House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was revenue.

Topics

Department Of National Revenue Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of National Revenue

moved that Bill C-2, an act to amend the Department of National Revenue Act and amend certain other acts in consequence thereof, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-2. Revenue Canada plays a fundamental role in supporting Canada's social and economic well-being. The Department performs this role by enforcing Canadian law and sovereignty at our borders, administering international trade agreements, collecting revenue and redistributing funds to low and modest income Canadians.

Due to the wide diversity of these activities, Revenue Canada touches the lives of Canadians every day-whether they be taxpayers, travellers, small businesses owners and employers or members of large corporations.

For example, among the department's client groups are 150,000 large importers and exporters, 131 million travellers, and 22 million individual tax filers.

This interaction and scope has Revenue Canada in a unique position to understand what Canadians want; to know as well that Canadians want Revenue Canada to find new and better ways of doing business. I am sure everyone in this House wants less red tape and bureaucracy and businesses in particular want a lower overall compliance burden so that the Canadian business sector can be more successful in the marketplace.

As a government, we have made a commitment to all Canadians that we will provide them with an administration that is efficient, innovative, co-operative and fair. Canadians agree with us that overlap, duplication, a lack of co-ordinated policies in this country have placed a growing financial burden on the shoulders of the taxpayers. To this end, reduced administrative costs, less red tape and improved service delivery are vital objectives of Revenue Canada.

Because the current Department of National Revenue Act provides for one minister but two separate departments and two separate infrastructures, this represents an impediment to the optimal delivery of programs and services for Canadians. For this reason, I am today speaking in support of Bill C-2, an act to amend the Department of National Revenue Act.

The proposed amendments are administrative in nature and are designed to consolidate, in law, the previously separate components of customs and excise on the one hand and taxation on the other. Consequently they will permit Revenue Canada to operate and efficiently function from one single infrastructure.

The amendments are consistent with the government's objective to provide efficient administration through the streamlining of process and the elimination of duplication.

I wish to point out that the mandate of the Minister of National Revenue will remain the same and that the integrity of departmental programs will not be compromised with this administrative consolidation.

On the contrary, administrative consolidation will permit Revenue Canada to use resources more effectively and to build on the strength of its components. Thus it will enhance the department's ability to carry out its responsibilities for all Canadians.

It will also allow the department to better co-ordinate revenue administration activities with the provinces. This is a very important objective of this government. Administrative efficiency and the elimination of duplication are points contained in our party's election platform. This commitment was confirmed in last December's meeting of finance and first ministers and was repeated in the recent speech from the throne.

As an example, shared information and co-ordinated investigation efforts will strengthen enforcement programs directed at smuggling, illegal trade, revenue generation and the underground economy. It will mean better protection in regions such

as British Columbia against drug smuggling and better protection, we hope, in the regions of Ontario and Quebec from cigarette smuggling.

Revenue Canada will be more accessible to its many clients and will provide a broader range of information, services and a one stop shopping process through the network of customs, excise and taxation offices.

In Alberta, for example, this will result in our clients being able to do business at all 12 locations of Revenue Canada rather than at separate taxation, separate customs and separate GST offices.

Overhead costs can be reduced by combining common support services sharing administrative resources and systems and eliminating duplication, where it makes sense to do so.

The goal is to do business more effectively. Revenue Canada wants to capitalize on the benefits and opportunities to be gained through administrative consolidation.

Through administrative consolidation, we are able to invest in the primary automated lookout system in, for example, the Windsor area in Ontario, and are therefore better able to protect our borders.

The passage of these amendments will enable Revenue Canada to improve its ability to enhance revenue administration, protect Canadian society, including in Quebec, from illegal entry of people and products, deliver socio-economic programs, and administer international trade agreements.

In short, administrative consolidation will benefit both the government and the millions of clients who deal with Revenue Canada. Departmental savings in time, money and paperwork will be redeployed to enhance program delivery and to provide better service to clients.

As a government we are committed to restoring Canadians' faith in our ability to provide responsive, effective and efficient public administration. I am sure all members of the House agree that no one can afford inefficient government.

Canadians voted for change. We have an obligation and an opportunity to support that change today. As a government, we have promised accountable, responsible and efficient government where Canadians will get value for their tax dollars. These legislative amendments enabling the administration and consolidation of Revenue Canada will help us deliver on that promise and begin the process of regaining the confidence of Canadians in their institutions of government.

In conclusion, I am confident that Revenue Canada is capable of meeting the goals that have been set for it to become the most progressive, innovative and effective revenue administration in the world. In order to start the process to accomplish this, I seek the support of the House and all members in the speedy passage of Bill C-2.

Department Of National Revenue Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are finally at the stage where we start examining bills. After one hundred days in office-I read this week that it was a hundred days since the election-this is the first bill before Parliament, Bill C-2, an act to amend the Department of National Revenue Act and to amend certain other acts in consequence thereof. The purpose of this bill is simply to change certain terms in order to reflect a situation that has already existed for over a year.

As far as the principle is concerned, and the minister referred to it in his speech, we certainly agree with the objective of streamlining operations, and not just because it is in their red book but because everyone wants us to do this. Everyone expects this to happen, and it is a social principle our voters want to see implemented.

However, we will have to conduct a more specific and thorough analysis, and we will have an opportunity to do so in committee. There seems to be no problem about the principle. However, there are fears which may be justified in some respects, and I would like to point these out to the minister. I know that some have already been communicated to the minister, and I would like to refresh his memory.

Before proceeding with this general analysis, there is one point I would like to make. As I said at the beginning of my speech, this government has been in office for over 100 days. People often expect a new Parliament to start off with tough measures, to make the kind of improvements we need in a society that in some respects, and I am thinking of the economy in particular, is headed for disaster unless something is done.

I think it is symbolic that, as our first bill, we should have something which in many respects seems rather minor and somewhat disappointing. Of course we will have to wait for the budget. After the election they told us to wait for the opening of the session, and at the opening of the session they told us to wait for the budget, and now I am afraid that when the budget is brought down, they will tell us to wait for the next budget because they ran out of time. We expected some tax measures that would be an incentive for people to become honest citizens and show a little more understanding for the system, and that would give them a little more confidence in a fairer system.

In fact, there are few references in the red book to the tax system. Last night I was reading this book again to try to find something interesting. I was disappointed. I scanned the book carefully for a reference to tax revenues, and I could not find a

single one. I saw the nice tables we see in all government publications, but not much in the way of analysis and recommendations.

So I wondered, since there is not much in the red book about tax equity, if we would get anywhere at all in this respect during this Parliament, since the government keeps referring to the principles in the red book. Maybe they should consider publishing a new and revised version. This is just a suggestion. I remember at school we had first and second editions, so I suggest they do a second edition of the red book that would mention tax equity.

The Minister of National Revenue was expected to bring in some tough measures. I remember raising the question with the Minister of Finance, who said that the Minister of National Revenue would, at the appropriate time, make an announcement on cigarette smuggling, through the excise Tax Act and the customs Act. He is very involved in this particular area as well, but we are still waiting. Meanwhile, what is happening in Quebec, Ontario and the maritimes? And some day British Columbia as well. There is already a little of this going on, but not to the same extent.

Meanwhile, we are not getting much in the way of announcements. When I go back to my riding on the weekend, I will tell my constituents that we worked on Bill C-2, which provides for abolishing a deputy minister's position which, for all practical purposes, has already been abolished. I think people will be pleased to see some jobs being cut here, but they will also be very disappointed.

On the revenue side, there is a lot of dissatisfaction among the public which feels there is no fairness in our tax system. A lot of this disenchantment with politicians and with all members in this Parliament, arises from a sense of injustice.

I expected the government to work a little harder on this. There is still time. Parliament will continue to sit, and I hope that eventually, the government will have some proposals for us.

Consider the principle of this bill. Let us not get involved in detailed analyses but look at the principle. The principle is, that now there will be only one deputy minister for Taxation and customs and excise, where previously there were two. This principle was put into a piece of legislation. This seems proper and reasonable, and I agree with the minister that streamlining is necessary and that informatics and data processing systems can be consolidated. However, perhaps there are a few questions we should ask. There is some apprehension in this respect, and there have been a number of changes back and forth. In recent years, there were repeated proposals to switch Customs to another department. It seems as though that the government cannot decide where it should belong.

The main role of customs posts is to control our borders. These people have a security role. They must watch everything that crosses our borders, whether persons or merchandise. I heard the minister refer earlier to drugs. There is a lot of talk about cigarette smuggling lately, but people tend to overlook the smuggling of illegal drugs which is big business and generates tremendous problems because of the enormous amounts crossing our borders.

That is the approach at customs. For historical reasons and reasons based on economic principles, over the years countries have imposed various customs tariffs to protect their economies, because they thought that was the answer and was also a way to make businesses more prosperous.

Now, the trend is toward free trade and lower customs tariffs. The customs sector is being asked to fulfil a dual role, namely providing security and collecting tariffs.

This role is likely to diminish considerably in the coming years, as free trade takes on greater importance. Soon, we will be considering phasing in amendments to customs tariffs in conjunction with NAFTA and the GATT negotiations. We have many reasons to believe that in the long term, the role of customs will become marginal.

Customs employees are concerned about being attached to a sector where the prime focus is revenue, whereas their primary role is security and control. As long as we have customs tariffs-and I realize that the Department of Revenue must be responsible for this area-I believe that the minister has to address these concerns during the upcoming transition. I know that he met and had some productive discussions with representatives of the customs and excise union. They voiced some concerns which cannot be ignored. They also have some practical concerns about their personal future and I will get back to this in my detailed analysis later on.

We must look at the role of the customs sector in the public service somewhat philosophically. This may not be the best solution, but of course we will learn to live with it. However, some caution must be exercised prior to the consolidation so as not to confuse the role of the two sectors and neglect security by decreasing border controls.

Recently initiatives aimed at increasing border controls were announced in Windsor. While this is very commendable, these initiatives will have to do more than simply appease those who fear for their jobs. They will have to be taken with a eye to controlling what goes on at our borders. Tighter controls and improved procedures are needed.

These are the fears people have, and they appear to be justified.

CEUDA, the union representing sector workers, reports that internal Revenue Canada studies on consolidation recommended as one option that customs remain a separate and distinct sector. However, since no one in this House and very few other people have seen these studies, it is impossible to know whether this option is viable. Perhaps the minister is aware of these studies.

If internal studies were in fact conducted, what conclusions were drawn? Were these genuine conclusions? If not, the minister should make these studies public. Given the difference between the customs function and the tax function, this study should have concluded that it would be best to keep the two separate.

Therefore, many concerns have been voiced and the people involved have received a lot of support. They have received support from the municipalities and the communities concerned, from people who are afraid that the revenue side will take precedence over security matters. Special attention will have to be paid to this aspect of the issue and considerable vigilance will be required in the years to come to ensure that security remains an important consideration.

Let us now look at the bill. There is nothing extraordinary about it as such and it can easily be read in five minutes. It is only two or three pages long, but several sections warrant closer attention. This bill will, of course, be referred to the finance committee and we will certainly have a number of questions to ask then. However, I would just like to draw the minister's attention at this time to a few simple matters. For instance, it is mentioned in the bill that the deputy minister holds office during pleasure. One can ask why this should be the case? Was this not the case in the past? This is only a minor detail, but every word is important, apparently, in a legal text.

Further on, there is a provision which concerns me a little and I hope that eventually the minister will clarify his intentions. Under References, the bill calls for section 6 of the Act to be repealed. The section in question which is to be repealed reads as follows and I quote: "The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of Parliament, not later than the fifth sitting day of the House after January 31 next following the end of each fiscal year, a report showing the operations of the Department for that fiscal year".

This section would disappear. Would the report to Parliament disappear? If so, why? I recall hearing our friend from the Department of Finance during the election campaign and many times since the beginning of the session say that openness was important, that people must understand what is being done with their taxes and that we need simple indicators. These principles are often mentioned here. Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps the report will be made at some other time in some other way, but I would like it to be required by law.

I am not at all pleased with that clause, but maybe he has a good reason; the minister can explain it to us in due course or in committee when we consider the bill clause by clause, but it worries me. It is far from the principles of the red book, if I understood it correctly, anyway.

But the key clause, which is at the heart of this bill and which is hard to understand-the minister referred to it just now in his speech, says this: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect the status of an employee who, immediately before the coming into force of this Act, occupied a position under the authority of the Deputy Minister of National Revenue for Taxation or the Deputy Minister of National Revenue for customs and excise except that each of those persons shall, on the coming into force of this Act, occupy their position under the authority of the Deputy Minister of National Revenue".

Basically, what they seem to be saying is that this bill in no way changes the status of public servants.

At the same time, the minister says in a letter that "we can already see specific advantages", since this practice is already in effect and operational; there is now only one deputy minister who does double duty; with this bill, there will be only one deputy minister doing the job. So the minister says, "We can already see specific advantages, in particular since the administrative consolidation-". People often like to talk about consolidation when the time comes to downsize; they use softer, less offensive words. "In particular, since the administrative consolidation has already saved $30 million".

There is something that I do not understand. We are told that the status of the public servants did not change and then we are told that $30 million was saved. I cannot believe that a single deputy minister cost $30 million. At least, I hope so, and I doubt that is the case.

I understand his principles when he says that they will share computer systems and administrative services. That is true, but it changes the status of public servants. How come the bill said in the transitional provisions that it changed nothing? You must understand that it is a transitional provision in the bill. How long does the transitional period last? We will see when we analyze the bill clause by clause. We will ask the minister or his representatives to explain what it means.

The rest is clauses replacing references to two ministers in other laws with a single minister now. There is no longer a taxation division and a customs and excise division.

It is very well done. The lawyers are competent; they do good research and can find all the references in all the laws. They did a thorough job of research.

We cannot oppose the principle of streamlining-it is good and desirable, but we can always wonder if it is really the right place. The people at customs have concerns and feel that the department is moving ahead quickly with this reform. On the other hand, perhaps the public will defend the minister and say that he is not going fast enough. But I would like us to be a little more open about something, namely this. Was there really this internal study and what did it conclude? Are they being joined with the right department in the right way?

You know, it is tempting for a department to reach out in as many directions as possible and to control many things. I must say that this minister has quite a budget. The Department of Revenue has an operating budget of $2.5 billion. That is a lot. He has been given this responsibility; surely he can explain it. I do not doubt his abilities, but we must be careful not to expand a department which is already very big or to give it a role that may be broader. I share those concerns with the customs officials. We still support the principle but we will have questions to ask before the finance committee, of which I am a member, and I will be there when this bill will be studied.

I would like to go back to a point I mentioned earlier, namely the first bill tabled in the 35th Parliament. Bill C-2, other than being the first bill tabled, will not make history by a long shot. But if we look at past Parliaments, I do not imagine that we would find many first bills similar to this one; they would have been mere administrative measures, as a rule.

There is more to this bill. What will happen in the medium term? What kind of structure will there be? How far do we want to go with integration? That is another concern that people have. Will we have regional offices poorly adapted to the reality of customs and taxation? The minister seems to be denying it, and I hope so. We have to watch out for this. Again, we must be careful not to cause inefficiencies as we have done in the past. Regional offices have not always been closer to reality, and I am in a good position to confirm it, Mr. Speaker. It may not be of great concern to us here in this House, but in my riding, the office of the Quebec agriculture ministry is located in an urban center and not in either of the two agricultural areas. This is very frustrating for farmers and I sympathize with them.

We must do the same thing so that customs officers do not have problems with regional offices-they are not very close to the border-as long as they have very direct and close relations.

The Auditor General and others talked about closer relations between customs personnel, the Solicitor General and other authorities, in order to improve control mechanisms. I am confident that the minister is taking this into account and that, during this Parliament, he will try to work more closely with others to improve operations.

We on this side of the House often talk about administrative overlap but we know that interdepartmental co-operation is often very difficult, not necessarily because of individuals but because it is not a simple thing. This is something we must look into.

The Auditor General often says in his reports that we must improve interdepartmental efficiency and I hope that the minister will work on this during this mandate because his department has an important role to play in this respect. It is his department that collects money from the taxpayers. It does not do much for one's popularity to collect money from taxpayers' pockets, not these days, Mr. Speaker. Especially as I feel they are not getting good value for their money.

That is what they tell us every day. I will be travelling back to my riding in a little while and I am sure that I will hear the same thing again this weekend as usual. I will be embarrassed to say that we, in this House, are now working on a bill that will cut a deputy minister's position to save $30 million. The bill says there will be no public service cuts but the minister's comments clearly suggest that there will be cuts, retirements or early retirements. Something has got to give. This $30 million must come from somewhere. We cannot pull numbers out of thin air like this. We must explain how this $30 million has been saved.

It is funny; every time we must make cuts or whatever, we deny being opposed to cuts but we cut $30 million and say we have become more efficient. Too bad it is taking us so long to realize such things.

I am not convinced that this government will be better than its predecessors in this regard. We often react poorly, but if one looks behind the measures taken, one always finds the same old speeches. Governments come and go but the arguments stay the same. We have cut back, therefore we have become more efficient, and we acted in the best interests of individuals. Well, I hope so.

One day the minister is going to tell us how he saved this $30 million and state more clearly where we are going in the future with a closer integration of customs and taxation duties. I know he is still concerned with improving service to clients. He said so this week and I congratulate him. Individual tax returns may come a week earlier this year and there will be simplified forms for seniors, which is a good thing. We are glad, people will like it.

People are more worried about the amount they pay and the unfairness they see in the system than when they receive their tax refunds, if they get one. There is still a long way to go. I hope that the House will soon have an opportunity to consider such measures.

I would prefer that the Finance committee first examine the issue, since the minister directed us to work on the GST reform or, if you prefer, on changing that tax. In any case, some changes will have to be made, at least regarding the system as a value added tax program. However, I would like us also to examine tax expenditures, including the impact of tax incentives on job creation, as well as the objectives of such measures and their cost.

This week, the government announced a reform of social programs. However, in this particular case, we are not being told about a tax reform, or even the possibility of such an initiative, which Canadians would be much more happier about. Indeed, taxpayers would like to know that we are at least looking at improving the taxation system. But the government is silent on this issue; it does not even work on it because this is not yet part of its agenda. I guess we will have to add an annex to the red book. As I said earlier, new initiatives will have to be included; some improvements will have to be made. Surely, there are people who have worked on the draft of this legislation; the message was heard, the staff was increased and the government will undoubtedly be able to come up with a much improved version.

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10:35 a.m.

An hon. member

A new and improved version.

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10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC

A new and improved version, as the hon. member says. I will conclude by saying that we will approve the principle that each clause of this bill will be examined in detail by the finance committee, that we have concerns regarding what customs officers themselves have said, as well as some groups supporting them. The minister met with customs officers, and he may have reassured them. We must not overlook the role of customs in this integration. There are important issues, and we need not elaborate on the smuggling problem. Effectiveness can be improved, but interdepartmental co-operation will also have to improve. More importantly, the government will have to introduce other measures if it wants the public to be pleased with its performance after the first 100 days. Indeed, Canadians are still waiting for concrete solutions to problems which directly affect them, particularly the unfairness and the injustice of the tax system.

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10:35 a.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the issue of Bill C-2, an act to amend the Department of National Revenue Act and to amend certain other acts in consequence thereof.

In the interests of reducing duplication and overlap of debaters, today I will speak on behalf of the Reform Party which in principle supports Bill C-2 in the spirit that has been put forward by the Department of National Revenue and the minister himself.

According to this department the approval of Bill C-2 will enable it to be more responsive to changing needs, to streamline operations, to reduce the administrative burden on taxpayers, to reduce costs and duplication, and to improve the quality of its services and programs.

My party supports the initial steps taken by the Liberal government in an attempt to streamline departmental activities. Combining immigration and citizenship, customs, excise and taxation, and eliminating altogether the department of public security will help reduce duplication and overlap. However the Reform Party stresses the need for increased financial reviews and reforms for all government departments to ensure that taxpayers' money is being spent efficiently and effectively.

The Minister of National Revenue has stressed that his department is responding to the needs of Canadians and encouraging confidence and faith in revenue administration. We hope that Bill C-2 will not represent the only step his department is taking to reduce costs.

The reduction of costs associated with departmental consolidation and the removal of a few individuals at the executive level are just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the amount of government waste that has existed over the years.

Superficial or cosmetic attempts to correct the injustices in fiscal and political accountability will no longer be tolerated by taxpayers.

Our party would encourage the minister and his government to initiate line by line, item by item reviews of the departments to find out where the money is going. Perhaps asking questions like: Do certain departments have too many employees or not enough? Are they best serving the interests of the public with the resources allocated to them or not? Should they be living in the town or city that they are working in, or should they be 60 miles away with the government and taxpayers paying for mileage?

These results should be made public in their entirety in the form of an annual report which could then be distributed to all parties for a review. The Minister of Finance spoke yesterday about the vast amount of experience of the individuals assembled in this House. The government should take advantage of this to help find new ideas to better manage its money.

My party wants the federal government and its departments to demonstrate fiscal responsibility and exercise restraint. Our philosophy is that the size of government can and must be reduced without affecting the level of service taxpayers expect.

I congratulate the Minister of National Revenue in amalgamating or intending to amalgamate two huge infrastructures into one with the objective of streamlining operations with the purpose of better delivery of service, as he has said, less red tape, as he has said, and the co-ordination of collecting revenues

with the provinces. This certainly appears to be a page out of the Reform Party blue sheet and I appreciate that.

As mentioned, my party supports the idea of increased government efficiency and cost cutting in the Department of National Revenue provided that the quality of services to Canadians is not affected in the field. Our constituents have concerns, as also mentioned by the member for the Official Opposition who spoke just prior to me, that Bill C-2 would reduce the level of service in the field. I would like to voice some of these concerns for the record so the standing committee on finance, which will review this bill in detail, will be aware of them.

It is feared that the combination of Revenue Canada Taxation and customs Canada is designed to place more of an emphasis on revenue collection, controlling the underground economy and smuggling. customs officials must not be hindered in any way by legislation from performing the important duty of protecting Canadians from illegal drugs, weapons and criminal elements by reducing their ranks.

By masking administrative cuts at the top, the minister is leading by example. However, he must not reduce the number of customs personnel in the field which would hinder their ability to function effectively.

Individuals in the Manitoba riding of Lisgar-Marquette for example are concerned that the savings from eliminating one deputy minister may be lost tenfold by other problems arising from the passing of Bill C-2. In their ports of Snowflake and Crystal City, people are concerned that this bill represents the first of several steps that would ultimately see the cutting back or elimination of customs personnel at certain border points.

This concern stems from a pilot program in the United States to establish automated permit ports at specified ports of entry on the northern border. The main thrust of the U.S. program is to expand the hours of low risk entry points so that they can be open when staff are not on duty. Canadian and U.S. citizens will be allowed to enter the United States unimpeded at specific crossings when the port is closed.

This program was developed to promote efficiency and the results, according to the constituents of Lisgar-Marquette, may encourage the Department of National Revenue to follow suit. However, constituents fear that ports like Snowflake and Crystal City would become more attractive to criminal elements looking for a trouble-free point of entry.

The illegal gun trade is a lucrative business. With easy access to handguns in the United States this area could become a real problem for customs border patrols and the RCMP. I am expressing a concern and I hope the minister acknowledges that. Increased efficiency must not come at the expense of effectiveness.

One of the natural roles of government should be to protect its borders and sovereignty, and I do not mean the definition of sovereignty as used by the Official Opposition. Concerns have also been raised by the customs union, several municipalities and the media that with the consolidation of the two departments, the resources for customs officers to effectively defend the border will be strained.

The customs union is under the impression that increased emphasis on these activities will lead to a reduction in resources for other activities, such as controlling illegal immigrants, firearms, pornography and stopping abducted children.

The customs union is seriously concerned about the effects of this legislation upon the quality of services demanded. For example, it is concerned that drug seizures will be reduced.

In 1991 there were 10,000 seizures at the border. In 1992, there were 25,000 and in 1993 when there was an increase in trafficking, there was a reduction in the number of seizures to 15,000. According to the union smugglers are using more innovative and effective techniques to move illegal items into Canada. It must be able to respond with the latest techniques to catch them.

This is why the union is concerned that a lack of emphasis is being placed on to these activities. By amalgamating two departments into one, possibly the idea of making cuts at the top would end up in the field. Once again, I know the minister does not intend to do that. I hope he does not. He is shaking his head. Therefore, these concerns should be laid to rest.

The union is concerned that these activities will only get worse with the implementation of this legislation.

The Canadian Police Association has also criticized the merger because the border is the first line of defence for guns and other weapons which ultimately end up on Canadian streets.

Even with an elimination of a deputy minister, ensuring that the level of service is strictly monitored and adjusted accordingly should overcome these fears.

The Minister of National Revenue stated that he believes a unified Department of National Revenue will build on the strength of our existing customs, excise and taxation administrations. It will better serve Canadians and strengthen their confidence in Canada's revenue administration.

Consequently the Reform Party supports the principle on which Bill C-2 has been proposed. We ask that the parliamentary standing committee examining it take into consideration the

possible negative effects expressed by our constituents through my comments.

Improved efficiency and effectiveness can result from this bill provided that reorganization and government cost savings will be done with the security and best interests of Canadians in mind.

Once again, we commend the Liberal government for removing a piece of duplication and overlap from a government agency and encourage much more of the same in areas where government waste is evident.

As the minister of revenue stated in his speech today while he was supporting Bill C-2, giving taxpayers value for their tax dollars is definitely a most honourable objective and should be supported by all members of this House.

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10:45 a.m.

Broadview—Greenwood
Ontario

Liberal

Dennis Mills Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, my comment will be brief.

I would like to congratulate the minister of revenue for moving so quickly on the whole issue of minimizing the duplication and overlap in any area related to taxation or service to the public in the area of taxation. This is welcomed by most Canadians. I am happy to see that the Reform Party recognizes the importance of our seizing this initiative and acting on it within the first hundred days.

I also have to say to the members of the Bloc, specifically to the critic of the Bloc-

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10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Please make your comments with respect to the speaker who just spoke.

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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, regarding this whole notion of when we return to our ridings this weekend, alongside the initiative that has taken place here today in this bill there is another initiative that is closely related to it which I am sure many members read about in the newspapers today.

The whole process of examining alternatives to the goods and services tax began yesterday in the finance committee. We as members of Parliament should make sure when we go home to our constituents and talk that we do not just refer to the activities that take place in this House of Commons.

There is all kinds of activity, as the Reform Party member alluded, and initiatives taking place that are good news for our constituents.

Most Canadians would welcome the fact that the finance committee said that by the end of June it wants to hear of all the possible alternatives to the GST in our existing tax system. It is very important that we give that encouragement to our constituents when we go home.

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ovid Jackson Bruce—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, to comment on the customs Act, Bill C-2, basically customs is there for two major reasons. The first one is to make sure there is a good flow of traffic across the border. It is also there for the safety and security of Canadians.

One of the things that was alluded to by all members is that there always have to be savings in federal departments, or any department run by government. We have some 90 departments that crown corporations and we have always said that we want to look at them. There are reasons why we have them. If we cannot run them efficiently we look at turning them over to the private sector.

In this case the minister is amalgamating two departments. Obviously there are going to be problems with staffing. There is always going to be some staff simply because if they have territorial problems they will go to members opposite and make presentations.

One of the things that I want all members of this House to remember is that whenever we work with departments the people who work for government are servants of the general public. We hear it time and time again that most of the problems that are encountered, that frustrate the taxpayers of this country, relate to the fact that bureaucrats or people who work for government slow the process down. They get into some kind of a culture in which all of sudden they have extra powers and they impede the progress of citizens. We get a lot of examples of that.

One of the things that all members should remember is that we should not inflame it by being in bed with any person who works for any department with regard to territorial matters. All of us who work for government must recognize that the taxpayer is the person who funds all these programs. If there are any efficiencies to begin with, they should be there and there should be common courtesy for all.

I hope that when we examine any bill or any scenario in which governments are downsizing or right sizing, as the case may be, which is the term being used now, as the member who seconded my motion on the throne speech said, we should be lean but not mean.

As a government we should remember that and also remember that when we are trying to do these things we are trying to do them for the general taxpayer and we are trying to give efficiency notwithstanding the fact that this jobless recovery is a very significant and important thing that everyone has to deal with, including government.

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10:50 a.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the hon. member.

I would like to add that as a businessman over the last 23 or 24 years I have gone through downsizing, right sizing and cuts. I have always found that the best and most effective cuts are made at the top, but leave the people at the point of service, the point of sale. The people at the top make the most money. By eliminating one or two of those people we then in effect, perhaps

as we evaluate our service ability to give taxpayers value for their money, can hire three or four more customs officials.

The way some of the bureaucrats get criticized by taxpayers that some of them are rude and some of them are using their powers abusively comes from the fact that they are probably overworked. There is strain and stress in their jobs and it is up to the Minister of National Revenue to make this determination and find out if there are more people required in the field or not.

If we concentrate on what gets us the most compliments, it is always the person, just like at a bank, who interfaces with the customer. The tellers give the major banks a good reputation or a bad reputation, not the VP in the ivory tower. It is the tellers, the customs officials, the people the minister sends out to the field to do tax audits. Those people who interface with the taxpayers are the ones who give government a good reputation or a bad reputation. Human resources is an important element and it must be evaluated on the basis of the workload, what is expected, proper compensation and a good working environment at that level.

In the last two administrations in this Parliament, because a lot of the members in the Liberal party are also new, the previous government spent most of its time improving the executive level of operations and expanding it rather than improving the real important areas of operations which were in the field.

I hope the minister plans to concentrate in that area. I believe the reputation of all bureaucrats will rise accordingly.

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10:55 a.m.

Essex—Windsor
Ontario

Liberal

Susan Whelan Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I will not have enough time to finish my comments before the start of Question Period. Should I begin anyway?

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10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We cannot very well call it eleven o'clock, since Question Period is so important to everybody. Would you mind starting? You have seven minutes.

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Susan Whelan Essex—Windsor, ON

I have seven minutes but I will not be able to finish.

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Jesse Flis Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The hon. member may be recognized but does she not have her full time after Question Period?

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10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Of course she will, yes.