Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.
I am rising in this House today to speak to Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act and related legislation. This bill affects many pieces of legislation.
We in the NDP believe that this bill will have a positive impact on revenues and will generally discourage tax avoidance. Frankly, a technical tax bill was overdue. I am pleased to see that Parts 2 and 3 of Bill C-48 deal with the taxation of Canadian multinational corporations with foreign affiliates. These changes reflect the proposals made in the budgets of 2007, December 2009, February 2010, August 2010 and August 2011, and I am pleased to see that they seek to ensure the integrity of the tax system and discourage tax avoidance.
The NDP is in favour of cracking down on tax evasion and tax avoidance. That is why my colleagues at the Standing Committee on Finance have been pushing the committee to complete its study on this.
As an aside, I want to thank our official opposition finance critics: the senior critic, the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park, and the deputy critic, the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Over the past few months, they have done tremendous work on finance bills, including the omnibus budget bills and the current omnibus tax bill. I thank them. Their work is much appreciated, and it helps us to better understand the bills that are being introduced.
I am also pleased to see that this bill makes changes in order to reduce tax evasion. What is more, it seems that the committee will continue its study on the matter this year.
It is quite something to think that it has been 11 years since a bill like this has been passed. Tax practitioners have said time and again that Canada is very far behind because this government has taken too long to legislate these technical changes.
In a report released in 2009, Auditor General Sheila Fraser noted that:
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.
We could also see that the Department of Finance Canada had at least 400 technical amendments that, unfortunately, had not been enacted. I believe it is crucial that this type of delay does not happen again.
I also agree with the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, which, during prebudget consultations, proposed to the Standing Committee on Finance that Canada's tax system be modernized to make it simpler, more transparent and more efficient. The association also proposed that a technical tax bill be introduced and passed to deal with unlegislated tax proposals. Finally it suggested that a sunset provision be implemented to prevent further legislative backlogs.
It is also true that the complexity of tax legislation makes this task extremely difficult. Our seniors, our youth and those who do not consider French or English as their first language would obviously prefer a simpler system that is easier to understand. Being a responsible, honest Canadian should not be so complicated.
This huge bill makes things even more complex. We know that this government is a great believer in omnibus bills, as it has demonstrated over the past year with Bills C-38 and C-45. Luckily, this time, I can see that the bill proposes technical amendments to a small number of closely related laws and not laws in other areas. The other two bills, on the other hand, amended laws related to environmental protection, government accountability, immigration, employment insurance and so on.
I still find it ironic that this government is introducing a bill that is so long when it did not hesitate to denounce such a practice before.
During the debate on Bill C-22, Income Tax Amendments Act, 2000, in the 37th Parliament in 2001, my colleague from Calgary Southeast, who is now the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, had this to say:
Let me say at the outset that the bill before us is a classic example of what has gone wrong with parliamentary oversight of legislation, particularly with respect to taxation. The bill before us has some 513 pages of technical amendments. I can say with a fair degree certainty that not a single member of this place, let alone the parliamentary secretary who just spoke or the minister he represents, has read or will read. It is a bill that exercises enormous power over the lives of Canadians through the Income Tax Act which in itself has coercive powers delegated to it by this parliament. The some 500 pages of amendments in the bill are amendments to a tax act which runs over 1,300 pages long.
I believe that Canadians deserve to be represented by parliamentarians who make sensible decisions when it comes to taxes and spending. Canadians want accountability, and rightly so.
When we see things like the Parliamentary Budget Officer having to take the government to court to get information about how tax dollars are being spent and what cuts are being made to the services Canadians need, I think the public is entitled to ask some questions and to admit that they have lost confidence in this government.
Out of respect for Canadians, a government should be accountable and transparent. Frankly, that should be the very least they can expect.
Since I was first elected, not a day goes by without someone from my riding of Alfred-Pellan contacting me to share their concerns about this government. They are worried about how transparent it is, and if you ask me, they are right to be worried.
In closing, I am thrilled that this bill has been introduced, even though it took a while, because it implements over a decade's worth of highly technical changes to Canada's tax system.
Before I finish, I want to reiterate that the people of Alfred-Pellan contact me often about the omnibus bills. I recently received letters from some of them that I would like to share in the House so that everyone can understand that the public does follow what is going on in Parliament and that it is important to listen to them.
I will quote some of my constituents from Alfred-Pellan. First, Mr. Nadeau said that the Conservative Party is running the country with its own members in mind, and Mr. Nadeau is against the massive bills introduced by the Conservatives. According to him, they are using these bills to try to push through all of their ideas en masse, and it is very sad to see these bills being introduced.
Mr. Prejent said that it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to meaningfully challenge a particular issue. It is becoming clear that this approach allows the government to pull a fast one on the opposition, and by extension the Canadian public.
To Mr. Prejent, I would say that the Canadian public is not affected by extension. This affects the Canadian public directly and the opposition by extension. We see these kinds of things every day.
One of my other constituents, Mr. Jetté, is not happy about these omnibus bills. He said that the Conservatives should talk with the opposition before bringing in such bills, and that it is arrogant and a bit too self-serving not to. He apologized for saying such things, but it is what it is.
I also heard from Mr. Bergeron, who said it was unbelievable that in 2012, the government forgets and fails to listen to the Canadian people.
People are not happy that such bills are being introduced, and I understand. I know how important these amendments can be, especially when things have dragged on and on with this government and also with the Liberals in the past. So it is important to deal with these issues, but we must be cautious. We must also ensure that these laws are useful to the public, because it is extremely complicated to make so many changes in one fell swoop. We must be cautious about the complexity of the law, especially when it comes to taxes.
I think that everyone, in all ridings, just wants to be able to properly fill out their tax returns. We need to give them the right tools. We must make their lives easier and make things as simple as possible.
As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure that Canadians trust their government and trust that it is transparent when it manages taxpayer money. Unfortunately that is not always the case with the current government. But I am happy to be part of a team that, in 2015, will show that it is possible to have a government that works fairly, efficiently and transparently.