Madam Speaker, I was very impressed with the comments by the hon. member for Halifax in many areas. I was particularly taken by her comment that our non-profit groups across Canada are doing the work that government used to do, should be doing and recently has not been doing adequately. It is particularly important that we support our non-profits across Canada in every non-bureaucratic way that we can.
The proposed Bill C-4 has a very narrow scope. It deals only with regulatory reform for non-profit corporations. Despite that, it manages to be incredibly lengthy. Reform is necessary. Better regulations are definitely needed, but not simply more.
I have two problems with this bill. First, it does not deal with the important reforms that this sector has wanted. Second, I have problems with the way it carries out the changes it does deal with.
Regarding my first point, this bill does not address the major concerns of the non-profit sector. Through years of consultations, including the voluntary sector initiative and its government counterpart, groups in the sector have made it very clear that they want and need the following: clarification and improvements in the charitable status process, help to secure stable and long-term financing and help to address advocacy needs. It is unclear how this bill will help them in these areas.
In the voluntary sector initiative's final report, the need for support for financial accountability and reform for the sector is clear. They ask for assistance in identifying and developing tools for financial management. They ask for accountability and the assistance to gain skills in these areas. This bill fundamentally changes the financial accountability of the sector, but training and skills development do not seem to be a part of the government's plan.
Non-profits have been clear that after years of reduced funding and less-secure funding, they need the means to conduct their businesses through social entrepreneurship in a more streamlined manner. Non-partisan political advocacy is currently ruled by what is commonly called the 10% rule, meaning that no more than 10% of any non-profit's efforts can go towards political advocacy. The sector remains concerned that this is an arbitrary number, difficult to measure and subject to abuse. The right of an organization to bear public witness on an issue that impacts their goals should not be marginalized.
A healthy civil society depends on not-for-profits being allowed to address the issues that are fundamental to their existence in the first place and to educate the general public, the media and the government. Charitable tax status is a long and complicated process. There are complaints that this process can take months or even years longer than it is supposed to. It is a complicated process that leaves too much room for error, delay and perhaps abuse. This bill does nothing to ease that process.
Non-profits have been clear that they want and need tax relief for volunteers. According to Imagine Canada, as the hon. member for Halifax has pointed out, the non-profit and volunteer sector is the second-largest per capita in the world, contributing over 7% to our gross domestic product. This sector has long been supported by some type of government tax incentive program.
I know that Canada's voluntary sector was not hoping for a complicated legalization of Robert's Rules of Order. I am finding it hard to see how 170 pages of complex new regulations, replacing a few pages in part II of the current Canada Corporations Act, could make life much easier for our non-profits and the volunteers who often run them.
If the government would be willing to spend as much time dealing with issues important to the sector as it has on regulating it, we could have a stronger voluntary sector in Canada. We do not need restrictive and complicated regulations that will all but exclude lay people from starting or running charities and non-profits.
In Thunder Bay--Superior North, we have various groups. The Royal Canadian Legion is in Geraldton, Marathon, Nipigon and throughout the region. We have Environment North, northwestern Ontario's long-standing voice for the environment. We have the Canadian Mental Health Association. We have PACE, People Advocating for Change through Empowerment, in Thunder Bay. We have NOSA, the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen's Alliance. These are the kinds of groups that need support, not hindrance.
The second group is found in some of the rules and loopholes that this bill sets down. After we had the do-not-call registry debacle, which is achieving the opposite of what was intended in that people on the list are receiving more telemarketer calls, not fewer, Canadians are right to be wary of any more government regulations that will make it easier for people or organizations to access our private information.
Subclause 23(2) of the proposed bill gives debt obligation holders of the non-profit organization or any member within it access to the entire membership list in one convenient package. This is very worrisome. Anyone could sign up as a member, sign a form and access the whole membership list of, for example, the Canadian Red Cross. Who knows where that information would go? Foreign individuals or groups engaged in these activities would be virtually impossible to prosecute. This issue of privacy violation should be scrutinized carefully.
Regulatory reform would be a minor improvement for the non-profit sector, but it is not their main priority. Special attention must be paid to strengthening the privacy of member lists and minimizing the regulatory burden imposed on non-profits by this voluminous legislation.
I hope that our House members will pay due diligence to these concerns in committee.