Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-43 at second reading. This bill creates the Canada customs and revenue agency. What is this bill all about?
The Minister of Revenue is proposing to change the existing structure of the Department of Revenue and make Revenue Canada an agency that is quasi independent of the government. It would have the job of collecting taxes, and not only for the federal government. The government is also proposing that this new customs and revenue agency negotiate agreements to collect taxes of all sorts, including sales and real estate taxes, with the provinces and even the municipalities, which, it must be pointed out, come under the provincial governments.
The government wants to create—Revenue Canada is already an imposing structure—a bureaucratic monster whose tentacles will extend as far as municipalities. It does not, first of all, make any sense to create this sort of bureaucratic world. It is worthy of the fertile imagination of senior Revenue Canada officials, who want to keep, and not only keep, but increase their power at the expense of a minister, who is malleable and weak and who allows senior officials to do his job and make his decisions for him.
The creation of this agency is also an act against the unions and the workers of Revenue Canada. The transfer of Revenue Canada's responsibilities to a quasi independent agency would displace 40,000 workers, or some 20% of the public service. These workers would no longer be protected by the Public Service Employment Act. And so, within two years, these workers could be the victims of the senior officials.
These senior government officials have already been awarded wage increases of 19% while public service employees had their salaries frozen for several years. Wage cuts were even imposed in some cases.
With this agency, 14,000 workers are excluded from the Public Service Employment Act, while Revenue Canada tycoons—that is the senior officials, as the minister has hardly any say left in the matter—are given the power to treat these workers as they see fit.
Do you have any idea of the huge amount of confidential information that will be processed by this agency operating almost at arm's length from the government if such a bureaucratic monster is established to collect all the taxes it wants from the provinces and municipalities? Knowing that the confidentiality of information, an issue to which Canadians are very sensitive, is jeopardized by the fact that various databanks change hands to accommodate the changing needs of companies, one can wonder what will become of data confidentiality with an agency like this one, which will be less accountable to Parliament and to the minister than Revenue Canada currently is.
The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency is a flagrant example of senior officials' thirst for power. As I recall, less than three years ago, the auditor general revealed a scandal that we in the Bloc Quebecois had denounced in the 1993 election campaign: the family trust scandal.
About three years ago, the auditor general indicated that, on December 23, 1991, around midnight, without consulting their ministers or even being accountable—no need to establish an agency for that purpose—senior officials from Revenue Canada, Finance Canada and Justice Canada decided to transfer $2 billion in family trusts to the United States without collecting a penny in tax.
If the senior bureaucrats at Revenue Canada, at the Department of Finance and at the Department of Justice were able to do that under the existing framework, you can imagine what would happen with this Canada customs and revenue agency, with a quasi-independent body that would not be accountable to parliament. Members should ask how many such cases would go unnoticed, without parliament being informed of these scandals and of these decisions by senior bureaucrats, who would then control the collection of taxes and all the data bases containing confidential information on Quebeckers and Canadians. It makes no sense at all to delegate so much power to bureaucrats.
Where is the support for this agency? The government should table, along with the bill, the agreements signed with provinces and municipalities. No such agreements have yet been signed. The government is creating a bureaucratic monster. There are no agreements to implement, but hundreds of public servants have already been assigned to work on the new agency and design the new system that the Minister of Revenue wants to impose on us.
This legislation has no support. Quebec and Ontario have opposed the bill. Even the western provinces which, at first, seemed lukewarm to the idea, are now opposed to the establishment of the agency. Where is the support?
It is the same thing in the private sector. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business opposed the creation of a quasi-independent Canada customs and revenue agency. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business indicated that 40% of the businesses that participated in a study sponsored by Revenue Canada and conducted by the Public Policy Forum see no point in having this agency, while over two thirds of these businesses feel that, with such an agency, the costs relating to their dealings with the department would be higher than they are under the existing structure, or similar. In other words, things would not change, except perhaps for the worse. The bill also provides for the establishment of a board of management.
It would be in addition to the existing structure of Revenue Canada. It would be transferred to the agency. An additional level of administration is thus being created. It also gives the Revenue Canada mandarins the freedom to pay themselves salaries comparable to those in the private sector.
They are given this latitude by clause 30.(1), which reads as follows:
- (1) The Agency has authority over all matters relating to:
(a) general administrative policy in the Agency;
(b) the organization of the Agency;
(c) Agency real property [—]
(d) personnel management, including the determination of the terms and conditions of employment of persons employed by the Agency.
Without consulting the Minister of Revenue, they will be free to determine the terms and conditions of employment of the 40,000 workers who will be exempted from the Public Service Employment Act. They will also be able to pay themselves astronomical salaries comparable to those in the private sector. What fun they will have, our mandarins. They will increase their powers for the personal satisfaction of having complete control. Clause 30.(1) also leaves them free to give themselves salary increases. This is ridiculous.
In addition, by creating a quasi-independent agency, the government is increasing the chances of fraud and the risk that confidential information will be sold. There is a lucrative market for such information right now in the private sector.
There are no benefits to creating such an agency. We do not understand why the Minister of Revenue and the Liberal government are so bent on going ahead with this plan.
In conclusion, we will continue to oppose the creation of this agency, because it makes no sense. It offers nothing, but may well carry a very high cost for taxpayers, especially when it deprives them of their democratic right to have a minister accountable to Parliament.
When there are problems, as there often are in our ridings—my Bloc Quebecois colleagues have encountered them, as have I in my own riding—problems having to do with the administration of taxes, or incorrect rulings on the part of Revenue Canada, we will no longer be able to question the minister. He will reply that the agency is calling the shots, that it is quasi-independent. He will no longer have any say, and democracy will suffer.
Service to Quebeckers and Canadians will be weakened by a puppet minister, one with no powers and no backbone, trying to stand up to the Revenue Canada mandarins. They want the power, the money and the power that that money brings.