Masse Speaks on Bill C-4, Not-for-Profits
February 12th, 2009 - 4:00am
02Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-4. It is an important bill for a couple of reasons. It really shows how the government has missed the mark, especially for the not-for-profit and charitable sector.
At a time when we know charitable donations have gone down, a time when the government has reduced what we get back in terms of giving because it has not adjusted the formula properly, so over the last number of years when we have had a lower tax rate applied it has reduced the charitable money we get back from the government. It has not fixed that so it has taken money away from charities and from individuals giving to charities.
The government decided to bring forward a bill by itself that is basically a legalization of the Robert's Rules of Order at a time when charities are struggling to get by. I am not going to accept that. I am not going to accept the bill in its current form. The government needs to be told to go back, clean up its act and do something for charities that are struggling.
Right now we have an economic meltdown with so many different groups and organizations which are suffering to get by and some are actually closing their doors. Now the government is going to pass on incredible legal costs and also a whole process cost to those organizations. It is important to recognize that this started back in the year 2000. I remember going to the voluntary sector initiative outreach that was done in 2000. That was eight years ago.
My work record is with the not-for-profit sector. I worked as a job developer at Community Living Mississauga. I worked at the Association For Persons With Physical Disabilities and I worked at the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. I have been a board director for the AIDS committee and board director for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I have been at the table and I know how complicated and how we do need to improve some of our processes. Accountability is important and some elements in the bill do that to some degree, but at the same time it was not the only thing that was being asked of the bill.
We were asking quite clearly for new regulations with regard to charitable giving, to be able to reward volunteers for their time which is done in the United States where there is a tax write-off for volunteering of time. To be able to rebate money back to people like the Victorian Order of Nurses where it gives a receipt for gas and people's volunteer hours.
What do we get from the government? We get a process that is going to further cause pain and suffering in those organizations which have to deal with it right now. There is no plan or assistance and that is the problem. That is why I am saying now is not the time to do this. The government should be told to go back to the drawing board and bring something back with balance, bring something back that is going to be able to provide the charities and the not-for-profit organizations the capabilities to fulfill the bill without have to draw from their programs. That is what will happen, as they have to go through the retraining of board members and staff to implement new administrative processes.
We have seen a technological age come about that has made things even more complicated through emails and a whole series of other types of initiatives that are also going to have some rules around them that will have a cost too through the management systems of their computers and their actual processes. Where is the money going to come from for that?
Is the government going to come down heavy on those organizations that will not be able to do that right away? Is it going to go through an audit and target different organizations without the capability of large ones? That is important to recognize because not all organizations operate in the same way. I can understand the impetus and support the principles of trying to bring some of this accountability forward, which is important, but the Lions Clubs, the Legions and a whole series of others are going to be pretty shocked and wonder if they are going to have to follow the same process as the Toronto Port Authority. That is not right, to be done without any type of supports.
The government has had alternatives in the House. I had a private member's bill that would review the whole way charitable donations are given. What I proposed is similar to a political donation, when money is given, a generous return is given back. I have asked for the same thing for the charities to be capped at a certain level so it does not cost an exponential amount of money, but people can get their return and the charities can move forward. For example, when people give to a party in this country, for example, $400, they get 75% of that back. But if they give to the United Way or the Scouts Canada, or the Victorian Order of Nurses they get a mere pittance back.
What I propose is that we actually invert that so that those charities can have another revenue stream right now and make sure that the fiscal stimulus that happens in local communities goes to social organizations that are combatting the issues they are facing right now.
Some of the great organizations available to the public in my riding, such as our United Way, have to spend money from the reserves to support their current programs. They are going to be dealing with the consequences of a government that has put its head in the sand with regard to the economy for so many years until this was thrust upon them. The government has no plan. People are losing their homes, having more social problems and experiencing greater stress in their lives. They will be turning to those organizations to get support. They will be turning to credit counselling. They will be turning to the Alzheimer's Association to get assistance for their loved ones. They will be turning to all those groups to get the support they need.
Those groups will have to learn 170 pages of legislation and implement it through their system at the time of greatest need in Canada. That is the wrong approach. This government should be told to go back to the drawing board and bring back some tools that will enable these agencies to deal with this change, put some money towards it and deal with the other things that the voluntary sector initiative tried to bring about. Those elements were to strengthen those core organizations so that they would have the capability to start planning for the future and expand their mandates in Canada in order to deal with new cases and problems in a fair way.
There are some elements in Bill C-4 that I do support. There are some good things, but they cannot be done alone. There were some talks and discussions by some groups back in 2002 and 2005. I know that has been a more modest approach than the 2000 pan-Canada consultations that took place. However, those are years in the past and were done in a time that is totally different from today.
This government needs to start thinking about the organizations out there that are supporting the social economy. The social economy is significant in this country. Eight percent of our GDP is tied to those groups and organizations that are helping people get by and providing the services and programs that governments turn their back on because it does not want to fund them. People in our civil society say that they are not going to put up with that and they form these collective organizations to make a real social change. They fight back by creating a board of directors. They get their incorporation and start doing the charitable work necessary to improve the people of their community and country, as they work together across many regions and provinces.
That is what ends up happening. However, these organizations are going to have thrust upon them another cost, expense, process or procedure that is going to divert them from the work that is so necessary right now. I think of some of the things that have happened just recently in my area. I know that the Alzheimer Society and Sally Bennett Politidis just opened up a new facility in Windsor and Essex county. It is a great organization and they have been able to open their doors and provide for more respite care to assist a number of people who are not getting support from government programs.
People are behind it. They have donated lots of money. They have had a good campaign and have opened a beautiful new building that they are sustaining. Now, they are going to have to spend their time looking at a bill and deciding how they are going to have to change their operations and cope with this new set of rules when what they really need is support from this government to sustain their operations. That is what should be happening. There is absolutely nothing in this budget for not-for-profit entities. Not a single thing. Not only did it not support the traditional programs such as child care that we have been fighting for in Parliament to get through, the government turned its back on every not-for-profit and charitable organization out there.
It has known about its actions and about clawing money back from Canadian taxpayers for the last number of years. The last number of budgets that have reduced the bottom income for taxation is coupled with the act that provides the rate of return one gets for charitable giving. That has shrunk over these years. It has gone in the reverse direction. I will concede that it is only a few dollars per person, but it is a symbolic gesture of a government that will not even address a simple issue and turn its back on charities and other organizations out there. That is unacceptable.
Once again, we submitted my private member's bill. We have actually had other submissions out there, but my private member's bill is about making charitable donations similar to those to political parties. It was interesting, because I asked for unanimous consent for this bill and it was denied in the House of Commons here. It would have been an important one that could have been effective.
I had put the bill forward last year. The parliamentary research came back and said it would cost around $800 million to do it. I said fine, we could actually phase it in over time, but at the time the government said it was just too much money, that it could not afford $800 million of taxpayers' money.
Ironically, that money would have gone to local communities because it would have gone toward donations of individuals. It would have been a tax return for people, a tax investment back to the social programs that we actually support in our community. Those charities and organizations would be able to track new donors, who could give more to someone else or continue to give. The number of donors is dwindling in Canada because people cannot afford it as much anymore.
The government said it was too much money at that time. Look at what we are doing right now with the billions of dollars that are going out to the banks and so forth. They seem to get their share, but there is no money for individuals who are giving to charities, no money to reward people who are giving to Scouts Canada, no money to reward people who are giving to hospitals and universities. They count as well. There is no money for any of that, no money for people to make a decision about how they want to help advance civil society.
Instead what the Conservatives did was come back to Parliament with an old retread bill that has been tabled a couple of times in this House of Commons, which was actually consulted on widely in Canada back eight years ago, and members can imagine the different type of society we had then versus now. They are going to give us that. They are going to ram it down our throats and say, “Here, this is what the Government of Canada is going to do for the not-for-profit sector this year. We are going to reduce the amount that individuals can get back at tax time and give a new Robert's Rules of Order so that boards of directors, staff and all administrative components are going to have to be reviewed. They are going to have to be evaluated. Oh and by the way, you will probably have to get some legal advice on that. Good luck. We are not going to provide any assistance for that either”.
That is not right. These organizations right now, such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters in my riding and other ones like Write Now, need to be concentrating on making sure people can continue to volunteer and support them.
They have two fronts to deal with. They have a front where people do not have enough money right now to actually donate, and donations are slipping, and they also have to deal with the fact that volunteers are drying up as well. That is important to recognize because the volunteer initiative really needs focus, and the not-for-profits said at that time that they wanted to be able to stimulate their volunteers and reward them.
There are all kinds of things we could do. I mentioned how the United States gives a tax credit for that. There are all kinds of opportunities to do something for those individuals. Let us face it, what is happening with most Canadians now is that a lot of them are having to get one or two jobs, or go back to training or school, even if they are working right now, so they have less time to give back to those organizations that they would want to.
This is the thing that needs to be adjusted. We need to focus on some type of legislation that is going to happen and facilitate that type of encouragement. I cannot believe we would just come forward in this House of Commons and say that we are not going to do any of those other initiatives, that we are going to deny the other requests that were made and bring a big copy of Robert's Rules of Order for them and good luck, they are on their own.
I say enough is enough. If this makes it to committee and we end up spending our time on this, we are going to have to bring all the not-for-profit organizations to the table. We are going to have to hear from them about what is happening in their particular industry. We are going to have to hear from them about how they are getting by right now and how they are going to implement this particular piece of legislation while not affecting a single penny of their actual revenues going out to their programs.
It would be a shame if the Conservatives, supported by whomever here, would implement a bill right now, at a time when these charities need our support, that actually would take money out of programming, because they have to do administrative procedures now. That needs to be addressed. There needs to be a plan behind it. I have not heard that plan. I have listened to the government on this and I have not heard anything from the Conservatives' comments to deal with that particular situation.
I do not think anybody in this House of Commons want to go back to their communities right now and see money taken away that could actually go to programs right now or updating facilities to deal with the financial and other implications, the stresses that are happening, with our current economy.
My area has had 10% unemployment for the last number of years.
We just finished our United Way campaign and they actually had to pull from the reserves. That traditionally is not the situation. With the downturn in the automotive sector and a number of different manufacturing sector losses over the years we have lost great generosity from members, men and women, often in the CAW and sometimes not in the CAW and also salaried employees giving the most per capita often in Canada.
However we are having a problem now. The loss of those jobs has eliminated the donations, not only from the actual companies that used to provide donations, and some of which made large donations to the United Way, but also those individuals who used to be employed there. That has dried up as well and the ones who are left are stuck with having to pull things together.
I want to congratulate the men and women of CAW 1973 who despite having their transmission plant closing in 2010, they actually up their donations and led the United Way. The men and women of the CAW came forward and actually gave more money than ever before knowingly they are going to lose their jobs.
They are not giving up on the charitable sector. Those are the individuals who are saying, “We've got to do more”. What does the government do? Yes, it does more. It gives a Robert's Rule of Order that is going to take away from those groups and that is unacceptable. It could have actually put something in the budget. It could have attached something to the bill. Even if it did not want to put out cash or some type of stimulus to the actual agencies, it could have rewarded Canadians who give to charities. The government decided not to do that.
The government decided as well not even to reward the volunteer effort of Canadians, the thousands of hours that people give to charities, whether it be for the environment, for children, for seniors or for educational institutions, on all of those things it could have given some type of reward for individuals to show that they really need to get engaged back in their communities and if they do so the government will reward them. As a government it will come forward and recognize that people need to get more active in their communities.
That is what is happening in other parts of the world. There is a recognition that people need to come together stronger than before. The government could do some type of small initiative for that or at least throw a crumb for crying out loud and do something. People are willing to continue to do these things but they are under much greater stress. Once again, they are either working one or two jobs, or going back to school and retraining and all of those things are happening right now.
I am saying no, to Bill C-4. I want the government to be told to go back to the drawing board and bring forward something that is actually going to be progressive and balanced for the charities and to make sure that it is not going to cost any money for them. If the government is going to bring in something it should at least acknowledge that there is going to be a cost.
I want to take this opportunity that on this side of the House we recognize that there is a responsibility on the government side to reward those Canadians who are actually charitably giving their time or their money. Both are values that are important to recognize and they are values that strengthen our civil society. They help eliminate poverty, reduce crime, improve literacy, and help people who are sick get better,whether one sits on the board of directors at a hospital, or on a board at a university or college or whether one is the person working the bingos at night. This is another industry that has been crushed because of the border issues. We have seen revenues dry up from that. People would go out and give their time with late hours just to make sure that a few dollars come into the organizations.
We recognize that there needs to be a partnership, that the government needs to be there for them and that just implementing a Robert's Rules of Order that will cost their administration time, money and also elements that are probably going to have to deal with some of the computers and other systems that they run and to do so without any support is irresponsible. We want to see something brought forward that is actually going to meet the needs of Canadian not-for-profits and their charities, not attack them at this time.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, that is important to recognize and I thank my colleague for the question because it touches upon a subject that I did not get too much into.
The bill further complicates the grassroots organizations that are trying to get together to form a social movement for education, literacy, anti-poverty and a whole series of different initiatives. It could be agriculture, the preservation of land, the environment. A number of groups that will try to get together will have further complications doing so under this bill and that is an issue.
It is important to contrast what we are seeing from the government with regard to not-for-profit organizations and charities versus the business sector, the government's pal. We know from the national survey of not-for-profit and voluntary organizations that 48% of organizations said they have difficulty obtaining funding from other organizations, including government. There is no surprise there. Twenty per cent said this problem is serious. The same proportion of organizations said that they have difficulty obtaining funding from individuals, although only 13% said this problem is serious. Finally, 42% of organizations said they have difficulty earning revenue. We know that is the current environment right now.
We have a budget that is going to be passed that does not do anything at all for not-for-profit organizations, not a single thing. It does not increase the amount of money people will get back, it does not provide any type of new supports or structures. The evidence is out there and in members' ridings people know that they are losing organizations. They know that a number of them are taxed when they try to get people information or actual work. Turning its back on the community is wrong right now.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, the question from my colleague is an important one right now.
Every not-for-profit organization spends a lot of time trying to recruit board members. Not-for-profit organizations need board members for a variety of reasons. They need people in accounting, they need lawyers, they need people who are connected to the community in different capacities to be able to raise funds. They need people who can deal with social policy. They want to make sure they have somebody who is going to be good with the people the organizations represent and being an advocate for their boards.
The organizations are now going to have to shift their vision to how they are going to educate their current board members under this 170-page document and find out how they are going to implement a strategy to shift it. It is going to require an extensive shift and a business operational plan.
At the same time, they are going to have to recruit members of the board. It is going to be extremely confusing and more and more difficult to bring board members online, in my opinion, at this particular time because people are concerned with a lot of other issues right now.
It is actually a sledgehammer approach and one that is very much focused on the Robert's Rules of Order way of bringing that in. Our gift to charities this year is they get more rules of order and more things to learn and go through and, oh, by the way, we are not going to help them with it. We are not going to provide them with new tax incentives, we are not going to reward their volunteers, we are not going to improve their facilities or provide some type of stimulus. We are going to let them do this on their own. Good luck.
Oh, and, by the way, if they want to lobby us, they should come to Ottawa because back in the year 2000 we did some consultation, eight years ago, and that will be our justifiable reason that we can do it on the Hill as opposed to what we should be doing, which is hearing from Canadians and their communities on how their charities are dealing with the current economic problems and how their communities are going to deal with cutbacks to services and the increased capacity necessary to deal with the social problems around a failing economy. That is what the government should be focused on.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, the member is right. There is an opportunity at committee to bring forth a number of different amendments. My concern is whether or not the government will have any interest to allow them. That is why I decided today to hold the line and to send the Conservatives a message is that we are extremely unhappy that they even initiated it without any actual thought or even a gesture of support for those organizations having to go through such a process. In fact, it will even be stressful for them to actually examine and analyze the bill to determine how their local organization is going to be affected and then to get a lobby going up on the Hill in order to have a presentation to have changes made. So, I agree with the member. I will be bringing forth, if this bill does go forward, a series of different amendments and we will have consultation--will the man from this corner of the House?--extensive consultations with not-for-profit organizations to be inclusive of how they are actually dealing with the current climate.
However, my concern in general, even right now, is that as we move toward that process it is going to be taxing on organizations. If this passed, I need to make sure that my not-for-profit organizations get copies of this bill because I know that they are going to have to go to their board members with it. If they are lucky enough to have a board member who is a lawyer on their board, they are going to have to examine that and get back to the board. So, they are going to have to focus on those things as opposed to what is really right important right now. Sometimes it is just outright survival. There are groups that are clinging on right now that will not even have the opportunity to actually get involved in the lobbying because they will just be too busy surviving and then later on, they are going to have a surprise at the end of the day.