Evidence of meeting #3 for COVID-19 Pandemic in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was farmers.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I'm confused as to why the Prime Minister didn't take my question, and at a bare minimum as to why the agriculture minister doesn't feel it's important enough for her to be a part of this discussion today. When we have farmers who produce for Canadians on a daily basis and they're asking some serious and some very important questions, and we don't even have a minister who's willing to come to the table and engage in this conversation, that's shameful.

Several meat-packing plants have been forced to shut down because of COVID-19 and, as a result, farmers are forced to hold stock longer than expected. Cattle producers in my region are spending more than $60,000 a day to keep their livestock fed while they wait for processing plants to reopen. The amount that was announced today by the federal government is a drop in the bucket. It's a crumb.

When will the government take this seriously and at least implement a set-aside program for those who are beef producers in Canada?

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Chair, let me just say that I feel there is nothing shameful at all in having me, the Deputy Prime Minister, answer questions about agriculture. I am actually very proud to speak up for Canada's amazing farmers, for our country's amazing ranchers, for our amazing pork producers and our poultry producers. I feel so close to our farmers. I love them and our government supports them.

Today, we announced $252 million of support for our producers. They need it. They deserve it. We're here for them.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Now we'll go on to Mr. Bezan.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I too would like to express my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the six military heroes who lost their lives at sea last week. I'm sure that all members of the House stand shoulder to shoulder with the families, with the crew of the HMCS Fredericton and, indeed, with the entire Canadian Armed Forces community during this time of grief.

Can the Minister of National Defence give us an update as to the Cyclone helicopter crash off the coast of Greece last week?

May 5th, 2020 / 12:55 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, the deaths of the Canadian Armed Forces members are felt by all, and especially the families. Our condolences go out to them. Our number one priority is to make sure that we look after them, and that's exactly what we are doing.

Currently, the investigation is ongoing. Our investigative team is currently on the ground. I actually spoke with the Italian minister of defence and he promised full support for this investigation and any support that's required.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut you off there, if we're going by the rules that were pointed out by the House.

Mr. Bezan.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Through you to Minister Sajjan again, I'm going to change gears a bit. I know that back in early January, military intelligence through CF Intelligence Command was reporting, through the chain of command, the novel coronavirus and the outbreak in Wuhan.

On what date was he, as Minister of National Defence, given his first intelligence briefing on the outbreak and the pandemic in China?

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, we have been following this crisis from day one. We work with our Five Eyes intelligence sources and this has been a whole-of-government effort, right from the beginning. I can assure you that our response to this pandemic has been with all the necessary information. Obviously, I can't discuss the intelligence in this forum, but I can assure you that our response has been well informed with the correct information.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Minister Sajjan, we know that intelligence was going up the chain of command in National Defence. It was reported in the media that in early January the hierarchy within the Canadian Armed Forces was being made aware of the coronavirus outbreak.

I asked you, Minister, when you became aware of it and what you did with that intelligence.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, I get regular briefings on intelligence. Yes, I was made aware of this in January. As with all our intelligence, we work together from a whole-of-government perspective with all of our intelligence agencies. One thing I can assure you is that our response has been well informed with all the correct information that is provided to me and other members of cabinet.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

What was that timeline?

From the time you were first told, Minister Sajjan, about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, what did you do with that intelligence? When did you give it to the Prime Minister or to Minister Hajdu as the Minister of Health?

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Chair, let me say that our government's response to this global pandemic has of course been informed by the excellent work of Canadian intelligence agencies throughout. We have been working on this from very early on. On January 2, PHAC first spoke with provincial health authorities to alert them to the situation. On January 14, it convened a meeting of all provincial health authorities. In January, the Prime Minister convened a meeting of the incident response group, and in January we increased screening at all major airports.

All of these actions were informed by the work of our excellent intelligence community, and of course our work with our Five Eyes, NATO and NORAD allies.

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

I want to come back—

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We now move to Mr. Ste-Marie.

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

I still have 30 seconds left.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Can I go ahead, Mr. Chair?

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Yes, go ahead.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In an interview with Gérald Fillion, tax expert André Lareau, who specializes in tax havens, pointed out that $350 billion Canadian is parked in just 12 tax havens. Companies are using tax havens for financing, operations and intellectual property activities. Mr. Lareau also notes that the government is aware that all of this Canadian money is stashed in tax havens but is doing nothing about it. He said that it's time for Canada to tackle the problem given that it has a $250-billion deficit, and that if it doesn't act now to change things, it never will.

Is the government going to seize this opportunity to outlaw the corporate use of tax havens?

1 p.m.

Gaspésie—Les-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Québec

Liberal

Diane Lebouthillier LiberalMinister of National Revenue

Mr. Chair, as soon as we took office, in 2015, our government made cracking down on tax evaders in Canada and abroad a priority. That's precisely why we put nearly a billion dollars towards that effort. I realize that my fellow member is impatient, but he has to understand that this is a very complex issue.

Under our leadership, in three years, the Canada Revenue Agency has undertaken twice as many audits related to offshore tax evasion as it did in the 10 years the Conservatives were in power.

As we speak, the agency is conducting more than 50 criminal investigations tied to international tax evasion. I repeat, this is a top priority for our government.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

You're right, I am very impatient, because whenever I bring up the fact that companies are using tax havens legally, the minister misses the point and tells me that she is going after fraudsters. I am talking about the legal use of tax havens by companies.

Since Parliament began sitting virtually, it's been mentioned a few times that Denmark and Poland have decided to deal with the issue. Even France's finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said that companies with subsidiaries in tax havens would not be eligible for public assistance.

We hear the Prime Minister and other government officials say all the time that the wage subsidies are going to workers, so I'd like to cite another example—banks. The government is injecting huge amounts of cash into the financial system and repurchasing troubled assets in massive quantities, and yet, the five major banks in Toronto, alone, are continuing to save billions of dollars every year by artificially redirecting their profits to tax havens.

This is unacceptable. This has nothing to do with wages for workers, and everything to do with the repurchase of troubled assets, cash flow and billions of dollars that the government could be going after.

Is the government going to seize this opportunity to make the corporate use of tax havens illegal?

1 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Lebouthillier Liberal Gaspésie—Les-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Chair, our government is taking unprecedented steps through the Canada emergency wage subsidy measure to support businesses and workers affected by COVID-19. This is largely a trust-based program, and we will not tolerate abuse. Anyone who tries to bypass the rules will face serious consequences.

Applicants have to designate an individual to attest to the truth of their claim. What's more, any employer receiving the subsidy who is deemed ineligible will have to repay the full amount. Anyone who abuses the program could face a fine of up to 225% of the wage subsidy amount and up to five years in prison. The Canada Revenue Agency also has a myriad of tools at its disposal to detect a fraudulent claim.

As I mentioned, cracking down on tax evasion is a priority for our government.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Ste-Marie, you have about 30 seconds to ask your question, and about the same for the answer.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

That's an excellent answer, but it has nothing to do with my question.

The Minister of Finance has the power to fix the problem now. Although completely immoral, the use of tax havens by companies is legal under section 5907 of the Income Tax Regulations. Through simple regulatory amendments, the finance minister could put an end to this kind of abuse.

We are going to have a $250-billion deficit to pay off, and everyone is going to have to chip in, including the rich who are currently taking advantage of the system.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Lebouthillier Liberal Gaspésie—Les-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Chair, thanks to a historic billion-dollar investment, our government has given the agency the resources it needs to do the job, and we are starting to see results.

I set up an expert advisory committee to provide us with guidance and recommendations. We tightened the rules for the voluntary disclosures program. We signed tax information exchange agreements with a number of countries. We audit four jurisdictions a year. We also work closely with the OECD.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We now move on to another member.

The next questioner is Mr. Rogers.