Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity again to speak in support of Bill C-93, an act to amend the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, the Income Tax Act and the Tax Court of Canada Act.
As members will recall, the purpose of the bill is to establish an appeal of decisions of the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board to the Tax Court of Canada. Members will also recall that this is the reinstatement of a right that had previously existed. I repeat that it is the reinstatement of a right that had previously existed but was lost when the responsibility for determining the fair market value of certified cultural property was transferred from Revenue Canada to the review board.
Some people have incorrectly called tax incentives for donations to museums, art galleries, archives and libraries a tax loophole for the rich. While some wealthy people do benefit from these credits, there are also many people who donate important objects of Canadiana that have been in their families for generations.
According to the Canadian Museums Association, over 60 million people visited museums in Canada last year. As part of their experience of visiting a museum, these 60 million people were able to view objects that are now in public collections because of the tax credits available for donations. Without these incentives, many of these donations would not have been made and the objects would have instead been exported and sold to museums in other countries.
If Canadians and visitors to Canada are not able to learn about our past by visiting museums, the damage to our history and to our identity as Canadians will be immeasurable. Museums, art galleries, archives and libraries are not just warehouses full of objects that never see the light of day. On the contrary, they are lively centres of education and learning where one learns about the past through objects that have been preserved for the present and future generations.
The idea was perhaps most eloquently stated by Sir Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist of Canada from 1904 to 1935, when he wrote about archival documents: "Of all the nation's assets,
archives are the most precious. They are the gift of one generation to another. The extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization". These words apply equally to the holdings of museums, art galleries and libraries.
Tax incentives that offer partial financial compensation to a donor of cultural property are a small price to pay for the preservation of our national heritage. Through these tax credits, the Government of Canada is able to assist institutions to continue to acquire and preserve significant cultural objects when acquisition budgets are shrinking or non-existent.
It is also important to consider these amendments in the tradition of tax incentives as a means to encourage charitable donations. Income tax exemptions for donations to educational institutions, hospitals and churches have been included in the Income Tax Act since its passage in 1916.
In 1930 these exemptions were extended to registered charities. Tax exemptions for donations to educational and charitable institutions including museums, archives and libraries have therefore been a fundamental principle of the tax policy since income tax was first introduced.
In recent years, the Income Tax Act has been amended so that tax credits now extend to gifts to non-profit organizations that provide housing for senior citizens, Canadian amateur athletic associations, Canadian municipalities, the United Nations and its agencies, and registered national art service organizations. As this list indicates, tax credits are part of an overall fiscal strategy to encourage donations to a wide range of organizations.
Institutions designated pursuant to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, that is institutions that have demonstrated they meet legal and professional requirements for the preservation of our cultural property, are both educational institutions and registered charities. Tax credits for donations to these institutions are therefore not new but instead are consistent with the history of giving in Canada.
It has also been suggested that tax credits for donations of cultural property are a waste of taxpayers' money because donors are able to get rid of works of questionable importance. This suggestion demonstrates a lack of understanding of the collecting practices of Canada's custodial institutions and of the professionalism of Canadian curators. It also implies that every object acquired by a museum, art gallery, archive or library is automatically certified as a cultural property for income tax purposes.
I would like to address each of these points in order, as an understanding of these issues is key to understanding the importance of the tax credits available for gifts of cultural property.
First, with respect to the acquisition mandates and practices of Canadian custodial institutions, it must be understood that these institutions are established with a specific mandate to acquire and preserve defined types of objects. Museum curators must therefore carefully select which objects they are going to acquire and must be able to demonstrate how they fit into this acquisition mandate. They do not accept just anything or everything. In fact, I have been told by senior museum curators that they turn down as many offers of gifts as they accept.
Second, museums, archives and libraries are staffed by professional personnel who are acknowledged experts in their subject areas. They know what is culturally significant and what is not. They know what should be preserved and what sometimes unfortunately, must be allowed to perish or be exported. They are also keenly aware that their institutions cannot preserve every example of even important cultural objects. In short, professional judgment is applied when decisions are being made about what objects are worthy of being added to the permanent collection.
Third, there seems to be an assumption that when an object is chosen for inclusion in a public collection it is somehow automatically certified as cultural property and therefore is eligible for a tax credit. Again, this is a fallacy. Just as professional judgment is applied to what will be required, it is also applied when deciding if an application for certification as cultural property for income tax purposes should be submitted. In short, only a fraction of the objects that are acquired in any given year receive a tax credit.
To be eligible for certification, an object or a collection must satisfy the criteria of outstanding significance and national importance found in section 11(1) of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, which states:
(a) whether that object is of outstanding significance by reason of its close association with Canadian history or national life, its aesthetic qualities, or its value in the study of the arts or sciences; and
(b) whether the object is of such a degree of national importance that its loss to Canada would significantly diminish the national heritage.
It is clear from these criteria that only truly significant objects are eligible for certification for income tax purposes. The decision is not made arbitrarily but rather according to specific legislative requirements that are applied uniformly to all objects that are considered for certification by the review board. It is also worth noting that the decision as to whether an object is of outstanding significance and national importance is made by a board composed of people who are active in the cultural community.
The Cultural Property Export and Import Act requires that review boards be comprised of people who work in custodial institutions, people who buy and sell cultural property, or people
who actively collect objects that are important to Canada's cultural heritage. The review board is therefore a board of experts who are knowledgeable about both the significant and fair market value of cultural property.
When the previous government decided to transfer the responsibility for determining the fair market value of cultural property from Revenue Canada to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board it did so without consultation. Members of the review board were not consulted. Dealers and collectors of art and antiques were not consulted. Custodial institutions were not consulted.
In the course of implementing its new mandate, the review board sometimes lowered the proposed fair market value of cultural property. While this was inevitable and had also been the practice at Revenue Canada, the result was that some donors felt that their donations had been undervalued. When they attempted to appeal the board's determination, it was discovered that the right of appeal that had existed under the Income Tax Act had been lost.
In response to the concerns raised, consultations then took place with members of the review board, dealers, donors and representatives of the institutions that collect cultural property. Their response was unanimous: The right to appeal review board decisions was necessary to ensure that the system continued to work fairly.
Bill C-93 is a manifestation of the will of the people. It is not something that was dreamed up by this government, nor is it an expansion of existing tax incentives for the donation of cultural property. It is instead the reinstatement of a right that was lost in 1991. It is also a tangible demonstration that this government listens to the people of Canada and is prepared to move quickly to correct imbalances and inequities in the tax system.
There has been much talk from members of the third party about fairness in the tax system yet they oppose a bill that is just about that, fairness. The current system with the lack of an appeal of determination of fair market value has been characterized by many people as being unfair. The establishment of not one but two appeal processes will restore fairness to the system. It will ensure that if donors believe they have a legitimate dispute with the review board they will be able to pursue it first with the review board and, if necessary, in the tax courts.
Donations to museums, archives and libraries involve a triangular relationship between the donor, the recipient institution and when certification as cultural property is required, between the donor and the institution on one hand and the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board on the other. This relationship is one of mutual respect and co-operation in the preservation of Canada's heritage in movable cultural property. This relationship must also include a mechanism for dispute resolution if and when the participants cannot agree about the value of the gift.
The appeal process of determinations by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board proposed in Bill C-93 will permit
any donor of cultural property who disagrees with a review board determination the opportunity to pursue this first with the board and if necessary ultimately with the Tax Court of Canada.
The amendments proposed in the bill should be viewed as a guarantee of the donor's right to natural justice through an appeal to the judicial system if that is warranted. These amendments should also be viewed as a reinstatement of a right of appeal that was lost in 1991 when the responsibility for determining fair market value was transferred to the review board.
We believe it is important that the decisions of government boards and agencies be subject to appeal because even in the honest exercise of judgment, differences of opinion can occur. An open and transparent process with respect to determinations by the review board is essential and the right to pursue the matter in the courts, if no other resolution can be found, is consistent with both the Canadian legal system and the concept of natural justice.
As Canadians we have the privilege to live in a country with many cultures. The material history, the cultural property of many diverse groups that make up Canadian society must continue to be preserved for the benefit of all Canadians. I believe the amendments contained in Bill C-93 will help to ensure this happens and will only improve the already unique Canadian approach to protecting cultural property.
In conclusion, I would urge the support of the House for Bill C-93.