Community Activity Support Fund

Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean BQ) moved: That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make available to Members a support fund for community activities in each of their ridings.

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Saint-Jean and tell him that we had a brief discussion about his motion this morning in our meeting, and it produced an instant reaction from members of our NDP caucus. Some were strongly in favour of his motion and thought it was a fabulous and very creative idea. They wanted to seize the opportunity to act on it. Other members, though, I have to say, had a different reaction and saw it as one big headache.

He has suggested that in this debate we should talk about the principle and I think that is a good idea.

Right now a lot of groups in East Vancouver are facing some of the most difficult situations that they have ever faced. They are facing massive cutbacks by the provincial government, particularly as they relate to social advocacy programs, community services for people with disabilities and people who live below the poverty line, and single parents.

My community has faced massive cutbacks, and those cutbacks hit the people who are on low incomes and depend on the services of community organizations and advocacy groups. I am sure this is also true in places like Alberta and Ontario where there have also been massive cutbacks. These people have really been feeling the crunch.

Every month or so in my community we put out a bulletin of funding sources for organizations, because people are desperate to know about government funding sources at any level or in private foundations or other kinds of trusts. This has been a very popular resource that we have produced, because groups want to know where they can find a few dollars, or $5,000 or $10,000, or just a couple of thousand to keep them going. I know there is a very great need for this because of government cutbacks. We have certainly experienced it at the federal level. This has produced a massive social deficit in this country.

The member has put forward the idea of establishing a fund whereby a member of Parliament would include in his or her duties the idea of looking at organizations and their various priorities and needs, and the idea has a lot of merit. I think in principle this motion is something that should be considered.

One of the government members raised the issue of partisanship and accountability. I want to focus on that. If that is one of the reasons why this motion would be shot down, I have to say that if we want to look at anything that is partisan we need look no further than federal programs. We have seen the most gross examples of partisanship in some of the federal programs. I think that at a local level we would probably see more transparency and more accountability because we are more visible in the local community.

Were such a fund, I think that where those funds go would be very much scrutinized in that riding or in a local community. It would be very difficult for a member to be either highly partisan or dispensing funds in a way that was somehow unbalanced or really without a sense of accountability. I think the community itself would begin to speak out. I do think that in many ways the benefits that would be derived in a local community would outweigh some of the problems that a member might encounter.

If such a fund did exist, I think in many respects it would really help organizations in terms of seed money. Sometimes a group, while it is trying to secure other levels of government funding, needs funding that is more for transition purposes. Sometimes a very small amount of money can produce a lot of benefit for that organization and the service it provides.

In fact, one of the examples I wish to provide is that of the former member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Margaret Mitchell. I know that many members of the House know and respect her. She was a member from 1979 to 1993. created the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women in East Vancouver. It is now managed by VanCity Savings community foundation. It has been an incredibly important fund in my community. It actually came from the member of Parliament as her own donation. It has grown to the extent where it is now used as very important seed money, for emergency money for local organizations that actually are working with women in East Vancouver in terms of equality issues, anti-poverty issues, justice issues and so on.

That is one example of what a fund like that has been able to do. It is actually already in existence because of a former member of Parliament who set a great example of what she was willing to do to help her community even after she retired as the member of Parliament.

The motion will go to a vote. It is private members’ business and it has been a very good debate. I think the member will see that members of our caucus have varying points of view. Maybe there is a good opportunity to convince people here. I know there are concerns about the motion. Some people think it will just be a can of worms, something they do not want to get into. I think there are others of us who think that the principle of what would be established is something that is very worthy of consideration.