Mr. Speaker, I rise today in response to a point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on November 3, regarding his concerns respecting Bill C-214, a private member's bill that I have sponsored, entitled “An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (qualifying environmental trust)”.
My colleague on the government side of the House believes that this bill would need to be preceded by the adoption of a ways and means motion. As he notes and as is clear in both Bill C-214 and in the Income Tax Act, a qualifying environmental trust is a special kind of trust that is recognized under the Income Tax Act for setting aside reclamation costs for mining sites, waste disposal and quarry sites, as well as pipelines.
The purpose of Bill C-214 is to amend the Income Tax Act to include in the definition “qualifying environmental trust” trusts that are maintained for the sole purpose of funding the reclamation of an oil or gas well operated for the purpose of producing petroleum or natural gas.
Bill C-214 proposes to repeal paragraph (a) of the definition “excluded trust” in subsection 211.6(1) of the Income Tax Act, which currently provides that oil and gas wells are excluded from the definition of a “qualifying environmental trust”, an unjustified inequity that the bill is meant to address, and proposes to add paragraph (e) to the definition of “qualifying site” in the same provision. The proposed paragraph (e) would read as follows: “the operation of an oil or gas well drilled for the purpose of producing petroleum or natural gas.”
The consequence of these proposed amendments would be that the reference to a qualifying site in paragraph (b) of the definition of a “qualifying environmental trust” would include the operation of an oil or gas well drilled for the purpose of producing petroleum or natural gas. Subsection 211.6(2) of the Income Tax Act is the charging provision that imposes tax on qualifying environmental trusts.
My colleague on the government side of the House states that adding a new paragraph (e) to the definition of a “qualifying site” in subsection 211.6(1) of the Income Tax Act would have the effect of expanding the definition of a “qualifying environmental trust” to include trusts that are maintained for the sole purpose of funding the reclamation of an oil or gas well operated for producing petroleum or natural gas. Perhaps that is so, or perhaps not. It depends on the trustee's approach. However, excluding language currently in the act that prejudices one sector of our nation's economy vis-à-vis others is a necessary step in addressing a historical economic inequity.
My colleague goes further to state, “Therefore, the effect of Bill C-214 would be to cause a tax to be payable by a new class of taxpayers, that is, qualifying environmental trusts in respect of the operation of an oil or gas well.” This reach of a conclusion ignores the very nature of how qualifying environmental trusts are taxed, but also by segregating qualifying environmental trusts established for the designed purpose as being a new class of taxpayer somehow distinct from the qualifying environmental trust already extant and effectively providing funding for reclamation and remediation services in Canada's other extractive industries.
In trying to justify the necessity of a ways and means motion, my colleague on the government side of the House erroneously states that Bill C-214 would represent an increase in the incidence of tax for these trusts. Maybe, but only as a result of the increased economic activity associated with the efficiency of using a trust structure to deal with environmental remediation activities. Incidental economic activity and the taxation revenue associated thereby is not subject to the necessity of a ways and means motion.
Finally, my colleague insists that Bill C-214 would represent an extension of a tax to a new class of taxpayer, which seems to indicate a prejudice that oil and gas remediation activities represent a different class in the structure of environmental trust, a mode of thinking that is, thankfully, archaic in most of society. Canadians do not segregate themselves by class according to industry sectors, neither does our tax system and neither should the House acquiesce to this regressive rationale.
In support of his argument, my colleague reached for a precedent Speaker's ruling from 2011. I would ask the Speaker to examine how weakly that precedent represents the characteristics of the amendments sought in Bill C-214. I submit a more appropriate comparative would arise from a Speaker's ruling on February 1, 2008, on then Bill C-219, where it was deemed the amendments presented did not result in an increased tax burden on taxpayers.
I have addressed these matters at length through the private member's bill process. I have previously addressed your clerks, Mr. Speaker, on this matter. I have addressed the concerns raised by the legislation-drafting branch at the Library of Parliament. I have worked on the financial modelling with the Parliamentary Budget Officer to show the financial benefit of constructive legislation. In addition, the resultant environmental benefit is a key outcome.
At a time when the current government has intervened with a one-time expenditure of $1.7 billion to address the historical problem created by excluding oil and gas remediation from being classed as a qualifying environmental trust, why is the government attempting to stretch definitions in order to disallow a measure that would bring some overdue equity to the treatment of Canada's oil and gas industry?