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Canada Revenue Agency Act

Bill to Amend--Second Reading--Debate Adjourned

April 30, 2019


Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals)
[17:10]

Moved second reading of Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors).

He said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors), introduced in the other place by M.P. Len Webber from Calgary Confederation.

April 21 to 27 is known as National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week in Canada to raise awareness about the critical need for more donors across the country. It has morphed into a month-long campaign and for good reason.

You will all recall that on April 6, 2018, 16 young people were killed and 13 injured in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. According to Canadian Blood Services, there were 99,742 registrations in that April alone following the crash and the news that one of the victims of the tragic accident, Logan Boulet, signed a donor card after his twenty-first birthday weeks before the crash. He ended up saving six lives.

Honourable senators, in the wake of tragedy there is always hope. This bill proposes a very simple, effective method to increase the size of the organ donor and tissue donor base here in Canada:

One, use the annual tax form to ask Canadians if they would like to become a registered organ and tissue donor. Two, if they consent to have this information passed to their provincial government for addition to their existing registries.

It augments the provincial practices in place to collect information, namely from online registries, driver’s licences and health care cards. This bill is modelled on the successful inclusion on the tax form of the question asking Canadians if they want Elections Canada to be kept informed of their current information.

Many of us here most often will ask how much will this cost. Surprisingly, I can give you a firm answer: $4 million. In fact, it was already planned for in the Fall Economic Statement: Government response to Bill C-316 regarding increased organ donations. On page 105, 2019-20 fiscal year budget, there is $4 million funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to collect individual consents to share personal information with provinces and territories for the purpose of receiving further information on becoming an organ donor.

Funds have already been allocated in anticipation of this bill’s passage. That shows how much support there is for this legislation.

There has also been strong support from all members of the House of Commons. They quickly passed this private member’s bill.

It is our job to pass the bill next, but does that mean we should just pass it? No. We must do our due diligence and study the bill in committee. We must hear what senators’ concerns are, if any, and we must follow the legislative process. This does not mean, however, that we need to prolong it.

There are some very important reasons why, honourable senators, that time is of the essence. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance the lives of up to 75 people through the gift of tissue. This is especially important because more than 4,500 Canadians are waiting for a transplant. Ninety per cent of Canadians support organ donation, yet only 25 per cent of us are registered to donate. That makes us one of the lowest in the industrialized world for organ donation rates. Let’s try to fix that.

Earlier this month, my home province of Nova Scotia became — and I believe it’s the first jurisdiction in North America to do so, to allow for presumed consent for organ donation, which could increase rates by as much as 50 per cent. We will wait to see what happens, but it is very encouraging.

In fact, I remember when I was executive director of the Nova Scotia Kidney Foundation — it seems like a zillion years ago — we lobbied the Government of Nova Scotia of the day to include organ donation registration on driver’s licences. They agreed to do that. I would like to thank Senator Thomas McInnis who at the time was the provincial Minister of Transportation who made it happen for us after he agreed. It was terrific. It shows we can work together. It doesn’t matter that we’re of different political stripes.

Honourable senators, these are all tools with a means to an end - more organ and tissue donors. That is a good thing, a very good thing. A multipronged approach to actively save lives is always a good thing.

I look forward to the debate on this bill and to the committee hearings where we will hear just how important organ donation is and what this bill can do to save lives.

I am told by the sponsor of the legislation that in order to have the option the bill proposes, we need to ensure that we try to pass this legislation soon so it can be included in next year’s tax packages. Canada Revenue Agency has said if this bill is not passed before the summer recess, we will not see the question on the 2019 tax returns, and this important initiative will be delayed another full year.

I would like to thank MP Len Webber for his excellent effort in getting this bill through its stages to this point. We would like to highlight again that all parties from the other place support this bill.

In my history as executive director of the Kidney Foundation, I had the pleasure and honour to meet many organ donor recipients, and I also had the pleasure to meet a lot of people still waiting.

I remember one young man from Nova Scotia who was from Cape Breton. His mother had donated a kidney. It eventually failed. His father donated a kidney. It eventually failed. His sister donated a kidney, and it eventually failed. Finally, he did receive a kidney from an accident victim, and it lasted quite a while, and he went on to lead a reasonably productive life.

These are people who just want to get on with their lives. They have energy. They want to do things, and by the luck of the draw they have this disability that prevents them from doing and contributing.

We have so many people who are dying from various causes, whether they be accidental or through other means. Their organs are going in the ground when they could be saving lives and helping people have productive lives and families that could stay together.

It was my pleasure when I was executive director of the Kidney Foundation to meet so many of these people. It was always heartbreaking when time ran out.

The interesting thing about it is when we had the organ donor card added to the driver’s licence in Nova Scotia, that was a very important breakthrough. Around the same time, Nova Scotia, like all other provinces, brought in mandatory seat belts. It was good news and bad news. The good news was it was saving the lives of people in car accidents. The bad news was that there weren’t more people dying in car accidents, providing more potential donors of organs. It’s more important that people say to themselves and to their families, “I want to be an organ donor when the time comes.”

I’ve told my family that. My family has told me what they want to do if it’s their time.

Honourable senators, what an honour it would be to see this option on the 2019 tax return. What an honour it would be for more Canadians to show their willingness to save the lives of those who are waiting for transplants.

Thank you, honourable senators.

Hon. Ratna Omidvar
[17:20]

Senator Mercer, I appreciate very much you taking on this important piece of legislation. Like many others, we all have members in our —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore
[17:20]

Would you like to ask a question?

Senator Omidvar
[17:20]

I’m going to adjourn. I’m just warming up, Your Honour. I want to say to Senator Mercer that he is urging us to pass this bill very quickly, and I believe in timely passage, good reflection, debate and decision. That process should apply not only to this bill, urgent as it is, but to all other items on the Order Paper.

In that sentiment, Your Honour, I move adjournment of the debate.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore
[17:21]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?