You are all here. Fine, they are all here listening carefully to what I am saying. They should listen more carefully, this way they would speak less nonsense than they have in the past little while.
That having been said, more seriously, the government confused the issue somewhat by putting together a bill containing a series of tax treaties between Canada and various countries which we cannot all treat equally because of their respective tax systems. Around the world, there are countries with tax systems very similar to that of Canada and countries with completely different tax systems.
We would have liked—this is admittedly a criticism I am making this morning, but a constructive and very positive one—Bill C-10 to deal exclusively with the American issue, a second bill to deal with other countries with a tax system similar to ours and a third one to deal with countries with a tax system completely different from ours.
It seems to me that this would have been less confusing and, particularly given the urgent, pressing need of many Quebeckers and Canadians and the fact that the United States are withholding money, I think that a tax convention, a bill dealing specifically with the U.S. would have helped expedite matters. These people who have been waiting for a cheque from the U.S. would have received it by now if we had worked diligently on preparing separate bills to expedite the process.
But the Liberals crammed everything into a single bill. For example, the purpose of parts 1 to 5 is to implement income tax conventions that have been signed with Sweden, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Iceland and Denmark. These are countries with taxation systems that are, by and large, quite similar to Canada's.
The purpose of these conventions is to avoid double taxation and prevent fiscal evasion. They are based largely on the OECD model. It is not a case of reinventing the wheel. What is good is retained and used in the conventions with these countries.
There are also other countries with taxation systems less similar to ours, however, and a convention has also been produced to help in these cases. There is a tax convention signed with these countries. But many of them are considered to be countries where the rich hide their money, so-called tax havens. It is somewhat disappointing that they have all been lumped into one bill, Bill C-10.
Let us compare Canada's taxation system with the taxation systems of these countries. As I said earlier, a comparison of the maximum corporate and individual income tax rates reveals some differences and some similarities. For instance, the maximum corporate rate in Canada is 30.74% and the maximum individual rate is 52.94%.
In Sweden these percentages are similar. But in Lithuania, while the maximum corporate tax rate is 29% instead of 30.74%, not a major difference, the individual tax rate is 35% compared with Canada's 53%. You can immediately see the clear advantage for businessmen with a bit of money to pay their taxes in Lithuania rather than in Canada.
There are rather significant differences at various levels. One thing which is not really a concern, but which must be addressed is the fact that, over the years, Canada has signed many treaties with other countries. The figures I am quoting were given at a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, held on April 24, 1997. As of April 24, Canada had signed 57 tax treaties that were in effect between Canada and various countries, while 34 other ones had yet to be ratified.
As a member of the opposition, one wonders—again, this is not a negative criticism, on the contrary—whether the government allocated adequate resources to ensure a follow-up on all these conventions.
The tax treaties signed between countries are usually not for the benefit of ordinary citizens. Ordinary people do not have bank accounts in Switzerland or in Barbados, and they do not do business with Lithuania, Denmark, the Netherlands or the United States. Usually, the provisions of these treaties are used by multinationals, or by very wealthy people who have accounts here and there, such as in Switzerland or Barbados, and who travel frequently.
As an opposition party, we are the keepers of this government's sometimes deficient moral rectitude, and we have the right to wonder whether there are sufficient resources. With 57 treaties already signed and 34 other ones to be ratified—and more have probably been signed since April 1997—we wonder how many public servants are following up on all these conventions.
Mr. Speaker, I hope you are firmly seated in the Chair, because the committee learned that only one public servant was conducting this follow-up work. Thankfully, this person is working full time, which is something, given the cuts made by the government. We know there is an official monitoring this full time.
It is not being critical in a negative way to say that more than one official would have been better, considering what has gone on in the past and how people have been tricked in Canada and in Quebec. I think taxpayers, Quebeckers and Canadians, have been had in the past, including at roughly this time last year.
Of course, I am referring to the scandal of the family trusts. Everyone knows that it is rather frightening when officials, just before Christmas, can have a little meeting and decide to allow companies to send money outside Canada without paying any taxes. We are not talking here about $100, $1,000 or $100,000, we are talking about billions of dollars. I think that taxpayers, in these difficult times, could legitimately expect that there would be fair treatment for these companies but that they would be treated fairly too.
People who have means, who have two billion dollars in liquid assets and who want to transfer this money can afford to pay for very good legal advice, for good lawyers, but also for good tax experts. I am not saying that what they did was illegal, but it was certainly immoral, I want to state that very clearly, especially since everyone in Canada and in Quebec has to pay taxes, their fair share of taxes. I do not think it was proper for them to transfer this money without paying their fair share.
There are also other examples, when tax treaties are applied, when companies can afford good advisers, we see that certain people, certain companies can sidestep the law and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Briefly, I will give you a small example everyone knows about, Canada Steamship Lines. Everyone knows what that company is. Everyone knows that it is a Canadian company, but that its ships fly the flags of other countries, including Barbados and various countries. But why is that? It is to avoid paying their fair share of the taxes that they should be paying in Canada. This is not normal, especially considering who owns these ships. It is not normal that in Canada people should do such things.
Is the Bloc's criticism negative? No, this is positive criticism. We want as much as possible—