Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to get the opportunity to speak a little further on Bill C-208, an act to amend the Income Tax Act regarding transfer of a small business, a family farm or a fishing corporation, which is sponsored by the member for Brandon—Souris.
As members know, Bill C-208 is now at third reading stage. How did it get here? Simply put, Bill C-208 has had considerable debate in the House and was referred to the finance committee, which I chair. I will make a few comments on what witnesses had to say before committee in a moment. The finance committee referred the bill back to the House without amendment.
Bill C-208 has a long history, and it criss-crosses the political landscape. It was first introduced by the current member of Parliament for Bourassa, a Liberal, two parliaments ago. In the last Parliament, the same bill was brought forward by Guy Caron, an NDP member. Now, in this current Parliament, it is sponsored by the member for Brandon—Souris, a Conservative member.
This long history, across all major political parties in the House, certainly shows that there is a need to bring fairness and equity from a taxation perspective to the transfer of family farm corporations, fisheries enterprises and small family businesses. Quite honestly, it is long past time that this problem was fixed.
During an earlier discussion at third reading, it was suggested by the government spokesman that just maybe the bill could provide opportunities for tax avoidance. I would agree that tax avoidance is a legitimate concern. However, I must point out that at the finance committee we heard from 17 witnesses, and every opportunity was given to address the concern of tax avoidance. We called on the public and Finance Canada to provide witnesses and propose amendments, to anybody who had those kinds of concerns.
I certainly appreciate that the assistant deputy minister of the tax policy branch and the senior director of the tax legislation division in the tax policy branch appeared and answered questions, and their comments appear in the transcript for the finance committee for anybody who wants to see it. To be fair, they did outline some concerns, especially as it relates to what is called “surplus stripping” for the purpose of tax avoidance.
Where does that leave us? On the one hand, we have concerns being expressed by officials, and I do take their concerns seriously. On the other hand, we have a broad section of witnesses who expressed a serious and immediate need for a way to transfer a small business, farming corporation or fishing enterprise without facing unfair taxation when transferring to a family member. We do not see amendments to the bill that would fix this alleged problem.
I would even agree with those who might say that private members' bills are not the best vehicle to change tax policy. They are not. However, we simply cannot allow this inequity disadvantaging intergenerational transfers to family members to continue. It is time to accept the only change that is on the table to fix the problem, and that happens to be Bill C-208.
The sponsor of the bill, the member for Brandon—Souris, gave about the most concise and clear example of this inequity in the tax system. He said:
The second example was a father wanting to sell his farm to his son to fund his retirement. If the father were to sell his farm to a stranger, he could use his capital gains exemption on the sale, resulting in an effective tax rate of 13.39%. However, if the farmer sold his farm to his son, that sale would be recorded as a dividend rather than a capital gain, and the farmer would pay 47.4% in tax. That is a huge difference, and I think we can all agree that it is completely unfair.
The second quote is from Ms. Robyn Young, president-elect of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada.
She said this:
In closing, this is an issue of equity and fairness. Business owners should not be penalized for selling their business to a family member. Tax implications should never be a consideration when making the decision to sell a business to a family member.
There were many other good witnesses I could quote and make the point on this serious inequity, including the UPA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, other farming and fishing organizations, the tax manager at Deloitte, underwriting companies and more, but I think members get my point.
The backbone of many communities are small businesses, farmers and fishermen. Those who can pass a business down from generation to generation create the history and the character of many of our communities in the country. We need to give every opportunity for those families to make that transfer.
It is absolutely true that during this pandemic the federal government has been there in every way possible to support Canadians, businesses, farmers and fishermen. Tax policy, however, should not cause a disincentive to transfer to the next generation. Tax fairness should be the cornerstone on which to encourage intergenerational transfers. This bill would move tax policy in that direction.
Finance Canada, and the government for that matter, always have the option to put forward corrections in a ways and means motion if concerns expressed before committee do arise in reality. That, in itself, is a safeguard. They have the ability to do that fairly quickly through a ways and means motion. However, farmers, fishermen and small business owners, with respect to the unfairness of this taxation system, have been waiting for this change for years.
We have to put the shoe on the other foot. Instead of having those families that want intergenerational transfers sitting in the wings waiting for something to happen, we have to pass this bill and put the shoe on the other foot. If there is a problem, then government has the ability to fix that problem. I am encouraging others to recognize this problem.
I, for sure, will be supporting Bill C-208, and I hope others can do the same.