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House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cpp.

Topics

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is not consent. Resuming debate.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

An hon. member

There was dissent.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There was dissent. There was not unanimous consent. Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the government welcomes any efforts to open up the lines of communication with ordinary Canadians on tax and expenditure policy. Since we took office in 1993 we have greatly expanded the opportunities for individual taxpayers to make their voices heard in the policy process.

As part of the new open budget process, the Minister of Finance appears before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance each fall to discuss the options and priorities for the upcoming budget. The finance committee then begins a prolonged period of direct public consultations on budget priorities across Canada. This year for the first time the chair of the finance committee, the member for Vaughan—King—Aurora, asked each and every member of this House to consult Canadians in their own constituencies. That is direct democracy.

The government is apprised of the results of these consultations through a report of the committee which is tabled in the House and delivered to the Minister of Finance before the budget.

The Minister of Finance and other ministers also receive many other proposals and recommendations on tax and expenditure policy from the public each and every day. These take the form of letters, faxes, Internet, E-mail letters and other means. We take each and every response into consideration in the formulation of policy. In short, we already have a dynamic and practical system of public consultation and communications in place to help guide us in our tax and expenditure policy decisions.

While further consultations are always desirable, I am not sure this bill would significantly add to the information the government already collects in the area. As mentioned by the mover of this bill, the financial implications of this bill need to be addressed.

I do not believe it is a prudent expenditure of public funds since it would largely duplicate the results of the public consultation systems that are already in place. While I appreciate and share in the objectives of this bill, I do not think it will improve upon the existing system of public consultations on tax and expenditure policy in a very practical and efficient manner. As such I really cannot support this motion.

The member also stated that his bill will allow for extensive debate to take place throughout this country. I have to state quite clearly that at least the members on this side of the House, and I am sure some members on that side of the House, do involve themselves in extensive debate with their constituents on an ongoing basis.

Members of Parliament have ample opportunity to meet with their constituents either through town halls or round tables and certainly through householders. I ask my constituents on a regular basis through my householder for feedback on various items that the government is considering pursuing and certainly on this very important issue of fiscal dividend as we move into an era of balanced budget and a fiscal dividend. The government wants to hear from ordinary Canadians.

I find it somewhat unfortunate that members continue to point to the fact that those people who come before the finance committee are all representatives of interest groups and they do not reflect the concerns of individual Canadians.

I recall when the finance committee was in Vancouver we had a very passionate presentation put forward by an individual from Vancouver East. This individual was not there speaking on behalf of any so-called interest group, as the Reform Party is so fond of referring to. He was there to deliver a message on behalf of those constituents and individuals who live in Vancouver East. The finance committee took that information into consideration. It was a very passionate presentation indeed.

What the member is proposing in this bill is to duplicate a system that is already in place, a system which is quite dynamic and practical and does allow for public consultation and communications. This government, more than any other government in the past, has been more open, more transparent in its pre-budget consultations, allowing many Canadians the opportunity to come before the committee or provide some written submissions. Members of Parliament have gone out and consulted with their constituents through town hall meetings and round tables so that we can go directly to Canadians right across this country.

We do not require another bill that speaks to the duplication of what is already taking place. I find it ironic. The Reform Party has always been out there talking about government needs to eliminate duplication. We now have a bill here that promotes the duplications.

The Reform Party continues to talk about the prudent expenditure of money. Passing this bill would allow for some phenomenal bureaucracy to take place. We would have to go out and hire more public servants at a time when we have been talking about reducing the public service in order to deal with the financial implications we were left with because of the past administration, the Tory government, that did such a terrible job over the last period it was in office in dealing with the finances of this country.

In closing, while I certainly appreciate and certainly would say quite clearly that not only on this side of the House but on both sides of the House further consultations are always desirable, I am not sure this bill would provide anything significant and would add to the information the government is already collecting.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Useful information.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Liberal Stoney Creek, ON

The member makes a statement that it is useful information. I will tell him, and I take exception to the statement, the useful information that is coming to this House right now is coming in the form of public consultations directly with Canadians through round tables, through town halls that members of Parliament conduct in their constituencies. We do not require this duplication of effort. We do not require the additional bureaucracy. Quite frankly, I am astonished that the Reform Party is putting this forward.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-214, introduced by the Reform member for Yorkton—Melville.

The bill was drafted following the hon. member's experiment with taxpayers from his riding in western Canada. Again, we can see that the Reform Party has a hard time understanding how our democratic institutions work. That right-wing party comes up with a regional idea it sees as innovative and, above all, realistic.

Let us take a look at the title of Bill C-214:

An act to allow taxpayers to inform government of their views on levels and priorities for the expenditure of tax revenues—

The title is a long sentence which could summarize our whole democratic system. The way some Reformers behave in this House, one gets the impression they want to reform everything.

“An act to allow taxpayers to inform government of their views”. The fact is that every three or four years, depending on the Prime Minister's mood, Canadians are asked to support or reject the government's achievements, through a general election. They are also asked to choose among the programs of the various political parties that clearly indicate how they intend to use taxpayers' money.

The intentions of Bloc Quebecois members are clear. We want to give back to Quebec the taxes paid by Quebeckers. We are convinced that the federal system no longer meets Quebec's real needs. In the last election, Quebeckers understood Reform's message and decided not to elect any member of that party, a party which is openly opposed to bilingualism and which flatly rejects every one of Quebec's demands.

For the Reform members, that consultation was not adequate. When taxpayers prepare their income tax return, they want them now to fill out a form describing how they want their money to be spent.

Imagine that tomorrow morning Revenue Canada has to review 18 million ideas on how Ottawa should spend the money. Who will determine the priorities? Would Revenue Canada's unionized workers be willing to screen these millions of ideas? No, with the cuts and the constant remodelling that most departments have experienced, the work of these government employees is now based on very precise duties and they have neither the time nor the training required to perform the new duties that the Reform Party would require of them.

The Reform Party could force them to do this work by implementing a series of orders or special laws. This is probably what would happen when you consider how that party treats the postal workers. They really have difficulty understanding how collective agreements are negotiated. The Reform philosophy, which leans strongly to the extreme right, is once again leading them to opt for the hard line by calling for a special law and by completely disregarding the claims of Canada Post employees.

Imagine if after difficult negotiations with Canada, the Reform Party had to hire personnel to try and compile these millions of ideas.

I would like to see the leader of the official opposition, who is constantly calling for cuts, cuts and more cuts, rise in this House and attempt to justify these additional expenses, and especially to explain why the decision making process has bogged down. Of course no one is surprised by the way the Reform leader changes his mind, especially when we see that his official arrival at majestic Stornoway cost taxpayers over a quarter of a million dollars.

The member for Yorkton—Melville thinks that he has made a great discovery with this method of consulting taxpayers in his riding. This type of consultation is part of a member's job to maintain a close relationship with the grassroots, and we do not need to fill out a Revenue Canada form to do this work.

Furthermore, Reform members have to recognize that there are other means of finding out what the public thinks about the policy decisions we want to implement. They only have to consult their supporters in the community and, from time to time, to study the polls or read the opinions of political and economic commentators.

At any rate, in Quebec, the public knows what the real face of the Reform Party is. They remember how the Reform Party insulted Quebec's political leaders during the last electoral campaign, the anti-Quebec advertising. We all know that this party from the right has absolutely no idea of what the issues are in Quebec.

I would like to remind the Reform member who sponsored this bill that there is a whole other series of activities here in the Parliament of Canada by which politicians, groups and individuals can make known their points of view: oral question period, parliamentary committees, statements by members, speeches, press releases and even press conferences.

I really have trouble understanding how the logistics of this bill could be defended.

I nonetheless took the time to examine the result of this local operation in the riding of Yorkton—Melville. Here are the priorities expressed by the 500 taxpayers who went along with their MP's request. But before I give you the results, I will briefly review the purpose of this bill, an act to allow taxpayers to inform government of their views on levels and priorities for the expenditure of tax revenues. The French leaves something to be desired, but what it boils down to is “Where would you like to see the money you give Revenue Canada spent?”

The answers were as follows: 93% are against their money being used for bilingualism; 81.2% are against multiculturalism; and 78.4% are against native peoples.

This is the upshot of the 500 forms completed perhaps by the 500 members in good standing of the Reform Party. The constituents indicate their preference for justice and the RCMP, and jails, with welfare 21st on the list. In other words, they would rather send the least well off in society to jail than provide them with social and community support. Here again, we recognize the philosophy of the Reform Party.

My conclusion will look at the results of this operation, a phoney consultation, a tool for disinformation in the hands of a right wing party from western Canada trying to get the public to swallow Reform Party ideas that will not work in the 1990s.

The political party to which I belong, however, would be tempted to try this approach, given the negative sentiments expressed about Quebec and about social democracy. This kind of consultation would certainly help the sovereignist cause.

However, we will be voting against this bill, which has no serious foundation and which is pure Reform party politics.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to join with my colleagues in the Chamber to debate Bill C-214, the People's Tax Form Act.

At first glance the bill seems to be quite interesting. It even sounds great. I do not think a soul in the Chamber does not support the basic premise that taxpayers, the citizens of the country, have the right to have their views considered on how government spends tax dollars.

However one has to ask if this is the way to address the concerns. Is this getting to the heart of the matter when it comes to people's sense of being disenfranchised? Are there not other steps that must be taken first before we look at establishing another form that requires a great deal of knowledge to complete?

This will in some cases be seen as an unnecessary piece of mail. The major concern of taxpayers is to feel confident the government is prepared to achieve tax fairness and to address the concerns working men and women deal with on a daily basis.

For example, a few years ago one of my constituents had a full time job at a brewery in Winnipeg. The brewery closed down and my constituent lost the full time job he had held for many years. He found a part time job. Then he found another part time job to supplement his income. He is doing night courses to retrain for some other field, for some other hope in the distant future. He has a couple of kids. His partner works. They are all juggling work and family responsibilities to try to make ends meet. They are barely surviving. They got a call from Revenue Canada saying that they owe taxes on the RRSP they had to cash in.

This person was dealing with an institution which did not make the tax deductions at source. This person who is barely making ends meet was suddenly faced with an adamant voice on the other end of the phone from Revenue Canada saying “Too bad, you have to give us something. We need something. You have to pay some of the taxes”.

He asked me “How is it that I am getting harassed on a day to day basis over this kind of situation when so many wealthy people in society and so many big corporations are able to avoid paying taxes, to take advantage of loopholes, to take advantage of deferred taxes, to invest in all kinds of areas and not to pay immediate taxes?”

I raise this situation because it demonstrates where people are at today and what is important. They are saying that the first pressing issue for them is to have some fairness in the system. Sure, they would like to have a say, but the government should first address the fundamental issue of how they survive on a day to day basis, given the present tax structure.

They are saying that there is a heck of a lot of other ways to make government more accountable than having another form come in the mail which takes time, knowledge and resources to complete. They are saying that the government could be more accountable if it was willing to do so right now without the additional forms or paperwork.

The current pre-budget consultations are relevant to this debate. We had round table discussions. The Minister of Finance went across the country and held discussions. Some people had a chance to participate. A small number in each town were allowed to participate but certainly not a vast number of people.

What was even more galling to the folk who saw that as somewhat of an opportunity to participate in the decision making process was that they learned, all the while the pre-budget consultations were going on, the Minister of Finance was meeting with his cabinet colleagues and making decisions about how the budget would be allocated.

If we want to start somewhere in terms of restoring people's confidence in government, letting people know they have some say in how tax dollars are spent, and giving them the sense that some day there might be a bit of tax fairness in our system, we need to start with our own house. We must get our own house in order. We must ensure that the government practises honest and real accountability and does not create some pretence that it is consulting with the people when all the while it has a set agenda.

I have a few other suggestions. Why not ensure much more open and transparent debate in the House and across the country? What does it do to people's confidence in democracy and in parliament when the government readily introduces closure and cuts off debate? It denies us the opportunity to contribute the feelings and beliefs of our constituents on an important issue such as changes to the Canada pension plan.

We are talking about restoring confidence in the system, in the government and in people's ability to influence decisions. What about putting an end to the appointments of MPs who have either decided not to run or who were defeated at the polls? These are patronage appointments for defeated MPs turfed out by the electorate because they did not win the confidence of the people in their constituencies. They suddenly find themselves in a lucrative position with as much power, if not more power, as a member of the Chamber.

Many people have made other suggestions. We need to look at a more simplified tax form so people can see what is happening in terms of their own situation and get a better handle on where their money is actually going.

I made the suggestion again today of the need for a tax ombudsperson, someone people can turn to for raising their concerns when they feel their minister of finance or their elected representative is not responsive. We could give more powers to the auditor general to make his recommendations a much more meaningful part of our decision making process.

The list goes on. It comes down to trying to restore people's faith and confidence in government, in parliament and in politicians. While the idea of the bill seems great at first glance, it is not the solution at this time. It is not an appropriate mechanism for dealing with those kinds of concerns. People want to see us act to put in place measures that will guarantee them a voice in this place.

We have to do that by improving our methods of accountability. We have to try to encourage the government to hold honest and open discussion on such things as pre-budget consultations and on major legislation such as the Canada pension plan.

We have to be able to show people that we are always accountable and do whatever we can to hold round tables in our own constituencies, to get the information out about developments in parliament and to give people a chance to give feedback to us. We need the opportunity to convey those sentiments in the Chamber.

While I appreciate the efforts of the Reform member in introducing the bill, my feeling and the feeling of members of my caucus is that this is not the appropriate mechanism at this time. There are many more ways to address the concerns of people.

Let me conclude by saying that if there is anything we have learned as members of Parliament at a time when people are so cynical and sceptical about politicians, it is that we must go the extra mile to restore that confidence.

Instead of talking all the time about deregulating, privatizing, offloading and cutting back in terms of government responsibilities, we should be truly talking about democratization. This is the greatest service we could provide to Canadians.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the hon. member of the New Democratic Party for giving some consideration to the bill before us and for being open to more accountability in the House. It is certainly one of the things we agree is very desperately needed today.

I also appreciate the opportunity to represent my constituents and my party. I am proud to stand in the House to speak in favour of Bill C-214, the people's tax form.

As its title explains, the people's tax form would allow taxpayers to give a sense to the government of their views on levels and priorities for the expenditure of tax revenues and to provide parliamentary reviews of the results. This is truly direct input, a people type of bill, a bill where real Canadians would have some input into the way their tax dollars are being spent.

It is important for us to remember that Canadians are actually paying the ultimate bill. The bill we are discussing and debating is a bill of fiscal responsibility. It would encourage the government to better priorize and account for where it spends the taxes it collects.

The bill would not frighten any responsible democratic government but it does seem to frighten the Liberals. They see it as a potential hindrance to their agenda if people do not agree with their priorities. It frightens them because it would let taxpayers put priorities on how governments spend taxpayers' money. It frightens them because the Liberals are, I am afraid, increasingly out of touch with real Canadians and with what they want their taxes going toward. The Liberal priorities and values are not lining up with those of ordinary Canadians.

Instead of funding Liberal projects, this bill would give taxpayers more say and some choice in how their money is spent. That is something the people want but the Liberals do not. This bill concerned the Liberals so much that they refused to allow a vote on it in this House. Further, they will not even let it be discussed. A few moments ago they refused to give unanimous consent of the House to refer this bill to committee for further study. What they are saying is no accountability and democratic input. It is not allowed.

Why is it that the finance minister and the Standing Committee on Finance travel around the country at this time of year under the guise of prebudget consultation while refusing to consult ordinary Canadians at a time when they are filling out their taxes? Apparently the minister is more interested in controlled input from a select few and racking up his air miles than getting broad based input from ordinary Canadians.

Paying lip service to consultation by going through the motions at staged committee meetings does not allow the priorities of the whole Canadian public to be heard. Canadians are increasingly and understandably jaded about the wisdom of their elected representatives spending their dollars.

Thirty years of government overspending has saddled us with $600 billion of debt, the highest taxes in the G-7 countries, with interest payments that are eating the heart out of our social programs. Given this track record, the status quo on tax and spend governments from on high is not acceptable. In fact it is destructive.

Canadians want to have input into the governance of their country. It is that desire that has put Reformers in this House. This is the message that Reform has consistently promoted since its inception over 10 years ago. This is the message we will continue to promote.

This bill furthers this vision. I commend my hon. colleague from Yorkton—Melville for his initiative and effort in putting it forward. I was very interested to hear the results that he received back from his constituents when he asked them to fill out the people's tax form. It is clear that his constituents want to retain public security for those who need it most. Old age security, health care, justice and even the RCMP are their priorities.

Reformers are true Canadians who care, despite how others in this House want to misrepresent them.

My colleague's constituents also made it abundantly clear that they do not want their tax dollars going to pet Liberal projects like multiculturalism and special interest group funding. They want government to encourage but not subsidize business initiatives. They know that Canadian industry is strong enough to stand on its own and that tax breaks to consumers will do more to strengthen business than making them dependent on subsidies.

The people of Canada want Ottawa to stop telling them what is best for them. They are tired of a Liberal position that it is not the people's job to think but to obey.

This bill provides an effective vehicle for government to better serve the people. I ask my hon. colleagues in this House to support the people who have put them here and to support this initiative. It is with this in mind that I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House to make this bill a votable item.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the motion proposed by the hon. member?

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is no consent.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague who shares the southern borders of our province, the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. The day after the June 2 election one of the press people came to me and said “What do you suspect will happen in the House when you get there, given the fact that there are four opposition parties and the Liberal Party, the governing party opposite”.

I said to that young reporter “I expect that it is going to be 240 versus 60”. That is the way it has been. When we bring common sense legislation in, we see 240 lining up to vote against the 60 people that come here.

I come from the highest taxed province, Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is the highest taxed province in Canada right now. When I hear people talking about this being very expensive to have one electronic sheet placed in everybody's income tax forms, to be filed through electronic machines in each province on the computer, any government should welcome this. They would have more public opinion than a thousand town hall meetings and they would have it every year in April. By April they would know what the people across Canada are thinking. They would know that the thoughts of British Columbians differ from those of the maritimes. At least they would have before them a truly volunteered opinion coming before them at very little cost.

No one in this House can say that this is an expensive measure as far as democracy is concerned.

If any government were to take a look at a sheet coming in like this, they could look down at the constituency of my colleague and see that 88.8% of the people are opposed to government expenditures in the matter of gun registration. The amount of money that they would save in gun registration over the next five years would pay the bill of the tainted blood inquiry and Canada could walk away free.

We spend more money because some brainwave comes into existence with no feeling toward the public whatsoever. Any government that really wanted to be truly representative would say “We can do this in a minute. We can have this ready in April. We can have a form filled out and it would come through. It would not have to be touched. It would be automatically recorded and there the government would have the party's opinion”.

I wonder what the people of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec would think if the people in the four western provinces were paying $2.90 for a package of cigarettes and here they were paying $5.70. I am sure they would be complaining.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

An hon. member

I'm not a smoker.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

I am not a smoker either, but boy there would be something to pay.

For the last five years or six years the people in western Canada who smoke pay at least $3 more for a package of cigarettes. We have never had any big complaint about that, but with this government it seems to matter where the complaints come from. That is what makes the difference.

This would be one of the cheapest public relations jobs this or any government could possibly do. We could possibly lead the world in the way of getting an electronic opinion from the people that we serve.

We should support the bill. We should discuss it further. I will turn the rest of my time over to my hon. colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Reform Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the problem that we are encountering here with endeavouring to get serious consideration for this bill was actually spelled out by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville in his address when he stated that if this bill were to become law, there would be less public apathy in government.

The last thing that the Liberal government wants is less public apathy. The more apathy the better. The government says “Keep them out of it. Keep them asleep. Do not consult them. Tell them, `Pay your taxes folks and then shut up and leave us alone'.”

The reason I am rising is really more than to speak to the estimable merits of the bill. I want to comment on the presentation by the hon. member for Lotbinière. He appeared to think that this was not a bad idea, but he was distressed because he felt that if this did become law, the people of Yorkton—Melville might oppose the expenditure of federal funds to promote official bilingualism. I would submit that if this became law, it would also be the law in the province of Quebec. The people of Quebec likewise would vote massively to avoid spending federal funds to promote federal bilingualism.

The hon. member also commented on the fact that we did not elect any Reformers in Quebec. I would like to point out that the Bloc did not elect very many members in western Canada. So what pray tell is the point of his argument?

Finally, he mentioned the fact that Reform said in the last election that perhaps provinces other than Quebec should begin to have some small voice at the top level of government. But do the separatists not say the same thing? They not only want to reduce the overwhelming influence and power of Quebec in Ottawa, they want to eliminate it altogether. They want to leave Quebec as this pitiful and powerless little fish in a vast anglophone sea.

This is one of the most interesting bills I have seen presented in Parliament in Private Members' Business to date. It is a great shame and a pity that it is not being sent to committee. It is a bill that would not require any great expenditure of public funds. It is pin money to this government. It is a bill that would give the people of Canada a sense of ownership, a sense of being a part of the process of governing this great country, a sense that they are losing by leaps and bounds. There is a vast distaste, a vast distrust out there of government.

All of us as politicians hear this all the time: “It does not matter anymore. It does not matter who we elect, who we send to Ottawa, it is all nonsense. Go on down there and play your games. We will work and pay our taxes but we know in our hearts that it is just a charade”.

I was just getting warmed up, but I see you are giving me the finger, Mr. Speaker.

People's Tax Form ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I would not think of giving the finger to the hon. member, but I was warning him that he had a minute left in his speech.

However, the time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

It being 7.15 p.m. the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.14 p.m.)