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Bid for charity transparency faces 'fierce resistance'

Liberal MP Albina Guarnieri is seen at her constituency office in Mississauga on Sept. 17, 2010.

Tim Fraser/tim fraser The Globe and Mail

Albina Guarnieri wants all citizens to know the salaries of the five highest paid executives at Canadian charities - a simple request, the Liberal MP thought, until she put it all down in a private member's bill, Bill C-470.

"I genuinely believed it was a mere accessory to motherhood and apple pie," Ms. Guarnieri, the long-time Liberal MP for Mississauga East-Cooksville, told the Commons finance committee last week. Her bill, which she introduced last spring in the Commons, is being studied in committee.

"I doubted anyone would actually argue with the idea that Canadian charities should have the same type of salary disclosure that American charities already have, that all Canadian public corporations like Rogers and Bell have, and that most provincial governments already have," she noted.

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"The fierce resistance made me wonder if I had innocently stumbled onto something."

What she has stumbled upon is the fact that transparency is "frightening to so many." She argued before the committee that this secrecy has only helped the executives and not the charities.

Transparency will, she hopes, provide "some measure of restraint and donor awareness."

And what Ms. Guarnieri finds scary is that government figures show that since 2000, donations and donors have remained "basically flat" yet fundraising costs have "defied gravity."

"Management and administration costs marched skyward as well, rising even faster than fundraising costs," she said. "So secrecy has been certainly a booming success for fundraisers and executives in terms of pay."

Ms. Guarnieri is nothing but determined when it comes to promoting her bill. So, she commissioned a poll to look at what Canadians knew and thought about this issue.

And she discovered that Canadians agree with her premise: 83 per cent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat agreed that the top five executives from Canadian charitable organizations reveal their salaries; only 11 per cent said they disagreed with that notion.

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The poll of 2,334 Canadians was conducted by Pollara, a national firm that also is the Liberal Party polling company. The survey was done between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Ms. Guarnieri, meanwhile, had originally proposed in her bill that executive salaries be capped at $250,000 and that the charity be de-registered if it pays an employee more than that amount. However, she had left this at the discretion of the National Revenue Minister.

When asked about that, 68 per cent of respondents said there should be a cap; of those, 82 per cent said it should be $100,000 or less with only 3 per cent arguing that it should be higher than $250,000.

Despite these strong findings, Ms. Guarnieri has since dropped the cap provision from her bill. She said it was too much of a distraction from the main purpose of the bill - to provide transparency. "I don't want that tangential debate to be the shield that keeps exorbitant salaries secret," she said.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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