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House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agency.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-43, an act to establish the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and to amend and repeal other acts as a consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee; and of the amendment.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

October 27th, 1998 / 3 p.m.

The Speaker

The member for Markham had the floor and I said before question period that he would be able to resume. He has three minutes left if he wishes to use them in debate.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, currently the provinces have not demonstrated a significant interest in having Ottawa collect or have more authority over taxes beyond what Revenue Canada does currently.

Ontario is looking to attain greater authority over its tax levers. It cannot simply be said to the provinces that someone will have more authority over their spending without providing them with more direct authority over tax policies.

Some of the provinces feel this agency may ultimately lead to less. If the provinces are not interested, obviously the agency will not save money or lead to greater efficiencies.

While we are on the subject of privatization, I draw to the minister's attention Bill C-54 which essentially deals with electronic privacy. This bill was tabled by the Minister of Industry for a very important reason. Canadians by and large do not have a sufficient degree of trust in the level of privacy accorded by the Internet. Without privacy legislation which Canadians are willing to buy into, electronic commerce would be a whole bunch of wishful thinking.

The same thing applies here. The combination of privatization, taxation and privacy is a very interesting dynamic, one which leads to great anxiety for Canadians. The question that needs to be answered is if most Canadians are unwilling to give personal information over the Internet, why should we suppose that they are prepared to have a large, faceless private agency with access to their most sensitive, personal information? Quite frankly Canadians are not interested in such a situation occurring. We can offload a lot of things but we cannot really offload leadership. That is what the government has tried to do.

Other than the issue of privacy Canadians also have traditionally expressed their frustration with the complexity of our income tax regime. There quite simply can be no justification for the fact that Canadians need to hire accountants to fill out their personal income tax forms. The notion that somehow a privacy agency will succeed in simplifying this process in a way that our present system cannot is completely without merit.

If we create incentives with all our public agencies or departments that recognize and award excellence as opposed to encouraging mediocrity we introduce market incentives without the existing agencies. We can achieve economies without necessarily creating new agencies.

In conclusion, the bill will not lead us toward a simpler tax system. It will not help us develop a fairer tax system. It will not achieve the goals of a flatter tax system. It is bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, and that is the kind of legislation whose day has passed us by.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise on this bill to create the Canada customs and revenue agency.

We have here yet another example of the style of management the Liberals adopted in 1993 after their return to power following the nine year reign of the Progressive Conservative Party under Brian Mulroney, Companion of the Order of Canada.

I will use this speech on the bill to illustrate how federal public servants, in the matter before us, may be vulnerable in the face of the policies developed by a government, namely those of privatizing and almost entirely eliminating the public service.

I would also like to make the following analogy, for our viewers, with the threat posed by the election in Quebec of a Liberal government under Jean Charest. We all know that the Quebec Liberal Party clearly indicated its intention, if the Liberals were to form the government in Quebec, to privatize on a large scale.

At the moment, what we fear federally could well happen provincially, if we were unfortunate enough to have Jean Charest's Quebec Liberals win the upcoming elections in Quebec.

On Thursday, June 4, 1998, one week before the long summer break, the Minister of Revenue tabled Bill C-43 to establish the Canada customs and revenue agency. It dates from the February 1996 throne speech, as the government announced its intention to set up a national revenue collection body.

This agency will, from the outset, be the transformation of the current Department of Revenue into a semi autonomous government agency.

It will have a mandate to negotiate with interested provinces and municipalities to collect all taxes in Canada. Ministerial accountability and parliamentary control would remain intact. The Minister of Revenue says he will remain fully responsible for administering the laws on taxes, customs duties and trade.

If that is the case, we might well ask why they are going to such lengths to transform a full department with one-fifth of all public service employees into an agency. What is the point of this agency? With the minister saying that few things will change, why set up such an agency, as I said a moment ago?

The answer is to be found in the remarks by the President of the Treasury Board, the member for Hull—Aylmer. I suspect there are a number of employees of Revenue Canada among his constituents who are watching us on television. I would hope that, in the next election, these people who live in the riding of the President of the Treasury Board will remember that this government and this minister have no interest in them as public servants. They are being left to the mercy of privatization and to be part of a semi-autonomous agency.

The minister is boasting here in this House almost of having the vote of the federal public servants. I hope that, for once, they will really make it clear to the member for Hull—Aylmer, the President of the Treasury Board, what they think of this agency.

The answer lies in the comments of the President of the Treasury Board, who says that the creation of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency is an essential part of the government's commitment to modernize the federal public service. In the government's opinion, therefore, modernizing the federal public service is sort of like privatizing it; it means removing public servants from the effect of umbrella legislation such as the Public Service Employment Act.

This agency will employ about 40,000 public servants, some 20% of the entire public service, who will now be at the mercy of its board of management.

In a ten-minute speech, it is difficult to cover all the bases. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate my colleagues on this side of the House, who worked very hard studying this bill, including the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.

I would like to list the main reasons for rejecting this agency. First, we will have a mega tax collection agency that will enable the federal government to extend its influence to our communities. Moreover, with this agency, accountability to the public and to Parliament will be weakened. We also feel that the agency could be prejudicial to the privacy of Quebeckers and Canadians. This agency is a classic example of the building of an empire by Ottawa's senior bureaucrats locked up in their ivory tower.

The Bloc Quebecois thinks the primary reason for creating this agency is to conclude new tax agreements with the provinces, something which, incidentally, has not materialized. We also think that small and large businesses are not impressed with the new agency.

I see that the hon. member for Mercier, who is our industry critic and who pays very close attention to the concerns of small businesses, agrees with what I just said.

As we know, the business community was supposed to be the first to benefit from the agency. However, reaction to the new agency was mixed, to say the least. Organizations representing small businesses, including the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, were particularly suspicious of the enormous powers that would be concentrated in the hands of the agency.

A full 40% of the businesses that participated in a Public Policy Forum study commissioned by Revenue Canada see no point in having this agency. We are not talking about 2% or 3%, but about 40%. Forty percent of the businesses polled feel that the agency would increase or maintain the costs of their relationship with the department.

That is why we in the Bloc Quebecois are of the opinion that this agency will bring about new hidden taxes. Its supposed purpose is savings, but we believe it will bring new costs.

In fact, the agency is already wasting money even if it does not yet exist. We know that, even before gaining parliamentary approval, it is already costing the taxpayers money. Hundreds of departmental employees have already been relieved of their usual duties and assigned to design teams or other exercises serving the ambitions of senior bureaucrats.

Any public servant listening to us knows what we mean by senior bureaucrats in the federal public service. We do not need to spell it out. They know, for they live with it every day.

This costly diversion has also prevented the department from concentrating on its usual tasks.

One final point we would draw to the attention of this House is that this agency will be more bureaucratic than Revenue Canada.

I had the opportunity to meet in my riding an employee of Revenue Canada working in the Quebec City region, who made me very aware of the nasty effects and aspects of this agency. To protect him under the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act, I will not name him, but he and his colleagues know who they are.

The employees of Revenue Canada are concerned and anxious. They tell us that the declared intention is to create a headless bureaucratic monster that can go where it will and do what it wants. I am not sure this agency will look after the public interest.

In conclusion, Quebec does not support the desire of the federal government to centralize all activities related to the collection of federal revenues in a countrywide agency. We in Quebec already have our own department of revenue—

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt you, but I thought you were concluding. In any case, your time is up. Perhaps you could come back for the next round.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate this very important issue. I do so on behalf of the residents of Waterloo—Wellington.

I want to begin by pointing out an important element of the proposal for the Canada customs and revenue agency and that is that it is a framework for the participation of the provinces and the territories. By setting the right conditions for greater co-ordination of federal and provincial tax administration, the agency can and will serve both the national as well as the provincial interests.

The success of the Canada customs and revenue agency does not require the participation of every province and territory. In fact participation in the agency is fully voluntary. The agency is intended to provide a framework and a platform to work for the benefit of all the provinces, not to take over any provincial powers. The creation of a new agency will reduce overlap and duplication between federal and provincial revenue administration.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, there is only one taxpayer. Why not then a single administration to collect taxes? This approach will allow governments to reduce their administrative costs and at the same time provide savings in compliance costs to taxpayers. Only where provinces and territories agree that a sound business case can be made for a specific service to be supplied by the agencies will these arrangements in fact be made.

The province of Quebec has been consulted along with all other provinces since the beginning of this process. Quebec has told us that although it does not want the new agency to administer any of its programs, it is willing to stay informed about its progress.

The agency legislation in fact simply represents a framework for closer collaboration. There is no obligation on the part of Quebec or any other province to have the agency administer more programs on its behalf if it is a matter completely for each to decide on its own.

Even if Quebec chooses not to participate, Canadian businesses will still benefit by saving between $116 million and $193 million annually in compliance costs. In addition, governments would save between $37 million and $62 million in administrative costs. Any new programs that the agency will administer will be based on a business case analysis. This will apply to Quebec as it will to all other provinces.

At the present time Revenue Canada collects personal income taxes for nine provinces and corporate income taxes for seven. Revenue Canada administers provincial social benefit programs for British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia. Revenue Canada also collects provincial sales tax, and alcohol and tobacco taxes at the border for a number of provinces. It also administers the national child benefit. There is ample precedent for this co-ordination and consolidation of services.

The proposed agency by its very structure should expand even further the level of co-operation and at the same time increase the provincial voice in tax administration.

Provinces and territories will be able to supply lists of nominees from the private sector for 11 of the 15 directors on the board of management which will direct the business planning of the agency. These directors will not, I repeat not, be on the board to represent the specific interests of their province, but rather to bring a provincial and regional sensitivity to the management of the board and the agency.

The powers of the agency will be broad enough to allow it to enter into service agreements with individual provinces, for example for the collection of a non-harmonized provincial tax. Until now Revenue Canada could only administer provincial taxes if they were harmonized with federal taxes, limiting the number of programs that could be administered by Revenue Canada. Under Bill C-43 the agency will be empowered to administer non-harmonized taxes such as the provincial sales tax which is not harmonized. There are still economies of scale under a single administration even if a tax is not harmonized.

The agency will enter into an agreement with a province to administer a tax, but all of these agreements will have to follow guidelines which will be established by federal and provincial finance ministers. These guidelines will ensure that any taxes collected by the agency on behalf of the provinces and the territories will first of all, be legally valid; second, not jeopardize the system of self-assessment; third, not involve double taxation; fourth, ensure fairness; and finally, be undertaken under mutually acceptable contractual arrangements.

The last criterion demonstrates an important aspect of these agreements. They are service contracts with the agency providing a service to a province or territory according to specific terms and conditions of a contract between the two parties. This means that the province or territory will retain full authority over the tax and will be accountable to the taxpayers for it.

The agency will have to strengthen its accountability to the provinces for the administration of programs on their behalf so that they in turn can be accountable to their own taxpayers. Once a year the commissioner of the agency will have to report to provincial and territorial ministers on the programs and services managed on their behalf and offer to meet with them also on an annual basis to obtain their feedback on the agency's performance on their programs and their services. This strengthening of the accountability and performance bonds between the agency and the provinces and the territories will ensure that programs and services remain innovative, responsive to clients and cost effective.

I also want to point out that a study of the Public Policy Forum estimates that Revenue Canada could administer current provincial taxes for about $97 million to $162 million less than is currently spent, an overall reduction of 6% of the current costs if all provinces participate. The agency is currently undertaking joint studies with some provinces to examine specific possibilities.

Savings to individuals, businesses and governments increase as more provinces and territories participate. So it is in the best interests of all Canadians to have as much provincial and territorial participation as possible.

Bill C-43 will make the Canada customs and revenue agency a reality. The agency will be structured and positioned to earn the support of the provinces and the territories.

I want to point out that all provinces and territories as well as the federal government have worked hard to put their financial houses in order. The Canada customs and revenue agency is an opportunity to reduce costly overlap and duplication between the orders of government even further. That is important to note and certainly something all Canadians want.

I urge this House to pass Bill C-43 as quickly as possible so that Canadians in all provinces can realize the tangible benefits of better and more cost effective tax, customs and trade administration services in Canada. I believe that is what Canadians want and I sincerely believe that is what Canadians deserve.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I regret very much that I have the opportunity to debate Bill C-43 this afternoon because I do not think this bill is necessary at all. This is a good example of unnecessary meddling. It is ideological child's play, or incompetent bungling, or a hidden agenda. I am not sure what to call it when it comes to this government and Bill C-43.

I certainly have never had constituents, other than people who felt they had been done some particular injustice, cry for the quasi privatization of Revenue Canada. I do not think the government is responding to any real need, except perhaps a need to cook the books with respect to how many employees there are in the federal public service.

Revenue Canada's 40,000 employees make up about 20% of the federal public service. This particular bill would also involve the transfer of more than $2 billion in annual parliamentary estimates.

It seems to me that what the government is up to here is it is creating the impression that it is somehow downsizing the public service. Then two or three years from now, whenever this becomes a reality, the government can say that it eliminated 20,000 employees from the public service payroll and that it should be lauded or should get some right wing award or medal for how many public servants it eliminated. It seems to me that is part of what is going on and I want to say how strongly I object to it.

I happen to have the taxation data centre for western Canada in my riding. Many hundreds of Canadians work there, many full time as well as part time early in the spring when people's tax returns are due.

I was recently there to participate with many of the workers, hundreds of them again, when they were demonstrating in favour of pay equity, when they were showing their anger at this government for not respecting the judgment of the tribunal. This government is now adding insult to injury. Not only is it saying to these people that it will not respect the tribunal's judgment on pay equity, but it is also going to change the nature of the government department they work for in such a way as to make them much more vulnerable than they are now.

I would say with confidence that I speak on behalf of hundreds of my constituents and those who live in surrounding constituencies who work at the taxation data centre when I register my opposition to Bill C-43 and the intention of the government to establish the Canada customs and revenue agency.

I said earlier that I thought this was completely unnecessary. One of the arguments for that is that there is certainly not the kind of support we would want from the provinces if we were going to create such an agency.

The government is moving toward this independent agency without the support of four major provinces and, as I have already said, it does not have the support of the majority of its workers. The major stakeholders are not buying it. Certainly the citizens of this country have not indicated any great desire for this to happen.

Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island are firmly opposed. B.C. and Saskatchewan have not endorsed the concept. All provinces generally see the agency as an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

Canadian businesses have major reservations about the proposed agency. There is certainly a concern that a lot of people have, whether they be in business or ordinary citizens or whomever, that we might see down the line this new Canada customs and revenue agency becoming out of control, becoming something like the IRS in the United States which has a history of working according to quotas, of intimidating and harassing taxpayers in order to get a certain return on its investment one might say. We do not want to have this kind of system in our country.

There has been no demonstrable need or desire for changing Revenue Canada in this drastic way. The jobs of tens of thousands of civil servants are being put in jeopardy here. It seems this is one more instance of an ideological fetish or fixation on the part of this government for forms of privatization and quasi-privatization that it would do well to give up on.

We have seen the downside of privatization in a number of other instances. We saw it just last week when CN was laying off 3,000 people simply to please its shareholders, not because there was any particular need to lay off these people, not because there was not work for them to do.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Lay off Tellier.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

There is an idea. However, when Paul Tellier leaves the CNR with all his stock options and everything else he takes with him, chances are the next CEO of CN headquartered in Montreal will be American. Mark my words. It will be an American imported from some American railway and we will have the absolutely shameful spectacle of Canadian National, headquartered in Montreal, being operated and directed by an American. This is not many years away. All this is because of this Liberal government which did and is doing things that not even those who we knew to be ideological, those who we knew to be right wing, the Conservatives, did in this respect.

This is the betrayal that we have seen since 1993. At least many of things the Conservatives did they said they were going to do. They were at least up front about their philosophy and about where they stood with regard to crown corporations and the role of government. They were not deceitful like the Liberal Party was in its campaign of 1993 in particular. By 1997 people had reason to at least know where it was at but for a variety of reasons it is still the government.

However, the Liberals have not learned a lesson and we see here before us Bill C-43 where they are proceeding with another form of privatization. I just wanted to register my strong objection and the objection of my party, which was registered before by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle and many other members, to this particular measure and our contention that it will prove to be a mistake and one that many Canadians, particularly those who now work for Revenue Canada, will pay dearly for.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, we have heard a lot of fearmongering on the other side with regard to the establishment of this agency. I would like to point out the many reasons for moving to a departmental agency status, none more important than the demands of clients for better, streamlined and more responsive tax, customs and trade administration services, and more of them.

In the time of economic expansion the demand for tax, customs and trade services also increases. A million new jobs in Canada since 1993 means many more tax filers both individual and corporate. Resources at Revenue Canada have remained relatively stable during the period of economic expansion and steep increases in business volumes.

Much of the new demand has been accompanied by internal operating efficiencies. There is little room left for more efficiency gains at Revenue Canada under the present structure. Hence the need for a new framework.

The agency model proposed, Canada customs and revenue agency, is unique. It combines the strengths of both public and private sectors while remaining fully accountable to parliament and to the Canadian public.

In developing the Canada customs and revenue agency, the department has been sensitive to the concern of the concentration of too much power in one place. Tax, customs and trade administration affect the lives and livelihoods of Canadians. They want to be sure they are dealt with fairly and that their rights are protected. The intention is not to create a new agency with unlimited power and unlimited scope.

In the design of the new agency, the essential checks and balances that govern the activities and ensure the accountability of Revenue Canada have been maintained. For example, the enforcement powers of the new agency will be the same as those currently provided to Revenue Canada through legislation like the Income Tax Act or the Customs Act. If there is a problem or a complaint the minister will still be fully accountable to parliament and to the public for the administration and enforcement of specific legislation. The minister will also have the authority, as in the case now, to answer questions in the House and ensure the agency is acting properly in its dealings with the Canadian public.

The confidentiality of a taxpayer's personal information will be protected under the agency as it is currently with Revenue Canada. The authorities governing confidentiality are clearly set out in legislation. They will not be changed by this bill.

Bill C-43 will permit the agency to offer new and better services to the provinces and territories. For example, at the present time Revenue Canada can only collect provincial taxes that are harmonized with federal taxes. The new agency will be able to collect non-harmonized taxes, expanding the potential for single window tax collection with considerable savings for businesses and individual Canadians.

Greater co-ordination between the federal and provincial and territorial governments will simplify tax administration for Canadians and reduce costs and overlap and duplication between governments. This is what Canadians expect and this is what we are going to deliver.

A major change that will allow the new agency to adopt a more client oriented approach would be increased operational flexibility in the management of internal resources. The new legislation will allow the proposed agency to tailor its human resources and administrative functions to meet the needs of its clients as well as those of its employees. All this means better service to provinces and territories, to businesses and to individual Canadians.

Doing something better is not an expansion of power but an extension of service; service to Canadians, service to businesses and service to the provinces and territories.

Better service means savings in time and money, savings in compliance costs for businesses, savings in administration costs for governments.

The intention of Bill C-43 is not to create an agency with extraordinary powers but rather to establish a framework with all the checks and balances for a superior agency.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-43 is a bureaucratic aberration, a serious blow against democracy, protection of personal information, respect for jurisdictions and service to the people, nothing less.

One of our colleagues opposite just offered an explanation as to why the Minister of Revenue is acting this way. He said that there is little room left for more efficiency gains at Revenue Canada under the present structure, so the minister is creating a so-called outside agency to achieve more efficiency gains. To this end, 20% of the public service will be transferred to this agency and will no longer by subject to the Public Service Employment Act.

I would like to emphasize a number of elements of particular concern to me. What sparked off anger, or at least serious concern, in me was rereading the remarks contained in the February 1996 throne speech, where the government announced its intention to set up a national revenue recovery agency.

My colleague opposite spoke of modernization requiring that the agency have a new attitude toward its clients. He suggested that the public should be reassured about that. The problem in this bill, as it often is with bills brought in by this government, is that they are trying to create an illusion the way magicians do. When we take a closer look at the bill, we see that the opposite is true.

Who are the agency's clients? Looking through the bill, we see that they are governments, municipalities and organizations that sign agreements with the agency. The public is not a client. It is the target of recovery measures. And just what does recovery mean? It means something along the lines of “You have committed fraud. You have not paid what you owe.” This is not at all the relationship we were led to believe was the goal.

In many of Canada's provinces, the public pays voluntarily at a given time, because our system is different from many others. People pay their taxes voluntarily, because they know the law. It is not a question of recovering income of which the government would have been deprived.

This is rather serious. It is more than a change in culture. It is a change in government ethics, with productivity being given as the excuse, as I have already said. But what will this bill produce? My colleague opposite said that it combines the best of the private and public sectors. I do not bet, but I am prepared to debate this statement a few years from now with any comers. What it does is combine the worst of the private and public sectors. The worst of the private sector will be bureaucracy instead of efficiency.

In administration we learn that bureaucracy has nothing to do with being in the private or the public sector. It has to do with the size of an enterprise. GM, a private corporation, has become a bureaucracy, with significant problems as a result.

What we know about this body is that it will have a tendency to become a bureaucratic organization. Moreover, in the public sector, what would the guarantees of quality and reliability have been? The people can have confidence because, for one thing, some of the MPs here will be able to defend them and to debate issues with the responsible minister.

It is said that the minister will continue to be responsible for this super-agency, but let us look at the powers he is able to confer on others. He can delegate them to a commissioner or any other employee.

Instead of generating confidence, the opposite will be true. Much can be said about this. The fact that public servants are unionized is of concern to some, but it actually does allow them to act ethically in their duties as they must, particularly in collecting taxes.

From now on, they will be in a completely submissive position. They will, of course, try to get another union, but that will not be easy. They will no longer be covered by the Public Service Employment Act; they will be in a totally different position.

There are some really juicy parts to this bill. Care has been taken to state, under human resources, that one of the functions of the agency will be to provide for the awards that may be made to persons employed by the agency for outstanding performance of their duties, for other meritorious achievement in relation to those duties and for inventions or practical suggestions for improvements.

Where recovery of revenues is concerned, which means tax collection, let us say that any member of the public would find this a matter of concern. The government is not reaffirming the trust between taxpayers and this organization, which is a crown agency. Rather, it is trying to convert it into a bureaucratic agency—there is no other word to describe it—that will escape the necessary monitoring of the House and its parliamentarians.

I absolutely must discuss the issue of privacy. We are currently reviewing Bill C-54 on electronic commerce and the protection of personal information. In today's world, it is quite easy to match data and to obtain information on people from all sorts of sources, and to use this information in a way that might not be in compliance with the law, particularly if what we had in mind was to add things, to sign contracts with businesses and organizations, for instance.

This enormous agency that some dream about would be a perfect place to match data. We know how concerned the privacy commissioner was because the Department of Human Resources Development was matching data that, in his opinion, were supposed to be personal information. The right to privacy is a fundamental human right. We must not forget that. We are not living in Orwell's world, in 1984 , although we may sometimes think that even that world would be better than the one we are living in.

Public trust is the foundation of an effective tax collection process. But for that trust to exist, there must be accountability. How can we expect to convince the public that ministerial accountability would be exercised, given that this revenue collection agency will be evaluated based on its profitability?

On what grounds will the agency be judged cost-effective? How will the public's rights—this has to be addressed—be defended? How will these two issues be reconciled? Tragic situations can sometimes arrive; right now, recourse is available—through one's member of parliament—but this will no longer be the case.

The public must be warned that it is losing an important democratic right. It is allowing the creation of an organization where personal information may not be safe. When the workers are public servants with job security and a union, they are accountable to us. This, however, will no longer be the case.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, we are debating Bill C-43, an act to establish a Canada customs and revenue agency. There is no question that we in the Reform Party believe in streamlining government and making sure there are efficiencies in any way we can save taxpayers' money. We have an obligation to do that for all people across Canada.

However there are problems with the legislation we are debating. There needs to be time for it to go through a process where it can be amended and debated so that it runs its course to ensure that taxpayers are getting the best possible result and the most efficient piece of legislation that will work in their interest.

Once again the Liberal government has brought in closure on debate against the will of all opposition parties. They all voted against closure. I will read some quotes. This is what one government members said in this regard: “It displays the utter disdain with which this government treats the Canadian people”. This is with respect to closure, shutting down debate, and was said by Lloyd Axworthy on April 1, 1993.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I must warn the hon. member again that we do not refer to members by their names in the House.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

This is what the government House leader stated with respect to closure:

—I am shocked—. This is just terrible. This time we are talking about a major piece of legislation—. Shame on those Tories across the way.

This was on November 16, 1992 in the House.

The member for Kingston and the Islands, the Deputy Speaker, stated “What we have here is an absolute scandal in terms of the government's unwillingness to listen to the representatives of the people in this House. Never before have we had a government so reluctant to engage in public discussion on the bills brought before this House”. That was a government member.

Since the government has come into power we have had 40 time allocation motions and 3 closure motions. This is a disgrace. We are all elected to the House. All 301 including the Speaker represent Canadians from coast to coast. We all have a right to have our voices heard in the House.

Once again we see the government shutting down the process the minute those members get a bit squeamish or uncomfortable about anything, whether firing the minister of fisheries, trying to close the lid on government documents, not releasing them to committees, or bringing forward closure. It goes on and on and on.

That is the point I wanted to make with respect to closure and I want to leave some time for other members. We have very limited time in this debate. It is an absolute disgrace that the tactic the government uses is to shut down the debate every opportunity it can, the minute those members are a bit uncomfortable. I think they should be ashamed of themselves.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour NDP Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Madam Speaker, the revenue agency act is another word for privatization affecting 40,000 employees at a time when the morale is low already for a large number of employees being affected by the pay equity issue. The Liberal government is refusing to bring justice to the men and women within the Public Service Alliance, but it made a promise in 1993 that it would honour the tribunal decision.

This bill is long awaited enabling legislation required to convert Revenue Canada from a government department into an arm's length special operating agency. When the notion of the Canada customs and revenue agency was first mentioned in the 1996 Speech from the Throne, it was presented as a cost effective, more efficient vehicle for improving service to the public. However, events have overtaken the agency to the point that it fails to meet all its stated objectives. It cannot now be justified on a basis of either bureaucratic efficiency or cost effectiveness.

Its supporting arguments are riddled with contradictions, misstatements of fact and flimsy rationalization. The concept of the Canada customs and revenue agency is bad public policy and should be stopped before it starts. The agency will be a mega-person, extending Ottawa's reach down into our community and our life.

It proposes to administer everything from provincial sales taxes to gasoline taxes and liquor taxes. Its vision would see a mega-taxperson that would offer services to municipalities. Do we really want Ottawa involved in our property taxes? Do we really want to put this much power into one government agency? Of course not. However left unchecked this may very well happen.

The agency will reduce accountability to the public and to parliament. Revenue Canada, as presently structured, is fully accountable to parliament and the taxpaying public through the Minister of National Revenue. The department's policies, programs and activities are open to daily scrutiny during the House of Commons question period.

On the other hand, the Canada customs and revenue agency poses a challenge to parliamentarians as guardians of the public trust and interest. Although its promoters repeatedly stress that the new agency would be fully accountable to our elected representatives, this is misleading at best and deceitful at worst.

To gauge the commitment of the agency's promoters to parliamentary oversight, one need look no further than the senior bureaucrats April 1997 progress report. This document brazenly suggested exempting the agency's operations from fundamental principle of ministerial accountability to the House of Commons. The elitist and anti-democratic proposal was withdrawn in the face of furious opposition.

The agency will face less scrutiny from parliament than is now the case. The auditor general has expressed his concerns over protection of the public interest. An agency will likely be less concerned than a fully accountable government department in responding to questions or concerns raised by individual MPs on behalf of the public.

As an arm's length separate employer the agency would find it easier to stonewall parliament while at the same time providing a pretext for the minister of the day to shift the focus of accountability to the top agency bureaucrat, the commissioner.

The agency's enabling legislation would permit a full parliamentary review only five years after it has begun operation. A lot can go very wrong over such a broad expanse of time.

The agency could jeopardize the public's personal privacy. We live in an electronic world where more and more information about us and our families is readily bought and sold by private sector organizations, from credit card companies to charities to consumer goods companies.

Should the agency meet its stated objectives, an incredible amount of personal and financial information would be concentrated in one institution.

The agency will renew Ottawa's effort to harmonize the GST and provincial sales taxes beyond the maritimes. Originally the CCRA was conceived as a bureaucratic blunt instrument to help government keep its 1993 election promise to abolish the GST. The agency was supposed to enable Ottawa to harmonize the unpopular GST with provincial sales taxes across the country. I think it is important that we talk about the harmonization of the GST and the PST. We ended up with a terrible sales tax in New Brunswick with the HST. We now have a 15% tax on electricity, a 15% tax on heating oil and a 15% tax on children's clothing. It was an increase of 8%. That is what we got with harmonization.

It is important to point that out. It came with the harmonization of the taxes. In New Brunswick we pay huge taxes on children's clothing, on diapers, on electricity and on heating oil. The people being hit with increased taxes are the same ones being hit with toll highways at home. They have lost all sorts of income, for having lost their jobs, among other reasons.

There are also cuts in the employment centres, jobs that have been lost, employment insurance cheques that have vanished or been halved. Our taxes are now even higher, because the Liberal government refused to keep its promise to eliminate the GST.

The agency has also failed to impress small and big business. The business community, both small and large, was supposed to be the biggest beneficiary of the new agency. Small business organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business are particularly leery of the massive centralized power the agency would possess.

A full 40% of business respondents to a public policy forum study commissioned by Revenue Canada saw no advantage to the agency. More than two-thirds thought it would either increase or maintain their costs of dealing with the department as currently structured.

Actually, the agency will likely have to turn to user fees in order to deliver on its promise of cost savings. As planned, the agency would deliver the bulk of its costs by harmonizing the GST and the PST and by taking over provincial and municipal tax administration. But neither seems to be in the cards. So what is likely to happen?

One scenario would see an over-ambitious agency move to trim costs by reducing staff and services to the public. I think we have to look at that.

We know that, with an agency, the service will not improve. That has been proven in many areas. It is also a reason for cutting more jobs. The government finds reasons for cutting, and it is always the low person on the totem pole whose job is lost.

A more probable direction would see the imposition of user fees. User fees are something we see more and more of everywhere. Again, the one at the bottom with the lowest income has to pay all the user fees, be they to Revenue Canada, National Parks, trying to get a driver's licence or a medicare card. There are more and more fees and more and more people who cannot afford them.

As proposed, the agency would be empowered to set user fees for services that provide a specific benefit to service recipients. This immense loophole could see both individuals and small businesses paying additional fees for the privilege of paying their taxes.

No less a person than the auditor general has expressed his concern over the proposed agency's accountability. Denis Desautels asked in his December 1997 report to parliament: “How will Canadians and parliamentarians have assurances that the public interest is protected?” He was not able to get an answer to that question.

I want to conclude by saying that I think going to an agency is terrible for Revenue Canada. Perhaps for Parks Canada it would be all right. It is a way for government to cut and to bring down salaries. It is another word for privatization.

We must be concerned about these issues. We must understand the government has a hidden agenda. This has to stop.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Madam Speaker, with Bill C-43, the Minister of National Revenue is proposing today the establishment of a new Canada customs and revenue agency. The federal government seems to be abdicating its primary responsibilities.

At this rate, why not privatize the Canadian Armed Forces and establish a government agency responsible for looking after the well being of Canadians? Why not privatize the RCMP while we are at it? Is there no end to this government's absurdity and irresponsibility?

As an educator, I can give you an example: the Post Office Department. Control over this organization was transferred away from the government when Canada Post was established. Naturally, this agency is accountable to the minister responsible for Canada Post. This minister is also the minister responsible for Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Canada Post rents a number of buildings from Public Works and Government Services Canada. In my riding, the tenant is not too happy. Dozens of residents of Disraeli have paid special attention to the grounds in front of the existing post office on St-Joseph Street, in Disraeli. This post office has been for sale for many years. There is a “For Sale” sign on the decrepit building and the cedar hedge is all dry.

As a member of parliament, I took upon myself to write the Hon. André Ouellet, the former minister who resigned to make room for the new Minister of Human Resources Development. As a reward, he was offered the title of chairman of Canada Post Corporation, which comes with an annual salary of $154,000 and a bottomless expense account.

I sent a letter to André Ouellet to draw his attention to the fact that the exterior of the Canada Post building, a building rented by Canada Post Corporation but owned by Public Works and Government Services Canada, was in a sorry state.

My letter to the Minister responsible for Public Works and Government Services Canada was mailed in August, and the reply arrived two days ago. It read in part “In response to your letter of August 18, 1998, addressed to Mr. André Ouellet, chairman of the Canada Post Corporation, regarding the appearance of the Disraeli post office, which is owned by Public Works and Government Services Canada”.

The letter goes on to say “First of all, the fact that it has been planned for some years now to vacate this building has had an impact on the approval of renovation projects. In 1995, certain repairs were recommended in an expert evaluation, but since the building had been declared surplus, only priority projects were undertaken, among them the installation of an automatic door opener to bring the building in line with accessibility standards”.

A short paragraph follows that will definitely be of interest to the people of Disraeli. “Moreover, I will take advantage of this opportunity to inform you that this building is about to be sold. A purchase commitment was accepted on September 30, contingent on financing”.

The danger that lurks behind the creation of an agency like the one here, which would collect taxes, including the federal GST and the provincial sales tax, is that everything will be allowed to deteriorate. The building I have referred to here is located in a town of 3,000, but serves most of the surrounding rural municipalities as well, and it has been totally neglected. It is an embarrassment to Canada Post.

Canada Post says “But, you know, this building is not our property. It belongs to Public Works Canada”. Public Works Canada says “It is pointless to repair the building, we want to sell it”. You can see what happens under a government led by the Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice, who gets bad, very bad advice.

In this regard, I want to quote a statement made not too long ago by the President of the Treasury Board, who said “Creation of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency is an essential component of the government's commitment to modernize the federal public service”. The minister did say “to modernize the federal public service”. He should come to Disraeli. The member of parliament had to ask that a totally dried out hedge be removed to get things moving. Everything is neglected.

After the building in Disraeli is sold, what will Canada Post do? It will sign a long term lease, probably for a period of 10 years, with an option to renew at conditions that are usually very reassuring to the new buyer.

As with the statements made by the Prime Minister to La Presse a few days ago, one can see that they are totally out of touch with rural areas and people who want a certain quality of life.

The Prime Minister should get out of his bubble and meet ordinary people. If he does not want to come to Frontenac—and I can certainly understand why—he should at least go to his own riding of Saint-Maurice. His constituents only see him once every four years—when he is seeking re-election—along with about 100 people working for him.

There is another point I want to make. At first, the agency will be created by converting the existing revenue department into a semi-independent government agency. That agency will have the mandate of negotiating, with the provinces and municipalities that are interested, the collection of all taxes in Canada.

Let me give you another example, that of the RCMP and the QPP in Quebec, or the OPP in Ontario. As members know, the RCMP, which provides police services in the other eight provinces and in the territories—and even in certain large cities—only charges those provinces and cities 77% of its actual costs. This means that Quebec and Ontario indirectly pay 23% of the RCMP services in New Brunswick, British Columbia, Alberta and the territories.

That could happen. The provinces and municipalities not using this new tax, revenue or customs collection agency—if Quebec or Ontario fail to join—will pay indirectly for the other provinces using its services. An injustice will occur, just as is the case with the RCMP.

On the other hand, they say it will be the same thing and that they will comply with the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act and the Official Languages Act. The Department of National Revenue is not even able to comply with the Official Languages Act now. I have had dozens of complaints in my riding from passengers and truckers going through Lacolle, who claim that the officers they see are unilingual English.

In closing, I promise one thing, and I have a pretty reliable memory. The member for Verdun—Saint-Henri will run into me when he speaks. He is one of the most vulgar and rude members of the Liberal Party.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Employment Insurance.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to use this opportunity to talk about the new tax agency and compare it to what exists now.

As a member of parliament, as do all members of this House, I meet with people on a daily basis who are having difficulties with Revenue Canada. These difficulties generally result from the adversarial approach that Revenue Canada uses.

I have seen individuals who have been in heart-wrenching situations where Revenue Canada has seemed to compound the hurt these people are facing.

I can give one example of a young mother who had a premature baby which weighed under two pounds and was put in a special hospital unit in the city of Vancouver. This child survived because of the hospital and the mother bonding with the child, giving it the incentive to be a real little fighter.

The mother at the end of the year tried to claim the expenses of travelling from South Surrey to Vancouver on a regular basis to make sure this child was bonding with her and to be supportive of the health care the child was getting. The mother was told it would not be covered because she should have gone to the hospital closest to her.

The hospital closest to the mother happens to be a palliative care hospital, a hospital which specializes in the treatment of the elderly, not newborns who are facing serious health problems. The hospital that specialized in this type of care just happened to be in Vancouver.

Revenue Canada, in dealing with this situation, said it was unfortunate but the hospital just happened to be a little bit too close. The hospital should have been another 10 kilometres away and then the mother would have qualified.

Tell that to a mother who is trying to make ends meet and who has extra costs because of the health needs of her child. Because the hospital happened to be 10 kilometres too close she did not qualify.

My concern is that there does not seem to be any kind of flexibility or compassion in the existing system. The existing system is managed by a minister of the crown, responsible to this House of Commons and accountable to the people of Canada.

I can give many other examples of people who have lost their homes and whose families have broken up because of the attitude within the existing Revenue Canada of “You owe us money and under all circumstances you will pay that money”. When people find themselves in distress and unable to pay, whether it is GST or income tax, or when they have a problem and are appealing a decision, a year or two years later when the appeal process is underway they find that what they owe has tripled or quadrupled because Revenue Canada is charging interest on the amount that is under dispute.

I cannot tell the House how many families I have had in my office who are just beside themselves because they are unable to pay the government. The government is unwilling to be flexible.

My concern is that if we have this independent agency, which is really only accountable to the minister, what is the attitude going to be? Is it going to be like the IRS? It wanted to charge a young lad who happened to catch the baseball which Mark McGwire hit when he was building up his home run record. This young lad gave the baseball back to Mark McGwire, but the IRS actually talked about taxing him on the amount that baseball would have sold for on the open market. That is the kind of irresponsible decision making that agencies make that are far removed from accountability.

My concern is that we are talking about setting up an agency that is only accountable to the minister. I am afraid it will be a little bit more hard-nosed than the existing system.

Let us say that this agency is a good thing. There are people at the provincial level, for example the minister of finance for Alberta, who feel that a proposal to handle federal-provincial tax collection would be a great thing and that it should go to any province that wants it, potentially gutting a key federal power. Provinces that ought to collect all taxes on their territory would remit the federal portion back to Ottawa, which is a reversal of the existing system.

People would say this is a provincial minister who is out to lunch. But he is not the only one. I will quote from a document from a provincial MLA who was asked to do a study for the provincial government of British Columbia. In his report he says “The division of taxing powers between the federal and provincial governments is an important part of what defines Canada as a federated state”.

He goes on to say “It is time that our Confederation was renewed with a transfer of taxing authority from Ottawa to the provinces so that the provinces have the resources to adequately fund the programs that they are legally bound to deliver”.

There are people across this country and provincial governments who believe that maybe we should be looking at a taxing authority. Where they differ from the federal government is that they feel it is time for these taxing powers to go back to the provinces so that the provinces can use the money to deliver the services, as they are the government closest to the people. Then they will release the funds that are necessary to the federal government so the federal government can do that which is its to do.

This is a debate that has occurred over a number of years. There are two sides to the debate. We have the Liberal government that feels it wants to get federal control of this agency and that the provinces will go along with it, not acknowledging that there are provinces and people in the provinces who feel it is the provincial government that should be taking this initiative, not the federal government.

It is very important that if the government is serious about this manoeuvre of having an arm's length agency to collect taxes in the country that it take hold of the accountability factor a lot more than other ministers of the crown have done.

I do not know how many times immigration ministers have stood in this House to tell us that the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board, is an arm's length board which they cannot control and have no say in. The solicitor general has said that the Public Complaints Commission is at arm's length from the government and he has no say in it. At some point there has to be accountability. Somebody has to take responsibility for the decisions that are being made. If the minister of revenue is intent on establishing this agency, then he will have to accept responsibility for the decisions this agency makes on behalf of Canadians. Because it is an arm's length agency does not remove the fact that the buck has to stop somewhere, and it stops with the minister who is responsible.

Another concern of the opposition is that if this agency goes ahead there has to be some protection for the Canadian taxpayer. Canadian taxpayers who feel they are being taxed unjustly must be able to go to someone for help and assistance. We would like to see an office for taxpayer protection established before this agency comes into effect.

The taxpayer protection office would report to parliament each year, issue taxpayer protection orders, act as an advocate of last resort for taxpayers, assist taxpayers in resolving disputes, identify areas where taxpayers have been consistently having problems with the agency, propose changes to administrative practices where these problems arise, and identify potential changes to legislation in order to minimize problems encountered by taxpayers.

If the protection is there for the Canadian taxpayer, if there is a government commitment not to throw the taxpayer out to the wolves, we might be more willing to support this legislation.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, employees, their unions and managers all agree that the current human resources framework of Revenue Canada is not suitable to meet their needs and those of the department and the clients. Employees want profound change in the human resources management system, yet they want principles such as fairness and equity protected.

Managers faced with the prospect of ever increasing workloads want the flexibility of a human resources system that recognizes the nature of the work that must be done and that permits innovative ways to provide tax, customs and trade administration services.

To its credit, the Public Service of Canada has taken several initiatives to reform itself and to provide better services to Canadians, but none of the alternative service delivery models developed to date can meet the unique requirements of Revenue Canada, its clients and its employees.

The departmental agency status, as set out in Bill C-43, will permit a human resources framework that can be customized precisely for Revenue Canada's employees and clients.

Since the announcement in the Speech from the Throne of February 1996 to create a tax, customs and trade administration agency, the department has been meeting regularly with its employees to develop a human resources vision for the future.

Six working groups were established during 1997 to look at the key aspects of human resources management. Approximately 7,000 Revenue Canada employees, including managers and union members, were contacted directly for their suggestions, ideas and consideration.

The most important findings were the need for human resources management based on values and principles rather than complex rules and processes, the importance of simplicity and flexibility in all aspects of human resources management, and the requirement to value employees.

Concurrent with these consultations, the legislative framework was developed for the new agency taking into account what the working groups said. As it presently stands, the Treasury Board of Canada and the Public Service Commission have different responsibilities for various human resources matters in Revenue Canada.

Bill C-43 will establish an agency that would be a separate employer under the Public Service Staff Relations Act with the authority to bargain directly with its union. The agency would have the authority for personnel management matters such as classification, training and development, terms and conditions of employment, and travel allowances, currently the responsibility of the Treasury Board under the Financial Administration Act.

The agency would no longer be subject to the Public Service Employment Act. Therefore staffing and related matters would be subject to policies approved by its own board of management. This is an important change since for example recruitment that can now take anywhere from three to six months under the government's one system fits all approach could be reduced to less than four weeks in most cases.

The agency would develop its own staffing program in accordance with certain stated principles. The Public Service Commission would report to the agency on whether its staffing program was consistent with these principles which would be set out in the summary of the corporate business plan.

For any new human resources initiative, principles such as fairness and equity would always be safeguarded. For example, any new classification system would be designed to ensure gender neutrality, and all human resources policies would promote and reflect Canada's diversity.

At the present time the exact details of the human resources framework for the agency have not been worked out. A document of intent signed with the unions in December 1997 established how management and the unions would work together with employees to establish these details. Five design teams made up of managers and employees and with some union participants have already submitted reports on staffing, classification, recourse, training and development, and employment equity.

There are many possibilities created for employees because of the flexibility afforded by departmental agency status. For example, the reduction of the number of occupational groups and levels, a possibility under the new departmental agency status, would make it easier for employees to move between jobs, thus enhancing career mobility while addressing the business needs for the agency.

Agency control over the staffing process would mean that vacancies could be filled quicker and employees would not have to wait as long for promotions and transfers. One suggested improvement in working conditions would be more extensive use of flexible hours or work at home arrangements.

Of prime concern to most employees is what happens during the transition to new departmental agency status. Employees would remain public servants during and after the transition.

Agency employees would still have access to jobs in federal government departments. The agency would provide similar access to its jobs for persons in government departments. The Public Service Commission would have the opportunity to ensure that employees being hired by the agency met the requirements of the Public Service Employment Act.

Collective agreements in force at the time of the start up of the agency would be carried over until they are renegotiated. Existing unions would continue to represent employees for a period of 120 days after which time a new certification process would occur under the Public Service Staff Relations Act.

Employees would maintain their existing pay and benefit entitlements, including pension rights and leave credits. They would be given offers of their same positions with the same duties and have 60 days to accept or refuse those offers. An employee who refuses the offer would be given the benefits of the government's existing workforce adjustment policy for alternative service delivery situations.

Indeterminate employees would be given a two year employment guarantee beginning from their date of transfer to the agency. Term employees would continue under the same terms and conditions as before.

A union-management design team is presently developing recommendations for an employment adjustment policy designed specifically for the agency. I am very confident that the agency will be able to design a policy that will give its employees the protection they require.

What would life be like for employees in the new agency?

Based on the expected expansion in programs and services on behalf of the provinces and territories, many new types of opportunities would be created. New types of programs and services would require new working relationships and new ways of performing work, including the expanded use of technology.

Continuing efforts to respond to client needs and demands would spawn a whole new work philosophy based on continuous learning and development. In fact, employees themselves are so convinced of this need that they suggest having a performance management system that links performance criteria to career development. They also proposed that managers under the agency be rated on their ability to support learning in the workplace.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-43.

I must say that a lot of us who are able to speak on the bill today feel very privileged. Many others will not be able to speak because of the heavy-handed measure by this government of bringing in closure. Why is it that every time a major public policy issue is before the House, this government rushes to bring in the hammer, to bring in the hook, to bring in the heavy-handed measure of closure?

My time in this chamber has been relatively brief. I have been a member for one and a half years, since the 1997 election. It seems to me that the dominant method by which this government chooses to operate is the undemocratic approach of bringing in closure whenever the debate gets difficult. Whenever there is a need for us to discuss in serious terms, to share ideas, this government cuts off debate and denies us that opportunity.

One of the first pieces of legislation we had to deal with was Bill C-2, the changes to the Canada pension plan, a bill of serious importance for Canadians. It was a matter that should have been debated at length in the House but it was cut short by the heavy-handed measure of closure.

It is with gratitude that I just made it under the wire. The clock will strike in another hour and this debate will end. There will be no more opportunity for debate in principle on this very important piece of legislation. I want to echo the sentiments of many in this chamber today and express dismay at this heavy-handed approach by the Liberal Government of Canada.

I want to be very clear, as many of my colleagues have been, about our opposition to Bill C-43. Our opposition is to a piece of legislation that enables this government to convert Revenue Canada from a government department into an arm's length, special operating agency. In essence, as so many have said in this House, it is the privatization of a large component and a major function of government. This proposed agency is probably the largest privatization project of this government to date.

Like many in this chamber, I have searched in vain for substantive reasons for the bill before us today. We have heard time and time again from Liberals in this chamber today and previously that this bill is another important initiative on the part of the Liberal government to move in the direction of efficiency and cost effectiveness.

I researched and read as much as I could on this whole issue and I found very little support for those arguments of efficiency and cost effectiveness. In fact most of the information suggests the opposite, that this attempt to remove the operation of taxation and tax collection from government to an operating agency one step removed from government is in fact a more cumbersome, time consuming and costly process than what is presently in place.

We have heard from professionals in the field, from provincial governments, from academics, from chartered accountants, from businesses and from trade unionists very actively involved in this issue. These individuals and organizations have said almost with one voice that there appears to be no valid business case for an independent agency. Many have even gone a step further and said that the proposed Canadian customs and revenue agency is an idea in search of a rationale and one has not been found.

If it is not based on sound public policy, if it is not based on the goal we all share of making something better, of making changes to improve the situation, then what are the motives of this government? The answer can only be found in this government's never ending pursuit of privatization, of downsizing the public sector, of diminishing the role of government in areas historically and traditionally fundamental to the very notion of what government is all about and what government should be there for.

My goodness, it seems to me that in the area of tax collection we are talking about something that has been seen as the prerogative of the state, as an important role of government historically and traditionally in this country and around the world. Yet here we have a proposal, an idea looking for a rationale, that abandons this important public sector role and responsibility. By stealth this government abandons this role and responsibility to the private sector.

I say that the answer must be found in this ideological pursuit of privatization, offloading, deregulation, cutbacks and outsourcing. One only has to look at what has happened under this government over the last number of years to put it all together and come to that conclusion.

One only has to look at what this government has done every step of the way to dismantle social programs, to privatize important public services and to cut back on every area possible in order to ensure that the actors in the marketplace are able to operate on an unfettered basis.

It is not a stretch to suggest that the government is very much interested in this philosophy that the least government is the best government instead of looking at what makes the most sense for government to be involved in, when is it important to have strong regulatory approach to a policy area, when is it important to value the work of our public employees, and when is it important to ensure that we maintain within the public domain certain functions in order to ensure that all people in this country are served to the best of our ability.

Many in Canada have commented on the government's agenda. I quote from a paragraph written by Daniel Drache and Meric Gertler:

No area of government policy has been spared. Across a broad front that includes not only trade but regional development, tax and fiscal polices, old age pensions, family allowance, labour market policy, social income programs, and collective bargaining, the government moved persistently and systematically to reshape the institutional and legislative character of Canada. Its strategy is to water down Canadian redistributional programs so as to make them equivalent to the (American) lowest common denominator, and to cut the direct and indirect labour costs to business.

Is that not what we are dealing with? Is that not what is really behind it all? Is that not why so many Canadians are concerned?

I may not be able to convince the government to change that mad pursuit of privatization and deregulation but I hope that it would at least listen to the words of the employees who are impacted by this decision and recognize the kind of hurt and worry it is extending to 40,000 employees in this area, in particular to the large number of citizens in Winnipeg who are affected directly by this decision and whose voice ought to be taken into consideration by this government.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, allow me to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Frontenac—Mégantic, on what I would call an excellent speech.

When I see government members, from their seats, lapse into vulgarity as they did during my colleague's speech, I think that he is on the right track. He is an opposition member, he says the right things. We are here to express our views and that of our constituents. I wanted to congratulate him on the excellent speech he made earlier, in spite of what the member for Verdun—Saint-Henri said.

My reasons for taking issue with this bill are many. I counted six, but I am sure I could find many more. In my ten minutes, I would have approximately one minute and a half to cover each of the six. I think I will address them globally, to say that this bill represents some kind of loss of control by the Canadian government and indeed Parliament.

Since this government took office, we have witnessed a major increase in the number of agencies and commissions created. As a result, when we want to question the minister responsible, in our capacity as MPs, we are told “Look, it is at arm's length from the government, it is a private corporation now”.

Nav Canada is a good example. In my riding, we have a control tower at the Saint-Jean airport. I cannot even question the minister on the future of this tower. His answer would be “As the member for Saint-Jean, you know full well that Nav Canada is in charge now”.

ADM is in charge of airports. The Canadian Wheat Board looks after wheat. Any time we question ministers, they run and hide behind the screen of agencies, commissions and the transfer of their current responsibilities to semi-private organizations.

Where do the interests of private enterprises lie? Often with their pockets and their shareholders. Very rarely are their interests common ones. Very rarely are they the interests of voters and of the public in general. Their goal is to make sure that shareholders and directors earn as much money as possible.

I support capitalism. There is nothing wrong with the government making money, but it has responsibilities. What I cannot stand is watching this government continually handing over its responsibilities to private enterprise or to agencies. That is my first reason for opposing the bill.

As for anti-union measures, rarely has a government pushed so hard—probably because it was being pushed by the Reform Party, a party of the far right—for anti-union legislation, return to work legislation, legislation suspending the right to strike, and I could go on. I have spent 20 years of my life defending workers, and I find it outrageous that the first thing this government wants to do is to get rid of its public service.

What is more, it is very close to doing so because, in my riding, at least 30% go 40% of those who used to work for federal institutions located in the riding of Saint-Jean no longer do so. It is the same throughout Canada.

With an anti-union provision, the government is getting rid of employees and paving the way for poorer working conditions and lower salaries. What will become of government employees? They are being told “Leave, but it is not certain the agency will rehire you. Are you a Liberal? This will help when we decide whether we can rehire you”.

We also know the patronage havens of the Liberal Party. How much will the commissioner of the customs and revenue agency earn? Earlier, I heard the member for Verdun—Saint-Henri hurl insults at my colleague. He is probably interested in getting the job of commissioner of the agency after his political career. Quite a few are appointed by the governor in council, actually by cabinet.

We also know that the salaries paid to these people are much higher than that of a member of parliament. In their career plan, many members of the Liberal Party sincerely hope that, after their stint in the House of Commons, cabinet will say something like “The member for Verdun—Saint-Henri was a good member. He used to lash out at opposition members because they were telling the truth. Therefore, we will appoint him commissioner and we will make sure that his salary reflects the fact that he is a friend of the party”. The agency will be a patronage haven and this is another reason why I oppose the bill.

It is also a problem for Quebec. I represent a Quebec riding. The government introduced this bill, even though no province has said “we would agree to let the federal government's agency take over collecting our revenues”. No province has said that, and this is particularly true in the case of Quebec, because we have always been proud of the fact that we kept our revenues in the province.

We even have agreements under which we collect the GST. In this regard, Quebec has always followed the same logic, namely that if it is going to control its fiscal policies, it must not let the federal government decide what to do and then say “I am the one collecting the money now. If you don't like it, re-establish Revenue Quebec”. That would not be an easy task, because everything will have been handed over to Big Brother in Ottawa. This is not in keeping with Quebec's history or culture.

Quebec agrees on the harmonization of tax legislation, but it must be the sole collector. That is what Quebec wants. Quebec is never going to say “Take our money, collect Quebeckers' taxes via the federal agency”. I say to the House, no one in Quebec would agree with that.

Now, to look at small and medium size businesses. Of those surveyed, 40% see no advantage to this agency, and 68% feel that it is going to cost more. Some might react by thinking “This is just a jurisdictional problem with Quebec, the other provinces and the federal government”. But that is not what the problem is. It goes further than that. Even the private sector does not agree with the government's way of doing things.

Another very significant aspect is the problem of privacy. When one looks at the bills introduced by the government, there is a strong tendency to give more and more control to super-agencies, which are going to control a lot of information that concerns pretty well everyone. This is what I would call the “Big Brother syndrome”. The federal revenue agency will come along and say “Well now, Mr. Bachand, you took out a loan a few years back”. This is monumental interference in the privacy of all Canadian taxpayers.

Imagine if this agency controlled all of Canada. They would call upon the services of the Department of Justice and the RCMP to do a kind of giant information collection, and we would end up with unacceptable interference in our private lives.

“Big Brother is watching you”. With the federal government's ultra-centralist tendencies, it is not surprising when bills like this one crop up.

It runs counter to public opinion. The public is tired of being watched all the time. People are tired of having to deal with super-agencies, where there is nothing but a huge muddle and a total lack of sensitivity toward those who have to deal with government.

The agency will serve as a sort of cover. People with tax problems will have to take them to this huge agency whose employees will be working for low salaries and to low standards. Job performance will deteriorate. Employees will adopt inflexible policies and the poor taxpayer will once again be victimized by the system.

This agency will be a patronage haven, like all the agencies created by the federal Liberal government in the last few years. There are members in the House who look forward to a long career as public servants, people who will earn high salaries and wield considerable power.

Imagine the power of the commissioner of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. He will decide that he is entitled to as big a salary as the director general or the president of the Royal Bank, because the agency's budget will be much larger, and the value of its shares much higher as well. It will be a patronage haven and the delight of our Liberal friends, but it is not in the interests of voters and taxpayers.

I therefore agree with my colleague that the bill should be withdrawn. If it is not, I will vote against it, as I imagine all Bloc Quebecois members will do.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Madam Speaker, one of the things that makes me nervous about speaking in support of this bill is that I understand many members of the Reform Party are going to support it. Whenever I see that happen I have to take a second look. I have done that.

In spite of the fact that it appears some members opposite, perhaps Conservatives and Reformers, see the logic in this bill, I would like to correct the record. Very seldom have I heard so much misrepresentation by so few to so many on the facts surrounding this bill.

The first issue I would like to address is the point made by one of the speakers for the NDP on the issue of closure. The member argues that the big bad government is bringing down the hammer. The fact is, as members know, this is a vote on second reading.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Shame on the Liberals.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

The member says shame on the Liberals. I say shame on the NDP for distorting the facts around this bill and for trying to perpetuate a number of myths that are simply not based on fact, many of which I will point out hopefully with some clarity.

As to the issue of closure, we have had 12 hours of debate in this place. Members opposite know full well that if they want to put amendments to a piece of legislation, the place to do that is in committee. One would almost think that members opposite, whether Bloc members who have their own agenda or NDP members who would like to see changes to this bill, would prefer that this bill be taken out of this place and put into the hands of a committee so that they could then put forward their amendments. They just might be surprised. Perhaps some of those amendments, if they make sense and if they are researched properly, which I do not have that much confidence in, might survive at the committee process.

One fundamental point is that the bill does something that I talked about in my former days in the province of Ontario, that is sets up one tax collector. Canadian people do not understand why we have so much bureaucracy to collect taxes.

The bill has received tremendous support from across the country. Members, particularly in the NDP but also in the Bloc, are stating, as the previous speaker said just moments ago, that provinces across Canada in addition to Quebec are not supporting the bill. That is simply not true. It is very unfortunate that a member can stand in this place and say something as false as that kind of statement.

Let me give an example. I will admit that the province of Quebec does not want the agency to administer its revenue programs. That is not a surprise. The Bloc Quebecois members are in the wrong house, I would respectfully suggest. They are provincial politicians. They openly admit they are not interested in a federation that works from sea to sea to sea.

It should come as no surprise that they would oppose any kind of agency that would streamline, reduce costs, reduce overhead and make the federation of Canada work better. That is not in their interest. They want to destroy our federation. We understand where they are coming from.

The reality is that the minister of revenue in Quebec has a strong working relationship with Revenue Canada. It has admitted that it collects the GST. That shows we are working together. That is clearly a federal task. People from the revenue ministry of the province of Quebec have already indicated, to correct the statements made, that they may participate on the board of management by submitting a list of nominees to help establish the process and make it work. Why do Bloc members not admit that? Why do they continue to falsify the record by saying that their province is totally opposed?

Revenue Canada has not received a single, unequivocal no from any other province. I want to share some quotes. Revenue Canada just concluded a service contract with the province of Nova Scotia. Let us go across this great land and take a look at what the provinces are saying. Mr. Don Downe, minister of finance for Nova Scotia, said:

This contract builds on the current strong, co-operative relationship between Nova Scotia and Revenue Canada and provides the means for our relationship to evolve under the new agency.

That sure does not sound like no to me. That sounds like federal-provincial co-operation. I will continue. Mr. Keith Colwell, Nova Scotia minister of business and consumer services said:

The details of this framework make good business sense—

And I know the NDP does not understand:

—and will mean better, more cost effective service, for the citizens of Nova Scotia.

That is a responsible statement by a provincial minister taking a look at some rejigging of the system and how the federation works.

Several members opposite have said that my province, the province of Ontario, opposes this agency. Let me give them a quote from my sometimes good friend Ernie Eves, the Ontario minister of finance who said:

I think that an agency like the CCRA could be a way to achieve Ontario's objectives of a simple, flexible, certain and transparent income tax system.

We all know that Ernie and Mike and the boys in Ontario are more in line philosophically with the Reform Party. Their common sense revolution clearly outlined principles and documentation that were extreme to the right and we have seen the impact in Ontario.

However, here is the treasurer, Mike Harris' number one golfing buddy and number one hit man, saying that it could be a flexible, certain and transparent income tax system. Ernie went on to say:

The CCRA could also provide a platform for a more flexible partnership between Ontario and the federal government.

I did not say it. It was Ernie Eves and I agree with him. I have another quote as recently as September 22 from my pal Ernie:

The CCRA could benefit Ontario taxpayers if it is able to administer Ontario taxes (both non-harmonized and harmonized) more cheaply and efficiently than the Ontario government.

He does not have his head stuck in the sand. He realizes that there is only one taxpayer and that a change like this could benefit that taxpayer. That is what he said, that taxpayers could benefit if the CCRA were able to improve services available to them. He has left the door wide open to negotiate with the federal government. He is being responsible in this instance. It is not often that I would say that about the provincial Tories, but in this instance they realize the benefits.

Let us go to New Brunswick. Those folk over there have been saying that every province in the country is against it. So far I have not found one on my journey across Canada. I know members opposite hate this because they do not like to hear the truth put on the record, the facts in terms of what provincial ministers are actually saying. NDP members would rather fabricate the information. They would rather take their interpretation of the bill, cry foul, say that it is awful and that the sky is falling. It is just not true. This is common sense, although I hesitate to use that word, being from Ontario.

The hon. Edmond Blanchard, minister of finance for New Brunswick, said:

I want to reiterate New Brunswick's full support for this initiative.

Does that sound like a maybe? Does that sound like he has some doubts? It is pretty clear.

Here is one the NDP should make a phone call on right now to try to find out how this could have possibly happened. The minister of finance for the province of Saskatchewan, the seat of socialism, the home of Tommy Douglas, the founding province of the CCF and the NDP. It cannot get any better than this. I quote the minister of finance, Eric Cline, who said:

As I have indicated previously, we are generally supportive of the proposed agency since it provides an opportunity to create a more effective and efficient organization for all taxpayers.

NDP members should talk to their own people and find out that all provinces support this federal initiative.

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5:05 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to make a short speech on Bill C-43. I know it will be short because we will probably run out of time.