House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

Privilege
Private Members' Business

December 9th, 2002 / 12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege to charge the Minister of National Revenue with contempt for her failure to comply with a legislative requirement compelling her to table a report on cases of theft, fraud and losses of taxpayers' money in the Public Accounts of Canada as required by the Financial Administration Act.

Section 79 of the Financial Administration Act mandates the reporting of losses of money or public property. In the national accounts, the report is made in volume II, part II, chapter 3, which is “Supplementary Information Required By the Financial Administration Act”.

Section 23(2) states:

The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the appropriate Minister, remit any tax or penalty, including any interest paid or payable thereon, where the Governor in Council considers that the collection of the tax or the enforcement of the penalty is unreasonable or unjust or that it is otherwise in the public interest to remit the tax or penalty.

In the case of the GST fraud, the government has elected to remit the tax. Subsection (4) provides that a remission pursuant to this section may be granted:

(a) by forbearing to institute a suit or proceeding for the recovery of the tax, penalty or other debt in respect of which the remission is granted; (b) by delaying, staying or discontinuing any suit or proceeding already instituted; (c) by forbearing to enforce, staying or abandoning any execution or process on any judgment; (d) by the entry of satisfaction on any judgment; or (e) by repaying any sum of money paid to or recovered by the Receiver General for the tax, penalty or other debt.

Section 24(2) states:

Remissions granted under this or any other Act of Parliament during a fiscal year shall be reported in the Public Accounts for that year in such form as the Treasury Board may direct.

I stress the word “shall”.

An article in the National Post on Saturday describes how the government has kept Parliament in the dark. Since 1995 it failed to report hundreds of millions of dollars in public money due to fraudulent claims for GST refunds.

Federal tax officials are required by law to inform Parliament about such theft and fraud. I stress the point that federal officials are required by law to inform Parliament about such theft and fraud. The government has failed to comply with this statutory requirement and therefore is in contempt of Parliament.

According to the National Post in the 1994 public accounts, Revenue Canada reported 12 cases of GST input tax credit fraud. While the total losses were reported by the department as $1.9 million, the department could not establish how much, if any, of that money had been recovered.

As more criminals exploited the scheme and fraud losses began to rise in the mid-1990s, the National Post reported that the information regarding such frauds vanished from the annual public accounts, with one exception. The department disclosed a case in 1995 regarding one of its own employees.

The National Post article references a CBC report that revealed that GST fraud has cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. It said, “One expert told the public broadcaster that taxpayers may have lost $1 billion over the past decade”.

A spokesperson for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency claimed that it stopped reporting these losses because they were not losses. I am not an accountant, but since the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency cannot recover the money, I would declare those losses as losses, as I am sure, would all other Canadians.

A footnote in the 1995 public accounts says that tax officials are unable to add up the losses from the GST fraud because their systems cannot provide the information. That is no justification for not informing Parliament.

The National Post reports that the former Auditor General, Denis Desautels, reported in 1990 an unidentified case of GST input tax credit fraud involving more than $20 million in fraudulent refunds.This loss was not reported in the 1990 public accounts report or any report since.

We have experienced eight years of delay and the government has decided to refrain from collecting this tax because, by its own admission, it is unable to collect the tax. The government has not reported these losses to Parliament as required under the Financial Administration Act.

On November 21, 2001 the Speaker delivered a ruling in regard to a complaint by the member for Surrey Central who had cited 16 examples where the government had failed to comply with legislative requirements concerning the tabling of certain information in Parliament. In all of the 16 cases raised on November 21, a reporting deadline was absent from the legislation. As a result the Speaker could not find a prima facie question of privilege.

However, on November 21, 2001, the Speaker said in his ruling at page 7381 of Hansard :

Were there to be a deadline for tabling included in the legislation, I would not hesitate to find that a prima facie case of contempt does exist and I would invite the hon. member to move the usual motion.

The deadline in this case is an annual requirement for the government to table public accounts in the Parliament of Canada. It would appear this has not been done since 1995. This legislated deadline has not been met and therefore a prima facie question of privilege does exist.

All Canadians have a right to hear from the Minister of National Revenue and the former minister of finance to find out why this was not reported to Parliament so that Canadians could have a look at this. This is a terrible affront to Parliament, to all members of the opposition and government backbench members who are not involved in the cabinet, to know that a cabinet deliberately hid this information from Canada and all members of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you find that there is a prima facie question of privilege and, if you agree, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

This is indeed a serious matter and I will take it under advisement for the Speaker to rule upon as soon as possible. The hon. government House leader.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief because an important debate will commence momentarily.

The House leader of the official opposition referred to the fact that a remission may be granted. As a matter of fact there is a government program, known as the fairness package, that would invoke this. He indicated that there was a requirement that should this take place then the government shall report. He also added that, and I do not know if I have cited the words correctly, it should do so in the form that the Treasury Board will authorize.

The case has not been made that the form which the Treasury Board authorizes was in fact breached. That was not being invoked by the hon. member at all.

I will verify as to these facts and perhaps return to the House to make a further contribution on this point. If in fact there has been no breach pursuant to the methods established for reporting by the Treasury Board, it means that the hon. member is not correct.

Even if all that were true I am not at all convinced that there is a question of privilege here. There may very well be an interesting issue to raise at question period and perhaps in a subsequent adjournment debate, but that is not the same as claiming a question of privilege.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I will take the matter under advisement and send it to the Speaker for a ruling.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with regard to Government Orders, Government Business No. 9, I move:

That debate be not further adjourned.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion in order. Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1(1), there will now be a 30 minute question period, starting with the hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, there is no need for me to go on at length about how shameful this is. It speaks for itself. Even the former finance minister has commented on how unsatisfactory the consultations on this issue have been with both Parliament and Canadians.

Now the government is pursuing yet another agenda where its targets and its costs are unclear. The government has an abysmal track record when it comes to ramming policies down Parliament's throat without adequate consideration of costs in particular.

We have a gun registry that has gone 500 times over budget. We have the sponsorship scandal where millions was wasted. The HRDC has a billion dollar boondoggle.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

The GST.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Our House leader just mentioned the GST rebate fiasco.

We have the capacity for this once again. Already an internal audit of the environment department group overseeing Kyoto reveals the potential for, and I quote from its report, “errors, delays in processing requests, and...incomplete records”.

Today we see in the newspapers that the government is playing around by guaranteeing large industries some kind of cap, a cap of maybe $15 a tonne on the costs they would have to incur on emissions reduction, when most international forecasts peg the costs at well above that, up to $80 per tonne.

My question is quite straightforward. Could the Minister of the Environment tell Canadians what steps he has taken or is taking to ensure Kyoto does not become yet another in the long list of multibillion dollar boondoggles?

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the steps we have taken have been to work closely with the provinces and territories since not only Kyoto but also going back to the Rio agreement when Canada not only signed on to the Rio agreement but ratified it, ratified an undertaking not to allow human induced impact on climate to reach dangerous levels. Canada ratified that 10 years ago and since that time we have had continuous discussions with the provinces, the territories, a number of private sector groups and we have had a number of debates in the House, including the debate we had most recently on the ratification of Kyoto, which went on for over eight days in the House and involved some 33 hours of discussion time. There has been, clearly, very extensive consultations.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is just bizarre that the minister would cite his negotiations with the provinces. Relationships with the provinces on Kyoto have totally broken down under the minister.

My second question is on relationships with the provinces. All the provinces are challenging the government's approach to Kyoto. They presented 12 principles to ensure that costs will be spread evenly between the provinces and industry. However, so far, the minister has not done anything to explain to Canadians and the provinces how the Kyoto burden will be shared between the provinces and industry.

Twice in as many months the minister was forced to cancel meetings with his provincial counterparts because of his inability to adequately inform provincial governments of his intentions.

What specific measures does the minister propose to get the provinces to accept this plan? Is it a first ministers' conference, or a meeting of environment and energy ministers?

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about the desire of the provinces to have the financial burden shared equally between provinces and the federal government. That in fact was not the request. It was in fact for the measures taken at the provincial level to be fully funded by the federal government. I am sure that he would be the first to understand how such a situation of one level of government not being responsible for raising the money, but nevertheless being responsible for spending, does lead to the very type of cost overruns that are most regrettable and we should try to avoid.

He also talked about the cancellation of meetings. Yes, it is true that one meeting of ministers, the energy and environment ministers, was delayed one week from October 21 to October 28, and subsequently a meeting of deputy ministers was delayed 10 days. However it did take place last Wednesday. Therefore it is pretty clear that we have had two meetings that were delayed relatively short periods of time and this is far from a collapse of federal-provincial relations.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Kyoto accord is a horrible deal that will do little for the environment and will kill jobs and investment in Canada. The investment freeze has already begun. Eight of the ten provinces know this and do not want the Prime Minister to sign on without a full plan and an accurate cost estimate.

On October 28 all provinces and territories agreed on 12 points they wanted the environment minister to agree to. He rejected three of them and refused to discuss them further. Three of the western provinces will now fight this in court. The government's so-called implementation plan goes on at length about cooperation with the provinces but in reality there is little cooperation. In fact the provinces have cancelled meetings with the environment minister because he will not listen to them.

Simply put, ratifying Kyoto is not the way to go and is a dereliction of duty.

When will the Prime Minister convene a first ministers' meeting to reach a consensus on ratifying Kyoto?

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am tempted to take note of the lengthy preamble of the hon. member. He talks about the investment freeze but it was in the House that I gave the figures, in response to a question about investment freeze from the other side, which pointed out that drilling rig utilization in western Canada this year was at the highest level it has been for years. These companies have had the opportunity to consider this since the Prime Minister announced the ratification in 2002, which he did in June 2001, and since he announced it in Johannesburg two months ago. It is perfectly clear that the industry out in western Canada is continuing to expand its operations despite its alleged investment freeze.

He then goes on to the make the statement that we rejected out of hand three of the provincial proposals and refused to discuss them further. That is simply not so. We said that there were three that we could not accept immediately and that those were being discussed by the deputy ministers only last Wednesday.

Kyoto Protocol
Private Members' Business

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a party we are always offended when we see government motions for time allocation or closure, and we feel that way with regard to this one, although, as we have made very clear, we are in support of the resolution to move ahead on Kyoto and that we should do so as quickly as possible.

We are actually confronted here as a House with a government that is trying to ram this resolution through after some five years of opportunities to move the process along. At the last minute, it is caught by the Prime Minister's decisions, and we are faced with the question of why it has taken so long. What has happened from 1997 to about six months ago when the Prime Minister finally decided he would ratify Kyoto? What has the government done to work on the implementation program?