House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaties.

Topics

William Corbett
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise to pay tribute to the former Clerk of this august chamber.

Last week members learned of the death of William Corbett, who was the Clerk of the House of Commons from 2000 to 2005.

I think I first met Bill while he was in the Committees Branch. Then he came to the Table of the House, ultimately becoming our most senior officer and adviser. For many of us, Bill was the friendly and courteous person we met when we first came here, fresh from the election trail, to swear our oath as members. That is a pretty heady event for new members and their families. Bill treated all of us as if we were the only people he had to swear-in that day, and you knew you had found a new friend on the Hill.

Parliamentary process is a rare field of study. It is a balance of protection for the rights of minorities, while it enables the House to move business forward in an orderly way. This is the speciality of the officers of the House, and Bill was one of the best. We always knew we got complete and fair advice from him.

The Clerk's office is an ancient one, in Britain dating from 1363 and predating the offices of Speaker and Prime Minister. In Canada, since Confederation, only 13 people have held the office of the Clerk of the House. Bill was the 12th. The House and the Board of Internal Economy benefited from his wise counsel in his all too brief tenure.

However, there is more than Parliament and Ottawa. Bill's passion for travel by water and land, I am sure led him to be one of VIA Rail's best customers, and his green tugboat plied the historic Rideau waterway, a testament to the pleasures of a slower and more elegant pace.

To his family, his wife Marit, his children Erica, Mark and Caitlin, Erica's husband William and Bill's sisters and brothers and their families, we say thank you.

Thank you for sharing him with the House of Commons. The members of the House were better able to discharge their responsibilities to the Canadian people because of his efforts and talents. He was a leader and inspiration to the next generation of House officials.

William Corbett
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I rise here today to pay tribute to our former colleague, the Clerk of the House of Commons from 2000 to 2005, William Corbett.

Mr. Corbett passed away peacefully at home following a short battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also know as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Bill, as he was formerly called, worked at the House of Commons for almost 30 years. He first joined the House in 1976 and left the following year to work in Colombia for the Canadian International Development Agency. However, serving the House of Commons was stronger than any other call.

Returning to the House of Commons in 1980, he held roles as deputy principal clerk, principal clerk of Committees, clerk assistant and Deputy Clerk of the House of Commons before finishing his career as Clerk of the House of Commons from 2000 to 2005.

His intimate knowledge of the procedures and traditions of the House, coupled with his passionate and jovial nature, made him a delightful person to work with.

Working with Bill Corbett was a real pleasure. I worked in close co-operation with Bill when I was one of the chair occupants, and I can attest not only to his tremendous competence, but also to his joie de vivre and his infectious enthusiasm. It was a pleasure working with him.

My Liberal colleagues and I would like to offer our most sincere condolences to Mr. Corbett's family and also to his extended family, by which I mean all those in Procedural Services who had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside Bill over the years.

The House has lost a great man and we mourn his departure.

On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, I pay tribute to the memory of William Corbett and offer our most sincere condolences to his family.

Thank you, Bill.

William Corbett
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois members were very sad to learn that William Corbett, the former Clerk of this House, passed away on May 3.

Bill, as we affectionately called him, lost his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. This same disease also claimed the life of Richard Wackid, a member of this House, last September.

A native of Kingston, Ontario, Bill Corbett went to school in Montreal. I believe that is why he had such an extensive knowledge of Quebec. He also studied in New Brunswick and obtained a BA from Queen's University in Kingston and an MA in political science from the University of Western Ontario in London.

Before coming to work at the House of Commons, Bill went on several international aid and development missions. As a volunteer instructor, he taught English and math in Colombia. He was a field officer for CUSO in Colombia and Ecuador, supervising volunteers working on health, education and rural development projects, before returning to Colombia as a project manager for CIDA.

Bill then worked for the House of Commons for nearly 30 years, from 1976 to 2005.

He started out as a committee clerk, making his mark on the Standing Committee on National Defence and the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

He became deputy principal clerk of committees in 1986 and principal clerk in 1987. That was when I came to know him better and most appreciated his work in the House.

During his time with the committees directorate, he got involved in many programs offered by the House of Commons for politicians and officials in the newly emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, including spending two weeks as a consultant for the Cambodian national assembly on parliamentary committees and their functions.

He became clerk assistant of corporate resources in 1997, deputy clerk in 1999 and Clerk of the House of Commons in July 2000. He retired in 2005.

Bill worked under seven prime ministers.

It was in his capacity as Clerk of the House that we were able to fully appreciate his talents. In difficult situations, he knew how to walk the line between House procedure and practice. He was involved in the reform of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons in 2004. The changes made had an impact on the role of members in this House—particularly for opposition parties—for example private members' business and opposition days.

He was also the Clerk during the 38th Parliament when House procedures had to be adjusted because of minority governments.

Retired for only five years, William left his mark on this Parliament. We remember his professionalism and his admiration for democratic institutions.

Bill was an efficient, jovial man with an uncommon sense of humour. I had the honour and the pleasure of witnessing his diplomatic approach in this Parliament for more than 25 years. My Bloc colleagues and I will fondly remember this great servant of Parliament and of our democracy.

On behalf of all my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I wish to offer my sincere condolences to his wife, Marit, his children, Erica, Mark and Caitlin, and his brothers and sisters.

In closing, I will quote the famous French author, Alexandre Dumas: “Those whom we have loved and lost are no longer with us, but will remain forever in our hearts”.

Farewell, Bill.

William Corbett
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today on behalf of our leader of the New Democratic Party and our caucus to honour the life of Mr. William “Bill” Corbett. We share in the sadness expressed in the House today for the loss of a dedicated public servant who contributed enormously to this country, to this Parliament, and to our democracy.

We remember Mr. Corbett as a kind and respected gentleman who served the House for so many years in the challenging and prestigious role of the Clerk of the House; an exclusive club of 13, as was pointed out in a very nice article in The Hill Times. He also served as a deputy clerk before that and held perhaps the unenviable position of chief of the entire House committees directorate before that.

It is not always outwardly evident to the public how our work as elected officials is so intertwined and dependent on the services, knowledge and professionalism of those serving as clerks and their staff. The people at the Table, as we say, are the foundation of this institution, the institution that Bill Corbett held in such high regard and upheld in all his work.

When we speak about the institution of Parliament, we are speaking about these people sitting here before us and beside us in committees, the unsung heroes who we value so dearly, and who contribute daily to Parliament and Canadian democracy. This place would not run without this team of people. We could not have functioned without Bill Corbett in the many years he spent here serving us.

In the last few days, so many friends and colleagues have come forward with wonderful stories celebrating the life of Bill Corbett, speaking fondly of his wry sense of humour and his sense of decency. It is also wonderful to know that he took his around-the-world trip in the last year of his life.

The NDP is grateful to Mr. Corbett and his life's work in Parliament. He was a mentor to many and left his mark on the parliamentary process in many areas, not the least of which was his work to overhaul private members' business.

We thank his family, his wife Marit, his children Erica, Mark and Caitlin, and his siblings for supporting Bill in his work and allowing him to give so much of himself to us here.

We will always remember Bill Corbett as an honorary member of this House and all that he contributed.

William Corbett
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When I was first elected as Speaker of the House of Commons, it was very comforting to know that Bill Corbett, a fellow Queen's graduate, was our Clerk.

Bill not only brought to the job a passion for his country but a love for procedure. As many of you know, those who share those sentiments with him are relatively few and far between.

Bill was a staunch defender of our institution. A model of integrity and impartiality, he performed each of his roles with distinction.

I would like his family to know that his sage advice was always greatly appreciated. I very much enjoyed his humour and his great talent for storytelling. Bill's legacy at the House of Commons speaks for itself, but as you, his family, know, his greatest and truest legacy was his devotion to his family, and his love and respect for his friends and colleagues.

I offer my sincere condolences to his family, Marit, Erica, Mark and Caitlin.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill S-3, which originates in the Senate. Interestingly enough, there are a considerable number of bills that are coming to us from the Senate this year. This is An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

The bill relates to Canada's continuing efforts to update and modernize its income tax treaties with other countries. At present, Canada has tax treaties in place with 87 countries, a figure that was mentioned by one of the speakers earlier today. The bill would implement three new treaties that Canada has signed with Colombia, Greece and Turkey.

It has been pointed out by several speakers today that we are in a reactive position in this House. We are not in a position to amend these agreements. These agreements have been negotiated like a trade agreement would be negotiated between the two countries. The agreements are signed, and then put into legislation and brought before the House.

At this point I would like to make the observation that I believe the government, had it been smart in this situation, would have split these treaties into three separate bills rather than putting all three treaties into one bill. Bill S-3 should really have been written as relating to only one of the treaties. We then would have had three bills to deal with and that would have made matters easier for all of the members here in the House, but that is not the case so we will have some difficulties with the bill once we send it to committee.

I would also like to mention that the bill, as well as many others, is going around the block for the second time. It had already made it through the Senate last year, before the Prime Minister prorogued the House, and we are back doing it again only a year later.

Another point is that the bill does not represent any new or significant change in policy. The tax treaties covered by the bill are patterned on the OECD Model Tax Convention, which is accepted by most countries around the world. As a matter of fact, I believe I read that there are several hundred of these treaties in existence. Because it is an OECD model, other countries adopt the model and simply negotiate with their group of partners.

What the agreement does is avoid double taxation, which we can all agree is an admirable goal. It also is designed to prevent international tax avoidance and evasion, and that is another extremely important area, although I have to question just how effective these agreements are in terms of dealing with tax avoidance and evasion.

For example, given that we have had 87 of these treaties going back now for a good number of years, since I believe the 1970s, one would think that someone would have done an audit of the treaties and could at least present us with some facts and figures as to how effective they are. It does not make any sense to me that we would have signed 87 treaties, and we are proposing another dozen to be signed and more to be negotiated, when we cannot quantify and qualify how effective the previous 87 have been.

Clearly, the government must have some sort of information as to how effective these treaties are because it keeps signing them. That is why I asked the parliamentary secretary, when he introduced and spoke to the bill in the House earlier today, if he could present information as to how much tax has been recovered through Revenue Canada based on evasion and avoidance in other countries covered by these agreements.

He admitted that he did not have that information. I believe that he has undertaken to try to get the information, but once again I cannot guarantee that that will ever happen.

A lot of this could have been avoided if the government had set up briefings, as the ministers of the Manitoba government did, under Conservative governments and under the NDP government. To be fair not all ministers were good at it. I should not say good at it, but not all ministers actually did it. I can recall several Conservative ministers, as well as NDP ministers, who were just excellent at calling together the opposition members, or any members who wanted to attend a briefing, to explain the bill to them.

It has worked. I think that almost every minister who has done this will claim that it is money in the bank and is a very smart way to proceed. If the adversarial process is cut out and any interested members of Parliament are brought into a briefing so that they can find out about a bill, it would save a lot of time in debate. At least the information we are dealing with would be consistent and everyone would have accurate information.

I would really like to ask those questions. I would also like to ask, how many people take advantage of these treaties? How many people are affected by the treaties? Are we negotiating an international treaty for one or two cases a year, or are we negotiating an international treaty for hundreds and hundreds of cases in a year? Unless we can do an audit of the process to prove that we are actually gaining something, then why would we be negotiating these treaties?

Another question I would have is, are these treaties consistent? The argument is that they are based on the OECD wording, but they are negotiated between two countries. I have checked two of the treaties, and I do not believe they are entirely consistent with one another. Yes, they follow an OECD model and pattern, but it seems to me that there may be differences between the treaties.

We are being given this bill and are expected to deal with it as summarily as possible, but we are missing information. We do not have the government putting up any speakers, as with quite a number of bills right now, so we do not get to ask the government members any questions about the issues.

It is little wonder that we end up being very reluctant to send these bills forward. We end up being very suspicious about the intent of the bills, even though there may not be any sinister movement or ideas behind the bills. We have to question them, and it slows up getting them to committee in the first place. Then it slows them up in committee once they get there.

I think the government could streamline its processes better and would get more results by having briefings in advance of bills like this, especially bills that may, in fact, have a number of serious questions attached to them.

In 1971 the federal government undertook a review and overhaul of Canada's taxation system. That would be during the first Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, I believe. The Liberals reviewed and overhauled Canada's tax system. Among other initiatives the review involved the expansion of the network of tax treaties with other countries.

Interestingly enough, we were looking at tax avoidance way back in the 1970s. I believe one of the earlier speakers talked about $6 billion, and that is probably a conservative figure, in tax havens around the world. Clearly, there is a lot of work that has to be done, cracking open these tax havens.

I know the Bloc members are extremely interested in the tax haven issue and they have talked about it, certainly in relation to the throne speech and other pieces of information. My time is not unlimited and I have a lot to talk about.

We have all these governments over many years making declarations that they will cut down on tax havens and close the loopholes. How many times have we heard governments say they will do this? They have the entire power of the state behind them to do it, and they are spectacularly unsuccessful. Just to show how important a single person can be in this world, in the last year an employee of a bank in Switzerland, a little guy, took a backup tape containing the names of thousands of people, German citizens, Canadian citizens, citizens from other countries, who were avoiding taxes on undeclared income in these banks. I do not know what his motives were exactly, but whatever they were, he sold the tape, and the German government bought the records that dealt with their own citizens. He may have sold it to other countries too. The ripple effect was that Canadian taxpayers were rushing for the exits to take advantage of the tax amnesty offered by this government to voluntarily declare their undeclared income.

The moral of the story is that Canadian citizens are free to seek out and invest in tax havens in other parts of the world, not pay taxes on their capital gains, on the interest they get on this money, and the worst that happens to them is that they can simply walk into the nearest Canada Revenue Agency office and make a voluntary declaration. It is called an amnesty. If they do that, they do not even get a slap on the wrist. They simply pay the taxes and I suppose they are told to behave themselves in the future. If they do not voluntarily declare, they would be in trouble if they get caught, which is why so many of them have been voluntarily declaring.

This is an example of one little guy, one worker in a bank, stealing a tape for whatever reason and selling it to the government and essentially setting off a firestorm of activity. I believe there are also movements afoot now under the Obama administration, predicated more on the terrorism issue than the whole idea of trying to collect taxes from tax evaders. The reason the Americans are putting pressure on the Swiss banking system and other banks that hide information and keep it private is that they want to uncover moneys that are being stored in these facilities by terrorists. That is the motivation.

However, the Americans were happy to avoid doing that all these years. The Swiss system got rich over the years by taking money from drug cartels, arms dealers and all sorts of unsavoury organizations and people. In fact, drugs dealers and arms dealers who put millions and probably billions of dollars into Swiss banks over the years in many cases were actually getting zero interest on their money. That is the explanation why Swiss banks are able to lend out the money. Back in 1987 when Canada's interest rates were in the 18% range and we could buy GICs at the Royal Bank, or treasury bills, at 18% or 20% for a month, we could get money from Switzerland for 6% from Swiss banks.

I am told that many of the people involved in dirty money essentially put that money there and expect nothing. They are just happy to have the money protected and to have the veil of secrecy and privacy at their disposal.

They will put millions and millions of dollars in a Swiss bank with no interest, none whatsoever. Of course that is why the bank can turn around and lend it out at low rates.

This system lasted for many years but it is about time we, as a group of countries, started to crack down on people who try to avoid paying taxes.

I turned on CPAC last night and saw Mr. Snowdy talking about Rahim Jaffer, former MP, and how he was alleged to be setting up accounts in a bank in Belize. Belize is not on our list of countries that have treaties like this, but the question I would have is this. Are people like that, who are trying to plan out their careers in tax evasion, looking at our list? Are they looking at the list of countries where we have these tax treaties and trying to avoid the tax treaties?

Of the 80-plus countries we have on the list, where we have tax treaties, we have Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria and then we have Barbados. I looked through the list of countries and I do not see any that come across as tax shelters until I get to Barbados under the Bs.

There we have a case where we have one of these tax treaties in place. We had the Bloc critic speaking this morning, and by the way he apologized for Lichtenstein. He and I checked it because it was not on my list. He admitted that it in fact is not on the list.

He explained in very good detail about the tax haven situation with regard to Barbados, I believe. He was explaining that the OECD has a tool to detect tax havens. He said there are four criteria that it uses to be able to tell whether a country is a tax haven: the taxes of a country were either low or zero, there was no transparency, there were no filings to be made, there was no due diligence and there was no economic activity. I believe he was describing a situation where we had an increase in Canadian investment in Bermuda, Barbados and the Cayman Islands from $30 billion up to $90 billion, and these are countries where we do not have these tax agreements.

There is a grey list and I believe Belize is on the grey list.

I have no idea why Mr. Jaffer would have chosen Belize, because Belize is not necessarily even one of the countries on the best-tax-haven list, but still we certainly do not have a treaty with it.

Grenada is on the list. Just several weeks ago there was a report in the press about Grenada and how in the last two or three years there was a spectacular tax evasion scheme going on using a Grenadian bank. I believe an American or Canadian citizen went to Grenada and set up the bank, and it was just a front. It was a rented office. There was no real bank there at all. Millions and millions of dollars were being bilked from North Americans.

So there is obviously more at play here than what is involved in these tax treaties. Before we go around signing another 80 of these treaties, we should find out just what we have gained by signing the 80 we have right now.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to touch on something I heard in a speech by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. He talked about the fact that, in signing this treaty, the government of the day would say that even if there are indiscretions in places like Colombia, that does not mean we should not go ahead with signing an agreement. Yet we have been very reticent about signing a free trade agreement with Colombia because of the crimes against labour leaders, workers and indigenous people of that country. The United States and certainly the European Union felt similar concerns.

In light of the behaviour of Colombia in regard to its environment, its people and trade unionists, should we not stand back and say, no, we are not going ahead and signing a tax treaty because that legitimizes the kinds of behaviours we are seeing in Colombia?

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, that is a very good question from the member. I would like to see what these 87 tax treaties have accomplished in the first place. I asked the government that question this morning. Members were not able to give me even one example of their being able to collect some money owed to the government because of tax evasion or tax avoidance. Why would they promulgate more of these agreements when they do not even have results to show for the first 80?

I already suggested that the government should split them off, if it wanted these bills to pass. There are three treaties here. The Conservatives should have introduced one bill for the treaty for Greece, a second bill for the treaty for Turkey and a third bill for the treaty for Colombia. But they introduced all three together under this bill. One wonders why they would do that, given that they should have known there would be questions about this. Clearly they do not want their legislation to go through as smoothly as it could have if they had simply split it up.

Having said that, we would still want to know what sort of results we have obtained from all the other treaties we have signed. Why are we signing treaties if we cannot show any results from the first 80?

The next question is about the treaties themselves. I checked over two separate treaties and they are not the same. Are the Conservatives taking the OECD model and basically adjusting it based on how good the negotiators are with the other countries? I am really at a loss to explain that one.

We have said that, when the bill goes to committee, we will try to make some amendments to it and separate and divide it, but we are not happy with what the government has done and we think members knew in advance the trouble they were going to get into on this bill.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I enjoy listening to my friend. We all know we have the opportunity to do it often, much to the chagrin of the Liberal member for Mississauga South who is losing out on the count and contributions.

My question actually came from a member of the Liberal Party. Underlying these conversations about an increase in treaties and an increase in fair trade agreements from the government, in previous governments there has been a philosophy and a notion that by signing these agreements, human rights will improve in our trading countries, the environmental regulations will get better and workers' rights will improve. There is sort of this litany of other consequences from signing these trade deals.

My hon. colleague just talked about how the government has not proffered any evidence, one way or the other. Was this trade deal a good trade deal? Did this one not work as effectively? It is partly because the government does not use any measurements of success, other than the signature on the deal. It says that once the deal is inked and signed, that is successful.

That does not make any sense. There would not be a business in this world that would have a contract with another business with the only measurement of success being the contract itself. Of course deals are signed in order to get something done. However, when we ask the government what has been done, it does not offer any evidence and says that it needs to sign more.

I wonder if my friend could comment on this issue because there seem to be concerns coming from the Liberals as well. This is from a previous question by the member for Scarborough Centre who referred to Colombia, Greece and Turkey and resistance with Colombia because of human rights. He said, “Today we have an island called Cyprus. One-third of it is illegally occupied by Turkish forces. There are 1,600 Greek and Turkish Cypriots still unaccounted for with regard to laws, properties, et cetera. If that is not a violation of human rights on behalf of Turkey, what would he say to his Greek Canadian and Greek Cypriot constituents?”

Here we have even Liberal members, which is defying description, raising concerns about these other elements, elements of human rights and elements related to the environment. I wonder if my hon. colleague could comment on the evidence, or lack of evidence, about whether these treaties actually accomplish any of these other benefits.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, 87 treaties have been signed and, from what I can see, only one of them was signed with a country that would be seen as a tax haven, and that is the country of Barbados. Having signed the agreement with Barbados, one would think we would be able to determine, with some degree of accuracy, how much progress we have made in turning around the tax haven status of the island of Barbados.

As the Bloc member pointed out, Bermuda, Barbados and the Cayman Islands had an increase in investment from $30 billion to $90 billion. We do not have tax conventions with Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. If the intention here is to cut off the tax havens, then why do we not go out and try to sign tax treaties with the worst offenders of the tax havens? However, we are not doing that. We are signing them with countries that evidently we do not have a problem with them being tax havens. The minister, if this whole idea was working, presumably in his speech would have singled Barbados out.

He would have said, as the member for Kings—Hants would say, “Well, we signed this agreement with Barbados, and look at the huge improvement we have had in their tax haven status. They have gone from being a tax haven to a non-tax haven”.

That is not what the Bloc member described this morning. The way he described the companies operating in Barbados, they clearly are still operating in a tax avoidance environment, which is not something the government should be trying to emulate.

I think that the government is operating on the basis that this whole agreement structure facilitates trade. If members read the speeches from the senators in the Senate, that is what they would notice in their speeches. It is all about trade and this is just one little piece in that whole idea that we are open for business and let us trade with one another.

It is just lip service being paid to shutting down tax havens. If that were the intention here, there would a different picture being presented in this situation.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague is exactly right. We see a government that keeps throwing stuff into bills and budgets that does not make sense. It put in the Navigable Waters Act. It attacked pay equity in the budget. Now it is putting forward a bill that should be two separate bills.

Maybe my colleague could reiterate why it is important to have a bill that would specifically address the issues with regard to Colombia.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the simple answer is that if the government had a specific bill that dealt only with Colombia, another one that dealt only with Greece and another one that dealt with Turkey, it would get two of the three moved through the House in an expeditious way. That would be the bottom line on it.

Just for a moment I want to deal with the situation in Barbados, which is a tax haven that has an agreement. The Bloc member indicated that to register, people had to have their headquarters there, had to have one meeting a year, had to keep minutes and had to have one director who was a resident and they could pay the director as little as $1,500 a year. This is the way it is set up. There is also banking secrecy.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is encouraging to hear my colleague from Winnipeg talk about the implications of tax policy, with having done so much research on it, because those implications affect so much of what we do in this place, primarily the government's ability and willingness to collect taxes fairly across the country. Are there special understandings within the political class here, the cabinet, and those families that can even afford to even consider things like tax havens?

I suspect that most Canadians watching this have not contemplated with their families around the dinner table what to do with their tax haven structures this year. Most Canadians are struggling to make ends meet and pay their fair share of taxes, and are willing to do so, but it is when they hear stories of the excessively rich families in Canada making a certain amount of money, wanting to avoid taxes and then skipping town, essentially.

Some of these same folks end up getting a little pin on their lapels or the Order of Canada from prime ministers for their great and dutiful work for Canadians. The irony and the hypocrisy in that alone smacks so hard against Canadian values.

Bill S-3 is a bill that has come forward from the Senate. It is great to know that every once in a while the senators rouse themselves from their afternoon naps and produce something. However, it is a bill that does not necessarily mean a lot in its particulars but, in general, has implications for all of us.

In Bill S-3, as my friend from Winnipeg said, the government quite intentionally included a country that may cause problems, because it is trying to do a free trade deal with Colombia right now and now it is slipping it into this taxation bill. It is striking to me and to others why these three particular countries are locked together and why it is of interest to the government to include such diverse economies together into one piece, but the government has chosen to do that so we must work with that.

The issue that is in front of us is how to deal with this bill. The NDP has suggested, quite rightly, that the bill should be split, that it should be broken up into its contingent parts so we can deal with each reality on its own. The government at this point has refused that, but let us look at the pattern of how the government operates when it comes to making legislation and the role of the government.

Right now at the finance committee, members are dealing with Bill C-9, which, by all measures and accounts, is a Trojan Horse bill. It is supposed to be a budget bill but it is an omnibus bill, which means that it includes a whole bunch of different pieces. The government has included things like raising airport taxes and the selling off of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the largest crown corporation in this country. It is the nuclear industry. It has also included a watering down of environmental regulations on, of all things, the oil and gas industry, which is quite ironic to think about doing that right now. All of these things are embedded into a piece of legislation that is meant to be a budget bill, a finance bill. That is a cynical form of politics. It is a form of politics that says that it does not want to debate these things on their merits.

Let us just take one of those pieces as an example, the selling of AECL. Canadians, over the 50 years of this crown corporation existing, have put somewhere north of $21 billion into it to develop the nuclear industry here in Canada, both on the energy side and creating isotopes. That is a lot of money. What else could have been done with $21 billion? However, here we are and the money has been put in.

It actually says in legislation that was crafted in this place that in order to sell or break up AECL, the government must bring a bill before the House for debate. That makes sense. That is reasonable. That is what every other country around the world does. However, rather than debate the sale of AECL or how to break it up, or any of these other things, the government instead has slipped it into a budget bill and has said that it is a matter of confidence.

It also tacked in this thing about raising taxes at airports. This is from a government that is constantly claiming that it is cutting taxes. It is becoming laughable because at the same time it is raising them, like the HST.

I am a member from British Columbia and I was just at our first farmers' market in Terrace, B.C. this weekend. I manned the HST booth for a couple of hours and heard from constituents in British Columbia how frustrated they are that when they flick on the evening news they hear Conservative minister after minister talk about their glorious tax cuts, when they know in British Columbia and in Ontario that they are moving the HST onto the backs of hard-working families who will pay more taxes.

It was a tax that was brought in by a British Columbia premier who promised not to do it. The Conservatives pretend they had nothing to do with it, forgetting that their fingerprints are all over a $1.6 billion bribe that they sent to Ontario. The government took $1.5 billion from taxpayers to bribe another level of government to raise taxes on those same taxpayers. This is the way the Conservative government cuts taxes.

It is unbelievable that those guys can still walk upright and claim the high moral ground on taxation when they took $1.5 billion and slipped it into a budget bill to raise taxes in British Columbia and another $3.5 billion or so to Ontario. That is remarkable.

What is remarkable is that the folks who were coming up to us at this farmers market were from all political persuasions. Folks from across the political spectrum were saying that whether it was this type of tax or another type of tax, the process stunk. They were signing a petition so a free and fair vote could be held in British Columbia to decide things.

Bill S-3 is another effort at talking about things without actually doing anything. We have asked for evidence from the government about the effect of these treaties. The government has signed, I believe, 87 agreements. The Conservatives think they are great free traders because they have signed these agreements. They say that they are fantastic, thereby implying that something actually has changed in the world.

It must have cost a lot of money to print 87 treaties, never mind sending negotiators all over the world to make these things happen. These things are not free. We have invested in these things. We are asking for a return on our investment.

We want to know what has changed in tax policy. Have we caught those folks who take their money offshore to a tax haven? Have we recovered any funds from the people who have earned their money from investments by Canadians and then skipped town before the bill is due? The government has not provided any evidence.

This leads one to some suspicions. This is again the portrayal of action without anything actually changing. This is a level of government of which people are growing increasingly tired. If the government is going to do something, then it should do it.

I come from a remote rural part of northern British Columbia. When somebody says he or she is going to do something, often it is a handshake and the agreement is made. Then we go forth and do it.

To set up all these agreements with no evidence as to whether they work or not, or which kind work better for which situation, is governance by a certain ideology rather than governance by any kind of thoughtfulness and debate.

With this bill, the government is lumping three countries together so it can get the numbers up. It is signing more treaties, all the while refusing a fundamental principle of trade, which has been evolving, growing and maturing around the world for the last 50 years.

That is the counter to the free trade ideology. We can trade with other partner countries but we have to do it fairly. Everybody knows that nothing is free in this world. Even the terminology free trade must sound good, it must mean good things. However, when we ask about fair trade, when we ask about trade that is on good terms with our trading partners, that would improve working standards, that would take care of the environment, that would ensure we do not support regimes that we would never tolerate here, the government is silent. It is not interested in those types of trade agreements, and we see that with Colombia.

Our member for Burnaby—New Westminster has been pushing hard to get some sort of review of the human rights situation in Colombia. He has made some progress with members after a massive campaign involving thousands of Canadians. They would like to know that their trading partners are living up to some sort of standards, some sort of requirement, for the privilege of trading.

That is how trade works. It is a privileged status. It is not a right. Countries do not trade with each other based on any fundamental rights. Countries trade as a privilege. It is the same with operating a business. It is not a right to operate a business in Canada. It is a privilege. One has to follow certain rules and those rules cannot be broken.

If someone ducks out on taxes, the government comes after that individual, and rightly so, except for a particular class of Canadians. When we get into the billions of dollars, suddenly a whole new set of rules apply. People go to what is called a tax haven, and tax havens, as has been described earlier today, are set up by countries that have a skeleton of a banking sector. They are often islands. They are often very small countries, sometimes democratic, sometimes not. The list of prestigious Canadian families who have their money socked away in these tax havens is astounding.

We see it time and time again, whether it is Liberal or Conservative governments. A little private meeting goes on and Revenue Canada says that is all right. We saw it with a former prime minister, for goodness sake, who got caught evading taxes. It was Brian Mulroney, a Conservative. Those folks used to know him, then they pretended they did not him and now they know him again, I think. What did he do once he got caught. He cut a deal with Revenue Canada. If he paid back a portion of those taxes, it would be satisfied.

I wonder if the government offers that same deal to the average hard-working Canadian taxpayers. If they are having a hard time this year or last year paying their taxes, Revenue Canada will cut them a deal and they will only pay 50%. Of course not. The system would not work that way.

However, when we move up into this upper echelon, if it is a Brian Mulroney, or a Bronfman, or somebody who has some connections to this place, they can cut deals with the government to pay half of the taxes they actually owe. How does that make any sense? How can those guys call themselves fiscally conservative if, at the same time, they allow tax avoidance to go on? How can they be running deficits while, at the same time, taxes owed to the good people of Canada are not paid. The only reason is because there are connections, there is the familiarity, there is a need to have some sort of comfort with certain Canadians who are of a certain wealth.

On the agreements with countries, we hope, as Canadians, that our presence in the world, our ability to connect with other countries is for a betterment of the world. We do not go forth, whether it is through military or diplomacy or trade, hoping to make the world a worse place. Part of our underlying belief as Canadians is that we have accomplished something in our country that is, as some have said, a country that works well in practice but not in theory. We want to be a symbol and an example on certain issues, particularly, for other countries struggling to establish a democratic rule of law, struggling to establish women's rights and rights for minorities, rights for the gay-lesbian community. Canadians feel okay with promoting those things overseas. We hope we do that through our diplomatic core and our military, from time to time.

However, when we look at the free trade ideology coming from the government, all these other issues get short shrift. One wonders if the government even believes that trade is a mechanism and a vehicle for promoting human rights and environmental standards around the world. Conversely, and I think this is much closer to the reality for those guys. The very nature and vision of the role of Canada, the very vision of Canada promoted by the Conservative government is not one that supports human rights. It is not one that supports environmental protection or the rights of first nations people. The reason I can make that strong statement is there is so much proof that the government does not mind cutting access to women's programs. The government does not seem to mind cutting back funding for certain groups that it does not like if their ideology is not right. It does not mind watering down environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry. In fact, the government suggests the oil and gas industry can regulate itself, which might be better.

In committee this morning we heard that our national regulator that governs oil and gas for most of the country, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, had said that it was no good to have these regulations any more, that we should just be goal-oriented in our rules. Let us not have rules, in fact. Let us just have guidelines. Would it be a good idea to just have goal-oriented guidelines for driving regulations or for the safety of our homes and our streets? Of course not. We put regulations in place.

As my father-in-law, who works for a compensation board in British Columbia, says that a lot of the rules and regulations that govern industry for workers' safety are written blood. What he means is those rules were not invented out of nowhere. They were often invented after there had been an accident. In his case, workers' safety, somebody died, or somebody was hurt seriously. They realized they had to change the rules guiding construction, or a certain industry. The had to make them stronger so people could go to work knowing they would come home at the end of the day. That is the principle from where regulations and rules come. There is not a little office of people sitting around Ottawa, not that I am aware of, who make up rules for the sake of it. We make up rules and regulations so they enable good practice to flourish, so they give people a fair opportunity earn a decent buck to be social citizens. There is a social licence to operate that is buried within it.

However, when it comes to the regulations, the government promotes a Canada that does not necessarily belive in this, that industry can self-regulate. If we look to the Gulf of Mexico right now, we see what happens when an industry is given more self-regulation.

This does not always happen in one shot. It happens over time. There is a creep, they call it. It creeps edge by edge. We saw it in the stock market in the U.S. and in Canada. We put rules and guidelines in place to try to contain some of the greed that would be rampant in any stock market, because it is a profitable place to make money. We put those in place because not everybody was very ethical. Some traders want to bend and break rules and rip off their investors. In American, it was the Glass-Steagall act. In Canada, we had a bunch of other stuff, but the creep happened.

Bit by bit, the Americans eroded some of their guidelines. They eroded the rules and decided to do outcome-based guidelines. The outcome-based guideline for the stock market is to make money. If people keep making money, that is all right, but they will not be guided. The invisible hand of the free market will save them at the end of the day.

The marketplace is a magical thing. It can bring billions of dollars into new technology, ideas that spur innovation and that ambition can be allowed to flourish. However, it needs to have some rules and some sort of containment so people who try to do the right thing are rewarded and those who are crooks are thrown in jail. We take away all those regulations and they make guidelines. We make goal-oriented objectives and we get what we get, which is the worst of the worst are able to manipulate the system to their best abilities and make money in unethical ways.

Now we move to trade in Bill S-3, the bill from the Senate. We need to have these tax deals so people are not double taxed. That is a very fine principle. It is something we can support. Then we look at all the existing tax haven countries. Has the government signed any treaties with those countries, the places where people actually set up tax havens?

I have not known Turkey to be a great and rampant source of tax havens for the wealthy and rich around the globe, because it is not. We have the list of the places that are. Transparency International runs a list of the most corrupt regimes every year. Some of those are also the regimes where these tax havens exist. All one has to do is pay somebody off to not pay any taxes in the country, to never have to declare it and to have one board member.

Former Prime Minister Martin ran his whole shipping company under different flags of convenience. Why are they convenient? Because if people have shipping companies like the former Prime Minister of Canada did and they do not want to follow Canadian, American or European law, they fly them under the flags of some backwater African country, which has no rules or regulations for shipping. Therefore, they do not have to stand by any labour or environmental laws because they have this convenient flag flying over their ships.

The problem with the government's ideology on this is it also applies a flag of convenience to its trade policy. It uses trade in a convenient way to accomplish only a very narrow band of things. There are those of us who believe strongly that trade with a country can be an opening of a conversation about improving the conditions for people on both sides of the deal, both Canada and the country with which we are trading.

There is some evidence that this has happened around the world. In the last 25 years, we have seen steady improvements for the lowest-income people across the globe in some regions. However, it is false to think that this just happens naturally and that it is some byproduct that will happen no matter what we do. Very strong evidence exists to show this is the case.

We traded with Iraq during the entire Saddam Hussein regime. We bought its oil. The Americans bought its oil. We did not put a single stipulation in place. We had to drive furiously at a previous Conservative government to get a proper regime set up against South Africa when apartheid existed. We had to make the moral implication. The argument against any trade sanctions against South Africa was that free trade had to reign. That was the most fundamental principle. If we just traded with South Africa, it would eventually let apartheid dissipate.

Of course that was never going to happen. It would still be there today if the world did not get together and say that, as part of human trade, we would insist on human rights. As part of our trade with South Africa, to buy its resources and products, we would insist that it also treated all its citizens with some level of dignity. It was a good moment for the world when we finally decided that. Conservative ideological thinkers were against it. They opposed every step of the way.

We see it again here today. We need good trade policy in Canada. We are a trading nation. We need to shut down tax havens around the world and have people, whatever their social standing, pay their fair share of taxes. It is the right thing to do.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, it has been rightly pointed out that when we go through the list of the 87 countries that have signed these tax treaties, there is only one that looks as though it qualifies as a tax haven.

If the member for Kings—Hants is correct, that the way to get these rogue countries in line is to sign tax treaties and free trade treaties with them, which would somehow alter the way they do business, then Barbados should be a perfect example of a country that is totally reformed, yet we have lots of evidence to the contrary. It is still as big a tax haven as it was before.

Then we look at the real tax havens and we find that we have tax treaties with none of them. If we are trying to stop Canadians from putting their money in tax havens, then one would think we should be sending our negotiators off to sign treaties that will turn these practices around with those countries that are known tax havens.

How do we treat Canadians who engage in investing in tax havens? We give them an amnesty. When the Swiss bank employee gave out all the information from the computer disk last year and we uncovered all of the Canadians' undeclared income, thousands of Canadians rushed into the nearest Canada Revenue Agency office and took advantage of the amnesty. What sort of message are we sending to Canadian high rollers? We are telling them to go ahead and invest in tax havens, because what is the worst that will happen? When they get caught, all they have to do is go to the nearest Canada Revenue Agency office and the amnesty applies. They declare that they have been bad, they declare the income, pay the tax and they are scot-free.

That is not the way to run the system. We should not be giving tax amnesties. We should be shutting the door on these tax havens and saying that if people take a chance and send their money to a tax haven, then when they are caught they will do time in jail. That would be tough on crime, but the government is not tough on crime.