Liberal MP wants to bring transparency to charity

Posted on March 16, 2010 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Politics/Ottawa Notebook
Tuesday, March 16, 2010.   Jane Taber

Albina Guarnieri wants the sacrifice and generosity of Canadians rewarded with transparency.

So the Liberal MP for Mississauga East–Cooksville has crafted a private member’s bill requiring that the five highest-paid employees of registered Canadian charities publicly disclose their salaries. In that way, Canadians can make more of an informed decision as to where they want their donations to go and how they will be spent.

And the MP’s bill is timely given that Canadians gave so generously and quickly for the Haiti earthquake.

In her proposed legislation, Ms. Guarnieri is also setting a salary cap of $250,000 for the senior executives. Her bill asks that a charity be deregistered if it pays an employee more than $250,000 in a single year.

However, she has left it up to the discretion of the National Revenue Minister to allow a charity to continue to operate if the executive earns more than the cap.

Ms. Guarnieri notes that $250,000 is more than what a minister or deputy minister earns.

“The principle is clear,” Ms. Guarnieri said in outlining her bill in the Commons yesterday. “If you take home taxpayers’ money, you can’t hide how much.”

“It is the goodwill and trust of these donors that must be a priority for this Parliament,” she argued.

Ms. Guarnieri’s bill is the result of the controversy last year over the $2.7-million in salary and severance earned by the head of the SickKids Foundation.

Yesterday, she said the only reason the salary was revealed because the charity is also registered in the United States, where transparency is required.

The MP had the Library of Parliament research how charity executives in Canada use their salaries. She said the library could only “scrape together bits and pieces.”

“Here is how some of our charities spend money on themselves,” she said. “Dining club memberships, golf memberships, fitness memberships, business class travel, so-called ‘flexible’ expense account provisions, and even scholarship programs for their own kids.”

She says there are 85,000 registered charities in Canada. Canadian charities distribute almost three billion a year in tax credits.

The NDP and Bloc support her bill going to committee for further investigation. Some Tories support it as well.

Ted Menzies, the parliamentary secretary to the Finance Minister, was less committed. Instead, he simply sang the praises of the transparency he says is in the system now.

Liberal finance critic John McCallum, meanwhile, said this bill would help to restore credibility in the charity business, especially after the government’s failure to match the Haitian earthquake donations.

“News has broken that the government has not sent a single matched dollar down to Haiti,” Mr. McCallum said. “This is causing a certain amount of anger in the Haitian community and among those who have contributed to Haiti on the understanding that the government would expeditiously match their contributions dollar for dollar. That hurts the government’s credibility.”

He said Canadians may be reluctant to act as quickly the next time there is a disaster.

The vote on Ms. Guarnieri’s bill is likely to take place some time next month.

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