Mr. Speaker, I would like to recap my earlier comments in support of Bill C-2, an act to amend the Department of National Revenue Act and to amend certain other acts in consequence thereof.
This bill would enable the Minister of National Revenue to consolidate two distinct departments under his responsibility since 1926 into one and thus eliminate unnecessary duplication and overlap within government.
It is an act that will bring distinct benefits to taxpayers and will enhance the ability of the Department of National Revenue to provide more efficient and effective services and programs.
I want to assure the House that this act will not compromise the integrity of programs in the area of responsible enforcement, of Canadian sovereignty and laws at the border, revenue generation, or trade administration, the lines of business that make the department an essential national institution.
I would also like to inform the House that Revenue Canada customs is highly regarded and well respected as one of the finest services of its kind in the world. This respect has been well earned and Canadians can rest assured that this will continue to be the case within a unified Revenue Canada. Not only due to its enforcement role but also because of programs such as International Project Return, a program to find missing children, Revenue Canada customs has become internationally recognized.
I would like to assure the member who raised this concern earlier and I would like to assure all of those who work for the safe return of missing children to families that the minister has assured me that Revenue Canada customs remains committed to International Project Return.
As well, Revenue Canada is firmly committed to maintaining and strengthening all its customs functions.
As national revenue minister, the hon. minister has said that the role of customs is essential to the social and economic well being of the country.
As I mentioned earlier, Revenue Canada customs will continue to have a clear mandate to enforce Canadian law and sovereignty at the border by preventing the entry of criminals, illegal immigrants, pornographic material, prohibited goods and weapons. As well, a mandate to protect Canadian business and industry by administering international trade agreements. Further, a mandate to protect local economies by collecting taxes at the border and also a mandate to provide service to other government departments at border facilities.
I would like to assure the House that this mandate will be carried out by competent experienced managers and employees.
As well, the customs and excise union, some organizations and border communities have expressed concerns about the integration of customs within the Department of National Revenue. I again want to inform this House that their concerns are unwarranted and unsupported.
Enforcement activities at Canada's border crossings are important to this government and to Revenue Canada and will remain so. Administrative consolidation will enhance and strengthen customs programs by allowing greater accessibility
to a broader range of information, increased use of technology and redeployment of additional resources to better attack the underground economy and combat smuggling.
So far, from savings realized through the administrative consolidation of headquarters, almost $13 million has been reinvested in key customs initiatives such as enhanced technology at airports and border points to speed up the processing of travellers and goods and to facilitate the detention of contraband and high risk travellers.
In 1993 Revenue Canada customs seized a record amount of drugs worth more than $1.4 billion. I am sure that customs officers will continue their outstanding work with law enforcement agencies to keep drugs off our streets.
Enforcement does not begin only at Canada's border. That is why Revenue Canada is negotiating agreements with carriers in other countries to work together in the international fight against drugs.
The government is very concerned about the level of smuggling we are currently experiencing. Such illegal activity cannot continue to the overall detriment of society and this government is considering its strategies in this regard. We believe that a strengthened enforcement role, both at the border and in the boardroom, will help the government to tackle the issues of smuggling and non-compliance.
I want to inform the House that by combining its resources, Revenue Canada will be able to get tough with the small minority who cheat the system. Administrative consolidation will give Revenue Canada the resources, expertise and information to conduct joint GST and income tax audits of individuals and businesses to identify non-registrants and those not reporting income, to conduct special investigations and to improve its ability to identify non-compliance with all of its acts and regulations.
It is up to this government to ensure that the law-abiding majority does not suffer because of those who deliberately cheat the system either by smuggling or not paying their taxes. All Canadians should pay their fair share.
As the Minister of National Revenue has said, such illegal activities constitute a significant threat to Canadian society and to our economy. This government is determined to maintain and enhance its ability to respond to these challenges. As well, this legislation will permit the minister to organize the delivery of programs and services. With improved accessibility, Canadians will no longer have to run from one Revenue Canada office to the next to get general information, make payments or pick up publications and forms. All of this can be done at one time at Revenue Canada's expanded network of offices across Canada.
As well, there will be a consolidated collections program. Clients will eventually be able to deal with one revenue official for all their accounts. The result will be efficient service that is more responsive to individual business circumstances and combined audits.
Revenue Canada recognizes that businesses usually have to deal with customs, excise, GST and income tax auditors separately. This is cumbersome and inconvenient, particularly for small businesses. Therefore, Revenue Canada is developing a consolidated approach to audit. This will mean better service, reduced costs and less duplication. It will be less intrusive to businesses because whenever possible combined audits will be done at one time.
Finally, we will have a single business registration number. Revenue Canada is taking the lead for the federal government by developing a single business registration number; one client, one account number. This is obviously a much simpler system for businesses that sometimes have to use several different account numbers when dealing with different parts of the department.
The department plans to pilot this initiative in eight cities in May of this year. There will be a single remittance for customs, GST and income tax. The department is now examining a plan which will allow it to accept single payments. This initiative will simplify and streamline accounting for hundreds and thousands of Canadian businesses and an offset system.
Eventually businesses will be able to offset a liability in one area such as taxation with overpayments or refunds from another area such as GST. This will make it possible for the department and businesses to reconcile their accounts with one single cheque. This will also simplify account processing for businesses, improve their cash flow and reduce the cost of doing business with the government.
We will also introduce a simplified combined annual business return. Beginning in the 1993 taxation year, small businesses with gross sales under $500,000 will be able to file a combined annual return for both income tax and GST. They will be able to pay both taxes with one cheque and even use a credit from one tax account to pay an outstanding balance from another. This will bring existing GST legislation in line with the fairness policy which was recently developed for income tax filers. This policy gives Revenue Canada officials flexibility when dealing with persons who have not met their obligations due to circumstances beyond their control.
Revenue Canada is also piloting a new way of doing business with its commercial clients starting with pilots in the automotive and aerospace sectors.
The new business relationship changes the way customs interacts with its commercial clients by re-engineering processes and requirements and reducing red tape and paperwork.
This new approach will generate significant savings for clients. The big three North American automakers and the aerospace industry together estimate a $180 million saving over the next decade, something quite substantial.
This program has been well received by a cross-section of Canadian businesses. Revenue Canada is committed to building a first class revenue administration capable of adapting to new economic and fiscal policies and one in which service is a priority.
I tell the House today that Revenue Canada is an essential instrument and must be capable of meeting these challenges head on as an organization having service, voluntary compliance, and enforcement as priorities. It would make no sense to weaken our response capacity.
The proposed bill will not undermine the effectiveness of Revenue Canada customs or make it play second fiddle to revenue generation. Administrative consolidation will instead strengthen the government's capacity in this important field. It is for these reasons that I recommend the support of Bill C-2.