House of Commons Hansard #212 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizenship.

Topics

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to support this bill on behalf of the people in my riding of Pontiac. A good housecleaning in this area can only help businesses in particular.

Bill C-48 implements over a decade of highly technical amendments to our tax system. I believe that these changes will have a positive impact on revenues and that they will generally discourage tax avoidance, which is an important element.

The very size of this bill shows that the government must manage the tax system in a more responsible manner. It must ensure in particular that it periodically passes legislation on proposed tax measures. Otherwise, there will be greater uncertainty for business people and tax experts, and it will be almost impossible for parliamentarians to deal with such lengthy bills.

I also want to point out the importance of guaranteeing the integrity of the tax system. Moreover, I believe that we must eliminate unanticipated tax loopholes in a timely manner. We must also consider the increasing complexity of tax laws and insist on the need to simplify them over time.

Like my fellow New Democrats, I think we must fight tax avoidance and tax evasion while preserving the integrity of our tax system. That is why I support the changes being made in this bill, especially those that aim to stop tax avoidance. It is a significant loss of revenue for the state, and that revenue is essential to support our social programs, which reflect the values of all Canadians.

Still, at nearly 1,000 pages, this bill is the perfect example of an omnibus bill. Fortunately, unlike the monster budget bills that contain badly designed and poorly conceived policies, this bill makes technical amendments to several closely related acts.

This bill's massive size is proof that there is still some work to be done in transforming such technical amendments into legislation and, as I said, doing that with good speed. Not doing that penalizes businesses and complicates Parliament's tasks. And that has a cost.

The harder it is for businesses to find their way around the country's tax laws and pay their taxes, the less effort they will make to pay their fair and responsible share of taxes. It is these taxes that the state uses to redistribute revenue and help the neediest people in our society and anyone who runs into problems.

In the fall of 2009, the Auditor General reported that there were more than 400 technical amendments that had been proclaimed but had not yet been enacted in legislation. Bill C-48 will enact more than 200 of these changes, or about half, but the others will be left in limbo. When can we expect to see those 200 amendments become law?

We may all wonder what is causing this delay. When the Liberals were in power, they, too, took some time integrating the technical amendments into tax law. The most recent enactment of a technical tax bill was in 2001, more than a decade ago.

I wonder why the Liberals did not pass such technical taxation bills regularly after 2001. They may have an answer. The Conservatives, too, have taken their time transforming these technical amendments into legislation.

Bill C-48 is designed to implement more than 200 of these changes. However, it is crucial that the other 200 be enacted and that the integrity of our tax system be maintained. The Conservatives should try to do a better job of incorporating these technical amendments into the legislation.

Compliance is a key aspect of maintaining the integrity of our tax system. What is the government doing to ensure that people comply with the technical changes being made in the tax system? We have not yet had an answer to that question.

The official opposition has consulted tax professionals and lawyers, who have told us that the technical changes in Bill C-48 are largely beneficial and necessary, but that there are not enough of them. That said, there have been other attempts to pass technical tax bills.

For example, Bill C-10 was introduced in October 2007 and was quickly passed by the House of Commons, but it had not passed the Senate committee stage when the 39th Parliament was dissolved in September 2008.

Governments have not been acting quickly enough. And that costs Canadian companies and taxpayers money. We want the government to act more quickly when it comes to tax changes, and we want these changes to be tabled more often. Many experts agree with us. For example, here is a quote from the Auditor General:

If proposed technical changes are not tabled regularly, the volume of amendments becomes difficult for taxpayers, tax practitioners, and parliamentarians to absorb when they are grouped into a large package....

In the 1991 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 2, we expressed concerns that income tax comfort letters were given without public announcement. In response, the Department of Finance Canada stated that “the government intends to release a package of income tax technical amendments on an annual basis, so that taxpayers will not be subject to more lengthy waiting periods as in the past before amendments are released to the public.”... comfort letters have since been regularly released to the public...

Denis Saint-Pierre, the chair of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Advisory Group for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, said the following in committee:

First, the government must introduce a technical tax amendments bill. The last time a technical tax bill was passed by Parliament was over 11 years ago. Literally hundreds of unlegislated tax amendments to the Income Tax Act—which I showed this committee last year...—have been proposed, but not yet enacted, which brings uncertainty and unpredictability to the process.

In its 2012 prebudget submission—not too long ago—the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada said:

CGA-Canada strongly believes that the key to sustained economic recovery [the question was about economic recovery] and enhanced economic growth lies in the government’s commitment to tax reform and red tape reduction.

It is clear that we must take action that is in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers, to develop a tax system that makes sense and serves everyone.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, several Conservative MPs have spoken about my party's platform after hearing our speeches on the bill.

I would like my colleague to remind the House how much we would save by abolishing the Senate, which is unelected and spends money hand over fist. Could he remind Canadians how much money they would save by abolishing the Senate?

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

We would start at $90 million, which is not chump change. We would also need to strengthen the tax system to ensure everyone pays taxes. I am thinking of big businesses, mostly. Too many big businesses in Canada do not pay taxes. This translates into lost revenue for the state, revenue that could be used to fund programs to help those most in need.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the last questioner did remind me that I have stood in the House a few times to ask NDP members to explain their $64 billion in unfunded platform promises, so I thought I would give it a shot again. We have another NDP speaker.

First, we are encouraged and happy that the NDP is supporting the bill to close these loopholes, but NDP members voted against the GST when we lowered it from 7% to 6% to 5%. We have lowered taxes for families and businesses in Canada 140 times. They voted against that every single time. That is $3,000 less in federal taxes that families now pay as a result.

The NDP have made $65 billion in promises but have not told Canadians how they will fund them. The question is very simple. We know about the $21 billion carbon tax, but there is still a big $45 billion gap that the NDP have not told Canadians how they would fund.

Could the member stand up and give us a straight answer and let Canadians know what the NDP plan is for all its promises.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is founded on some premises that I would question. One of them is that somehow Canadians are largely benefiting from the tax credits provided by the government. However, when I ask people in my riding what they think about the majority of those tax credits, they say the credits either do not apply to them or “Oh, yes. Okay”.

That is not a solution. That is not a tax policy. That is not a policy that will ensure that the state has the revenue it needs to support those programs, the medical system, for example, which Canadians strongly support. We are not the ones who are cutting transfers to the provinces for these programs.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Nor are we. Try to be factual.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

There is $31 billion less in the system.

We are talking about priorities. We have different priorities than you do. You want to give tax cuts to the largest corporations—

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. Just as a reminder to hon. members, when we start using the “you” word, invariably the tenor of the debate begins to go in a different direction. I remind hon. members to direct their comments and questions through the Chair.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, since the hon. Conservative member raised the issue of promises and party platforms, I would remind the Conservatives that they said in their 2008 platform that they would not export bitumen. They also brought in fixed election date legislation in 2006, which they violated in 2008.

In terms of tax policies, the federal government and the Conservatives in British Columbia brought in the HST in the latter province, a tax that was roundly opposed by 80% of British Columbians and rejected in a referendum.

I am just wondering if my hon. friend would care to comment on some of the problems with the Conservatives' inability to keep their promises and their betraying the Canadian people as a result.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I had to enumerate all the promises the Conservatives have broken, I would be here all day.

Let us just start with the Senate, which is unelected, unaccountable and under investigation. It costs the taxpayer $90 million. That is respect for the taxpayer. Maybe we will finish at that.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the honourable member for Portneuf, I should let her know that I will have to interrupt her at 1:30, at the end of the time provided for government business.

Resuming debate. The honourable member for Portneuf.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I am very disappointed to learn I will have so little time to talk about a matter that so fascinates people, as I have seen here today. However, I will nevertheless add my voice to those of my colleagues in speaking about Bill C-48, a new bill nearly 1,000 pages long that makes many highly technical changes to Canada's tax system, changes that have been piling up for over a decade.

As I have mentioned several times in this House, most of the changes contained in Bill C-48 have been announced over the 11 years since the most recent technical bill was passed in the many news releases and comfort letters of the Department of Finance and in the budget. These amendments have been brought into effect, but they have not been made the subject of a technical bill. Now the government seeks to enact them all more officially.

In addition to the measures we already know of, Bill C-48 introduces three new measures never previously announced. First of all, it repeals certain tax restrictions to assist labour-sponsored venture capital corporations in addressing some transitional problems. It amends the formula for allocating the taxable income of airline corporations to ensure that taxable income stays in the provinces or territories where those corporations are permanently established. It also provides for the implementation of a measure respecting the tax treatment of shares owned by short-term residents of Canada for departure tax purposes.

We in the NDP believe that the technical changes this bill will make to Canada's tax system will be beneficial and will generally have the effect of discouraging tax avoidance. That is why we will support this bill on second reading.

Tax avoidance is a problem often criticized by people across the country, particularly in my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. These are honest taxpayers who pay their taxes and who see more privileged Canadians benefiting from privileges to which honest Canadians who pay their taxes do not have access. They want their members of Parliament to address this problem.

As representatives of these people, we have the responsibility to do everything it takes to minimize tax evasion and eliminate loopholes in the legislation. We must ensure that the state has all the resources necessary to guarantee that Canadians have the services and public institutions they depend on and deserve.

The Conservatives are offering all sorts of tax cuts and tax credits to oil companies without expecting anything in return. They are forfeiting revenue that the state needs and are never able to cut spending enough to lower the deficit. The Conservatives are using smoke and mirrors every day. They want us to buy the ridiculous idea that they are good managers of public funds, but they are unable to effectively and regularly implement the new tax measures that they are proposing to improve Canada's tax laws.

It is essential that the government quickly considers this problem and takes an effective approach to enact these technical amendments and thereby eliminate the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the current system. It is important for taxpayers, businesses and tax experts.

The government must act quickly to remedy this situation, which is problematic in a number of ways. We want Canadian businesses to be competitive so that they can perform well on world markets. They must have a clear understanding of the tax laws in effect and access to up-to-date information as quickly as possible. That is what we are asking from the government.

That is why we are going to support the bill at second reading; however, there is still work to be done. This government must do the work quickly in order to help all Canadian taxpayers and businesses.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier will have six minutes for her speech and five minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on the motion.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from January 29 consideration of the motion that Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this debate on Bill C-425, an act to amend the Citizenship Act.

This private member's bill, at present, makes two changes to the citizenship process. First, it reduces the time a permanent resident must wait for citizenship if he or she completes basic training and has signed a minimum three-year contract with the Canadian armed forces. I would just note here that if this were the entire bill, I think it might well be passed by unanimous consent and we would not be having this debate today. I wholeheartedly support this provision.

The second element of the legislation provides that a person is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship or is deemed to have withdrawn their application for Canadian citizenship if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.

What complicates and indeed invites today's debate are the public statements by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that he seeks to modify the bill to revoke the citizenship of those who have engaged in acts of terror. Regrettably, we do not have his legislative amendments before us in the House. We do not know the exact wording he proposes. This may make all the difference, not only from a policy standpoint but from a legal and constitutional perspective as well.

The minister has argued that the power to revoke citizenship in such cases is a necessary one. He is quoted in La Presse this morning.

The amendments that I suggested will finally make it possible for Canada to harmonize its approach with those of other liberal democracies and will strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship. This will send a clear message that Canadian citizenship has real meaning and is not just a pass that violent terrorists can use with impunity.

The rhetoric in this statement certainly resonates and appears compelling on its face. Indeed, a commentator on this point, Mr. Ibbitson from the Globe and Mail, said something to the effect that if nothing else, this is good politics, and the immigration and citizenship minister is certainly a good politician.

However, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has been in this role since October 2008. He has, since then, introduced seven immigration acts, none of which have called for such a provision. Questions arise. Why now? Why this bill? Why in this way?

What Canadians may not know, though the issue is drawing more attention of late, is that a key difference between a private member's bill, such as that which is before us, and a government bill, such as would be the case if the minister were to introduce stand-alone legislation in this regard, is that government bills require the constitutional approval of the Minister of Justice pursuant to the Department of Justice Act.

In other words, by introducing such items through this private member's route, one circumvents the long-standing process by which legislative proposals are vetted for compliance with Canada's Constitution, including an assessment by the Department of Justice for litigation risk. This, of course, invites the question of whether there is an issue here of constitutional concern. As well, is there a related litigation risk?

Simply put, while we have a process allowing for the revocation of citizenship, as per section 10 of the Citizenship Act, in cases where a person obtains citizenship, for example, through false representation, fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances, we do not have other ways of revoking citizenship at present. This new proposal, by way of a private member's bill, raises serious constitutional concerns given, inter alia, the Charter's guarantees in sections 6, 7 and 15, particularly where it engages matters of national or ethnic origin, or potentially the recognized analogous ground of citizenship.

Moreover, there are concerns with respect to the Canadian Bill of Rights, which reads in part, “no law of Canada shall be construed or applied so as to...authorize or effect the arbitrary detention, imprisonment or exile of any person”. The Bill of Rights also prohibits an act that would “deprive a person of the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations”. I should note, however, that there is a notwithstanding process in that regard.

At its core Bill C-425, and this is the key point, goes to the heart of the question of citizenship in Canada, a concept that is actually quite fluid and flexible, perhaps more than most Canadians think, with attending constitutional concerns.

Indeed, it remains unclear under what circumstances the revocation of formal citizenship, as opposed to the denial of an application for citizenship by a permanent resident, would implicate charter considerations. It is for this reason that rigorous debate by the members in this place is so important with regard to the bill, as it would implicate our constitutional responsibilities as members of Parliament with respect to public oversight of the legislation, as well as trustees of the public with respect to any risk litigation.

Let me be clear. There is no question that an act of war against Canadian armed forces represents a repudiation of the values that we associate with the concept of citizenship, namely democracy, security, freedom, and equality. However, it is critical that we closely scrutinize any proposed legislation that would implicate rule of law considerations.

As I have noted, the concept of citizenship in Canada is flexible and the question of under what circumstances the government is entitled to revoke citizenship has perhaps not been fully yet determined by our courts. However, unlike questions of naturalization, the revocation of formal citizenship raises important questions pursuant to sections 6, 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Indeed, despite the repugnance of the crimes at issue, namely, the commission of an act of war or terrorism against one's own country, constitutional rights and the rule of law are not negotiable. Therefore, the fundamental questions we must ask, and it is our responsibility to address these questions, is to what extent these constitutional rights would be implicated by this legislation.

If the members in this place are to enable the revocation by the Government of Canada of Canadian citizenship in instances of criminality such as this, we must, simply put, ensure that such revocation is consistent with the rule of law, as defined by the charter and the related jurisprudence.

As I have mentioned, there are three distinct charter provisions engaging a panoply of rights that may be implicated by changes to the Citizenship Act such as proposed by this bill. These are sections 6, 7 and 15 and which together provide for a necessary starting point in discussing the constitutional contours of the legal concept of Canadian citizenship and the implications of such revocation.

Section 6(1) of the charter provides for the right of any citizen to “enter, remain in and leave Canada”. This is one of the charter rights that applies only to citizens, rather than to permanent residents, whose constitutional mobility rights are separately provided for by section 6(2). Certainly, the revocation of citizenship in a particular instance would result in the inapplicability or denial of section 6(1)'s mobility rights.

Accordingly, on this point, it is precisely for this reason that it is of critical importance to ensure that the revocation of citizenship is consistent with procedural due process requirements. Moreover, because the revocation of citizenship would result in the revocation of section 6(1)'s mobility rights, it would also raise concerns with respect to section 7 of the charter and the right to liberty. Indeed, the Supreme Court has determined that section 7 rights apply universally to anyone present in Canada, regardless of citizenship status. As well, it would implicate the rights of security of the person also in section 7. Therefore, we would have a panoply of rights here implicated. It is a central constitutional question that we cannot avoid addressing.

Finally, we must consider section 15 of the charter, which constitutionally prohibits the federal government from passing discriminatory citizenship laws. The courts have recognized that citizenship status is an analogous ground to the enumerated section 15 protected categories, thereby providing for constitutional protection against discrimination based upon citizenship.

Moreover, section 15 has been deemed to apply regardless of citizenship status. Therefore, by allowing for the revocation of citizenship, even in cases of commission of acts of terror, but only in cases where an individual is also a citizen of another country, Bill C-425 would raise section 15 equality concerns. Simply put, the bill would potentially discriminate against those Canadians who are also dual citizens of both Canada and another country.

Some may wonder why I raise the right to a fair hearing to which I referred to earlier. Since we do not know the language of the legislative amendments proposed by the minister, it could be that the proposed revocation of citizenship is automatic, thus, depriving one of a fair hearing. In the alternative, it could be that the proposal deems an application for renunciation to have been made by the person with respect to the person who has perpetrated the act of terror. The question then becomes one of whether the person could withdraw his or her deemed renunciation or make a further submission as to why the deemed renunciation should not be granted.

I raise these questions not as arcane procedural questions or trivial debating points but as serious considerations that need to be determined and debated in committee. Indeed, there is no question that the first time this revocation process is used, for whatever reason, it will be challenged in the courts, and the government will be obliged to defend it at taxpayers' expense.

Accordingly, we must have—