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 tax.

Topics

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, shutting down tax havens is not an easy thing to do for two reasons.

The first would be the political connections of those who use tax havens. It is not the average citizen who is flying around the world in a Lear jet looking for the best tax haven available. These are folks who have means and resources and sometimes strong political connections. We have seen that here in Canada.

Second, even though it is difficult, it is necessary, and if the government were sincere about the effort to shut these things down, it would do something very particular that is not actually in the bill. It would include some way to measure its effectiveness. It would include some way to say that after six years or after 10 years, it would look back and measure the effectiveness of closing down these tax havens.

Again, the number of tax havens in Turkey escapes me right now, but I suspect it is not that many. The question is, does the government have the courage, if I can use that word, to actually go after real tax havens? If it does that, will it do that with the full support of the House? Madam Speaker, you had better believe it. Would it do that with the full support of Canadians? Absolutely. Canadians pay their taxes because they know it is that money that pays for roads, schools and hospitals, but they get properly cheesed off when they find out the richest of the rich do not pay a nickel.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Skeena for his passionate speech on this subject which really makes Canadians' blood boil the more they think about it.

I have looked on the websites of a lot of chartered accountants and they advertise tax-motivated expatriation. That is the code. Those are the buzz words for sleazy tax-cheating loopholes. That is what it is.

Perhaps my colleague would like to comment on something I read in an article by Diane Francis, a right-wing journalist, in the National Post. She was calling the public's and Parliament's attention to one of these sleazy tax-cheating loopholes, her words I believe, involving family trusts. A wealthy family can expatriate its entire fortune for a one-time payment of 25% tax. From thereon after, all the money earned out of country by that block of money, even if it is repatriated into Canada, is tax free.

The children of that wealthy family, and there might be dozens of them, could all be getting an income from that offshore pool of money and never pay taxes again on that money expatriated from Canada.

The United States does not allow it. I do not believe there is a western country in the world that allows it. I wonder if my colleague has heard of that and thinks we should address that as well.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, one of my colleagues from the Conservatives said, “Was that not the Paul Martin scheme?” No. He had set up an entirely different scheme to avoid paying taxes and avoid rules. He orchestrated multiple tax havens.

It is somewhat ironic but I remember asking him at one point that as the finance minister of the country, the person in charge of tax policy, how did he feel about avoiding taxes while imposing taxes on Canadians. He had his own company which was doing quite well. This was not a company that was on the ropes or dying and he needed to do something about it. The company was doing quite well. He just wanted it to do a fair shake better. He was avoiding taxes while he was imposing taxes on Canadians.

We can remember that the 1990s, and this was raised during oral questions today, was a time when we were making very difficult decisions in this country about cutting back on folks. The hypocrisy of that moment, which was not felt by the then finance minister, someone hoping obviously to become the leader of the country, is so discouraging to Canadians.

The idea of having tax-motivated expatriation, the idea that one can make a whole whack of money, move it out of the country and pay a one-time small penalty on it and then slowly move it back in for generations to come is tax avoidance. Tax avoidance in most places is against the law because if one person does it, everybody does it and the whole system starts to fall apart.

The impression is that it is the wild west down on Wall Street and that Canada is the land of bliss and tight rules and serious governance. The OECD, a group of the most developed countries in the world, came out with a report citing all of the different barriers to trade and investment of each of its member countries. This is an exhaustive report. The number one reason that it cited not to invest in Canada was the lack of fair rules and regulations. Our markets were seen as too risky because we did not apply the rules consistently to companies. Investors were shy about putting their money into the country.

It was not high labour rates. It was not high environmental standards. Lord knows those are all being watered down. It was the simple fact that our market was not being governed properly. With Bear Stearns in the United States, the folks got caught and they did what is called the perp walk. We have seen this. The CEO is put in handcuffs and is walked down Wall Street in front of the cameras. They do it for a reason. It is to send a signal to the other guys to say, “Try this and we will do the same thing to you. We will humiliate you. We will put you in jail. No more golf memberships for you”.

In Canada, what do we do? We have a self-governing, self-regulating body. I cannot remember seeing any CEO, and there have been a few, who have completely ripped off--

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Conrad Black went to the States to go to jail.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Conrad Black would have never been caught here.

At the end of the day, if the government is really interested in getting at the tax haven issue, we encourage it. These folks should be paying money. No more of this tax-motivated expatriation. It should be illegal. Any accountant that promotes it should be thrown in jail and his or her licence taken away.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, while I have the floor I would like to put forward a motion to make the leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for Toronto—Danforth, the Leader of the Official Opposition for a period of one week.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Members have heard the motion. Is there unanimous consent?

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

There is no unanimous consent.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Peace River.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to raise this point of order. Today during question period the member for Winnipeg Centre made a wild accusation that a minister of the Crown had taken a bribe. While much of the question was indeed unparliamentary, I would like to point out that without a doubt it was unparliamentary to suggest that a minister did anything illegal. I hope that the member would now apologize for that.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I thank the hon. member for his submission. As I was not at question period, I will certainly ask the Speaker to review the blues and if necessary to come back to the House on this issue.

Would the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre like to respond on the same point of order?

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, yes, and I do appreciate your taking under advisement the point made by my colleague regarding the question I asked in question period. To aid you in your deliberations on that point of order, I would like to elaborate on what my intent was in the question that I put during question period today.

My question found its origins in the just released report of the Ethics Commissioner looking into a complaint to the Ethics Commissioner that the former minister for natural resources, and I am not sure what her riding is, but she is currently the Minister of Labour, had a fundraiser put in place for her by a bunch of lobbyists.

One lobbyist, Mr. McSweeney, whose brother is the chief of staff to the then minister of natural resources, in testimony to the Ethics Commissioner, bragged in an email that he bought 40 tickets to the fundraiser at $250 per ticket which would be $10,000. He went on to say in his testimony to the Ethics Commissioner that when he was successfully lobbying the minister at the very fundraiser that he was sponsoring, she said, “That's great. Let's make sure I get a copy--

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I believe the hon. members are getting into debate on the issue. This will be referred to the Speaker. It will be taken under advisement and if necessary, the Speaker will return with a ruling on that issue.

I believe we have heard enough from both sides. If necessary, the Speaker will return with some comments.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the members of this House who have taken a principled stand against, first, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and now this treaty that we see before us, Bill S-3, an act to implement the most recent tax treaties with Greece, Colombia and Turkey.

I did wish to note that there is nothing exceptional in tax treaties. Canada enters into such treaties to help individuals and corporations to work in both Canada and the home country without double taxation, and to prevent tax evasion.

However, in the context of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, I am convinced that in order for Bill S-3 to be successful, it is essential to divide the bill. We can then vote for the treaties with Greece and Turkey, and set aside the treaty with Colombia.

The reason for avoiding the treaty with Colombia is related to our concerns with the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Our concern rises from the fact that we in the NDP caucus challenge the ethics of that free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia. We need to examine the situation in Colombia and look at it carefully so that we can understand why I am making this statement. Why kind of partner is Colombia, in terms of any kind of treaty?

I have been aware of the circumstances in Colombia for a number of years. I have actually had the privilege of speaking directly to Colombians from all walks of life in regard to the situation that they face in their homeland under the Uribe government. In fact, I have many constituents who fled to Canada because they no longer felt safe in their home country of Colombia.

In the last session of Parliament, I spoke about the CCFTA and undertook to talk about the lack of environmental protection and labour rights in the agreement.

Violations of labour rights and violence committed against unionized workers are among Colombia's foremost human rights challenges. Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. A deep-seated anti-trade union culture exists in that country, both within the government and among entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs and the government see autonomous organizations of workers as a threat.

There were 2,690 trade unionists murdered in Colombia since 1986, with 46 deaths in 2008 and 27 murders in 2009. Impunity rates for these violations are unchanged. There is only a 3% conviction rate for those who murder. Tragically, these crimes are tolerated by the Colombian government.

Canadians must not be party to this tolerance for violence. It goes against everything we believe about ourselves. It goes against our sense of justice. So, in signing Bill S-3 or in approving a tax treaty with Colombia, I think we are betraying our values as Canadians.

The Uribe government continues to inaccurately denounce union members as guerrillas, statements considered by the unions to give carte blanche to paramilitaries to act, putting workers in extreme jeopardy. Substantive labour rights protections remain in a side agreement of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, rather than in the body of that agreement. Enforcement of these rights is entirely at the discretion of the signatory government.

It is not a matter of discretion. It is a matter of life. It is a matter of justice. That life and justice is denied because the complaint process in the CCFTA does not investigate nor evaluate the complaints. There are no independent judicial or even quasi-judicial bodies that could lead to real remedies, that could look at the complaints and expect a change.

As I said, only a matter of discretion in the FTA governs these labour agreements. Unlike the provisions for investors' rights, the agreement offers no trading sanctions, no countervailing duties or abrogation of preferential trade status in the event that a party fails to adhere to labour rights provisions.

What it does institute, though, are fines. Fines for murder. That is just beyond belief.

Investors have rights, very clear and substantive rights. Workers do not. It defies logic. It defies understanding, and it is basically a matter of kill a trade unionist, pay a fine.

This is hardly acceptable or effective. Fines neither address the causes of the violence nor generate substantive incentives or political will in the Colombian administration to address the crisis and bring an end to the violence against trade unionists. Quite simply, there is no justice.

Given the scale and the depth of labour rights violations in Colombia, neither the Canada-Colombia free trade deal, its side labour deal or this tax treaty should be implemented. The fact is that it is more likely that agreement provisions for market liberalization and investors' rights, which are substantive, will exacerbate conflict and violations of workers' rights.

How on earth can we be party to this? How can we do it? How can we talk about tax treaties and trade agreements with a country where people's lives are in danger simply because they stand up for their rights?

Once Canadians understand what the proposed Canada-Colombia free trade agreement contains and what it means to sign a tax treaty with such a regime, they will simply reject it and they will ask this Parliament to reject it.

I would like to also speak about the crimes currently committed by the Uribe government against indigenous Colombians.

In a new report released February 23 of this year, Amnesty International called for immediate international action to ensure the survival of indigenous peoples in Colombia. It stated:

The organization says guerrilla groups, state security forces and paramilitaries are responsible for grave human rights abuses against Indigenous Peoples. These abuses include killings, enforced disappearances and kidnappings, sexual abuse of women, recruitment of child soldiers, persecution of Indigenous leaders and forced displacement of communities from land that is rich in economic potential.

People are quite literally forced from their land because they live in areas that are valued for their natural resources, including oil and minerals. Amnesty has stated that the situation of indigenous people in Colombia is nothing short of an emergency. Until countries like Canada recognize the gravity of this situation and exert much needed pressure on the Colombian government, there is a real risk that entire indigenous cultures may be eradicated. Signing tax treaties is not exerting pressure. It is simply going along with what is happening there.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, the survival of 32 different indigenous people in Colombia is at risk as a result of the armed conflict, the impacts of large-scale economic projects and a lack of state support. According to ONIC, at least 114 indigenous men, women and children were killed, many others threatened, and thousands driven from their land in 2009 alone, in one year alone.

In its latest report, Amnesty International says the threats facing indigenous people are intensifying and is calling on guerrilla groups and state security forces to respect the rights of indigenous people not to be dragged into hostilities, and equally importantly, to respect the rights of indigenous people to own and control the land on which they depend for their cultures and livelihoods. Tragically, indigenous leaders in communities that try to defend their land rights commonly experience threats, killings and mass displacement.

Colombia's ongoing armed conflict has affected millions across the country and left tens of thousands dead, tortured and forcibly disappeared. The vast majority of victims are civilians. In the last seven years, more than 1,595 indigenous people were forcibly killed or disappeared as a result of the armed conflict, and in 4,700 collective reports, threats were reported. In the vast majority of cases, these crimes have not been properly investigated, nor have the perpetrators ever been brought to justice.

Just as with trade unionists, the death toll is rising and still the Conservative government is determined to pursue trade agreements that are highly questionable and to enact a tax treaty that is equally questionable.

As Amnesty International testified at the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade in November 2009, one of the most worrying trends is a dramatic increase in the number of Colombians forced to flee from their homes, as many as 380,000 in 2008, and there are more every day. That brings the total number of internally displaced people in Colombia to between three million and four million, among the highest in the world, and it is growing.

Forced displacement has paved the way for misappropriation of lands, mostly by paramilitaries but also by guerrilla groups. It is estimated that more than four million hectares of land have been stolen by paramilitaries in this way. Displacement is one of the greatest threats facing indigenous communities, as in the case of Colombia.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that this happens in oil and rich minerals, and remarkable biodiversity. International mining, agribusiness and those who extract oil have a vested interest in these territories, all at the expense of people who have a right to live on these lands. We know that multinationals, including Canadian businesses, are interested in Colombia and are participating in the exploitation of resources.

According to the director of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Colombia, when this displacement to urban centres occurs, it becomes very complicated. Since most of the indigenous women do not speak Spanish very well, the immensity of the city frightens them with its anonymity and lack of solidarity among residents. The women face new problems in raising their children and relating to their partners because the city is not a customary environment.

In addition to this uncomfortable environment is the anguish of leaving their homes and running with whatever little they had or could carry in order to outrun death and desolation. Accepting new, unfamiliar realities and activities not traditional in indigenous cultures results in culture shock and disorientation. People experience a way of life and language radically different from their own.

This fracturing can result in a breakdown of cultural continuity, as young people find themselves in alien environments and deprived of the social and cultural networks and practices necessary for the survival of their communities. Displaced people are at heightened risk of destitution, sexual violence, exploitation by criminal gangs, armed groups and discrimination. Even in the places in which they seek refuge, they may face further intimidation or violence and have to flee once again.

The inadequate state response by the Colombian government to the needs of internally displaced communities means that some people return to the dangerous situations that they fled. Without support or safeguards that should be provided by the state, the right to traditional lands is crucial to these indigenous people and the right to support is equally crucial. It is vital as an element in terms of their sense of identity, livelihood, way of life, and it is crucial for their future.

This brings me to the bill that is before us. This bill, as I said before, is of profound concern because it enables the government. It enables Colombia to abrogate its responsibilities. It is completely inadequate for any country to say that this is just a tax treaty, that the government of that country should be allowed to do whatever that government wishes. When one considers murder, torture and the displacement of people, we are treading on very dangerous ground here in our association, both through the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and this tax treaty legislation.

It is clear that the members of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party want nothing more than for Canada to move ahead with the CCFTA despite all the human, environmental and ethical costs. I think that we have to answer the ethical questions that are put forward by this discussion. I wonder what Canadians would say if they knew that, in last month's legislative elections in Colombia, independent foreign observers reported vote buying and fraud that allowed narco-paramilitary candidates to maintain influence over the Colombian congress.

I wonder what they would think about the plea to the Canadian Council for International Co-operation from Methodist Church of Colombia Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona during his visit to Canada in November 2007, when the bishop said:

--but we know from other places like Mexico that these agreements might create more wealth for wealthy people, but they make inequalities worse. Whatever new wealth is created does not reach the poor people.

The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement was signed behind the backs of the Colombian people, without any real participation from civil society and without any study on the impacts. Now we are proposing to move ahead with a tax treaty, again, I would say, against the wishes of the people of Colombia.

This is something that must be made very clear to this Parliament and to the people of Canada.

The stage is set for further and increased human rights violations in Colombia. We know that the Uribe government is looking for re-election. We know that this will give it carte blanche. Colombians have asked Canadian society, this Parliament, to demonstrate solidarity with Colombian people by mobilizing against the CCFTA. We did not listen to them. We are moving ahead with that. I think that is a great travesty.

Likewise, I think we should be very careful about moving ahead with this tax treaty.

When I began my remarks, I said that the fight against the CCFTA was principled. I have not changed my mind. How can our country contemplate any treaty that legitimizes such a corrupt government as the Uribe government? I believe Bill S-3 would exacerbate this. Therefore, I believe we need to split Bill S-3 so we can go ahead with treaties with Greece and Turkey.

We should not be accessories to the crimes committed against Colombia workers, the Colombian environment, Colombians of African descent and indigenous Colombians by signing a treaty with any government that sanctions murder, rape, the dispossession of people and that sanctions drug dealing and crimes against the human community. Let us rather say in one voice that no treaty, be it a trade treaty or a tax treaty, is something on which Canada is prepared to embark when there are such risks to human dignity.

Because we value human rights, human life and the legitimate aspirations of the Colombian people, let us refuse to engage in anything that might give credibility to the Uribe government and to the things that it represents in terms of its behaviour. Let us stand here together and divide the bill to ensure that Greece and Turkey's tax treaties are respected, but let us not proceed with anything with the Colombian government.