Mr. Jean-François Larose (Repentigny, NDP)
moved that Bill C-399, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (volunteers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be here today to introduce this bill, which was drafted with the assistance of many parties. As a member of Parliament, I have heard from a great many people about this subject.
It is a real privilege for me to have this opportunity to talk about Bill C-399 today. This bill would create an income tax credit to offset travel costs for volunteers. I think that this is the first step in an exceptional direction. I am absolutely delighted to be talking about this bill today.
In my 15-minute presentation, I will cover three points.
First, I will talk about how our great nation recognizes the contribution of volunteers. Then I will talk about the problem of economic austerity that Canadians are currently experiencing to varying degrees. There is a lot of belt-tightening going on. Last, I will talk about a long-term, comprehensive vision and strategy.
This bill came about following consultations with various communities, many volunteers and different organizations, primarily in my riding, but also across our great land. I had the privilege of seeing and understanding many things because I had the opportunity to listen to people in different communities tell me about the problems that they are dealing with.
I would like to say that calling this piece of legislation “Bill C-399” seems rather cold to me, even though that is how things are done in the House of Commons. I therefore dedicated this bill to a person who was and still is very dear to my heart: my grandmother, Madeleine Nadeau. To me, this is “Madeleine Nadeau's bill”. She was the inspiration behind this bill—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jean-François Larose:
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, Madeleine Nadeau, a very important person in my life, is no longer with us. When she was alive, she gave her time and money. Her calling, her spiritual belief, was to help the community and her family, including me, her grandson. She always dreamed that I would end up here. I hope that she is looking down on me today because it is to her that I dedicate this bill, which is incredibly important to me.
I am also lucky enough to have a son with extraordinary grandparents, both on my side and on his mother's. They are philanthropists and volunteers. They actively help the community every day by listening, making suggestions or taking part in organizations, which they have a direct impact on.
We are at a turning point. A link must be made between what existed in the past and what must exist in the future. One thing has been been consistent throughout time. Human beings have always had this spark in them, a spark that is so small yet so immense that they are able to accomplish many things. Human beings have found themselves in situations of crisis, in dark moments in our history. But human beings have pulled together, built our nation and managed to move mountains, just by working together, by listening and thinking about others.
It was natural for me today to debate a bill designed to help volunteers. Every day, we give them a pat on the back, say congratulations and tell them we are glad they are there, but we never talk about serious measures for their future.
There have been some bad apples over the course of history. As a member of Parliament, I meet people. I see that they have less and less confidence in politics at all levels. Yet, they are very generous. They are prepared to be philanthropic by sharing their ideas, knowledge, time and money with community organizations across the country. This is what allows us to progress.
We are living in the information age. Our needs grow with our knowledge. We are trying to resolve a host of problems pertaining to the environment and health. There are always people who find the courage to create organizations to solve problems and mobilize society so that concrete measures are taken to help people and solve problems. We must protect this spark and have vision.
We often talk about the economy, but when a society does not work together to implement social measures, we cannot talk about a good economy. If we want to progress, if we want the government to evolve, we must talk about community relations, where there are volunteers, where this spark lives in everyone and where we can progress together.
If the government had to take over for all the volunteers in the country, it would cost billions of dollars. My bill will cost $800 million. It simply seeks to recognize the efforts of volunteers. It is a first step, but we must not stop there. We must go even further.
The Madeleine Nadeau bill is important to me. When I met with various groups and volunteers in certain regions of the country, I told them to take that the bill belongs to them and that it is non-partisan. It is a necessity. Everyone, at all levels, needs people who are willing to lend a helping hand. We need to help each other.
Some of my friends have gone through difficult times and received help from generous people in their community and organizations. These days, when it comes to services, we are just a number to the government. Furthermore, services for citizens are being reduced. However, no matter what kind of government services are needed, there is always an organization present. We can count on these people, who do not ask for a red cent, who are present, listen, are sincere, care for us and are there to help us. We cannot go on giving them just a pat on the back.
With respect to international policy, things are becoming increasingly difficult around the world. Not just here, but everywhere. Things are looking increasingly bleak.
The good thing is that people realize it. They are not fooled. The people are mobilizing. People are deciding to roll up their sleeves, to work, to move forward and to get results.
I have had many opportunities in my riding to work for a full day with volunteers. I participated in Fin à la faim and the March for Life. Today, the youth of Saint-Sulpice were taking action.
They were not asking for any money, they asked absolutely nothing of the community; they wanted to give back.
They walked around their community wearing t-shirts with “30 km/h” on them to make people aware that young people are concerned and want things to improve.
We must take a stance that will move us forward in a tangible way and make for a better future. A bill is one step and a committee is one step. We must ask ourselves whether we have a vision and a strategy for the next government. Will we develop partnerships with organizations, volunteers, philanthropists and community organizations?
Honestly, based on what I have seen thus far, these organizations are most often the ones that speak most honestly and transparently. They are the ones that show an interest and a desire to help, that make sacrifices every day, and that pay out of their own pockets to volunteer and get direct results, helping the community and society grow.
The government cannot simply encourage them and say well done. It must tell them sincerely that we are fortunate to have them.
In cases of floods and crises, who takes action? We give money and vote on bills, but who takes direct action? It is the volunteers and organizations. They are the ones who make a difference and who will build our future. That is the only way possible. We must develop this vision and strategy together.
Once again, the Madeleine Nadeau bill is a first step. I am asking all of my colleagues not to hesitate and to make this cause their own.
I will say this in English and I will be very clear about this: Charity work is not just something for which we give a pat on the back. Our nation is built on it. If we are to move forward in the new millennium, we should stop talking about technology. It will be based on human beings. It will be based on relationships we have among ourselves. The only way we can move forward is if we ask for direct, concrete action and stop talking, because contrary to certain things, sometimes we do not talk enough and we do not listen enough. In this case, it has been going on for generations. We know this to be true.
We must, at all costs, with the sparkle we all have inside us, defend it, build on it, make it grow and say that it is a vision we have as a nation.
We must build our nation on a vision of helping one another. As I think of my son, I have always wondered where we are heading and what our national vision is.
Well, here is one. Helping each other and the giving of oneself are two of our most shining social values. This is true on all levels: on a spiritual level—all religious groups have been doing it for ever—as well as on a community level, through mutual assistance, sharing and cooperatives. That is where we are now.
This bill is not perfect and it cannot solve every problem. But it is a first step in a great journey forward to a beautiful future.
You may laugh, but I am from the Star Trek generation, those for whom money is not important. What is important is intellect, action, exploration, in a word, giving the best of ourselves.
We need to help each other. We have reached the point where we must stop dreaming about it; we must believe in it. Each day, our community shows us how and points us in the right direction.
I am still very honoured to be able to walk among my fellow citizens every day, to be with them, to be humble, to listen to them with humility—you cannot be too humble—and to see what is possible and where life may take us.
We must listen to solutions and put them into action. That is what volunteers do. They act without even asking for anything in return.
I have had the opportunity to meet and sit down with volunteers. What they tell me is not right. Though they are prepared to spread their love to those around them and give their heart and soul for each and every one, they are no longer financially able to do so, because they have to pay for their transportation, to get to where they need to go.
We are creating a bill that helps those people and that recognizes what they do; a bill that tells them that we are there for them and we support them, that we are ready to work with them and that we are ready to build our society with them, that we are listening to them, that they have our ear; a bill that tells them that we are going to do more than that now, we are going to take action.
I am very honoured to be here today.
Mrs. Shelly Glover (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I have tremendous respect for some of the things the member said about volunteers, because as we all know, they are some of the greatest Canadians in doing some tremendously important work in our country. However, I do have some concerns about the bill.
The NDP has been known to repeatedly promise Canadians some extravagant things. It insists on saying it is going to build this, start that program, focus on giving this group a tax credit and so on. However, to be very frank and honest, this would grow government. It would cost Canadians more money. Taxpayers pay for these things.
Therefore, when I asked the member where he got the $800 million cost figure he provided, I was quite surprised at his response, because I did not expect him to be defensive. I inquired because Canadians want to know how we are going to pay for this. I am going to continue to ask the member to consider putting forward exactly where those numbers came from.
As my NDP colleague said, this would cost $800 million. However, he did not want to say where he got that number or who reviewed and confirmed the cost estimate. Since this would involve considerable new spending, did the NDP determine where the money would come from? What tax do they plan to increase? What program do they plan to make cuts to?
Again, I am saying this with tremendous respect because I too feel that volunteers have done a number of things to ensure that the country goes forward and succeeds.
I would like to applaud and thank all volunteers for the hard work they do right across Canada. We all know someone in our community who has done some remarkable things. They have given time selflessly to improve the quality of life for those in need and they do it without expectation of reward or any kind of recognition but because they care and want to make a difference in their communities. This is what drives them. I thank them, on behalf of the government, for all that they do.
As writer Erma Bombeck once remarked “Volunteers are...[those] who reflect...compassion, unselfish caring, patience and just plain love for one another”.
Currently, Canada has one of the largest charitable and non-profit sectors in the world, with more than 160,000 charities and non-profit organizations helping those in need from coast to coast to coast. Our Conservative government stands right behind those charities with special tax support, considered to be among the most generous in the world. This includes the charitable donations tax credit, which encourages Canadians to support those great organizations. In fact, federal tax support for Canada's charities is nearly $3 billion each and every year.
However, we all recognize that it is always possible to do more to help our charities accomplish their work. That is why, since 2006, the Conservative government has been providing increased support to charities through special tax assistance measures and tax incentives.
I am referring specifically to the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to charities and private foundations; the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of ecologically sensitive lands to public conservation charities; the reform of the disbursement quota to reduce the administrative burden on charities and allow them to devote their time and energy to helping people in need; and the crackdown on certain unscrupulous people who take advantage of the charitable sector.
I am pleased to say that all these measures have helped charities across Canada and the volunteers that support them by increasing the donations made to their noble causes.
In fact, the elimination of the capital gains tax on donations of securities has been tremendously successful. For example, the United Way of Toronto alone estimates it receives tens of millions of dollars a year because of this change. It has declared that “The tax benefits are certainly having a very big benefit on local charitable organizations”.
Owen Charters of CanadaHelps, an online fundraising portal for charities, has also noted, “We've been quite surprised by the popularity. It was small steps at the beginning, but it has really grown”.
Nevertheless, even with all of these positive steps to help charities, we know that more could still be done.
That is why shortly after the 2011 election our Conservative government asked the House of Commons finance committee to undertake an open public study to find out from Canadians directly the best way we could further increase charitable donations.
I should note that the inspiration for that study and the government's request was Motion No. 559 by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, a motion that was adopted by Parliament in March 2011. I thank my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo for all he has done and continues to do in support of the charitable sector here in Canada. Rest assured that charities and volunteers could have no better or stronger advocate in their corner than Parliament and our member himself.
The finance committee, which I am a member of, has been vigorously undertaking that task since January of this year. We have already had dozens of meetings and received submissions from over 50 charitable groups as well as Canadian volunteers from all across the country.
Throughout the hearings and in reviewing the submissions, we have heard a range of proposals from charities and volunteers about what we can do to further support Canada's charitable sector. I must note they have all been very appreciative of the measures this Conservative government has put forward since 2006. They were disappointed that the NDP did not support many of them.
None of these charities or volunteers have let it be known that the proposal presented today by the NDP would constitute an effective way for them to help people in need. In fact, this came up only once during the review by the Standing Committee on Finance. The reason for this is obvious if we examine the NDP's proposal a little more closely. This proposal raises serious issues and concerns. It would be very costly, extremely difficult to control and it is not clear if it would be worth it. It would also impose a large administrative burden on charities and volunteers.
Before I talk more about these concerns, I would like to clearly inform Canadians that volunteers are already receiving special tax treatment to support their efforts. More specifically, volunteers receive a tax exemption on the reimbursement of their expenses, which means that any costs incurred by volunteers, including travel costs, can be completely reimbursed on a tax-free basis. Thus, if people have to travel on behalf of a charity, they can be reimbursed for their expenses—mileage, gas, meals and other costs—and that reimbursement will not be taxed.
The NDP's proposal raises many concerns.
First, it would increase the administrative burden on charities by requiring each charity and non-profit that believes it deals primarily with vulnerable populations to precisely track the number of hours and to keep records of such travel.
Second, it would require government officials to subjectively determine what constitutes a vulnerable population and determine on a case-by-case basis if each of Canada's 85,000 registered charities serves that subjectively determined group, and then determine whether or not each qualifies for the special tax break. That would be a radical departure from the existing practice of treating all registered charities objectively.
Third, the cost would be significant.
These are just a few of the preoccupations the bill raises. I would encourage the member across the way to think about those preoccupations of Canadians as he moves forward, and to perhaps address some of the concerns so that we might better understand how his party intends to pay for this without raising taxes and without further damaging the process.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-399, tax credits for volunteers' travel expenses.
I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Repentigny for introducing the legislation. I appreciate having the opportunity to discuss ways that we, as a Parliament, can better support volunteers and encourage volunteerism.
I will start by talking about some of what has occurred in recent years, particularly around tax measures to help volunteer emergency service workers or firefighters. There has been a consensus across party lines on some of the measures that we should recognize the important work of, for instance, emergency service volunteers, those who risk their lives in order to protect and make communities safer.
As part of that discussion, the Liberal Party proposed a $3,000 refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters. We made it refundable deliberately. The reality is that if these tax credits are not refundable, it means, perversely, that the lowest-income Canadians, Canadians who need the support the most, do not actually qualify and do not receive the benefit.
Earlier today we had a discussion on income inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor in Canada. The reality is that, to a certain extent, non-refundable tax credits can exacerbate that and make it worse by disqualifying, technically, the lowest-income Canadians who need the help the most.
For instance, we proposed a refundable family caregiver tax credit, which would have benefited all Canadian families providing care to relatives with health issues, in some cases palliative care and in other cases long-term medical issues. The Conservatives introduced, instead, a non-refundable tax credit, which looks like they are doing the same thing, but in reality it is not a lot of resources because it does not apply to a large segment of the population, the people who need the help the most.
What the government has become very effective at doing is establishing boutique tax credits that are non-refundable. They do not take a lot of money out of the federal treasury because they do not actually help a lot of people, but it looks like they are taking action.
People come to my office who are quite disappointed. They expected these new tax credits would somehow benefit them, only to find out that because of the fact they had low incomes, they did not qualify.
Let us take, for instance, a senior citizen on a modest fixed income who drives for Meals on Wheels. If the tax credit being proposed today as part of this legislation is non-refundable, that senior will not benefit because he or she is not paying taxes now. Just to make it clear, a refundable tax credit also benefits people whose incomes are so low that they are not paying taxes. A low-income senior who drives, for instance, for Meals on Wheels is still incurring expenses to volunteer. In fact, those expenses represent a very significant portion of his or her income. He or she still has to put gas in the car to get to the volunteer site or pay for public transit.
That brings me to the design of the tax credit under Bill C-399.
Bill C-399 would establish a tax credit to help volunteers defray some of the travel expenses they have because of their volunteer work. Unfortunately, the tax credit potentially established under Bill C-399 is non-refundable. We hope this could be addressed and corrected as part of the legislative process. Perhaps if this were to get to committee, it could be part of the discussion.
We support sending Bill C-399 to committee so we can discuss, among other things, design issues, including making the tax credit fully refundable.
We have a concern about the growing number of non-refundable tax credits. We believe it is in some ways exacerbating the issue of income inequality in Canada. These tax credits fail to meet the fairness test. It just seems wrong for the government to protect its own bottom line by deliberately excluding the most disadvantaged Canadians.
Beyond the non-refundable nature of the tax credit, Bill C-399 sets out some interesting parameters. To qualify for the tax credit, one must do a minimum of 130 hours of eligible volunteer work and so one must make at least 12 trips that tax year. For the purposes of Bill C-399, this would involve travelling a minimum of one kilometre from home to wherever it is one does their voluntary work.
In terms of the monetary value of the tax credit, Bill C-399 establishes a minimum value of $500 and a maximum value of $1,500. With a 15% federal personal income tax rate, the proposed tax credit would translate into a benefit of between $75 and $300 for the volunteers who qualify.
Finance Canada has estimated that Bill C-399, as it is currently written, would cost about $130 million per year. However, officials were basing their estimate on past data and assuming that there would be no change in behaviour as a result of the new tax credit. They assume that this tax credit would not encourage new volunteerism or enable existing volunteers to travel more extensively.
Officials used data from the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, which shows that 1.2 million Canadians would meet the criteria of performing at least 130 hours of qualified volunteer work. They assumed that the average volunteer who had about $430 of travel expenses would be eligible for a tax credit under Bill C-399. They also assumed that the average volunteer would claim a further $500 in weekly travel expenses based on an average claim of 15 kilometres a week at 55¢ per kilometre.
The officials then estimated that one-quarter of the 1.2 million volunteers would not get any benefit from the proposed tax credit because it would be non-refundable and these volunteers would not make enough income to qualify. However, using the Department of Finance's own numbers, we extrapolated that it would cost about $40 million to make this non-refundable tax credit into a fully refundable tax credit, which would benefit all low-income Canadians who would be currently excluded.
I encourage the member for Repentigny to consider such a revision to Bill C-399. The initiative is worthy of the consideration of the House. I hope the proposed legislation will receive second reading so we can more closely examine the proposal and consider making it fully refundable.
It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to recognize the vital contributions that volunteers make to Canadian society. We should not base that recognition on how much money is in their wallet. There are a lot of low-income Canadians who, if we were to move forward with this kind of measure, would deserve the same benefit. However, because they are low-income, they would not benefit by the bill in its current form as a non-refundable tax credit.
Those are some of my thoughts and I hope government members see their way to support taking the bill to committee so we can have a more fulsome discussion on how we can strengthen our support mechanisms in the tax system and other direct support for volunteerism in Canada.
Mr. Hoang Mai (Brossard—La Prairie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today, especially after hearing the speech and explanation of my colleague, the hon. member for Repentigny, who gave it the passion it needed. He dedicated this bill to his grandmother, Madeleine Nadeau. This bill must be considered carefully because it provides a lot of very interesting things.
My colleague is the official opposition philanthropy critic. So it is something he is really passionate about and has worked on for a long time. He has worked very hard, and has travelled all over Canada and met with people. He told us his story, with all the humanity he has for his parents and his family. This is truly an example of what passion can bring and what people in politics can achieve.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance made some fairly partisan comments. We need to remember that this is a private member's bill. My colleague clearly said that this is the start of a discussion that needs to be had. Referring the bill to the Standing Committee on Finance will give us an opportunity to answer some questions. The parliamentary secretary immediately asked the question about costs, and we have already seen a few differences.
I am very pleased to hear that the Liberals are going to support the bill so that it will at least be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for study, given that our figures vary. We are told that the Department of Finance estimated the cost at $130 million. It is important to consider the impact of this carefully, because we must not underestimate how important the volunteer sector is. I feel that everyone here, on either side of the House, recognizes that our society can prosper with the help of volunteers. Many people in certain situations have seen how very important their contribution is.
I must mention that Canada’s volunteer sector ranks second in the world, behind the Netherlands, according to research published very recently, in September 2012. That is something we feel here; we have all experienced it. And that is why I urge hon. members to take the time to study this bill in depth before rushing to push it aside. The volunteer sector plays a key role in the development of our society, our economy and our democracy.
When disasters strike and crises hit, we know that volunteers reflect the best of human nature through the assistance they provide. That is why it is important to help them. Consider all the work that has been done. The hon. member forRepentigny said that volunteers have, for a long time, been admired, congratulated and patted on the back, but never have they received any direct help in their work. This is a first attempt, a first debate, a first step forward. I sincerely hope that hon. members opposite will at least agree to further examine all the benefits of this bill.
Let us take look at what is happening in practical terms. The opposition motion today spoke about the gap between the rich and the poor. Since the government's austerity budget is consciously reducing certain services, community and charitable organizations have an ever-harder job. Sure, they depend a lot on volunteers, but they still need some help.
Let us take a look at some volunteering figures. According to Statistics Canada's latest report on giving and volunteering, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered over 2.1 billion hours in 2010. That is equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs. We must not forget that this volunteering helps the economy, and when the government does not take action in certain areas and people need help, these volunteers are there to help them. We must consider the economic impact and benefits of volunteering. Encouraging it will only improve society.
According to certain figures, in 2007, revenues in the charitable sector were over $112 billion, and volunteering represented 7% of Canada's GDP. We can clearly see that this has a considerable impact.
A 2006 study by Mook and Quarter estimated the economic value of volunteering hours at approximately $20 billion. That is a contribution to our society and our economy that helps our country grow. It is significant.
I am very lucky to represent the people of Brossard—La Prairie, where helping one another is very important. In my riding there are more than 80 community organizations. I found that so important that my last householder focused on these organizations. It was obvious that people wanted to help each other. That is very important and it truly helps advance humanity and society. That is very important to note.
One of those organizations is Brossard's Les Cuisines de l'amitié, which helps people living below the poverty line who need support and who need to prepare food. Volunteers are there to help them.
There is also the Association des personnes handicapées de la Rive-Sud Ouest. These folks help people with disabilities, particularly with respect to defending their rights. The organization has many volunteers who help with that.
The Complexe Le Partage is a truly extraordinary organization that helps people in need. We all know that more and more working families and individuals need help and food banks. The Complexe Le Partage is an organization that really helps people.
I have had opportunities to participate in fundraisers and charity drives. Participating feels good. As a child, I was a Scout, so I grew up with the idea of doing good deeds. That has always been a part of who I am. I have also been to Africa to volunteer in an orphanage. In so many cases, the time people spend is worth so much more than what money could buy. I have also been a soccer coach, teaching the game to young people.
Clearly, the time people give is rewarding for them and valuable for others. The goal of this bill is really to help people who want to keep volunteering. The impact will be huge. This is really very important.
I really hope my colleagues across the way will actually look at the bill, because the bill is a start. My colleague, the member for Repentigny, has mentioned that it is not something that it is final. It is a start. It is a dialogue. He has worked really hard. He has gone across Canada to talk to charities, to talk to people on the ground.
I think what we need to do is to look at the options. I hope my colleagues will at least support the bill, so it would at least go to committee so we can actually look at the costs and also look at the benefits of it. Hopefully, we will be able to work together on that.
Obviously, if it goes to the finance committee, I know there are few colleagues on the finance committee who are open to the idea of helping charities and volunteers. We know how important it is for Canada.
We have all seen what happens in a crisis, in terms of people getting together and actually working together. When we try to help our neighbours or people in a crisis, the idea is not, “What is my gain?”. It is, “What can I do to help them?”
What this would basically do is help people who need to have a bit of support, because some of them need to have a bit of money and need to be compensated because there are costs.
So, I really wish my colleagues would support my hon. colleague's bill and bring it to the finance committee so we can actually look at it.
Mr. Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent—Essex, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address a key issue in the debate on Bill C-399, a flawed piece of legislation, and to relate it to other more thoughtful ways in which we are helping charities and volunteers.
Before I highlight some of these areas, let me give a quick recap of what this legislation intends to do. Bill C-399 proposes a costly, new, non-refundable tax credit for individuals who perform a minimum of 130 hours of volunteer services for select organizations during a year and who make at least 12 trips in order to do so.
This proposal would cost over $100 million each year, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for charities to track and administer.
One would hope, and I think Canadians have an expectation, that when members of this House introduce legislation it would be with the intent of benefiting Canadians. How would Bill C-399 benefit Canadians?
The member for Repentigny might be thinking that Bill C-399 would make it more attractive for Canadians to volunteer at their church, local youth group or community centre. As it is, a large number of Canadians donate some of their time to volunteering. In fact, according to a recent report by Statistics Canada, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered some of their time through a group or organization.
Clearly, Canadians like to volunteer. However, it is unclear whether the proposed tax credit would have any significant effect in increasing the rate of volunteerism in Canada. After all, proposals to provide tax assistance for volunteerism have been suggested before.
That being said, studies in recent years suggest that tax assistance, much like the tax credit we are debating today, would in fact not lead to an increase in volunteerism. In fact, a report out of Alberta, entitled The Potential Impact of Canadian Federal and/or Provincial Tax Credit Incentives for Volunteer Participation, suggests that not only would the introduction of such a tax credit not lead to an increase in volunteerism but it might lead to a decrease in volunteerism.
The report states:
|| The motivations of volunteers to “donate” their time may not be shaped nor directed by the “value” of their donation. The principle motivations are altruistic and egotistic in nature. The attachment of economic and specifically tax value to the “altruistic donation” may in fact reduce the motivations of volunteers to participate.
Similarly, a volunteer group in Quebec, Réseau de l'Action Bénévole du Québec, RABQ, found that tax credits did not result in more people wanting to donate their time to volunteering.
In fact, according to the former president of the RABQ, Rosemary Byrne, tax credits:
||....didn't seem to have made a difference in terms of the numbers of people volunteering.
Byrne even went on to say:
|| No one in a lower tax bracket would have benefited at all; that was another disincentive.
If such findings are to be believed, it is doubtful that Bill C-399 is the correct approach to encourage more Canadians to get involved in volunteering. Quite the opposite, the facts seem to suggest that if the House were to pass such a bill, it would be harmful to the rate of volunteerism in Canada.
For these reasons, I am very skeptical as to whether introducing a tax credit such as this is the right course of action. Furthermore, after the comments by the president of the RABQ, I am skeptical as to whether or not any volunteers would even be interested in taking advantage of such a credit.
That is not all. Another issue that must be considered with this proposed piece of legislation is the administrative burden it would place on charitable organizations and non-profit organizations.
It will be the charities, churches, youth groups, et cetera that will be responsible for documenting the information that will be needed by volunteers and the Canada Revenue Agency to confirm that individuals qualify for the credit under the Income Tax Act.
This means that for each volunteer, these organizations would have to track and record how many hours people are present, what they are doing and if they travelled to the location. Simply put, this sounds like a huge waste of time and effort for these organizations. Not only would this be a drain on their human and financial resources, but it would take away from the ultimate goal of charitable and non-profit organizations, helping people.
In recent years, many charitable organizations have been criticized for not using their resources in the most efficient means possible. Understandably, Canadians are frustrated when they hear stories about the donations they make to their favourite charities being used more on administration costs than on the research, aid or cause to which they donated their money. My concern here is that this legislation would not only heighten this frustration but would force charitable and non-profit organizations to divert their precious resources away from the good work they do to overcoming this obstacle. The evidence shows that this would be a significant new obstacle for these organizations.
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians volunteered nearly 2.1 billion hours in 2010. I am no expert, but I am willing to bet that it would take anyone a lot of time to record 2.1 billion hours of volunteerism. I do not understand why we would want to impose such an unnecessary burden on these organizations. What would that achieve?
What does this bill offer to those wanting to volunteer or for those seeking to attract volunteers? The answer, it seems to me, is not much. While at first glance Bill C-399 might seem like a good tool to encourage Canadians to volunteer some of their time to a cause they hold dear, this bill falls short of the mark. In my view, it would do nothing more than place an unnecessary administrative burden on charitable organizations and non-profit groups, all while having no effect on increasing the rate of volunteerism among Canadians. Evidence indicates it would likely cause a decrease in the number of volunteers.
While I feel this bill was introduced with the best of intentions, I am not convinced it would benefit Canadians. I urge my colleagues to think carefully before casting their vote in support of Bill C-399.