December 5, 2018
Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC) moved that Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors), be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise to speak to my private member’s bill, Bill C-316, at third reading.
For those who may not be familiar with Bill C-316, it is a legislative proposal that would allow Canadians to indicate their interest in being an organ and tissue donor through their annual tax forms. It is just that simple.
Right now, the tax forms can only be used for the collection of taxes. This bill would create a legal exemption, just like that made for Elections Canada, to allow this important question to be added to the tax forms.
If we have any hope of getting these changes to the tax forms implemented in time for the 2019 tax year, we need to move this through both the House now and the Senate early next spring. If we miss that deadline, the Canada Revenue Agency, CRA, will not be able to implement the required changes for another year. We cannot let that happen. We need to get this done quickly.
This bill was unanimously supported at both second reading and committee, and has progressed from its first debate in the House to its last debate in just 23 sitting days. I think that is a record.
I do want to reiterate my sincere thanks to all the parties in the House for showing such support and offering their genuine co-operation to move this proposal forward so quickly. In particular, I must express a great debt of gratitude to the hon. member for Red Deer—Lacombe for the quick progress of this bill. The bill was not actually scheduled to be back for third reading debate until February 25 of next year, but the hon. member for Red Deer—Lacombe graciously traded his position in the PMB calendar with me to make this debate possible today and to further ensure that this legislation is passed. I know the member for Red Deer—Lacombe is a strong supporter of improving Canada’s organ and tissue donation system, and his willingness to help prioritize this bill demonstrates that. His graciousness might be proven one day to have resulted in the saving of hundreds of lives. I sincerely thank the hon. member.
I also want to thank all of my colleagues on the health committee who have been vocal, determined and dedicated supporters of this bill. As I said in the health committee the other day, “I have referred to this bill several times as ‘my bill’, as it stands in my name, but I do want to say that this is really our bill.” It is our bill, because we worked together in committee as a single team to make it a reality. We found a shared goal and a sensible solution, and worked together to make it happen.
I also want to thank the government, yes, the government, for its allocation of $4 million in funding in the recent fall economic statement to facilitate the implementation of this legislation. Governments do not often commit funding ahead of legislation being passed, especially when for a private member’s bill by an opposition member of Parliament. The fact that funding has been committed is very much appreciated and signifies an impressive willingness by the government to see this initiative happen.
I must also thank Mr. Terence Scheltema, my assistant here in Ottawa, for his tireless efforts throughout the entire process of this bill. Without him, this bill would not be before us today.
My final thanks go to my friend, Robert Sallows, a double-lung transplant recipient who recently passed away at the age of 31. He was, and always will be, a hero and a true inspiration.
At the health committee last week, we had an opportunity to hear from CRA officials. They told us that for this proposal to be in place for the 2019 tax season, the legislation needs to be passed by early spring. I think that is quite possible, again, thanks to people like the member for Red Deer—Lacombe.
A few other things became very clear in committee, and I want to talk about them for a moment. First of all, for this initiative to be most effective, the question about organ and tissue donation needs to be placed on the front of the tax form. The committee members made this very clear to the CRA. I was pleased that the CRA has acknowledged this as a priority of Parliament and committed to putting this on the front page.
I also think that the committee process was very informative and allowed the CRA to demonstrate its commitment to making this proposal a reality by working co-operatively with all provinces and territories on this matter.
The path ahead for the CRA will require a lot of work and dedication by many people to make sure this change happens smoothly. In advance, I want to thank all of the CRA employees who will work on this project for their dedication and persistence. I know there will be days of frustration as small details are worked out and circled back and forth in the consultation process with the provinces and territories. However, when the 2019 tax forms come out and thousands, perhaps millions, more donors register, they will know they have played a key role in saving the lives of some of their fellow Canadians. Therefore, I implore the people at the CRA to dig deep on those tough days and push forward to make sure that we get this done as soon as possible with the highest rate of effectiveness. Their work will have purpose and the results will be rewarding.
One other aspect I want to spend a few minutes on is something the bill does not directly address, but is a significant problem in Canada. Research has shown that as many as one in five potential organ and tissue donors has their final wish overturned by their families at their time of death. That is 20% of families who are overturning the wishes of their deceased loved ones. That is just sad. The decision by their families are robbing those in need of a life-saving transplant of a chance to live. To me, this is unconscionable and has to change. We can and must do better.
It is beyond my understanding how we can allow people to die at a rate of five a week, while at the same time burying, incinerating or putting to rest perfectly good organs every single day. My daughters know I want to be an organ donor, and they know I expect them to follow through on this wish.
As the Christmas holidays approach, families will gather in every corner of the country. I encourage willing organ donors to please speak to their families during this time, to make sure their families know that their final wish is to be an organ and tissue donor, and to let them know how they would feel if they were to find out the family failed to honour their wish.
Throughout my organ and tissue donation advocacy work, both here and in Alberta, I have been approached by many people who have donated the organs and tissues of their deceased loved ones. Every single one of them has made it clear to me that they found the ability to donate to someone in need as a very essential part of their grief and healing process. Their ability to find some good in a time of utter grief and loss was profound and everlasting. Without exception, they encouraged me to let other families know that sharing their loved one made accepting their loss so much easier.
Their loss has purpose, and their gift has brought unimaginable relief and joy to another family in need. By honouring the wishes of their loved ones, they have allowed grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers to live. Their gift has meant that many parents have not had to see their children die. That is a legacy to leave for their loved ones.
We all have our own reasons for supporting this legislation. Some members in the House are living organ donors, the real heroes among us. Some members here have families in need of a life-saving transplant. Some members themselves, or their family members, have medical conditions that they know one day they might require their getting a life-saving transplant. Other members are able to love, laugh and live with loved ones because they got a life-saving transplant and are still with us here today.
No matter members’ reasons for supporting the bill, it is very much appreciated.