Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by congratulating you on your new responsibility.
I would like to begin my address by also thanking my constituents of Broadview-Greenwood for giving me a second term in this Parliament of Canada. I grew to have a deep sense of respect and appreciation for this Chamber, especially in the last three years of my first term. I found it a bit intimidating the first
year and I did not enjoy it as much. As a result of that I shied away from the Chamber.
However, after my first year of being a member of Parliament I made up my mind that I would work at trying to make a contribution to debate in the House of Commons in exchanging views and ideas. At that time I was on the opposition benches but I discovered if I worked at that many members on the government side were as interested in trying to achieve the same results as I was. I say to all members of this House that I am going to continue the same approach of trying to present ideas in a constructive way and listen to their ideas so that together we can advance real debate. From real debate I believe we have a shot at making real reform happen.
The danger that one has to be aware of in this town is that most of this town is in the hands of the bureaucracy or the paper pushers. I believe we have become a nation of paper pushers. I think one of the reasons why it has become like that is because so many of us who are elected by the people have not used or have not exercised our political will to transmit to the public service the fact that the ideas that we bring to this Chamber are not our ideas but those of our constituents, the people who elected us and sent us here. We are going to have to work forcefully to make sure they are implemented because ideas just do not happen automatically.
I put my energy into two very specific areas during the last Parliament. I want to begin my remarks this time by going back to those two specific themes of small business and tax reform.
As I said repeatedly during the last Parliament I believe passionately that the greatest hope for putting Canadians back to work rests with the small business community. We have close to 900,000 small businessmen and businesswomen operating across this country and they have been suffering incredible difficulty over the last few years. They have been suffering because of very poor tax design. It was exacerbated by the poorly designed goods and services tax which caused an incredible paper burden at a time when they did not need it.
However there is another area in which small business has been suffering and it has to do with the area of capital. Unless we address the issue of capital for small and medium sized businesses then this country and this House of Commons are going to continue to flounder.
I was just thrilled during the election campaign, even before the election was called, when the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance called a press conference in Ottawa in the early part of July. They told the people of Canada that one of the central themes of the red book would be built around trying to move or shift the attitude of the financial institutions of this country toward small business.
There is not a member of Parliament in this House who could not stand up and tell horror stories of how small and medium sized businesses in his or her riding have been terrorized by the local branch manager. Are there any members who could stand up and say they have not had that experience? I see all members in this House are nodding their heads.
The problem is that somehow as a House of Commons collectively-not just the government side, this is not just an issue for government members, it is an issue for all members in this House-we have to communicate forcefully to the financial institutions, the 57 charter A and B banks, the trust companies, the pension funds, anybody who has large pools of capital. We have to tell them that if they are so hung up on deficit and debt-and we are concerned about it too-if they really care about this community and this country, then they have to start figuring out ways of getting capital into the hands of small and medium sized enterprises.
I stand up here today, not just as the member of Parliament for Broadview-Greenwood, but thanks to the Prime Minister I also have the responsibility of being the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Industry. I want to assure all members that just because I am on this side of the House I will not stop for a second in campaigning on behalf of small businesses, that banks must start coming to their assistance.
I want to be fair about this as well. We are beginning to hear signals from some financial institutions. I want to be very fair when I talk about financial institutions in this sense.
Two weeks ago the Toronto caucus listened to a senior vice-president of the Royal Bank of Canada, Mr. Charlie Coffey. He admitted to all of our members that the banks have really been falling behind in changing the attitude of commercial loans officers toward small business and that they were working aggressively and quickly to try to rectify this problem.
Mr. Coffey stated that until this problem was solved he would take calls from any member of Parliament. He gave us his fax and phone numbers and encouraged us to circulate them. There is one institution that has publicly declared it is committed to join us in this campaign. I can only hope that this country's other 56 financial institutions will be just as aggressive.
I want to go on to the next area that also affects small and medium sized businesses. It is an issue many members of the Reform Party have talked about during the campaign and in the House of Commons. It is the issue of tax reform.
Our Prime Minister has stated unequivocally that we as a government are committed to comprehensive tax reform. He stated clearly in the Speech from the Throne-I believe it is on page 4 at the second paragraph-that he is going to set up a finance committee that will first of all do away with the goods and services tax. That committee will also look at the idea of comprehensive tax reform.
I want to declare publicly my particular bias for a specific aspect of the Reform Party's platform. It has to do with the whole area of tax reform. As a Liberal I am committed to tax reform and I know many other Liberals share that commitment. This is the Tax Act of Canada. This is the document that really decides how the economy of Canada is run. This document is approximately 15,000 pages of rules, regulations, exceptions and exceptions to exceptions.
To all members of the House I want to say that even the best tax lawyers and best tax accountants in Canada will admit privately that this no longer works. We all know this. Canadians know it and they are showing their total lack of trust in this particular act first of all by going underground.
As members know the GST exacerbated the underground economy. Even before the GST we had the largest underground cash economy of any country in the world, after Italy. That is a statement from Canadians that they have lost trust in the system. It is not working and it is time to go back to the drawing board.
Fortunately we are a party that encourages open and constructive debate. Because of that I have been allowed with a lot of support to advance an idea called the single tax system. It is not too far off the idea that the Reform members campaigned on. To all members of the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois, this is in both official languages. The single tax is an exercise a group of us undertook in the last Parliament after the first year when the government asked for a constructive alternative to the GST. It is a simple, fair, efficient, workable alternative to the current tax act of Canada.
I want to say to all the Reform members and members of the Bloc as well that I am happy to share the research and the experiences I have had because I believe that Canadians really do want us to work together. Canadians want us to act now. Canadians, as do all members of this House, believe that this cannot be a Parliament of consultation. We have been consulting to death. We have been consulting and the consultants have been consulting the consultants. The last thing we need to do so early in this Parliament is to get back into the consulting business. Canadians are fed up with consultation. They want action now. They want us to move now.
When I say they want us to move now, it is not that people want us to move irresponsibly. One very specific thing we can do immediately is we can phone the leaders of the financial institutions and tell them we are all together on the issue of banks supporting small business. If every member in this House just made one or two calls to a leader of a bank and said that we were all together on that issue, that would be immediate action.
If we did that to all the financial institutions they would move quickly. Members in this House should not forget that they are the designers of the law that governs how the banks function. I can say if I were a bank president and thought that a united House was going to start looking at other ways of regulating my business because the banks did not come to the party on their own, I would probably move quickly.
However we cannot do that job alone. Everyone must participate in this and I plead with all members to get involved in the issue.
Another thing which must be dealt with is the whole hangup on the deficit. I am as concerned about abuse and paper burden and duplication as any other member of this Parliament, but we have to be very careful. If we become so fixated on the deficit and if we become so fixated on cutting costs and cutting programs just because we want to meet some magic number of cutting, I am afraid we are going to exacerbate the already serious crisis of confidence we have in this country.
I get very concerned when I see the emphasis on deficit versus the emphasis on putting Canadians back to work. As the member for Yukon, the leader of the New Democratic Party pointed out in her remarks, for every unemployed person we have in this country today it costs the treasury $17,000 directly, not counting indirect costs like health care, crime costs and so on, not to mention the fact that we lose a revenue source to the treasury.
I personally believe the best way to handle the deficit and ultimately the debt is by getting Canadians back to work. If we have to go through a short period where there might be a little bit more of the same deficit and debt, but if ultimately it means we can get Canadians working so that a year or 18 months from now we have more taxpayers and therefore more revenue coming in, that is the approach I support. I hope members understand that.
Of course that is the design and the objective of the infrastructure program which is totally supported by the Minister of Finance. It is a fine balancing act but we have to remember as I said the other day that our ultimate responsibility in this House is not for the people who are advantaged. We come to this House as people in government for the people in our communities who are disadvantaged: the unemployed father who does not have enough money to buy his kid a hockey stick; or the unemployed single mom who sometimes just does not have enough money to
give her child proper nutrition. That is our bottom line responsibility.
I hope we will not put human capital on the back burner in the name of the deficit, when it really should be on the front burner.
Again I want to thank my constituents, especially all of the volunteers. We all have very special volunteers who helped us come here. A young man, 32 years old, comes into my office. Nick Lamacchia is unemployed and has been for the last six months. He comes into my office every day from about ten o'clock in the morning and stays until about seven at night. He listens to other people's pain and frustration.
As long as we can keep in touch with the reality of what is going on in all of our communities we can overcome whatever we have to in order to make sure the people we are sent here to serve are ultimately being served.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for your patience and time. I am going to do my best to advance my support for small business and tax reform. I will be happy to share any research I have from the last Parliament with anyone.