Evidence of meeting #58 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was tax.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Ted Cook  Senior Legislative Chief, Tax Legislation Division, Tax Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Sean Keenan  Director, Personal Income Tax Division, Tax Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Brian McCauley  Assistant Commissioner, Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs Branch, Canada Revenue Agency

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Okay, I'll ask all of our friends with cameras, video cameras, and microphones to leave please. Thank you.

I'll call this meeting to order. This is the 58th meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance. The orders of the day, pursuant to the order of reference of May 14, 2012, are a study of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.

Minister, we're very pleased to have you here with us today for a full hour session and then have your officials afterwards. As you know, you will have up to 15 minutes for your opening presentation, and then you will have questions from all of our members.

I ask you to begin at this time, please.

May 15th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance

Thank you, Chair.

I will make my comments relatively brief to allow sufficient opportunity for the committee's questions.

First, before I begin, let me congratulate the chair and all of the members of the finance committee for their ongoing and comprehensive work over the past few months looking at potential ways to encourage more charitable giving in Canada with new or improved tax incentives. I look forward to reviewing the committee's eventual findings and recommendations.

I am here today to address the committee on the subject of Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. The purpose of this important bill is to implement key measures in the 2012 economic action plan that will contribute to the growth of Canada's economy not only in the years to come, but also for future generations.

When talking about why today's legislation is of such importance, we must always consider our place in the global economy.

First, overall Canada's economy has been doing relatively well. Job growth in Canada has been the strongest in the G-7, with over three-quarters of a million net new jobs created since the end of the recession in July 2009. Moreover, 90% of these jobs are full-time and over 80% are in the private sector. Economic growth in Canada, as noted by independent organizations such as the IMF and the OECD, is forecast to be at the head of the pack of G-7 countries in the years ahead. Fiscally, Canada remains in an enviable position with by far the lowest net debt to GDP ratio in the G-7.

As Scotiabank chief economist Warren Jestin recently declared, “When you look at what exists in Canada, this is...the best country in the world to be in.”

But it is the rest of the world that we must be mindful of, always remembering that we are never immune from the fragile global economy. In Europe, tremendous and ongoing challenges remain, as we are reminded far too frequently. In the United States, our largest trading partner, the uneven and bumpy recovery continues. Both situations underline the fact that Canada cannot be complacent, and that difficult and uncertain challenges persist. Winston Churchill once noted famously, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Looking at Canada today, I see the opportunity ahead—the opportunity to bolster our fundamental economic strengths, to create more high-quality jobs for today and tomorrow, and the opportunity to confront our long-term economic and financial challenges head on. Indeed, we have a strong foundation on which to build.

As I mentioned earlier, Canada's economic and fiscal fundamentals are solid. Our recent job growth, our forecasted economic growth, and our fiscal position are all the best in the G-7.

In addition, our banking system is the soundest in the world, as judged by the World Economic Forum for four consecutive years. All three of the major credit rating agencies, Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's, have reaffirmed Canada's top credit rating.

With the lowest overall tax rate on new business investment in the G-7, Forbes magazine recently ranked Canada as the best country in world in which to do business.

Without a doubt, we are on stable economic ground. But when promoting Canada around the world to others, our admirers point to another key advantage—a strong, stable government that can make long-term decisions and that has stayed squarely focused on the economy. To understand the importance of this, we must look no further than the United States or Europe, where political gridlock and instability too often threaten or delay vital economic and fiscal reforms. In a fast changing global economy, which not only remains uncertain but in which Canada also faces increasing competition from emerging economies, delay for the sake of delay is not an option and complacency is the enemy of success.

One thing that is certain is that our government will continue to focus on the economy. With that in mind, the 2012 economic action plan provides that we will be moving forward with a clear, prudent and balanced plan to ensure economic growth and sound public finances in Canada, now and in future.

As the challenges Canada's economy faces are not small or one-dimensional, neither is our plan.

In fact it is unapologetically comprehensive and ambitious, for it responds to the magnitude of the challenges we face in a globalized economy.

The 2012 economic action plan focuses on the engines of growth and on creating jobs, keeping taxes low and ensuring sound public finances and social programs for future generations.

The action plan makes major investments in support of a new approach to research and innovation in Canada, an approach that will stimulate high-quality job creation. The action plan promotes responsible resource development to eliminate duplication, and the adoption of a "one project, one review" model, while improving environmental protection mechanisms. The action plan also provides for intensifying Canada's efforts to strengthen trading relationships and establish new ones and to take greater advantage of Canada's highly qualified and educated labour force.

This better ensures that our immigration system is truly fast and flexible, to help sustain Canada's economic growth.

It also includes taking steps to ensure sound public finances by preparing today for the pressures Canada will face over the longer term, steps like making necessary reforms to old age security and public sector pensions; implementing a path for provincial and territorial transfers to keep them growing in a predictable and fair way; and managing public finances in a sustainable and responsible manner, balancing the budget in the medium term, and respecting taxpayers' dollars by eliminating waste and enhancing efficiency whenever possible.

Again, this plan is unapologetically comprehensive and ambitious, aligned in its aim of building a stronger Canadian economy for today and tomorrow. Indeed a recent editorial in the Waterloo region The Record characterized our economic action plan 2012 this way:

It is a moderate, intelligent and visionary plan to preserve a progressive, prosperous Canada in a global landscape filled with both upheaval and promise. And for this reason it is the most ambitious and important federal budget in a generation. Underlying it all is an astute recognition of how this nation and the world around it are changing.... This budget tackles these challenges head-on....

As was mentioned earlier, Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, is a key element of the action plan. It implements many of the principal measures in the plan, including supporting jobs and growth through responsible resource development while protecting the environment; helping to build a fast and flexible economic immigration system that meets the needs of the Canadian labour market;

gradually increasing the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement from 65 to 67, starting in April 2023, to ensure that it remains sustainable for future generations; and much more.

The plan also takes important targeted steps to provide direct support for Canadian families and communities by, among other things, assisting provincial front-line delivery of health care and social programs by extending the temporary total transfer protection to 2012-13, representing nearly $700 million in support to those affected provinces; expanding health-related tax relief under the GST/HST and income tax systems to better meet the health care needs of Canadians; helping Canadians with severe disabilities and their families by improving the registered disability savings plan; requiring federally regulated private sector employers to ensure, on a go-forward basis, any long-term disability plans they offer to their employees; promoting literacy by allowing certain charities and qualifying non-profit literacy organizations to claim a rebate from the GST they pay to acquire printed books to be given away; and supporting major exhibitions at Canadian museums and galleries by modernizing the Canada travelling exhibitions indemnification program, among many others.

Mr. Chair, since we were first elected in 2006, our government has been focused on creating jobs and economic growth. We are “looking a little ahead”, as Sir John A. Macdonald was fond of saying. Ultimately, our goal is simple: it is to ensure long-term prosperity for all Canadians.

As comprehensive as it is ambitious, the economic action plan 2012 will maintain and strengthen our advantages by continuing to pursue those strategies that made us so resilient in the first place—responsibility, discipline, and determination.

Bill C-38, Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, is an important step in creating a brighter future for our country. I urge you, the members of this committee, to help achieve that worthy goal by passing this legislation.

With that, Mr. Chair, I invite the questions of the committee.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Rajotte

Thank you very much, Minister, for your opening statement.

We will begin members' questions with Ms. Nash for five minutes, please.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you, Minister, for your presentation.

This sweeping bill of some 425 pages contains so many measures. Here's a little briefing binder we got from the Library of Parliament to help us with our reading of the bill. There are many changes in this bill to which Canadians have not been entitled to a clear debate. These were not in the Conservative Party's election platform. The change to OAS that will result in future retirees getting less, the gutting of environmental assessment, the changes to EI, the removal of the Auditor General's oversight—all of them were not election promises. Canadians have not had an opportunity to become involved in this discussion.

Why are you including sweeping changes in a budget bill that have nothing to do with the budget you introduced earlier this year?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Whitby—Oshawa, ON

On the contrary, I say to the honourable member that the matters that are in this first budget bill—there will be another budget in the fall—were all included in the budget I tabled at the end of March in the House. All of them are.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

The OAS change was not in the budget bill.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Whitby—Oshawa, ON

It's in the budget, yes.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

The information for Canadians to be able to have this debate about these major changes is not available to people.

You said or speculated yesterday that the changes to OAS would mean a change of about $10 billion to $12 billion, which seniors would not get. That's what the savings would be.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Whitby—Oshawa, ON

No, that's not what I said. There was speculation—

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

You said that's what the change would mean.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Whitby—Oshawa, ON

There was speculation about those numbers in the media.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

What are the real numbers, then?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Whitby—Oshawa, ON

In fact, there are no cuts to OAS in the budget, period.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

What was the $10 billion to $12 billion?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Whitby—Oshawa, ON

The media was speculating about whether there would be any savings later on. As I told them, there are no cuts to OAS in the budget.