Mr. Speaker, Hallowe'en is being celebrated on the weekend, and the government will again try to scare people with its Bill C-43. No doubt Quebeckers will be shaking at the prospect of the Department of National Revenue transforming itself into a semi autonomous government agency.
Why will they be shaking? The President of the Treasury Board gave us part of the answer in the House. “No one likes paying taxes”, he said. Obviously, no one likes paying taxes when they get nothing for their money. Obviously no one likes paying taxes when we are deprived of the health care services our taxes are supposed to pay for. Obviously no one wants to pay taxes, when assistance to fishers, farmers and the unemployed is being cut.
This is why people are afraid. They know that the government does not provide the services they are entitled to through their taxes. They are afraid because the money they are paying in taxes will now be collected by another monster, the Canada customs and revenue agency.
The Bloc Quebecois totally disagrees with the bill. One of the most important prerogatives of modern government is the power to tax. Thanks to this power, Canada collects money from taxpayers that they worked hard to earn. It is unthinkable that this power will be put in the hands of a semi autonomous agency that is not under the direct control of the government.
The minister has said there will be less overlap between the federal and provincial governments with the bill. That is not reassuring; it causes concern. The fact there is no more encroachment is because the government will not be collecting income tax anymore, the agency will.
On the other hand, it is common knowledge that we are in favour of an end to overlap. The Bloc has long wanted an end to such overlap between the federal and the provincial governments. The solution is simple: combine all tax collection activities within Revenue Quebec.
Bill C-43 means savings, we are told. We have our doubts. The government is going to create a quasi-autonomous agency that will be entrusted with billions of dollars, and the agency's managers will not be subject to any pay controls. In today's economy, with the directors of banks and financial concerns often voting themselves outlandish salaries, we wonder about the size of the salary bill taxpayers will have to foot for the agency's managers.
The very status of the agency will allow senior managers to pay themselves salaries comparable to those of CEOs in the private sector. Will the agency's commissioner, who will have hundreds of thousands of people reporting to him and a budget in the billions, demand a salary on a par with that of the chairman of the Royal Bank? Will the agency's commissioner have millions of dollars in annual income? These are some of the questions we have.
Will these managers be more motivated as employees of the new agency than they are right now? We read in Le Devoir this morning that Pierre Sigouin, assistant director of the Customs and Excise information division, claims to have lost all motivation over the last four years.
Mr. Sigouin took paid sick leave to co-ordinate the election campaign of Pierre Bourque, the mayor of Montreal, who is running for re-election. Apparently, it is unmotivating to work for this government. Is this the reason the government has decided to create independent agencies such as the Canada customs and revenue agency?
It is obvious what the government is up to. It will at last be able to shift the blame for tax collection problems. Those who had too much tax deducted will be told it is not the department's problem and referred to the agency.
It is all very fine and well for the minister to say he will retain some control over the agency. The bill contains provisions that make the agency relatively autonomous. It will therefore be possible for the minister to authorize the commissioner or any person employed or engaged by the agency to exercise or perform on his behalf any of his powers, duties or functions under any act of parliament, with the exception of making regulations.
The Canada customs and revenue agency will be run by a super-bureaucrat who will not be accountable to parliament. While accountability is essential to our democracy, this principle is increasingly left out of the current political scene by this government.
The bill will make it impossible to criticize the administration of an organization performing a function that the very existence of the state depends on. This is especially worrisome since it follows a trend of political patronage.
Under clauses 15, 22 and 25 of the bill, there will be a board of directors of 12 members appointed for three years on the recommendation of the provinces, but holding office only on a part time basis. Three other directors, that is the chair of the board, the commissioner and the deputy commissioner, will be appointed by the governor in council for a term of five years.
Once again, we will be witness to the political appointments made by a government that sacrifices competence to give jobs to political friends.
It is to be feared that the decisions made by politically appointed senior officials with a free hand for action would be prejudicial to taxpayers.
Members will recall that less than three years ago, the auditor general revealed a scandal that we in the Bloc Quebecois had condemned in the 1993 election campaign: the family trust scandal.
The auditor general had revealed that, at around midnight on December 23, 1991, some senior officials of Revenue Canada, Finance and Justice decided, without even asking their ministers, to transfer two family trusts worth $2 billion to the United States without collecting a single cent in Canadian tax.
If the mandarins of Revenue, Finance and Justice could do so under the present circumstances, imagine what things will be like when there is this customs and revenue agency they are trying to set up, which will be quasi-independent and not answerable to Parliament.
How many similar cases will be swept under the rug, without Parliament even knowing about them, cases of scandalous decisions by senior mandarins who will now be in control of tax collection as well as of all the confidential data banks on Quebeckers and Canadians? It makes no sense whatsoever to delegate so much to a new class of super-bureaucrats.
It goes without saying too that creation of this agency will considerably weaken the Department of Revenue. Once the agency is created, the Minister will have an overall business plan submitted to him, one to which he will have made little, if any, contribution. He will be confronted more or less with a fait accompli. They will be dictating to the minister what he has to do.
The bill will set up an agency that will be virtually independent of the government and will centralize the power to collect taxes. The government is on the wrong track here. The provinces are calling for more control over the administrative powers that affect them, and the government is pulling the rug out from under them and rejecting their demands.
This bill augurs nothing good for the taxpayers of Quebec and of Canada, and the Bloc Quebecois will be voting against this Halloween horror of a bill.