Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to take part in the debate on Bill C-25, an act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act.
It is always very important to review our laws in order to improve them, and to ensure that we make them even more fair and that they will foster gender parity. This bill is a first step in the right direction.
The NDP will support enhancing the diversity of boards of directors and democracy for shareholders.
However, once again the Liberals are not walking the talk. Bill C-25 is an attempt to solve the problems of gender parity. That will not happen if we only do what is being proposed. We are going to have to do more, and I know that the NDP member who sits on this committee will make the amendments needed to improve gender-parity in this area. That is what we are proposing.
This is only the second time in 40 years that the Canadian government has looked at corporate governance issues. As I said, this is no small matter, and it is good to review these things once in a while, so this is a step in the right direction.
The government's stated objective in introducing this legislation was this: the bill proposes changes meant to increase shareholder democracy and participation, support efforts to increase women's participation on corporate boards and senior management, and improve corporate transparency and business certainty while reducing the regulatory burden.
As I was saying, generally speaking, in its current form, the bill will increase shareholders' democratic participation in order to ensure greater understanding and, for instance, require annual elections for corporate directors, ensure that shareholders can vote for individual candidates, and require a majority voting standard, which are all interesting reforms. This is all through the lens of increasing representation of women on corporate boards and in senior management.
This might improve because businesses will have to explain why they do not have any female representation on their boards. That is a step in the right direction. However, everyone will agree that it is just a small step in improving gender equality.
Hundreds of people from Drummond have come to see me to request federal pay equity legislation. Unfortunately, as we know, the Liberal government said that it might wait until 2018 before implementing such a law, when pay equity should already be a fait accompli in Canada.
However, that is not yet the case, and unfortunately, the Liberals have put off their commitment to gender equality. That is coming from a government whose Prime Minister claims to be a feminist. It is not enough for the Prime Minister to claim to be a feminist. He and his government also need to take action to show that they are actually committed to gender equality. People have been disappointed in that regard.
This issue is so important that the NPD introduced Bill C-220, an act to amend the Financial Administration Act (balanced representation). The bill's sponsor is the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, who is doing an excellent job of promoting gender equality.
Feminism does not only involve women. All men and women must work together to achieve parity.
As I mentioned earlier, hundreds of citizens in my riding have come to see me to talk about this. They have come to demand more action from the government. I have tabled petitions on their behalf. We are looking for more concrete measures from the government on this issue.
I have spoken about Bill C-220 from my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith. This was tabled in various forms by the NDP in the past, notably by former MP Anne-Marie Day. It is clearly a long-standing commitment on our part. Everyone voted in favour of the bill except the Conservatives. I don’t know why, but they were not in agreement.
That bill was aiming for balanced gender representation on the boards of directors of crown corporations. This is an area where the government can take direct action. Unfortunately this has yet to be done. However we continue to move ahead and we will not give up. We hope that this time, in this Parliament, members from all parties in the House will be able to put partisanship aside so that progress can be made on the issue of gender parity.
The member who spoke before me mentioned another very important issue, that of executive compensation. This bill calls for the introduction of a consultative vote on executive compensation, something the investor and shareholder community has been calling for.
Bill C-25 improves the election process for board of director positions by eliminating the list system and requiring that directors be elected on a majority. Indeed, many stakeholders have asked for more of a say on the compensation for executives. The NDP was very active on CEO compensation. Unfortunately, the government did not consider any of that when drafting this bill, which is very disappointing.
Given the situation of Canada’s citizens, the deduction for stock options is a horrible fiscal loophole which must absolutely be eliminated. It serves to give an unfairly high salary to the biggest CEOs, the richest people in our society. These people are taxed on only 50% of these earnings, which is totally unfair, since Canadian citizens doing normal work are taxed on 100% of their wages. This tax loophole exists only for the benefit of CEOs, the richest people in our society. We have to tackle this injustice.
That is why the NDP called for the elimination of the deduction for stock options in its electoral platform. This loophole allows the senior officers of corporations to pay only half the income tax on their compensation paid as stock options, or 50% of the prescribed rate. If a citizen from Drummond were to do that, the Canada Revenue Agency would call him right away and order him to pay his full income tax. Yet for executives this is a legal loophole that exists.
There are certain loopholes that are legal, but are totally unacceptable in our modern society. They are totally unfair, bordering on unethical. Unfortunately, they exist, and they are legal. The government is doing very little, if anything at all, about these tax loopholes. Since it was elected, we have not really seen any strong commitment from this government on closing these unfair loopholes. This is one of the worst examples of what is lacking in this bill.
This is a truly regressive loophole. Over 90% of the benefit goes to 1% of taxpayers, those who earn over $250,000 a year. Truly, it is a minority of the Canadian population that benefits from this. This deduction is bad for the economy, since it encourages CEOs to inflate stock prices in the short term through buybacks instead of investing in the economy. The government is losing close to $750 million a year as a result. Stock option deductions are totally unfair and unacceptable.
I have spoken of my fellow citizens who continue to be very active in Drummond. Hundreds have signed a petition to put an end to tax havens. Somewhat like tax loopholes, there are also tax havens the government needs to address. As the House knows, there are many ways to either facilitate the use of tax havens or curb it. Unfortunately, the steps recently taken only serve to facilitate it.
This situation is depriving the state of the funds it needs to carry out its social mission. According to Statistics Canada, tax avoidance is costing the government from $5 billion to $8 billion every year.
Fortunately, this phenomenon is now leading to some collective soul-searching. As I was saying, hundreds of my fellow citizens have signed a petition demanding that we take more action in this area. I have joined in by tabling that petition here in the House of Commons to signal the importance of combatting tax havens and tax loopholes.
It is extremely important to do this, because the public purse is being denied hundreds of millions of dollars by tax loopholes and billions of dollars by tax havens. Public services suffer as a result.
One need only consider health. In the next 10 years, there will be $36 billion in cuts. The cuts were started by the Conservatives; the Liberals had promised to abolish these unfair cuts affecting the most vulnerable in our society, those who have health problems. Unfortunately, the Liberals want to continue on this unfair path. It is totally unacceptable to continue these sorts of cuts.
It is a way of not investing in health, for the funds diverted from the public purse cannot be used for the well-being of the Canadian population.
In the end, the NDP wants the government to take concrete steps to bring about gender parity on Canadian boards of directors. Many researchers interested in gender equality in companies and in politics feel that the “comply or explain” model of disclosure that is found in Bill C-25 in its current form does not appropriately address the issue of gender parity. Therefore, as I was saying earlier, we are going to do everything we can to ensure that amendments are made to improve this situation.
Furthermore, New Democrats want the government to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Bill C-25 to resolve the issue of executive salaries by assigning shareholders a bigger role in the establishment of compensation. That would be a start.
I will conclude by saying that the bill is a step in the right direction. We are going to make amendments to it in committee. I hope that the Liberal and Conservative members of that committee will work in a collegial fashion to improve this bill for the well-being of our citizens. That is very important, and that is why we were elected.