moved that Bill C-285, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (exclusion of income received by an athlete from a non-profit club, society or association), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to bring the bill to the House today. The bill has actually been a collaborative process and it has come from a number of MPs in Saskatchewan. I want to recognize some of them. My colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster is seconding the bill today. He has been involved with this right from the beginning. The MP for Prince Albert has been involved with this, as has the MP for Saskatoon—Humboldt. Actually Mr. Roy Bailey, before he retired, was instrumental in bringing forth this issue.
I think it is going to be an interesting discussion today. This whole bill actually rises out of an ethic that this Liberal government has, which is basically that it has never seen a dollar that it did not want to tax. What has happened here is that it has gone out of control and we are trying to remedy a situation that has taken place.
For several years we know the government has been hiring more auditors. We have often heard the government brag that for every dollar it spends on auditors it can gain $7 back. Clearly, that is what it is trying to do here. As it has hired those auditors it has stretched its reach further and further into the Income Tax Act trying to grab more money, and that is certainly what has taken place in this situation.
I would like to give the House a little history behind the bill. It involves amateur athletes, particularly tier two junior hockey league players. From 1969 until 2002 there was no problem. There was not an issue or anything that would have come up from this issue. However, in June 2002, Revenue Canada walked into Saskatchewan and decided that it was going to audit all the SJHL teams, the tier two junior hockey teams, in Saskatchewan.
There is a difference between tier one junior A hockey teams, which would be teams like the WHL, the OHA, the Quebec major junior hockey league, and the second level of hockey leagues, the tier two junior teams.
The tier one teams have always been considered to be employees of the team. They pay EI and CPP. The tier two teams have always been considered to be amateur athletes.
One of the first problems that arose from this is that Revenue Canada only walked into Saskatchewan, nowhere else, and targeted the 12 teams in Saskatchewan. What it did was tell the players that it thought the players were receiving income and so it was going to tax them on that income.
The reality is that on some of the teams the kids receive from $50 to $200 as a monthly allowance. They also receive about $300 that goes to billets. Anyone who has ever fed young people knows that $300 does not go very far in feeding a teenager. The billets are not even getting the money to cover the cost of what they are spending on the players. The players are not getting enough money to cover the cost of the expenses that they have had through their hockey career as well.
By October 2003, the teams had been audited and Revenue Canada tried to say that the players were employees of those teams. Because of that, it assessed the teams and players for EI and CPP. What is frustrating about that is that of the 12 teams that were assessed in Saskatchewan, the average taxes that Revenue Canada wanted to put on them were $8,000 to $10,000 each.
I just want to read from an article in the Melfort Journal at the time that talked a bit about the situation. It reads:
Our Saskatchewan junior hockey league and 10 of its 12 teams are locked in a legal battle with Canada Customs and Revenue over payments to their players and billet families. Auditors from the government agency are going through the books of SJHL teams and assessing penalties of between $10,000 and $15,000 per team.
The chairman of the SJHL's Board of Governors said:
It is very scary to each and every team. There are teams that have told us they can't handle it (financially). If you haven't got the money to pay it you get locked up.
One team in the SJHL, the Melfort Mustangs, said that they were subjected to an audit on November 12. The team president said that the auditors arrived at the team's office mid-morning and by mid-afternoon the Mustangs were informed they owed $13,000. That is a pretty efficient use of auditors, going in that quickly and attacking the teams.
He went on to say, “surprise doesn't even begin to describe what the organization was feeling”. He went on to say:
It was something completely unexpected. If you expect it you can plan for it, budget for it. We were unable to plan for it so this becomes an out of budget expenditure. If the ruling goes ahead we will have to figure out how to pay for it.
Of course it caused some excitement and consternation in Saskatchewan when Revenue Canada declared that these employees were subject to taxation and, actually, people stepped in. Dave King, who was the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the time, stepped in and talked about the fact that these were non-profit teams and that there was no reason that the government should be going after them and after their players.
One of the good things that happened was that members of Parliament got involved and I mentioned some of their ridings earlier. They stepped forward, got involved and raised a real stink over the fact that the government had targeted only one province. Saskatchewan was the only place where it was taking place. We assume that the government was going to begin there, establish its grounds for taxing and then spread out across the country. That seems to be what it is doing now. Also, the players were clearly amateurs. We believed that the government was way out of line by trying to tax these young players.
The Canada Revenue Agency because of the pressure from the MPs stopped the audits. We thought common sense would prevail but it did not because it took the SJHL to court. They are still in court fighting over about $100,000 worth of tax money. It is very frustrating to the league. In fact one of their officials told me, “It seems like they are just trying to grind us down”. The league is running up legal bills that it says it cannot pay. The government has all the money it needs to continue pushing the league. It is getting to the point where the league cannot fight it any longer.
The present situation is that the government is still pressuring the SJHL. It has not backed off on this at all. Worse than that, it seems that the government intends to continue to press this issue and spread it out across Canada.
The revenue minister actually sent out a notice on Tuesday, January 18 to all MPs and senators; everyone in the House would have received it. When I read it I got very alarmed very quickly because it is a re-release of the government's 2003 position. It talks about the fact that the government considers these young men to be employees of the team. It gives a number of criteria of why it thinks that in the case of hockey players the CRA has found that employer-employee relationships exist.
I just want to talk for a minute about the four criteria the CRA uses, the four criteria that must be met to form an employer-employee relationship. First, there needs to be control from one of the parties. Second, there needs to be an ownership of tools. If it was not so ridiculous it would be funny because the team, I guess, owns the hockey sticks or whatever. Third, there needs to be a chance of profit or risk of loss, and the employee cannot suffer that risk of loss. Fourth, there needs to be an integration between the commercial activities of the worker and the person who is paying the bills.
I started thinking about that and it would fit a whole number of things. I was thinking about private schools that take kids on school trips. If the kids are receiving any kind of indemnity for doing that or any kind of help, it could get so ridiculous as to try to tax even that kind of thing.
There is a lot more that I would like to say, but we do not have a lot of time today. I want to talk about the fact that we need a balance. We believe that balance is in this piece of legislation. The bill is very short; it has only one paragraph. It is an amendment to the Income Tax Act. The bill simply says that we would like to exclude income for the year, not exceeding $8,000, received by an athlete from a non-profit club, society or association that is operated exclusively for the purpose of improving athletic performances and promoting amateur athletics. It is very straightforward. It gives amateur athletes a chance to get up to $700 a month from a non-profit association or club. That would be excluded from the athlete's income.
We find this to be very important for a number of reasons. We have really looked to the government to provide a balance and it has not happened. Most disappointing, and I think some of my colleagues from Saskatchewan would agree, is that the finance minister has been of absolutely no use to us at all. We heard earlier today that he does not seem to want to provide Saskatchewan with any kind of an equal deal on equalization. For some reason his home province is not important to him. This issue is something that costs hardly anything, yet he does not seem to be willing to move in any direction on this.
I have sent a letter to him asking if he would consider putting this into the budget. It is a very small dollar amount. Actually there are 12 teams. That is 10% of the teams in the country. The government went retroactively on them and the amount is still less than $100,000. It is not a big amount of money. We are looking for the finance minister, who is from Saskatchewan, to step forward and defend his province for a change. We think that perhaps he has been Ottawashed a little bit too much. He is only too willing to represent Ottawa's interests to Saskatchewan. We would like to see him represent Saskatchewan's interests in this part of the world as well.
The bill is not at odds with anything that is happening right now. In fact, an athlete assistance program has been set up for Olympic athletes which is very similar to this. They are provided a tax-free stipend from the government. They do not pay tax on that money. We do not think that this would be outside what is happening with them.
We want to highlight some of the reasons we think this is important legislation. First, it is focused on non-profit organizations and amateur athletes. That is a good place to put the focus. The organizations the teams are running that have been audited are non-profit organizations. They are not doing this to make money. Many of them exist in very small communities, communities of 5,000 and less. People in the communities get out, fund raise, buy things, help out and contribute to different things just to keep the teams going. It is important that those organizations be recognized.
These young people are definitely amateur athletes. We cannot call them professional in any sense of the word. What is the point of trying to tax kids on $50 or $70 a month? How much does it cost to try to get that money out of them? It is just ridiculous.
These players clearly are not employees. They are spending far more money than they are making out of this program of being in the hockey arena. Some receive only a small monthly allowance, as I mentioned, and the billet money.
I actually talked to one of the billets today. She asked me, “Do you have any idea how much these kids eat? There is no way I am making money on this. I could have 10 of them and I would still be losing money because of the amount they eat”.
As I mentioned before, we think this is unfair. The government targeted one area of the country. We realized that it was going to spread out from there. Some of the other leagues have said to me that it does not affect them. They do not think it affects them, but in reality it will. If the government is going to go after those monthly stipends, it could easily go after equipment expenses and all kinds of other things that virtually every team has.
We believe in tax relief. This is a step in the right direction. It is a small amount.
The bill is retroactive to 2000. It would take care of some of the problems that have arisen in the past and which need to be dealt with.
In conclusion, the bill offers protection for non-profit organizations, clubs and associations. That is a good thing. It offers protection for players, young men who are playing because they love hockey. This is not the level of hockey where they expect to become professional athletes. It offers protection for billets.
As the bill goes forward, we would like the members of Parliament of the other parties to support it. I would ask for their support.