Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be sharing my time this afternoon with my friend from Vancouver East, who I know will bring great illumination.
For my friend from Thunder Bay, before he ducks out, I held consultations with my business community in Smithers and in Terrace and received copious amounts of correspondence on his government's ham-fisted, wrong approach to the small business community. If he hearkens back to where this all generates from, he will remember that the Prime Minister, when campaigning for the job of prime minister, said that there is a large number of small businesses that are only set up to avoid paying taxes. I remember hearing that and thinking how offensive that is. It came to me later on as to why the Prime Minister and perhaps the finance minister might think that. It is because the people they associate with use the small business tax code exactly for that purpose. However, when I think of small businesses that I represent in northwestern British Columbia, I think of actual small businesses that take the risk, go out into the marketplace, and try to make some money to feed their family and employ other Canadians.
I know it is a radical thought for the Liberals that this is actually what a small business does. However, some of our Liberal colleagues who are maybe entitled to a few more entitlements than others think of small businesses in a different way. If we followed from their philosophy, then their small business tax plan made perfect sense until we actually applied it to the real world and saw that their changes would inhibit farmers from passing on their farms, fishermen from passing on their businesses, and forestry companies. All these are small businesses that I represent. Only when pushed into scandal and controversy of their own making, did the humility and the ears start to open up a bit for the Liberals and they said that maybe they did not get this small business tax thing right.
Therefore, let us look through the bill at hand today. There are 330-odd pages of something connected to the budget. It would change 20 different laws in Canada, most of them financially connected. We can say this is an “omnibus light” I suppose, yet within these 330-odd pages there are a bunch of things we do not find.
Let me start with the good stuff because that is a shorter list. With respect to the Canada Labour Code, some new flexibility has been brought in for people to take leave to allow workers to make adjustments in their personal life. In a modern economy in 2017, this is welcome. There is also some small support for a geothermal industry. As we know, and as my colleague from Vancouver East knows, there is the whole Site C controversy. We know that when governments make bad energy policies, other good energy options are suddenly forgotten. A bit more geothermal industry in Canada and British Columbia would be welcome.
Let us move to what the majority of this bill would and would not do. In the context of where we are in the Canadian economy, we saw the surprise shrinkage in the last quarterly report of 0.1% of GDP down. That kind of took everyone a bit by surprise. The Liberals are going to have to update some of their talking notes about the robust economy. What is that economy founded on right now? We see Canadians carrying around still the highest personal debt rate of any G7 country, at 167% of disposable income. That is enormous. That is worse than it was in the U.S. at the 2008 financial crisis, just to have some context of where the Canadian personal debt load is harbouring right now. We do not see anything in this bill that would address that.
We also see the exorbitant use of offshore tax havens. The Liberals will get up again and again and say they are going to go after those tax havens and that they have hired more CRA auditors to go after them. The problem with their logic, that they know is a problem, is that the CRA auditors are going after small businesses and individuals because the tax havens, the ones that the Liberals have since signed on, are legal. They allow Canadians to legally offshore if they can afford it. If they are in the top per cent of a per cent, they can pay the lawyers and they can pay the fancy accountants to move their wealth off to a place like the Cook Islands. Therefore, it is kind of strange that the Liberals would sign a new tax haven treaty with a place like the Cook Islands. I do not know about other colleagues in the House, but the small businesses and the middle class and those working hard to join it, people whom I represent, are not able or interested in offshoring their wealth to the Cook Islands. Maybe it is friends of the finance minister who do this kind of thing, or maybe the Prime Minister himself. I am not sure, because we do not know a lot of what they hold, which is again the context of where we are in talking about all of this today.
We also see the stock option loophole. I had a small business before I entered politics and when I contracted out I did not pay people in stock options. When I talk to my middle-class friends and those working hard to join the middle class, I am told that they are not paid in stock options because it is not a normal procedure. In the last election, we New Democrats had actually said that it costs the treasury every year about $800 million, give or take, according to Statistics Canada and Finance Canada numbers. That is $800 million of forgone tax revenue.
We said that does not really generate anything for the Canadian economy. I know it generates more Ferrari sales. It might get a person another villa in France. However, it does not actually do anything for the working people of this country. Maybe we should close those loopholes.
Who agreed with the NDP on this? The Liberals agreed with us. Imagine that; they just cuddled right up to that policy on the left and said to Canadians, “Yes, us too”. We probably should have known better. When we appoint a finance minister like this one, the idea that he would ever do anything to hurt any of his friends at the country club should have been obvious to everybody.
The stock option loophole remains. It is going to cost us another $800 million this year, and next year, as it did last year. People want to know: what benefit does that get us, how many more kids does that help out of poverty, and how many more seniors does that help? Does it help on innovation? No, it does not, because there is a way to close that loophole that allows the true innovators in the tech sector or pharmaceuticals to start new companies off in a proper way, using stock options, not the Bay Street crowd, who just do not need that third villa or that fifth Maserati.
The question to the government is whether it actually believes anything it campaigned on. We are two years in. We are at the midway point. We see what it did to electoral reform. It was the thinnest of veils. When it came down to the point of actually delivering, the Prime Minister said something that hits the arrogance metre at a new level. He said that it was his decision to make, and he chose to make it. That is fascinating. That is a new structure of government that I am not used to, where people elect an individual member of Parliament, that party goes on to form a government, and suddenly the prime minister is bequeathed with all this power, so that he gets to make the electoral decisions he wants. We see that around poverty and other issues.
Let me return to this not-omnibus, near-omnibus bill, and it was the finance minister who sponsored this bill. We have asked him, time and again, to tell us something simple, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest—which is the Prime Minister's standard, by the way: not just not being in a conflict of interest but not giving the appearance of being in a conflict of interest.
We know the finance minister has at least five numbered companies. For Canadians who do not have numbered companies, which is most Canadians, a numbered company allows members to avoid things like with the Ethics Commissioner. Members can have shares that they control—which they would not be allowed to do if it was in their name—in a numbered company, and as soon as it is moved into a numbered company, they can keep control of those shares that are now in a numbered company and beyond the touch of the Ethics Commissioner.
That is fascinating. The finance minister owns other numbered companies. He has two options when he will not tell us what is in them. One of the options is something the minister does not think he needs to do. The Prime Minister said ministers' personal affairs should bear the fullest public scrutiny. That means the public should know what is going on with the personal affairs, the financial affairs of everybody in cabinet. That is broken.
The second option is, with those numbered companies, if the finance minister actually followed through on that commitment that he made too, we would find out that there are other conflicts of interest. We saw this with the whole charade around Bill C-27. We saw this when we offered up a vote to the Liberals. Everyone can remember this; it was just recently. We asked for two simple things. We said that we thought an apology is owed from the finance minister for this entire ethical mess of his own making. We also said we should close those ethical loopholes that have been exploited.
What did the Liberals in good standing do? One after another, they all stood and said no. Canadians are a forgiving people in my experience. If people screw up and it was unintended and they say, “Sorry about that, I didn't mean to do that; here's my apology and here's how I'm going to make good”, most Canadians I know would respect that. That is about being a person of integrity, or a party of a integrity.
What we see from the party, from information, to access to information, and on down the line, is a government that does not believe in its own commitments that it made.
I know our friend from Winnipeg North will be tempted to jump up and say, “Oh, we're such a wonderful government.” However, he has to bear in mind that the promises he made to Canadians, the promises the Prime Minister made, in offering so much hope and change, are starting to look a bit weak, as day after day goes on and promise after promise falls off the attention, and the Liberals' latest argument is that it is better than Stephen Harper's government. I wonder how that pitch would have actually worked. The best argument the Liberals use, to be precise, is that Stephen Harper did it too.
If the Prime Minister had gotten up said this was his commitment to them, that he would do more or less what Stephen Harper did, when all those Liberals voters went out to vote, I am not sure the Liberals would be sitting where they are right now. That is the way elections go.
Having to get parties to actually keep their promises is the job that we are doing now, and on the bill before us, the Liberals missed an opportunity to get it right.