moved that Bill C-214, an act to allow taxpayers to inform government of their views on levels and priorities for the expenditure of tax revenues and to provide for parliamentary review of the results, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, the bill I have introduced will be welcomed by all parliamentarians interested in improving their tools of representation.
A democracy functions best when people are well informed and through their representatives conduct the affairs of the country according to their will. Information must be open and available. Procedures must follow acceptable patterns. Decisions must be open and available for close scrutiny and all the information must be easily accessible.
This bill provides for one of the most important pieces of information that could be made available to government leaders to be in their hands.
People should have a mechanism by which they can tell government how they want their money spent, the levels at which they want their taxes and what their spending priorities are.
I can see the excitement building in this place as I describe this bill.
A government which is truly democratic would want to carry out the will of its people. It would not just ask for support and direction every four years, it would want to receive that support and that input on a regular basis. Look at the excitement. That is what my bill is designed to do in a very important area.
The people's tax form act, which I have introduced in the House of Commons, has wide public support. It has been around for a couple of years. People up and down this country have been able to look at it.
I only wish that we had three hours to debate this. I am sure many people would like to have input. However, we only have one hour. I only wish that the rules of the House required that all private members' bills were to be votable and I will work toward that end. That is a change which needs to be made. Otherwise we are just wasting our time.
What would Canadians think if they only had one store that they could shop at, which they were forced to shop at? What would Canadians think if money were taken out of their pay cheque for the store manager to fill the store with all the things which he thought were important, not what Canadians thought they needed? What would Canadians think if they went to the store to shop and not only could not get what they wanted, but would be forced to buy and to take the things they did not need, did not want or could not even use?
Does that sound far fetched? Not really. Any Canadian who pays taxes already shops at this store. It is called the Government of Canada. At the end of every month we have to give our money and take whatever it decides to give us without having any input into it.
The government forces Canadians to pay high taxes and give taxpayers what the government wants, not necessarily what taxpayers want or need. Pandering politicians and meddling bureaucrats often will say trust us, we know what is best for you, just keep handing over the money and be quiet.
Taxpayers do not get any choice about the programs and services the government delivers to the taxpayers, to the people of Canada. If they do not like it, they are told to vote for someone else in the next election, as if that is the only way to go.
It is time for us to change the way we do business, to democratize the system. It is time to give taxpayers more say and some choice about how their money is spent.
That is why I think the people's tax form is a tax form taxpayers would really like to fill out. Why? For starters because it is voluntary and because this is no ordinary tax form.
Taxpayers would like filling out this form because it would let taxpayers tell the government where they thing the government should spend the thousands of dollars each and every taxpayer sends in every year.
The people's tax form would let them identify the government programs and services taxpayers do not want to support with their tax dollars. Does that not make sense, Mr. Speaker? I see your excitement.
I think Canadian taxpayers would say this is the kind of schedule that should be included in every Revenue Canada tax kit. Canadian taxpayers want to send a message to Ottawa. They do not just want to send them the money.
Passing my bill into law would give Canadian taxpayers an opportunity to send Revenue Canada the people's tax form every year.
This is the essence of my people's tax form act. It proposes that government would design a form which would be included in every tax kit.
Completion of the people's tax form would be voluntary. All the forms returned to Revenue Canada would be analysed and summarized and a copy of the analysis would be sent to every MP and senator. The analysis would be tabled in both the House of Commons and the Senate.
The analysis would be automatically referred to the standing committee for review and reported back to the House. The duties of the standing committee are included in the bill, including a provision allowing the tax form to be amended.
I first heard about the idea for this people's tax form in an article in the Fraser Forum November 1995. It was written by Professor Filip Palda of the school of public administration, University of Quebec.
He wrote, and I think it is very important that I include this quotation, that every year millions of Canadians go through the agony of filling out their tax returns, their T-1s. Filling out these T-1s is painful, T-4s, whatever. It is painful because people have no sense that they control where their money is going. He suggested we add a sheet to this form that gives people that control. This sheet, which he called the people's tax form, would list the categories of government spending and invite taxpayers to decide what fraction of their tax bill should go to each category. Churches and charities call this earmarking. The people's tax form would allow citizens to earmark where they want their tax dollars to go.
The Library of Parliament examined Professor Palda's concept for me and proposed alternatives for implementing the idea. I bounced the idea off a number of other MPs and Professor Palda was kind enough to give me his comments and advice as well.
In the spring of 1996 I tested the people's tax form in my own constituency and finally sent instructions to lawyers in the House of Commons to draft a private member's bill.
On December 10, 1996, I introduced the people's tax form act. It says it is an act to allow taxpayers to inform government of their views on levels and priorities for the expenditure of tax revenues and to provide for parliamentary review of the results. That is the essence of this tax form act.
More than 500 of my constituents were kind enough to fill out and return the early version of the people's tax form act, proving that given the opportunity, taxpayers do want to have a direct say in how the federal government spends their money.
These results were very interesting but they need that mechanism and they do not have it at the present time.
Based on where they want their tax dollars directed, the top five government programs most strongly supported by my constituents were old age security, health care, justice and the RCMP, Canada pension plan, debt reduction, but also there are areas that they did not want their money to go to. The most strongly opposed areas were official bilingualism. Does that surprise you, Mr. Speaker? How about funding for special interest groups? Over 90% objected. Gun registration just did not fly. Foreign aid was not a priority. Multiculturalism was opposed by over 80%.
Maybe I should not have mentioned those results. There are interest groups in this country that are going to lobby the government to veto this bill, to not have any part of it. Is that not unfortunate?
My test of the people's tax form found support in an article in Western Report , dated May 6, 1996. It read head of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation, now the hon. member for Calgary Southeast, said the people's tax form is a great idea, and he would like to see it adopted as an advisory measure. He went on to say, and I quote: “If the government would compile the results and then be measured against it, it would wrest control of the budget away from interest groups”. I am honoured to have had this MP second this bill when I introduced it on September 29.
My colleague's reaction was very similar to Professor Palda's. Again I quote: “When I suggest the people's tax form to my academic colleagues I get a shocked reaction: `But that's putting power directly into the hands of the people who know nothing about government. Why would you want to do that?”'.
I come back to my introduction. We live in a democracy. Surprise, surprise. Do those people not have the right to give us that kind of information? I really agree with Professor Palda when he says giving Canadians the power to directly influence government spending would create a panic in the ministries responsible for that spending and among the groups that benefit from that spending. Special interest groups could no longer ignore public opinion.
In the last four years the Liberal government has cut billions of dollars in transfers to the provinces for health and education and programs that my constituents strongly support and yet this same government spends billions on grants and handouts that my constituents strongly oppose. I suspect it is not just in my part of Saskatchewan. I suspect that opposition is across Canada.
The problem is that once the Liberal government extracts money from the taxpayers by force, then it can spend tax dollars any way it wants. Tax dollars are not the Liberals' money to do whatever they wish. All of a sudden the excitement is dying down, Mr. Speaker. What is going on?
This is the truth, though. Listen. Constituents are telling their members of Parliament what their priorities are and either the government is not listening or it does not care, or the message is not clear enough for it. How about making it a little clearer and support this tax form act and get that information into our hands.
Special interest groups, big corporations and paid lobbyist have been able to hijack the agenda and persuade politicians to give them tax dollars and implement programs that most people do not feel are high priorities. It is obvious the people want politicians to cut grants and handouts to special interest groups and big business and thereby help preserve funding for pensions, health care and law and order.
Somehow the Liberal government does not seem to be getting the message. Everybody seems to be disappearing out of here now. They just do not want to hear this. The people's tax form act will make sure the message gets through loud and clear.
Our tax system focuses only on collecting money from people and without allowing them a real say in how it is spent. The current system rewards groups that make the most noise and individuals and organizations that make the biggest donations to the political party in power, not the people who are paying the bills. We ought to listen to them.
Why should taxpayers be forced to support political programs and activities that the vast majority do not believe in? The people's tax form act will give Canadians a chance to make their priorities the government's priorities.
As I draw near to the end, I want to give some other positive spin-off benefits that we would have. It would foster debate across Canada. It would increase interest in the affairs of government. It would combat apathy. It would decrease public cynicism.
Second, if they see government wanting their opinion and listening to it, the attitude of many people that government does not care about what they think would begin to change. If they see government actively seeking information and following the direction, it would restore faith in their institutions.
Third, it may even help unity problems. That is not a stretch because people in all parts of this country feel alienated. They would again feel like they belonged. It would be a small step in the right direction.
Fourth, Canadians would find citizenship much more meaningful. They would be willing to accept more responsibilities.
I have listened to some of the objections from people in Parliament. One of the first is that common people are not capable of knowing how to best spend the money. That is not so. I detect that here in Ottawa the elite have the attitude that they know what is best for the country. The people out there know.
There is an objection that this initiative may cost too much money. It would actually save money. Will Rogers said it well: “Lord, the money we spend on government” and it's not one bit better than what we got for one-third the money 20 years ago. That is the truth.
I seek unanimous consent not to make this a votable item but to refer it to the committee for further study. There is very wide support for this initiative among the members of this House and among Canadians in general, and it is a non-partisan issue. Mr. Speaker, I would like you to ask for unanimous consent because this is supported on all sides of this House.