Mr. Bob Ogle (Saskatoon East):
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy today to be able to say a few words to the motion before the House. I compliment my friend, the Hon. Member for Waterloo (Mr. McLean) on the motion. I believe we are discussing something today which is of great importance to Canadian life and to every Canadian. The Hon. Member for Waterloo has proposed:
That this House condemns the Government for its failure to honour the commitment made both in 1974 and 1981 by Canada's Secretary of State to develop, in co-operation with the voluntary sector, a comprehensive government action policy with respect to the voluntary sector and urges the Government to provide an immediate incentive to Canada's 40,000 registered charities by implementing the give and take tax credit proposal.
I feel that we have had a good day in the House, Mr. Speaker. I have not been here for all of the debate, but I believe the mood which has been demonstrated by the Hon. Members of all three Parties indicates that we are moving ahead with something which I personally feel is very important, that is, the whole question of voluntary associations and how they operate within our country.
Basically, what the Hon. Member for Waterloo is proposing is that this very valuable work in Canadian society be rewarded, more or less, and those who are taking part, by having a very clearly defined tax break. Those who give to voluntary organizations will have an immediate return, not unlike the return to persons who give to political parties today, which I believe has been a great advance in the whole political system of Canada. I would like to say a little about the historical development of this whole notion of voluntarism, the notion that our Canadian life runs and has run on the idea that people are ready to volunteer to help each other prepare and make a better society. I would like to reflect for a few moments on my own life history.
I was born in western Canada on the Prairies in Rosetown, Saskatchewan. My father was a pioneer. He came to the west early in the 1900s, as thousands of other people came from eastern Canada, from Europe and from the United States. They came to a literally barren land in which there was nothing but open space and lots of sky. There was land, and they were able to take out a quarter section of land, 160 acres, in their own names. Some of them made a success of it and some did not. Some of them were farmers and some were not. However, when the peoples of the world arrived, established and set up the communities of western Canada, they did it basically through their voluntary organizations. If you drive through western Canada now you can see what happened. When people arrived there they did not know each other but they knew they could not survive unless they helped each other. You see the churches and the schools on the Prairies, although most of the schools established in the early days on a voluntary basis are now gone. I went to one of those little one-room schools, as have thousands of others. They were the beginnings of Canadian life in that part of the country. When you talk to the pioneers, it was a rich life even though they had great hardships. It was rich because they worked together in these voluntary organizations. They had their music and drama clubs and other things four or five years after they
arrived. My life, and that of many others in the House of Commons, has been shaped and formed by the voluntary sector of our land.
Today we are talking about specific areas in which the voluntary sector can be improved. I have a feeling from listening to what has been going on today that that is going to happen. It may not be perfect and immediate, but it is moving.
I think that is very positive because everyone here knows from personal experience that what we are talking about is extremely important.
I am a Catholic Priest and I have lived most of my life in the voluntary sector, the church. The same is true of the Hon. Member who moved the motion. He is a Protestant Minister and he has lived in that part of society. This is part and parcel of what I am all about, it is a way of doing what I am going to put simply as loving your neighbour. That is a simple mandate, given to everyone. The whole world knows that is what we are supposed to do. How do you love your neighbour today in this complicated society? The motion talks about that and it helps us to do it better.
The voluntary sector has to be financed, Mr. Speaker. We all know there was a period of time when everyone in Canada could get a standard $100 deduction for purposes of their taxes. The Department simply found it too complicated, I suppose, to take every little donation and add it up; it just said let us take it for granted that every Canadian is that interested and given at least $100. Well, the last Budget eliminated that deduction. The voluntary sector said that it should be taken out, it was not true that every Canadian gave $100. On the other hand, they asked that for every dollar given to a voluntary organization, there be a tax benefit of 50 cents. When the Minister of Finance (Mr. Lalonde) produced his last Budget he was quick to take out the $100 but he did not give the tax credit. Today the Hon. Member for Waterloo is asking that the second part be respected, and I hope the task force looks at this seriously. If that is done, the whole process of the voluntary sector will improve. The Government will not suffer because more money will flow into that sector. This will be a saving in the end for the Government itself.
Going back to the question of why I believe what we are doing today is so important, Mr. Speaker, I want to refer again to the idea of love your neighbour. By good fortune we have agencies who are doing that. We can become part and parcel of that work by stretching out our hands and helping other people, loving other people, by helping the organizations who are doing just that in the modern world. On the Prairies where I grew up it was easy to know your neighbour; he was a half a mile down the road. Everyone knew the people in small towns in the district, they knew who was sick, who did not have food. But today it is not so easy.
The question today is, who is my neighbour? Who is my neighbour where I live, who is my neighbour in my province, my country or in the international community? That is the question we have to address. Being active in the church at one
April 3, 1984
level or another all my life, that was where I really came to terms with how that worked, why people were willing to do that through a church or another organization. It is a natural way to respond to the demand to love other people. I could talk of hundreds of thousands of people who are able to do that. Today we are trying to improve what is already in place. As I said, I think from what I have heard in the House today that that is going to happen. It may not be tomorrow or next week, but it is going to happen because the goodwill is present in this House today.
Some things are going to have to be discussed which are not easy. One question is, when does an activity become political? When does this or that particular group become political? It is not an easy question to answer. Some people will consider an action to be political, while someone else will consider it to be very charitable. They can see that the only possible response to a particular thing at a particular time has to be this activity. But two people see it two different ways.
Last Sunday, in a church in which I had never been before, following Mass I went around to a little alcove in which the local community had set up a development project. It was something to do with Lent, showing how this particular parish had responsibility to people in other parts of the world. There was a picture there of a good friend of mine, Dom Helder Camara, the Archbishop for Recife in Brazil. He retired from office in the last few weeks because he is 75 years old. He has visited Canada many times, and many people in this House, as well as those watching on television, have publicly heard him speak. Under the picture of Dom Helder Camara was written: "When I give food to the hungry, people call me a Saint; but when I ask why the poor do not have food, they call me a communist." Through that little expression we come to the question which will be difficult for that task force to answer. Where does religion stop and politics start, or politics stop and religion start? That is going to be difficult.
Dom Helder Camara has worked with many of the volunteer organizations I have worked with in international development. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development of Peace, for instance, is a volunteer organization that uses the donations of Canadians to help development projects around the world. Dom Helder Camara has frequently come to Canada to speak to that group. I know from my own experience in working with him that much of the funding given by Canadian people has gone to work in his section of northeast Brazil where there is massive poverty, hunger, health problems and so on. I believe that the person who gives what he can to any organization is loving his neighbour. That is one of the ways in which Canadian people, who live in a rich part of the world, can help those less privileged in other parts of the world.
I believe that the income tax law should be changed so that when a person gives a donation to a particular organization which they believe is loving their neighbour they should in turn receive a something themselves; that is, they will get a tax
break. This will make it possible for them to extend their own personal income to help someone else.
I think there is strong motivation in what has been proposed by my colleague from Waterloo which will benefit the volunteer sector of our country and will not be a burden imposed on the taxpayers. This type of activity will make funds more readily available. Grants from the Government will not be necessary. The people themselves will take greater responsibility in the local, national and international areas. The responsibilities which are part and parcel of being a human being will be more easily addressed because people will have more say in how their charity is being used in the world.
The National Volunteer Organizations are meeting here today. It is a very good day to have this debate. It is fitting that it should be today. There must be a lot of clarification of words. In the volunteer sector definitions of many things are not clear. There is a lot of vagueness with regard to religion and politics. The information which has been supplied by the National Volunteer Organizations to members and anyone who is interested indicates that a charitable organization has to be defined by the tradition of the common law. A charitable organization can be one of four things. It can be for the relief of poverty, for the advancement of religion, for the advancement of education or for other purposes beneficial to the community. That gives us an idea of what charitable organizations are. In whatever new legislation is proposed there must be clear a understanding of what those particular areas are. When the common law was being established I am sure that the word community referred to a very small group. Today most people have a much bigger vision of what community is. It refers not only to down the road, but to the whole global village.
Another reason I think the debate today is so important is that I suspect what we are talking about today in the House of Commons will touch more people than any other single Bill or motion to which I have spoken. Probably every Canadian is involved in one or more of these voluntary groups. It could be in sports, music, health, with the Red Cross, with the local YMCA or with any one of the church groups I am talking about. Many people are involved with many of these organizations. What we are talking about today is important because it is going to touch every single Canadian directly one way or another. Something will happen so that that person will be affected. Something will happen that will make that person more able to act the way I was speaking about a little earlier; the whole way of how to love your neighbour. We are discussing something today which is of intense interest to every Canadian.
I see that my time is up. I am happy to have had these minutes to propose a few ideas about how I hope the task force will begin its work. I hope it will have direction in its work which will reflect some of the things we have talked about today. I will close by saying that I feel we have had a good and profitable debate, and I am very happy to have been part of it.
April 3, 1984
Subtopic: BUSINESS OF SUPPLY