilà, the information is passed on to the province of residence. A province can choose not to participate in the program if it so wishes. This is so important because while our provincial counterparts have made tremendous strides to raise awareness and registration rates, we are still not seeing donor registration rates rising as they should.

In 2012, when I was an Oakville town councillor, I was part of a group of Oakville residents who formed the Oakville Be a Donor group. It grew out of a call from Oakville resident Jennifer Malabar, who challenged the mayor and council to register as organ donors. Jennifer developed a kidney disease while pregnant with her first child, Arya.

Facing an eight-year wait for a kidney transplant or the prospect of dialysis, Jenn was the recipient of a kidney from her husband Hitesh Patel, on their wedding anniversary no less. Hitesh later joined me for the Courage Polar Bear Dip wearing a Be a Donor T-shirt to raise awareness for organ donation. They later welcomed their second child, Sage, and the family continues to thrive.

Through the Oakville Be a Donor group, I met the most amazing people: Bev Cathro, who donated her kidney to her young daughter, and Ron Newman, affectionately known as the “Dialysis Dude”, who received a kidney transplant and lived dialysis free for many years, but is now back on dialysis as he waits for another donor. Ron continues to advocate and also organizes the Halton Kidney Walk every year.

Julie Pehar, whose experience was a different one, came to our group having lost a loved one and having made the decision to donate his organs.

Sarah Taylor and Keith Childerhose is a love story that played out as Keith struggled to breathe. In need of a lung transplant, Sarah took to social media to publicize Keith's challenges. They appeared in the news as Keith waited for a double lung transplant.

Keith was failing quickly and was on life support. He had been living with diffuse panbronchiolitis from the age of 25 and had been fighting the disease for 15 years. This severe and rare disease caused fluid to continually build up in his lungs, similar to cystic fibrosis. On life support, the news came that Keith was heading into a 10-hour surgery as a donor had been found. In one of the most touching photos ever taken, with Keith hooked up to an IV and tubes, looking into each other's eyes, Keith touched Sarah's nose as she touched his hand.

The good news is that the surgery was a success and brought much-needed attention to the need for organ donation. In a lovely twist to the story, the two were engaged, then won a wedding package and were married in 2013. As wonderful as Keith's and Sarah's story is, sadly, across our country there are too many stories like Keith's that do not have a happy ending.

Our Oakville Be a Donor group gathered together the Interfaith Council of Halton, community leaders and politicians to create a poster to be displayed around town. How pleased I was recently to visit the Halton police station and see our poster still hanging on the walls of the offices.

Despite our efforts to raise awareness, registration rates across Canada are dismal. I want to share some statistics from the Ontario Be a Donor website. In Ontario, there are over 1,500 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. This is their only treatment option and every three days someone will die because they did not get their transplant in time.

One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance the lives of up to 75 people through the gift of tissue. Age alone does not disqualify someone from becoming a donor. The oldest organ donor was over 90, and the oldest tissue donor was over 100. There is always the potential to be a donor, and it should not stop someone from registering. Anyone over the age of 16 can register.

Current or past medical history does not prevent someone from registering to be a donor. Individuals with serious illnesses can sometimes be organ or tissue donors. Each potential donor is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

All major religions support organ and tissue donation or respect an individual's choice.

Organ and tissue donation does not impact funeral plans. An open-casket funeral is possible.

Right now, there are over 1,100 people in Ontario waiting for a kidney and 252 people waiting for a liver, and 46 of those on the wait-list are under the age 17.

When we register, we give hope to the thousands of Canadians waiting for a transplant. Those on the transplant wait list are often living with organ failure, like my friend Ron Newman. Tissue donors can enhance the lives of recovering burn victims, help restore sight and allow people to walk again. Transplants not only save lives, they return recipients to productive lives.

As I speak today in support of Bill C-316, I want to remember my friend Bob Hepburn. Bob was a generous and kind soul, a teacher-librarian who was a role model for hundreds of students at Abbey Park High School in Oakville and best friend to Tim Robertson. Bob was generous beyond words, so much so that he was twice a living donor, once donating his bone marrow and another time his kidney. Bob died quite suddenly a few months ago, and those to whom he had given the gift of life came to his funeral.

I thank my colleague across the floor, the member for Calgary Confederation. I know that this is an issue he has been committed to for years. I am proud to call him a friend and even prouder to have been asked to be a seconder of this bill. It is my sincere hope that Canadians will soon have another simple option to register as donors on their income tax returns, thanks to his private member's bill.

Those who are watching today should talk to their loved ones about their wishes and go online and register today. In Ontario, they can go to right now. It only takes two minutes to register.

I ask all members of this House for their support for Bill C-316. This bill would create a simple way for Canadians to register as organ donors. It is my sincere hope that when Canadians file their income taxes in the near future, they can just click on a box to have the federal government notify their province of residence of their wish to register.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-316, an act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors). I would like to once again express my congratulations and thanks to the hon. member for Calgary Confederation for all his hard work on this issue.

This legislation would give authority to the federal government to coordinate with the provinces and territories to allow Canadians to register as organ donors through their federal tax filings.

Canada's New Democrats will be supporting this measure, because we believe that it will help to increase registration rates. Organ donation registration has been proven to be transaction based, and tax filings represent a transaction that millions of Canadians engage in every year.

Indeed, this legislation aligns closely with the NDP's long-standing advocacy and legislative work around organ donation.

For over a decade, New Democrats have been working to create a pan-Canadian organ donor registry to coordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada. Legislation to create such a registry has been introduced by New Democrat MPs on five occasions: in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2013.

Unfortunately, our federal government over the last 16 years has not been able to muster the will to implement this policy.

In February 2016, the Conservative member for Edmonton Manning, whose own son has been the recipient of three donated livers, reintroduced this private member's legislation, Bill C-223, with the unanimous support of the NDP. Unfortunately, the Liberal government voted to block that bipartisan effort. Canada's New Democrats were profoundly disappointed to see the Liberals rush to this determination without even sending the bill to committee for study.

One donor can save up to eight lives and benefit more than 75 people. However, at 18 donors per million people, Canada's current donation rate puts us in the lower third of developed countries. In fact, Canadians are currently dying on wait-lists because our organ donation rate is so low. In 2016, there were 4,500 Canadians on the recipient wait-list, and 260 died waiting for a transplant.

In order to address this unacceptable shortfall, the House of Commons Standing Cornmittee on Health agreed to study Canada's organ and tissue donation procurement system in March 2016, once again as a result of the initiative of my hon. colleague from Calgary Confederation.

As part of this study, the committee heard from a range of witnesses, including representatives from Canadian Blood Services, provincial organ donation and procurement organizations, researchers, health care providers and charities. The committee learned that although some jurisdictions in Canada are considered centres of excellence in organ donation and transplantation, others lack the resources and capacity to adopt best practices in this area.

As a result, the rate of donors varies significantly by region in Canada. In 2013, Quebec had the most deceased donors, with 20.2 per million population. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, on the other hand, had only 7.2 per million. British Columbia is Canada's living donor capital, with 28 living donors per million people.

The committee also heard that limited public awareness and public discourse about organ donation mean there are also challenges related to consent for organ donation in Canada. In addition, witnesses called for more research and better data collection across Canada to help identify potential organ donors within healthcare systems and improve treatment outcomes for transplant patients.

New Democrats hope that the committee's report, tabled earlier today, and its seven recommendations will place a renewed focus on the need for federal leadership to improve Canada's organ and tissue donation system.

In particular, we are pleased that the report contains a recommendation calling for study of a presumed consent or opt-out system for organ donation, an idea that New Democrats believe could make a huge difference in the number of organs available to save lives. Unlike Canada's current opt-in system, an opt-out approach would automatically register all citizens for organ donation unless they choose to indicate otherwise.

Countries with opt-out systems consistently record higher donation rates than opt-in countries. Indeed, this approach has helped to make Spain a world leader in organ donation over the past 25 years. In Austria, the donor rate quadrupled after instituting opt-out legislation, and similar regulations in Belgium doubled kidney donations.

I would be remiss not to mention that during the committee's study, it became clear that there is tremendous confusion over whether gay men are eligible to be organ donors in Canada.

One could be forgiven for confusion on this point, since sexually active gay men are currently banned from donating blood in Canada. However, under regulations first enacted in 2007, men who have sex with men are eligible to be organ donors on a case-by-case basis. Apparently in our country, one can take a gay man's heart but not his blood.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ2 advocacy organization Egale Canada, has described this approach as outrageous.

Dr. Paul MacPherson, an HIV researcher with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute's chronic disease program, has been clear that this ban does not match the science.

For men in stable long-term relationships, the risks associated with blood donation are exactly the same as those for a heterosexual couple. Given this, Canada should adopt a blood donor policy that is evidence-based, gender neutral and behaviour-based.

Although, by this standard, Canada's organ donation system also perpetuates harmful stereotypes based on risk categories that cannot be justified by the science. This policy leads to confusion for potential donors and an inconsistent application of the rules, which can have immensely tragic consequences.

When the Prime Minister spoke to Egale Canada this past May, he appeared to agree that the rules for blood and organ donation needed to be changed. In fact, he named “discrimination in blood and organ donation” as among the next frontiers of the LGBTQ2 movement.

However, it is difficult to comprehend the Prime Minister's call for advocacy when it is already within his power to end this discriminatory federal policy. In fact, in the last election, the Liberal Party pledged to end the ban on gay men donating blood, saying that this policy ignored scientific evidence and must end. Instead, the Liberal government simply reduced the celibacy period from five years to one year. This perpetuates discrimination against gay men. The New Democrats call for it to end now.

It is time for the Liberal government to finally live up to its word by ensuring Canada's blood and organ donation policies are truly non-discriminatory and based on science.

I wish to conclude my remarks today by strongly encouraging all Canadians to register as organ donors and to discuss their wishes with their loved ones. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance the lives of up to 75 more through the gift of tissue. There is always the potential to be a donor, so people should not let anything stop them from registering.

Each potential donor is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Current or past medical history does not prevent anyone from registering. Individuals with serious illnesses can also sometimes be organ and tissue donors.

All major religions support organ and tissue donation or respect an individual's choice. Age alone is not a barrier to being a donor. Therefore, I ask people to please consider giving the gift of life.

I wish to reiterate the NDP's support for the vital initiative before us today and affirm our commitment to ensuring every Canadian who needs an organ or tissue transplant receives it. No one should ever die because the call did not come in time.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight to speak in support of the private member's bill brought forth by the member for Calgary Confederation, Bill C-316.

This legislation would amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act to allow Canadians to use their annual income tax returns to register as organ and tissue donors. The agency would be able to enter into agreements with provincial and territorial governments to collect this valuable information, which would then be passed on to the provinces and the territories and be used for the purpose of establishing or even maintaining their organ donor registries.

No information would be passed along to an individual's province or territory of residence unless that individual had authorized the Canada Revenue Agency to do so in the income tax return. As a result, respect for the privacy of Canadians would continue to be of the utmost importance under the bill.

Bill C-316 seeks to address a very serious problem within our health care system facing many Canadians.

Canadian Blood Services estimates 4,500 people across this country are on wait-lists every year to get critical organ transplants that have the potential to save lives. Unfortunately, these organ transplants are not always readily available and the consequences are devastating. To this effect, Canadian Blood Services also reports that on average, 250 Canadians die each year waiting for a transplant. It could be someone's mom, dad, grandma or grandfather.

In 2016 alone, over 4,500 people were waiting for transplants but only 2,835 organs were transplanted. Two hundred and sixty people died that year while waiting for organ transplants. These tragic losses are totally unacceptable and Canadians recognize this major problem. However we can fix this problem and make change for the better. We need to take action to help as many Canadians as possible receive the potentially life-saving organ and tissue transplants that they desperately need.

One of the primary goals of the bill is to give Canadians an annual opportunity to register as organ and tissue donors in a way that is totally simple and cost effective. Provinces and territories would still have the constitutional authority over the establishment and the maintenance of these organ donor registries.

The bill would also allow provincial and territorial governments to use existing resources within the Canada Revenue Agency to assist in the collection of organ donor information in a way that respects the privacy of all Canadians.

The bill is so important because it would make it easier for all Canadians to register as organ donors by simply including the information on their income tax returns.

The Canadian Transplant Society states that while over 90% of Canadians support organ and tissue donation, fewer than 20% of Canadians have actually made plans to donate. For Canadians who wish to register as organ and tissue donors, the process should not be complicated. Canadians should be able to indicate their choice to be an organ or tissue donor in a way that is clear and accessible for all Canadians. Bill C-316 seeks to support this objective for the sake of both organ donors and the thousands of Canadians waiting for critical organ transplants each and every year.

Bill C-316 represents a sensible solution that has the potential to help thousands of Canadians in need and benefit the lives of many more.

Tonight I would like to share two stories with the House, one of an organ recipient and the other of an organ donor family.

Shammi Rathwell is a constituent of mine in Saskatoon—Grasswood. I have known Shammi and her husband, George, for many years. Shammi was 42 years old when her doctor detected a heart murmur. Medication did not fix the issue, and after open-heart surgery to repair a valve, it was determined that the only option to correct this issue was a heart transplant. Shammi, in September 1991, went on the list. She was fortunate. Two months later, she was called.

To quote Shammi, “From the beginning, my transplant went very well. I did have a brief rejection early, but once that was resolved, I have been able to live a full and productive life. It will be 17 years this coming November. I have watched my girls grow, become educated. In fact, one just got married, and I can't wait someday to be a grandmother. I am so thankful to my donor for the gift of life. The family must have been in deep grief and yet made the decision to donate the organ which saved my life. I don't know who my donor family is, but I think of them very often and thank them every day.”

Shammi Rathwell fully endorses Bill C-316.

The second story I want to share with members deals with the tragic accident of the Humboldt Bronco bus this past April that claimed the lives of 16 people.

Logan Boulet was one of the players who died in that accident on Friday night, but the story of this heroic 21-year-old certainly needs to be told. Just the summer before, in Lethbridge, a mentor of Logan's, an athletic trainer named Rick, suddenly passed away. Logan found out that Rick had signed the donor registry earlier in Alberta. He decided then that when he turned 21, he too would respect Rick and follow him to sign the registry in Alberta.

When this tragic accident happened on April 6, his parents, Bernadine and Toby, who I spoke with at length last night in Lethbridge, knew to carry out the wishes of their only son, Logan. Saturday morning, in the hospital in Saskatoon, Bernadine had one simple request. Her request was to hear Logan's heartbeat for the final time. She laid her head on his chest before the doctors proceeded with the successful organ recovery.

Even though Logan has passed, Bernadine and Toby know that their son's heart is beating somewhere today in Canada. The Boulet story will be told many times, not only in this country but in the world, as both parents have agreed to speak about their ordeal to help others better understand the importance of organ and tissue donations. They, by the way, fully endorse Bill C-316.

Since Logan's tragic passing, almost 100,000 Canadians have registered to become organ donors. It is clear that Logan's selfless decision to become an organ donor has made a lasting impression in this country.

Let us spin ahead to next year, April 7, 2019, which is exactly one year after the passing of Logan Boulet in the RUH hospital in Saskatoon. The Canadian Transplant Society will proclaim “wear green shirt day” in Canada. Green, of course, is the colour of the Humboldt Broncos, the team he played for in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. “Wear green shirt day” will be in recognition of Logan, along with many other organ donors in this country.

It is clear that the benefits organ donors provide to people in need is invaluable, and this bill would offer a simple solution that would help provide these benefits to as many Canadians as possible.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of C-316, an act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors). I am also proud to be one of its seconders.

I want to begin by thanking and commending the member for Calgary Confederation for his work in preparing this bill and helping to do two things: one to help Parliament, the government, and Canadians who engage in an important conversation about organ donating; and also to suggest a way to improve the lives of people so that more people can inherit that gift of life through organ transplants.

This is no less than a matter of life and death. As a United Church of Canada minister, I have had the privilege of helping families in the most difficult times of their lives. Those times have involved people who have lost loved ones, often tragically and unexpectedly, who were searching for solace and meaning in the face of often unspeakable grief. I have also worked with individuals who were waiting for life-saving, or life improving, surgery that involved receiving an organ or tissue from either a living person or one who had just died, but whose organs could go on living in their body, giving them a second chance at living a full life.

I do have a bias on this topic. I am unabashedly in favour of finding ways to open the conversation about organ donation and finding ways to make it as easy as possible for this to happen across our country.

An organ donation is called the gift of life. However, for me there are two gifts happening simultaneously. One, obviously for the recipient, whose life may be well saved by the donation, but also another, the gift for the donor and their family. In my experience, the donor and his or her family often receive as much, or even more, benefit from the organ donation. For the family, it often helps to make sense and give meaning in the midst of a tragic loss.

I was 11 years old when Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world's first human-to-human heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa. I can still remember watching the news that night and being absolutely overwhelmed at that possibility. He transplanted the heart of Denise Darvall, who had died from a head injury, into the chest of Louis Washkansky. While he only lived for 18 days following the surgery, he regained consciousness and taught his medical team important lessons about the immune system and anti-rejection drugs. The second patient, whose transplant happened 50 years ago this year, lived for nineteen months, and opened up the possibility for heart patients around the world to have hope for a healthy, happy, full and long life.

We have come a long way since then. Modem medicine now allows for transplantation of organs including the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestine, skin and thymus. Tissues that may be transplanted include bones, tendons, muscles, corneas, heart valves and veins. Medicine continues to grow and offer life-changing opportunities for people suffering from many afflictions. To change lives, it takes the willingness of people to donate their organs or tissue, and it takes systems that facilitate that in the most humane and efficient ways possible.

This bill quite simply would amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act to authorize the Canada Revenue Agency to enter into an agreement with a province or a territory regarding the collection and disclosure of information required for establishing or maintaining an organ donor registry in that province or territory.

During the other speeches I double-checked my own status. I first checked my Ontario licence to see if I was a donor, and it was not there. Then I checked my health card, only because I was prompted when I got to the website for the Ontario government. It is not an easy process. An easier process is to check a box when we are filing our income tax return. It is not difficult.

Our government recognizes the value of organ and tissue donation and transplantation, establishing leading practices, strengthening professional education and raising awareness. We have invested money with Canadian Blood Services and in research as well, but more can be done. This is quite a simple way to expand the gift of life, to get better health outcomes. I encourage all members to support sending this bill to committee, where it can be both studied and perhaps even improved.

My hope is that the committee will recognize that provinces and territories could use help to register consent for organ and tissue donation, especially organ and tissue donation after death, post-mortem, at a time when it is easy to do. Believe it or not, doing taxes is not that hard. It is not that stressful.

People can take that moment when they are filing their taxes and take just a second to check the box and do it. However, being the kind of person I am, I want to push even a bit further to ask whether that is the only place the federal government can help. Perhaps the committee could consider in all respects where Service Canada encounters Canadians, such as when people get a passport, which is surely less stressful than filing income taxes. The committee has some work to do on this bill. I support it fully and I suspect that we will be able to find a way for the federal government to efficiently and humanely help people make this decision in a timely way.

Ensuring that we register advance directives is critical. It is one way to relieve the pressure on a family. In an emergency room when a family is dealing with a life-and-death situation when someone has been brought in after a car accident and the family is told at that moment that the person they perhaps loved the most in the world is dead or is about to die, and they are being asked to give permission for organ donation, it is a confusing time. As a pastor, I have often stepped in to help families when physicians or nurses are trying to remain neutral. My job as a pastor is to help them deal with that death, and I know that one way to deal with it is to make sure that life comes out of darkness and death. That is the way we can do it, by helping a family. If we can avoid having to do it at that time of urgent care in a hospital when someone has died and someone else is facing a tragic decision, then we should do it. It is a matter of life and death and we have the power. We do not often, in the House, get to save lives. We are not first responders. In this bill, we have a chance to save lives and we should take it. Ensuring that there is a safe, good, efficient way to register advance directives is part of our mandate as members of this House of Commons, and this bill would accomplish that.

We all have stories about this. A couple of years ago, I read a story that came out of a school shooting during a wave of violence. This particular story happened in Paducah, Kentucky. Several children died in a school shooting. Afterward, a reporter asked the mother of one of the little girls who had been shot what her thoughts had been as she raced to the hospital. She said she kept praying over and over again, “Lord, let my daughter live.” The reporter continued, “What happened when you found out that your daughter was dead?” The mother responded, “I started praying they would be able to use her organs so that others could live.” Indeed, that came about. What happened was that this little girl's heart was given to a man who desperately needed a transplant. Months later, the mother went to see him. She was introduced to the man and asked for one thing: Could she put her head against his chest to hear her daughter's heart beating again? This act was a gift to both families. It was a gift to a mother who had lost a daughter and a gift to a man who had new life: a little girl's heart beating and beating and beating.

In the House, we have a chance to make that kind of a difference. We can send this bill to committee, we can make sure it gets passed and we can save a life.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. I want to inform the hon. member that she has approximately three and a half minutes.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, three and a half minutes is a very short time to express my support for this private member's bill. I want to congratulate the member for Calgary Confederation for a very elegant and simple solution to a significant problem in Canada.

His proposed solution is when people do their tax returns, they have the ability to make decisions on organ donation and that information is then transferred to the registries of the provinces and territories.

Especially with the electronic forms that are done nowadays or when people give the information to their accountant, it is a quick and very simple question to answer, and a very important question. It prods people to make that decision and to look at that this every year.

I know there is an issue with people who are not taxpayers. We know some people perhaps do not pay taxes, but still fill in the forms for the child benefit program, for example. Not only do taxpayers fill out the forms, but other people do so regularly, often from at a your age, in order to get the child tax benefits or to look for summer employment. Again, I congratulate the member on this elegant solution.

The member also noted, quite rightly, that it would not be a big burden on the Canada Revenue Agency. It already has significant infrastructure in place to move information back and forth between the federal government and the provinces.

We have heard a lot of heartfelt stories. I have listened to the debate tonight. I think we all have someone in our lives who we know has been impacted.

I spent many years in a nursing career in a rural community. I can remember both sides, the donor and the donor recipient. Dealing with patients over the years, I can certainly remember clearly when people would come in and their loved one were not going to make it. We had to have these awful conversations with family members on what their loved ones' wishes were. We wanted to ensure their wishes were acknowledged. Also, in the rural community, we wanted to ensure we got the patient transported to take care of their wishes.

Too often, family members said that they had never had the conversation. Having it on the tax forms would make it easier. Hopefully there will be a way for the provinces to flag it for these small rural centres and other places throughout the province. Then they will know whether loved ones have indicated they want to be organ donors. We would then be able to have those conversations with the families.

I can remember one young girl who had kidney disease. I remember how long she had to wait for a donor to come forward. She was very young. She suffered greatly. We saw her through many months of difficulties as she waited patiently for an organ donor.

I congratulate the member on this elegant solution. I hope we get the support from all members in the House to move this private member's bill forward.

Canada Revenue Agency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

September 25th, 2018 / 6:55 p.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here because in the spring I asked about the 18,000 low-income seniors, largely in Atlantic Canada who did their job, filed their taxes on time and expected that the government would do its job and make sure they would receive their GIS on time. This did not happen. Many seniors were left without their guaranteed income supplement and struggled to come up with the money they did not have to pay for things like rent, medication and food.

The response from the Minister of National Revenue was that their government was “improving the services provided by the Canada Revenue Agency to make it easier for Canadians to file their taxes and give them access to the benefits they are entitled to”. Obviously, that did not work. The result was 18,000 seniors were seriously delayed in getting their GIS payment.

As a spokesperson on seniors issues for the NDP, I am regularly disappointed at how often it feels I am explaining poverty to the government. These are real issues, with real people behind them. These are seniors calling my office because they did not get their GIS and they are scared they will have to tell their landlord that they cannot pay the rent. These are men and women in their 80s and 90s facing homelessness because the government cannot get the services running smoothly.

It is important that we take a moment to thank the amazing people in the public sector who are doing their jobs every day, doing the best that they can for Canadians. I have to point out, though, it is the government's job to work with these hard-working people and identify where the gaps are so these incidents do not happen.

I am thinking of my own constituents. For example, an elderly man of 70 came to see us because he received a significantly lower amount of OAS and did not receive his guaranteed income supplement. Upon looking into his case we realized he had not filled in his 2016 tax return. He told our office that he had moved and did not have the T4s that were necessary. What we uncovered was that in fact he had moved to a seniors housing facility. He had significant health issues that made him unable to come into the office to sign the required form for CRA and Service Canada. My amazing staff did their work, and they went to his home. It was absolutely heartbreaking. He was in a very small room, with a bed that he also used as a couch. There was a tiny kitchen attached to his living area and a bathroom. He was very grateful for having that home. The reality was that this facility did not have a common area that provided meals, so he was eating very little, as he had extremely limited income.

It took us a few months to get it all sorted out for him, but during that time he could not afford to buy his medication. Costs, like food costs, were also beyond his means. Thankfully, the facility he lived in was very flexible with him about payment for the rent.

I also think of another senior in Powell River, whose GIS is on hold while CRA figures out what his new combined income is going to be now that his wife is going off disability and is retiring on CPP and OAS. He has not received a GIS cheque since last May, which is causing him concern. Right now, we are just ending summer, and he talked to us about how he is feeding himself with a small garden. He asked, “How long do they expect us to wait? Even our diet is being compromised right now, and if we didn't have a garden we wouldn't be eating very well. Does the government not realize that those few hundreds of dollars a month mean a lot to seniors on a fixed income?”

Withholding money from seniors who are eligible for GIS is terrible. As people age, we must make sure that the most vulnerable get the services they need. When will these services be fast-tracked so that the most vulnerable do not go hungry or without medication?

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Sean Fraser Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this important question.

Before I begin my prepared remarks, I would like to share that, growing up in rural Atlantic Canada, I never fully appreciated the plight of seniors living in poverty until I went knocking on doors in the 2015 election campaign. Therefore, I can say it was a very proud moment for me when I saw the implementation of our commitment to boost the guaranteed income supplement by 10% for low-income single seniors, who have seen an increase of up to $947 in places like Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

I am happy to share with the hon. member that our government is committed to making it easier for Canadians to file their taxes and to ensure that they are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. We all know how stressful the end of the tax year can be. Often times we are scrambling to get documents together, and the government should do anything that it can to make this process easier for Canadians. For example, providing the income tax information for the given year to Service Canada for seniors who receive the GIS is a task we understand to be of the utmost importance.

To provide some background on the administration of the guaranteed income supplement, it is a program that is managed by Service Canada. The CRA works closely with Service Canada to ensure that seniors have the income information they require to assess whether they qualify for the benefit. Each year, because of changes to an individual's tax situation or information not received by the federal government, some individuals who were entitled to benefits the previous year may not receive them. We are aware of the importance of the timelines for delivery of this information and it is not a responsibility that we take lightly. I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague about the importance of processing returns quickly so that eligible seniors continue to receive the GIS, and in a timely way.

The CRA has implemented changes to ensure GIS recipients have their returns assessed in time for benefit calculations and issuance if they have filed on time. Specifically, the CRA has created a tracking process during peak filing season that will identify GIS-eligible files, ensure their returns are processed in priority, and inform Canadians of the importance of filing on time by including information on the cover page of the T1 guide, with online content and social media messaging. It is also important to note that 95% of the GIS beneficiaries have their benefits renewed automatically each year by Service Canada, as is determined by a person's income details.

I am sure we all agree that it is of great concern to CRA when a person who is entitled to a benefit does not receive it. Like my colleague, I have a great concern for the well-being of seniors who depend on these benefits.

It is important to note that there is an established protocol in place for seniors to get in touch with Service Canada should they be concerned about the timely delivery of their GIS benefits. It is especially important that, as a part of our duties as elected officials, we share information with Canadians on how to get the information they need to answer important questions like these. In the case of the GIS, there are several toll-free lines available to Canadians so their questions can be answered and their situations sorted out.

I am confident that we all have the same priorities in mind when it comes to making sure that benefits reach vulnerable Canadians who qualify for them in a dependable and timely matter.

As an Atlantic Canadian, I know first-hand what it is like to see seniors living in poverty in our constituency, and I am going to work as hard as I can in this role to ensure that our seniors who are entitled to GIS benefits receive them, and in a timely way.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out the fact that it was 18,000 seniors in Atlantic Canada who had to wait. I also want to point out again, when I look at the story that I just shared, that this family has been waiting since May to find out what is going to happen with their GIS. The garden is not going to be supplying food through the winter. Therefore, these are real issues where people are having to wait.

I understand that this member has some experience. I am really happy to hear he knocked on doors and heard those serious concerns from Canadians. However, when I have people in their 80s and 90s calling my office because they have lost their GIS for one reason or another, I have to ask myself this. What kind of income does the Liberal government think that 80-year-old or 90-year-old people would be getting that would take them off the GIS? What if a senior is really ill and cannot file his or her taxes in a timely fashion because he or she is in the hospital? It seems really scary to me to have weeping seniors asking if they are going to be kicked out of their home.

Therefore, I encourage this member to really look at this file. I understand that it is not his. However—