House of Commons Hansard #168 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agency.


1998 Iqaluit DeclarationRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour of tabling, in both official languages, the 1998 Iqaluit declaration, signed by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the status of women, which marks this year's national day of remembrance and action on violence against women.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to eight petitions.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the 6th report of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association which represented Canada at the 44th annual session of the North Atlantic Assembly, NATO parliamentarians, in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, November 9 to 13, 1998.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 7th report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. In accordance with Standing Order 108(2) the committee undertook a study of fisheries issues in Nunavut.

I would like to thank all the committee members who took the time to go to my riding and learn about our fisheries issues.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests a comprehensive response to this report within a 150 days.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 48th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the review of the broadcasting of proceedings of House committees.

I also have the honour to present the 49th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the associate membership of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, I move that the 49th report be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have five petitions on behalf of the people of Dauphin—Swan River. The first petition is about the Firearms Act, commonly known as Bill C-68.

The petitioners call on parliament to repeal the act and to redirect the moneys allocated for its implementation to putting more police on the streets, to crime prevention programs, suicide prevention, women's crisis centres, anti-smuggling campaigns and to fight organized crime and street gangs.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the Young Offenders Act.

The petitioners call on the House and the government to replace the act with legislation that would deal more adequately with young offenders, allowing proper punishment.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, the third petition deals with Senate elections.

The petitioners point out that Manitobans have democratically governed themselves in areas of provincial jurisdiction since 1870. They request parliament call on the government to call only fit and qualified persons who have been democratically elected by Manitobans to sit as Manitoba senators.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, the fourth petition deals with the port of Churchill and the Canadian Wheat Board.

The petitioners call on parliament to advise the government to mandate the Canadian Wheat Board to deliver its grain shipments through the Canadian port that offers the most advantageous cost to producers and to require conveyers to guarantee seamless car interchange.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, the last petition deals with hep C compensation.

The petitioners call on parliament to revisit the hep C compensation and to offer fair and compassionate compensation for hep C victims.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by 400 constituents of Oxford who ask that parliament enact legislation such as Bill C-225 to define in statute that a marriage can only be entered into between a single male and a single female.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to submit this morning. The first one is from over 100 residents of Dartmouth who are concerned about the future of the Halifax regional cultural museum.

Because the level of support from the federal government to local and regional museums has declined from 29% to 5% over the last decade and because many regional and local museums in Canada are facing financial shortages so severe that the preservation of their artifacts is in question, the people of Dartmouth call on the House to urge the Minister of Canadian Heritage to restore the federal government funding level for regional and local museums to at least the level of 1998.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, my second petition is from over 100 citizens from Dartmouth who are also concerned about the passage of Bill C-225.

They are in favour of the act to amend the marriage and interpretation acts in order to define in statute that a marriage can only be entered into between a single male and a single female.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I suggest that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Vancouver South—Burnaby B.C.


Herb Dhaliwal LiberalMinister of National Revenue

moved 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 third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, today I will be speaking on third reading of Bill C-43.

Today we start the final debate in the House of Commons on the creation of a new Canada customs and revenue agency. We arrived at today's debate after a speech from the throne. We arrived here today after a budgetary commitment by the Minister of Finance. We arrived here after a campaign commitment by the Prime Minister. Most significantly, we arrived here at this debate after years of consultation and after hearing input from extraordinary Canadians from across the country.

The bill before us today is the result of extensive consultations. It was always our intent to prepare the best possible legislation by listening to Canadians, learning from their input and taking the appropriate action.

Our government issued a major proposal, then we revised it to reflect what we heard. We put forward a second proposal and again improved it after listening to people from every corner of the country.

Three times we went back to the provinces, to the territories, to members of parliament, to tax experts, to the customs and trade professionals and organizations. We established a special advisory committee to provide ongoing comments. We received input from close to 10,000 of our employees. What started out as a sound concept has become even a better piece of legislation which reflects what people told us.

There have been many important improvements to the original proposal and those improvements flowed directly from those citizens who thought about the bill and offered up some better thinking. I strongly believe this is a fine bill and I thank those Canadians who gave their time, their wisdom and their insights to making it so.

I know my friends from the opposition will argue during this debate that we still have not consulted enough. Let me quote Mr. Garth Whyte, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, when asked about more consultation in the committee hearings: “We have been consulted to death”.

The simple truth is that the CFIB wants this bill passed. The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants wants this bill passed. The Canadian Bar Association wants this bill passed. The Canadian Tax Foundation wants this bill passed. The Canadian Importers Association supports this legislation. The Tax Executives Institute support this legislation. The Canadian Society of Custom Brokers supports this legislation. L'Association de Planification Fiscale et Financière supports this legislation. The Canadians Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters supports this legislation.

The reasons for this broad range of support are really quite simple. First, a new Canada customs and revenue agency makes plain, ordinary, everyday common sense. Second, the bill constructively addresses all the serious issues raised by Canadians during these three rounds of consultations.

I would like to touch on both these matters, why a customs and revenue agency makes sense and how we have improved the bill, and explain why this agency is a sensible idea. I do not want to throw out a lot of complex jargon. I would rather relate some real life experiences.

Take for instance overlap and duplication. Take for instance red tape for small businesses. I was in business for 20 years before I went into politics. I remember having to deal with an auditor for workers compensation asking the same questions, going through the same books as another auditor for payroll deductions. That auditor went through the same process as another auditor for provincial sales tax. That auditor in turn went through the same process as an auditor for the GST. What a waste of talented professional auditors. What a time consuming waste for business people.

Everybody talks about wanting to get rid of overlap and duplication and we hear that every day in the House from members over there, all the time. We hear it from the provinces every single day. We hear it from small businesses. We hear it from individual Canadians. Everyone talks about wanting to reduce the paper burden and compliance costs.

This legislation is a real life opportunity to turn all that talk into action because everybody understands there is only one level of taxpayer, so let us move toward creating a single window tax collection.

Canadians want governments to work together for their citizens. They do not want to build a parallel tax system across the country. Canadians have said that repeatedly. Every place I go business people tell me they spend too much time and money dealing with governments. I believe we should allow them to do what they do best, create products and jobs.

There is something else I hear from every Canadian of every political stripe. They said quit wasting money. Spend taxpayer money wisely. Get governments to work together to cut costs and streamline the process. The new agency makes plain, ordinary, everyday sense.

Do not listen to me. Listen to other Canadians. Let me quote from the presentation of the highly respected public policy forum before the finance committee: “ The compliance cost saving from a single administration would be between $171 million and $285 million. As well, we estimate administrative cost savings in the range of $97 million to $162 million”.

The creation and successful implementation of a new agency can save hundreds of millions of dollars for Canadians. Why on earth would we want to spend all that extra money on the process of collecting taxes when it could be put to so much more productive use ending overlap and duplication, cutting red tape and saving huge amounts of money? Those are all compelling reasons for creating a new agency.

There are still other strong reasons, technology for one. It takes a split second to transfer funds from St. John's to Victoria. The power of computers is doubling every 18 months. Electronic commerce is growing enormously and yet it can take a full year to hire a government auditor.

We simply have to modernize that system. We have to design faster and fairer staffing procedures. We need a system that can keep pace with the ever changing world.

The new agency will take advantage of new technologies to reduce paperwork, speed up decisions, keep employees and our clients, individual Canadians, travellers and businesses, satisfied. Technology is forcing us to make choices. Each province and territory can spend vast sums in creating its own software and computer systems. Or we have a choice, we can work together to produce those systems.

When the province of British Columbia decided to add the B.C. family bonus it could have built a whole new infrastructure, a whole new software system and it would have cost tens of millions of dollars. Instead it came to the federal government. We were able to deliver that program for a little over $2 million. That is working together. That is working smarter for the citizens.

Within two years $400 billion of business will be done on the Internet around the world. Of that, $13 billion will be done in Canada. Do we really want 12 different Canadian systems trying to collect the taxes on these transactions like the people in the Bloc want to do? Does that make sense, 12 different systems for business to deal with? We should be working together on a national basis to develop new programs that make it easier for taxpayers to file over the Internet or over the phone. We should be working together to develop the world's finest software for privacy protection. We should be working as one to spend limited resources to guarantee that technology serves the interest of Canada and the interest of Canadian taxpayers. Working together to serve the interest of Canadians makes sense.

We are creating the new Canada customs and revenue agency with the goal of forging new partnerships with the provinces. We are making a very serious effort to reach out.

This bill is about providing more options to the provinces, giving them alternatives that can better serve the public interest. The provinces and territories will have the right to nominate people for 11 of the 15 positions on the agency's board of management.

I must emphasize that the participation of the provinces is completely voluntary. The provinces will maintain control over provincial tax policy while the new agency will administer these policies. This means that a province or territory will retain full authority over the tax and will be accountable to its taxpayers for it.

The opposition parties seem fairly worked up by the fact we are moving to pass this legislation without having the provinces on board. I have met with the provinces. I have met them on a number of occasions. They all have supported the concept and we will work closely with them. But I am a realist. I know that we will have to work hard to earn the provinces' business. Frankly, I do not mind if the provinces want to kick the tires of the new agency or take it for a test drive. It will be a lot easier for them to buy into something that is a real entity than a proposal on paper.

Garth Whyte said for the CFIB: “If we wait for everybody to come on side it never gets done”. We have lots of examples. When we try to get everybody on board it never gets done. We have to move on and show leadership.

Mr. Blair Nixon of the Canadian Bar Association said: “Go forward. Pass it and let the agency convince those who are going to be able to enjoy the efficiencies”. Mr. Robert Spindler, representing our country's chartered accountants stated: “It is usually better to start the process and then draw people in rather than to turn it around and wait for the people to come and then develop the system. The agency represents an opportunity. Having the infrastructure at least allows that opportunity”.

This legislation provides for a uniquely Canadian model for customs and revenue administration, a model rooted in a non-partisan public service, a model based on partnership with the provinces, a model respectful of our Canadian parliamentary traditions, a model premised above all on fairness for Canadians and service to Canadians.

On every major front the concept of a new agency makes plain, ordinary, everyday common sense. But as I indicated, the bill before the House is far superior to the original plan. We have, for example, removed provisions that would have allowed for the imposition of user fees without the approval of elected officials. We have acted to guarantee that Canadians will receive service anywhere in Canada in the official language of their choice. We have ensured the agency will have the flexibility to deal with the fundamental personnel issues of hiring, training and retaining quality employees.

Most important, we have acted to strengthen ministerial accountability. Over and over again I heard from Canadians that political accountability is absolutely paramount if we want to guarantee fairness to Canadians. Individuals and organizations alike were adamant that the Minister of National Revenue retain the primary stewardship role.

I took that message very much to heart. As I have said time and time again, the bill does not mean the agency will not be part of the government.

The new Canada customs and revenue agency will remain proudly in the public service of Canada and a strong federal agency. For example, whenever a member of parliament wants me to inquire into the fairness of how a specific case is handled, I will have the power to do so. I will respond directly to them, as I do now.

Let me be crystal clear about the accountability measures contained in this bill. The Minister of National Revenue will be fully accountable to parliament. The Auditor General of Canada will audit the agency's books and the agency's work. A corporate business plan must be submitted to the minister for Treasury Board for approval. The minister will submit an annual report on its operations to parliament.

There is also a mandatory review of recourse mechanisms by a third party after three years, as provided in section 59 of the bill. A summary of the results will be included in the agency's annual report to parliament.

The Public Service Commission can review and report on the agency's staffing procedures.

Parliament will conduct a legislative review in five years.

No private sector member of the board of management will have access to any file of any taxpayer. Only the minister will have that oversight power.

As the Canadian Federation of Independent Business told the finance committee of this House less than two weeks ago, “Bill C-43 addresses the main concerns of political accountability, privacy and provincial autonomy identified by our members”.

As the Institute of Chartered Accountants told the same committee:

It is clear that comments provided... during the consultations, were heard and taken into account. We're pleased to see that under Bill C-43, the Minister of Revenue will retain responsibility for this Agency and it will be structured to allow for close Ministerial oversight and, in particular, that the Minister's power of inquiry into any activity of the Agency will be maintained.

As both the bar association and the tax foundation put it to the same committee, “We support the initiative currently being advanced by this government”.

The people on this side of the House consult with Canadians, they listen to Canadians and they respond, just as we have in this bill.

As much as I welcome such serious backing for this bill, I am well aware that the creation of the agency is only the beginning of the process.

Earning the trust of as many provinces as possible is essential. I am trying to do that by building a better framework.

Ensuring fairness for every single taxpayer is also very critical. That will be my priority every hour of every day. Canadians deserve nothing less.

Treating our incredibly dedicated employees with understanding and empathy is vital. I know some of them are a bit apprehensive about change. I will do my very best to make the transition as easy as possible.

Safeguarding the faith of Canadians in our tax system is of the utmost importance. That, after all, is what makes it all work.

I promise the members of the House that, regardless of what happens to this bill, I will soon come forward with a fairness action plan and I will deliver on my word.

I intend to continue seeking advice from the vast range of Canadians on means to improve service to taxpayers. With the help of members of parliament from all parties, I will act on that advice.

The truth is that I feel deeply honoured to be the trustee of Canada's tax system. It is a fine and honourable system held in high regard around the world. It is an amazing system premised on honesty, voluntary assessment and fair payment of taxes owing. It is a system upheld by public servants of hard work and decency.

The job of every member of parliament is to take the necessary steps to make a great system even better. The job of every member of parliament is to ensure that our tax system is unquestionably the world's finest and fairest, and that it remains so. Our job is to take the necessary steps to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the modern era. Our job is to eliminate the red tape, chop away the overlap, cut wasteful costs, build new partnerships, take advantage of technology, make the most of far-sighted management practices, offer better service and make the system work to Canada's advantage.

This legislation is a major step in that direction. This legislation is a major step forward. This bill is all about providing better service to the provinces and the territories, to businesses and, most importantly, to individual Canadians.

I know that my friends in the opposition will want to mount vigorous criticisms of this bill. I respect that. I do not understand it, but it is the bedrock of democracy.

At the end of the day, however, I urge all members of parliament to remember three simple facts. First, there is only one level of taxpayer in Canada. Second, this bill has massive support from a wide range of Canadians. Third, this bill makes plain, ordinary, everyday sense to Canadians.

In the end, this bill is not about politics. It is about doing something positive for Canada.

I urge members of the House of Commons to vote yes to this bill and to do this with genuine enthusiasm.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister on finally having his bill brought before us at third reading. Unfortunately, it came before us after time allocation was invoked at each stage of the bill.

The minister said that this bill respects the finest traditions of the parliamentary system. If that is the case, then why did he cut short democracy? Why did he cut short democratic deliberation when it came to this bill?

I can tell the House why. It is because for months he was not able to get any degree of precedence or priority for this bill from the government House leader or from those who manage the government's legislative agenda. Suddenly they were seized with an urgency to ram this bill through before the Christmas break and they invoked time allocation.

The government announced its intention to invoke time allocation on both report stage and third reading only two hours into the debate. I must say that while I commend the minister for the work that he, his officials and his parliamentary secretary have put into this bill, I think it is disappointing, to say the least, that the government has, in passing such a critically important piece of legislation, so carelessly and callously disregarded the best traditions of democratic deliberation in this place.

The minister spoke at some length about the degree of consultation which was exercised in the development of Bill C-43, an act to establish the Canada customs and revenue agency. I would concur with him that his officials did a fine job in consulting, particularly on the technical aspects of the bill, with traditional interest groups like some of those he mentioned which have a great deal of familiarity with the tax laws and their application.

I would also commend the minister and his officials for having taken to heart some of the constructive criticisms that were levelled at earlier versions of his bill.

However, I would point out to the minister that his consultations fell far short when it came to the kind of democratic, political and public consultations which ought to surround any important piece of legislation such as this.

It is fine and well to set up an advisory board of technical experts who are extremely familiar with the Byzantine 1,300 page tax code and its associated regulations, and to sit around and talk with Revenue Canada union officials and people in the department about the framing of legislation of this nature, but that merely leaves about 30 million Canadians out of the process of consultation. This is where we think the minister and the government have completely failed to consult deeply and broadly with respect to the implications of this bill.

I suspect that some day when this bill is proclaimed and this new Canada customs and revenue agency comes into effect, there will be a sudden flurry of news stories in the media regarding the creation of this new agency and the passage into history of Revenue Canada. Canadians will suddenly wake up startled, wondering what is going on. I submit that the vast majority of taxpaying Canadians have little or no idea that this rather dramatic proposal has been made and will probably be adopted by the House tonight.

I think that it would have behoved the minister and the government to have consulted far more broadly and deeply with grassroots Canadians. I think it would have behoved government members to have voted for a Reform motion at the finance committee which sought to extend hearings beyond the two or three days on which hearings were held, to extend hearings across the country, to allow Canadians in communities across our country, those who work in Revenue Canada, those who are ordinary taxpayers and those who have concerns about the administration of the tax laws, to appear before us to prolong the debate so that this rather dramatic change was not suddenly sprung upon them.

I am also disturbed that the government did not, with respect to consultation, take at all seriously some of the very thoughtful and substantive amendments put forward by the opposition. I will grant that my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois put forward a number of dilatory amendments to essentially strike every clause of the bill. In a sense they were provoking the government into time allocation. However, I would submit that there were some very substantive and sensible amendments put forward at report stage by the official opposition.

The minister talked about common sense. Where was the common sense in the government voting against our Motion No. 7? Among other things, that motion would have inserted words like “the legislation should be enforced in a manner that respects the principles of fairness, impartiality and accountability”.

Why in the world did government members stand in this place last night to vote against ensuring that the legislation be enforced in a manner that respects fairness, impartiality and accountability? Are they against fairness, impartiality and accountability in this legislation?

It escapes me as to why the government voted against a motion to ensure that any new powers granted to the agency could only be granted by parliament and not simply by the cabinet through order in council. Why did the government vote against a motion to restrict this granting of further powers to this parliament and to remove the carte blanche power of the cabinet to grant such powers to the new agency?

These and other substantive motions which we put forward were voted down without apparently even a moment's consideration on the part of the government, which again causes me to question the sincerity of the minister's remarks with respect to consultation, listening to Canadians and following the debate.

Having said all of that about process—and I really do find it disappointing—let me say that there are certain redeeming aspects to this legislation. We in the official opposition have been quite consistent in pointing out that we feel there are certain incremental gains to be found in the kind of corporate culture of the new revenue agency which this bill envisions. We believe that it would be an improvement over the status quo for this new revenue agency to be released from the kind of burdensome, bureaucratic, inefficient, cookie-cutter style personnel and human resource policies enforced on it by the regulations of the Treasury Board and public service legislation. Creating greater flexibility in the revenue agency's management, hiring and personnel practices we think is a positive step forward.

However, the gains to be made in terms of flexibility of human resources management would allow the new agency among other things to pay some of its people on the basis of merit. It would allow the new agency to pay some of its senior highly skilled auditors competitive salaries vis-à-vis the private sector. All of these improvements could be achieved without Revenue Canada metamorphosing itself into an agency. It simply is not necessary.

Other opposition members and I have made the point again and again in the House and at committee that if the government simply wanted greater flexibility in hiring, firing and paying people, it could have done that without moving to an agency and without the bill that is before us today. The government did not need to create a new level of bureaucracy through the adoption of a commissioner and a patronage appointed board of directors. The government could have achieved the personnel efficiencies without potentially diminishing parliamentary accountability through the minister to parliament. It could have achieved these things simply by amending the statutes that govern personnel in the public sector.

That is not just my view. It is the view of the Canadian Tax Foundation which published an article suggesting that was a possibility. It is the view of the Library of Parliament, which produced an opinion for us that confirmed various amendments to existing statutes could have achieved the desired objective of greater flexibility in personnel management. I want to be absolutely clear for the record. That alleged rationale simply does not hold up.

Another rationale which the government presented for this legislation was that it would create greater efficiency through the removal of much of the current overlap and duplication between the provincial and federal governments in tax collection and administration. The bill would concurrently reduce compliance costs for businesses which today must fill out tax forms and in some provinces must comply with two separate tax bureaucracies. The government argues sensibly that compliance costs would be reduced under a single tax agency since the business taxpayer would only have to fill out one corporate tax form as opposed to two.

The government solicited an opinion from the Public Policy Forum which indicated there would be a potential savings to the economy of a couple of hundred million dollars through reductions in compliance costs if all 10 provinces were to participate in the agency proposal. That is the big caveat. The government has thrown around this argument about efficiency gains and reduced compliance costs and at the same time it has not told Canadians this requires the full, complete, unanimous participation of all 10 provinces.

It is absolutely evident to all with eyes to see that this agency does not have the support of all 10 provinces or even a majority of provinces or even a single province, at least as of this date. We know of only one province. The Government of Nova Scotia has indicated its willingness to participate in a very modest way with this new agency through the administration of its workers compensation system. The Government of Nova Scotia could very easily have contracted with Revenue Canada to assist it with its WCB system under the current departmental model of Revenue Canada. Bill C-43 is completely unnecessary to achieve the objectives of such provinces as Nova Scotia participating on the WCB front.

What do we see as we look across the country from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia? After nearly two years of consultation and pressure and lobbying on the part of the Minister of National Revenue, at least nine provinces have indicated that they are not prepared to sign on to this new agency. The minister and government members will say that the provinces have not said that they are opposed to the idea.

Certainly the Government of Quebec has indicated that it has absolutely no interest whatsoever in any circumstances of ceding tax collection authority to this new federal agency.

The province of Ontario has indicated publicly and to me in writing through the Minister of Finance, Mr. Eves, that it has no particular interest at this point. The Government of Ontario has suggested that it is looking at greater flexibility, not greater federal control over its tax collection and tax policies through the possible opting out of the federal-provincial income tax collection agreements and the adoption of a tax on income process as opposed to the tax on tax which currently exists.

Similarly the province of Alberta and its provincial treasurer Mr. Day have indicated that they really have no interest in this, at least at this point. The province of Alberta is looking at some rather dramatic changes in tax policy which would perhaps preclude any efficiencies gained by participating with a single revenue agency such as the one proposed in this bill.

As we look across the country we see at least three provinces which seem to be out of the game and we see six or seven other provinces which are not really interested but have not yet closed the door. Why is the government proceeding with legislation which is predicated on the participation of the provinces whose basic rationale is co-operation between the provincial and federal governments, when the other partners, that is to say the 10 provinces, have not yet offered to participate and have not yet agreed to engage in this new agency? This is a legitimate question and one which the minister has not yet provided an adequate answer to.

With respect to flexibility of personnel management and human resources and with respect to efficiency through the reduction of overlap, duplication and compliance costs, we see that the government has not made its case.

Having said those things, I think the basic structure of the bill is not malignant. As I mentioned, there are incremental improvements in public sector administration which could be achieved through other statutes.

Let me add parenthetically that the changes to employment practices contemplated by this bill could very easily be and ought to be applied to every department of the government. The minister has made a compelling case that the current Treasury Board guidelines with respect to the employment of public servants are far too rigid and far too bureaucratic and do not create a culture of efficiency in the revenue department. If that is the case in the revenue department, as I believe it to be, then equally it is the case in other government departments.

I would ask the government why it is prepared to change the personnel regime with respect to Revenue Canada, the largest government department which employs approximately 40,000 to 45,000 individuals, but it is not prepared to apply the same principles of personnel management to every department of government. Why is the government not prepared to do what the Government of the United Kingdom has done with respect to its agencies? Why is the government not prepared to do what the Government of New Zealand has done with respect to the corporatization of the public sector there?

We could apply these same principles elsewhere without diminishing parliamentary accountability if this legislation is crafted properly. It makes very little sense for the government to be myopically focused on one department while leaving the rest of the public service in the current strictures of the Treasury Board rules.

Our principal concern on Bill C-43 is the potential for diminished parliamentary accountability, for accountability to Canadian taxpayers who after all are the people who really hold sovereignty in this country. These are the people who day after day put in an honest day's work and come home to find that up to half of their paycheque has been consumed by politicians and bureaucrats at all three levels of government. These are Canadians, the vast majority of whom are honest, law-abiding taxpayers who want to comply with the tax laws. They want to pay their fair share but they have felt increasingly over the past years that they are paying more than their fair share.

The average Canadian is working harder today than he or she ever has before in Canadian history. Statistics Canada tells us that the average Canadian family now works longer hours and more hours with more two income families than at any point previously in our history, yet they are coming home with less money in their pockets after tax. Why? Not because they are not working hard enough, not because people in the private sector economy are not taking enough risks, but it is because governments continue to consume a larger and larger percentage of the fruits of the labours of Canadian taxpayers.

Revenue Canada every business day collects roughly a billion dollars. That is a billion dollars sucked out, hoovered out of the pockets of Canadian taxpayers. I see even you are flabbergasted, Mr. Speaker. It is remarkable. We sit here in this place thinking that this is sort of commonplace; we authorize another spending bill, authorize another tax bill and sooner or later it all adds up.

That is not my figure. It is the figure of the minister of revenue. He is quite proud of boasting that his department collects a billion dollars each business day. It is about $120 billion that is collected in normal revenues, the gross revenues of the GST plus corporate tax revenues. The figure is enormous.

At the end of the day, Canadians are telling us that they are paying too much tax, that the tax system is too complex. Too often when they are dealing with Revenue Canada, they feel guilty until proven innocent under the current tax system. That is just plain wrong.

A voluntary system such as ours which relies on voluntary compliance requires the absolute trust of taxpayers in the collection system. The moment that trust is impugned, the moment Canadians lose trust in the tax collection process, the basis of a voluntary compliance system is thrown into question.

That is why we need to be absolutely certain in debating this bill that the agency we are creating enhances and does not diminish the trust between the taxpayer and the tax collector. It is why we must be absolutely clear that this bill strengthens rather than weakens the accountability of the tax collectors in this agency to taxpayers through their elected representatives in this parliament.

It would be a grave error were we to adopt a bill which included even the possibility, the mere potential of a diminishment of parliamentary accountability of the tax collecting agency and that accountability through this parliament to taxpayers.

Parliament came into being as members well know largely as a result of the tension between the commoners, the taxpayers in earlier parts of our history and the crown. Parliament essentially became the body which ensured that the taxes collected by the crown were done so in a fair, legal and democratic way. It ensured that no one, including the monarch, was above the law.

And here we are today contemplating the passage of a bill that will give the executive branch of government further enormous power in tax collection through this agency and has the potential of diminishing parliamentary accountability. The minister will say that he remains responsible for the revenue agency under this bill and that therefore the accountability could not possibly be diminished.

Among other substantive amendments put forward by the opposition last night, the government voted against a motion in my name saying that the minister was responsible for “all aspects of the revenue agency”. We simply wanted some minor amendments to clarify that the minister would be responsible for all aspects of the agency because the bill is unclear about that.

The bill gives responsibility to the minister in section 6, but later it gives responsibility for the agency to a board of management in section 14. Even later it gives responsibility to a chair in section 22, and in later sections of the bill it gives responsibility to a commissioner.

The government says these are different kinds of responsibility that will be exercised in different ways. I do not understand that bureaucratic bafflegab. All I understand is that the bill takes responsibility, which today is completely in the hands of the minister who is accountable to the House and through the House to millions of Canadian taxpayers, and delegates it to a board of patronage appointees, to a commissioner appointed by cabinet and to this agency. Where does the buck stop? It is not absolutely clear.

It is with the very grave concern of diminished accountability that we in the official opposition have proposed a series of amendments which would enshrine due process in the tax collection administration of the government. We have proposed a taxpayer bill of rights and the creation of an office for taxpayer protection, which we say would strengthen and deepen accountability rather than diminish it.

Why is that necessary? I have talked about the theoretical argument that tax collection is an awesome power. Next to the criminal law power that we wield in parliament, the power to collect taxes is the most significant and potentially destructive power. Some have said that the power to tax is the power to destroy. It is an awesome power that we wield here. It is an awesome power that we grant to officials of the revenue department and the future revenue agency to exercise on our behalf, on behalf of the crown and parliament.

Sometimes, believe it or not, that power is abused. The Minister of Revenue thinks his department and all his 45,000 officials are completely above and beyond reproach. I have no doubt that most of them are, but I equally have no doubt that from time to time, in fact every day, honest, law-abiding, voluntarily complying Canadian taxpayers find themselves harassed by overzealous, non-compassionate and out of control tax bureaucrats.

Every member of the House, I am sure, has faced case files from constituents who have done everything according to the law, everything ethically, exercised due diligence and have nevertheless found themselves getting the short end of the stick from Revenue Canada.

I raise the matter, for instance, of Mrs. Suzanne Thiessen from Winnipeg. I have raised this matter before in question period and elsewhere. Suzanne Thiessen is a Manitoba taxpayer who found last year that she had to make an insurance claim with the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation, the MPIC. She discovered that somehow, without her authorization, the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation had obtained confidential knowledge from her tax returns to the MPIC.

How does it happen? The minister says that confidentiality will not be compromised by the bill. He says it is not by the current department, but we know that is not the case because I have received through the Thiessens and others over half a dozen files of individuals in Manitoba who had their confidential tax information leaked by Revenue Canada to that provincial crown corporation.

This is against the law, but what can somebody like Mrs. Thiessen do? She is a person of ordinary means. She cannot afford to hire some high priced downtown Winnipeg tax lawyer. She is not connected to senior officials in the department, so she complains and raises her concern with a member of the opposition, as well she should. Part of our role is to act as ombudsmen.

I am duty bound to raise the matter with the minister of revenue, as I have done twice in the House. What kind of response do we get to this breach of confidentiality? None whatsoever. The minister and his previous parliamentary secretary have said on this file that they would look into it. This was more than six months ago and we still have not get received an answer.

When it comes to the confidentiality of Mrs. Thiessen's tax information, the current process of accountability did not work. It will be even less likely to work under the governance of the new agency, its commissioner and board that are not immediately accountable to parliament.

I have raised what I think is the most outrageous case of taxpayer abuse with which I am familiar, the case of Janice Collingridge, a lady who lives in Calgary. Janice Collingridge is a high stem quadriplegic. She cannot move. She cannot speak. She cannot breathe without the assistance of a respirator. She lives independently in an apartment with the assistance of a provincial government disability grant. The provincial Government of Alberta has provided her with this grant to contract with home care workers to come in and help her live independently.

Mrs. Collingridge was going about her life, living independently with the assistance of the grant, and along came the tax cops from Revenue Canada who said that they were going to audit Mrs. Collingridge's books. She asked “What is there to audit? All I get is the grant”. They said they were going to take a look at how she was spending it.

They found that Mrs. Collingridge using some modern technology had managed to print out on a computer some kind of a work schedule for her home care contractors. The Revenue Canada bureaucrats said they were sorry to tell Mrs. Collingridge that the work schedules constitutes essentially terms of employment. These people who are working in her home were actually employees, not contractors, and she is therefore liable to pay Revenue Canada over $5,000 in back payroll taxes because they have been employees of hers for years and she has been evading taxes.

Can we believe it? This is more money than she has in her life savings. She is a high stem, low income, non-verbal quadriplegic, and the officials of the government dragged her into tax court in Calgary. These heartless, cruel and non-compassionate tax collectors trying to meet their de facto quota dragged this person who does not have the resources, even the physical resources, to defend herself into court. They tried to shake her down for that $5,000 plus interest and penalties. That is what is wrong with the tax system.

I have raised this matter with the minister. I know there are other matters like it. Tax lawyers can tell us about them. MPs can tell us about them. What does the minister say? He says “We will take a look at the file”. No response.

I raised it in September 1997. It has been 12 or 13 months with no answer as to whether the government believes that home care grants from the government to the severely disabled constitute taxable income for payroll tax purposes. It will not answer that question.

If the minister who has to sit here and evade my questions will not answer them and will not look into this kind of gross and extreme abuse, how much less likely is he to answer, if he can say “Mr. Speaker, I am the minister responsible for an agency and there is a board and a commissioner in place which have to deal with these policies. I as minister cannot possibly second guess those officials?” That is my concern. It is a serious concern that has not been addressed by the government.

That is why exercising our responsibility to provide an alternative to the government, the official opposition has put forward a series of amendments which would ensure that the Suzanne Thiessens and the Janice Collingridges of the country and thousands of others receive the help that is needed.

I will comment on another case. It is a case of a dentist in Calgary who came to my office recently to tell me what had happened. He was subdividing some land he owned for development. Before the subdivision he sought a ruling from Revenue Canada, exercising his due diligence as an honest and ethical taxpayer, as to whether or not GST would be applicable to the sale of these lots. A Revenue Canada official looked at it and responded with a letter, an opinion, saying no, that under the current tax laws the sale of these lots would not have GST applied to them.

This honest taxpayer sold his lots and made his profit after having taken a risk and having created some wealth for our economy. A year later Revenue Canada came along and said “Excuse me, sir, but we are afraid to inform you that the day before you sold those lots Revenue Canada sent out an interpretation bulletin changing its understanding of the tax act and the application of the GST. We are now telling you our ruling notwithstanding, that you are to be retroactively assessed tens of thousands of dollars in back GST on those lots. Even though you exercised due diligence, even though you planned according to the information we gave you, we sent out an interpretation bulletin that probably not more than a half dozen bureaucrats and tax lawyers read, and you are going to have to pay us back taxes”.

Those kinds of things happen every day of the week in Canada. There is no accountability when it happens. There is no way that people like the Janice Collingridges, the Suzanne Thiessens and the thousands of others have recourse to high price tax lawyers. Janice Collingridge only managed to get her matter thrown out of court because she had a lawyer offer her assistance pro bono.

That is why we have proposed the adoption of a taxpayers bill of rights. Let me be crystal clear. I said all along to the government that if it were to adopt or agree even to consider adopting a taxpayers bill of rights and an office for taxpayer protection along the lines of what we have proposed, we would support the bill because we would see enhanced rather diminished accountability. The government has not even had the straightforwardness to respond to our offer.

What would the proposed taxpayers bill of rights do? Essentially it would enshrine in one piece of legislation all the rights to due process taxpayers ought to have. Some people would ask whether we already have a taxpayers bill of rights. No. What we have is a declaration of taxpayers rights brought in by then minister Perrin Beatty in 1985. It is a worthwhile document. Basically it is a motherhood statement, but it has no teeth, no sanctions. It is just a statement of principle. It is not legislation. It does not have statutory force. It does not impose any sanctions on Revenue Canada if it steps out of bounds.

Our taxpayers bill of rights has teeth, has sanctions and clearly guarantees accountability. It would, among other things, enumerate the right of taxpayers to understand the tax laws they are required to comply with in plain language. It would give them the right to be treated in a professional manner by the agency. It would give them the right to complain about poor treatment or service and to receive a written response from the employee's supervisor. If the response is not satisfactory, the taxpayer would have the right to be heard by more senior officials. It would give taxpayers the right to pay the amount of tax required by law and no more. Revenue officials would be required to inform taxpayers of overpayment.

We recently saw in the auditor general's report cases where millions of dollars were collected in overpayments by the government, millions coming from pensioners on fixed incomes who cannot afford tax accountants and are paying more than they should.

It would give taxpayers the right to know for what purpose information will be used and what penalties will apply if information is not provided. It will give them the right to represent themselves or appoint someone to act in their place in any dealings with the agency, and the right to record any and all meetings with agency officials without being required to give advance notice.

It would give them the right to continue to to appeal agency rulings, first administratively through the existing appeals branch and a fairness process and, if necessary, through the judicial system. It would require that the agency waive penalties and interest wherever it can be shown that a taxpayer acted in good faith, as the dentist in Calgary did with respect to his lot sales, and without the intention to evade, or where the taxpayer relied upon incorrect advice provided by an agency official as in the case I mentioned.

In cases where penalties and interests can cause severe financial hardship or in cases where reassessments can be proven to cause severe financial hardship, alternative arrangements could be made through abatement or negotiated repayment schedules. Where fraud or evasion is suspected, officials would be permitted to seize or freeze assets after first demonstrating a compelling reason why such action should be taken and taxpayers would have the right to complain to the office for taxpayer protection in cases where freezing or seizing of assets could be expected to create serious financial hardship for others.

We have cases where that has happened, including a disabled young man in Niagara who had his personal bank account frozen because Revenue Canada was investigating his father. He could not pay rent or buy groceries.

All these rights I have just enumerated would be enforced by a taxpayer ombudsman, or the office for taxpayer protection, who could issue taxpayer protection orders where necessary to protect taxpayers from arbitrary treatment or treatment that could lead to undue financial hardship. He would report to parliament once a year. He would give a summary of at least 25 of the most serious problems encountered by Revenue Canada. He could assist taxpayers in resolving disputes with the agency. He could make recommendations on changes to the administrative and legislative apparatus of the agency.

I hope the government will give serious consideration to this honest effort on our part to deepen accountability in the tax collection process. I regret that because it has not yet done so, as the official opposition we have to vote against Bill C-43.

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11:15 a.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I start my presentation on Bill C-43, I would like to inform you that it has been agreed that I would be sharing my time with my charming colleague from Rimouski—Mitis.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

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Some hon. members


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Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members of this House for allowing me to share my speaking time.

Apparently, to lead is to listen, to consult and to act. With respect to Bill C-43, I am sure that our friends across the floor did not listen. I want to give an example that occurred during the clause by clause analysis of the bill.

My colleagues from the opposition, the hon. members for Calgary Southeast, Regina—Qu'Appelle and Kings—Hants, moved good and sensible amendments to this bill, but what did the Standing Committee on Finance do? It simply packed the gallery with Liberal members and gagged the opposition. Opposition amendments were ignored, which prompted the Bloc Quebecois to say “If that is how you want to play it, we will introduce 118 motions in amendment to make fun of the government.”

Only 18 organizations and some 50 people testified before the committee. Only two of these 50 individuals were totally in favour of Bill C-43. These were our revenue minister, naturally—the bill is his brainchild and I think he is somewhat proud of it—and André Vallerand.

Mr. Vallerand, as members will remember, is a former Quebec revenue minister under Robert Bourassa, a good Liberal. He did not come to tell us about the benefits or the flaws of Bill C-43. He simply came to talk like a politician, to discuss things and, I imagine, to get contracts from his Liberal friends in Ottawa, since Mr. Vallerand's company does consultation work and so on.

Of all the other organizations, none was fully supportive of the bill. Most were lukewarm, if not cold to this legislation, and the unions were totally opposed to it. But this bogus committee refused to hear the 18 organizations that came here, that travelled to Ottawa to express their views.

Incidentally, it is not the first time there are problems with this federal committee. Last year, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. We travelled across Canada to hear testimonies on what should be included in the budget of the Minister of Finance for the current year. No proposal made by these witnesses was included in last year's budget.

This year, my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois and the other opposition parties who travelled across the country are telling us that not much of what they heard during the hearings is included in the report which, incidentally, was leaked to the media, as seems to be the trend right now. It got the same treatment as many other reports that are supposed to be kept secret until tabled and read in the House, but that are leaked to the newspapers instead. They are leaked to friends. Why? To impress people? I have no idea.

If governing is about listening and consulting, my friends across the way have a lot to learn. Governing is about respecting people. With the arrogance we have come to know, this government simply gagged us during clause-by-clause study of the bill. They did the same at second and third reading. Is that respect? No, it is not.

Another example of their lack of respect surfaced in the newspapers with the report that the Prime Minister went to Alberta to announce a youth assistance program. Not one provincial minister, not even the premier of Alberta, had heard anything about this new program. This is a flagrant lack of respect.

Governing is about being fair. In the short year and a half since my arrival in this place, I have seen daily examples of the government members' unfairness. They are arrogant, bulldozing ahead like little dictators, doing what they want with no concern about respect.

There was the example of the millennium scholarships that were supposed to get the Prime Minister some publicity. What did the government do? It consulted nobody. It poked its nose into areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as education. It invested billions of dollars, telling Canadians and Quebeckers that it was running the country. This is disrespectful and unfair.

The government over there is patting itself on the back for having attained zero deficit and for now making a profit. A profit at whose expense? The provinces'. Since 1993, all the profit the government has made accounts for 49% of the cuts it has made in payments to the provinces for health, social services and education. Yet the government's expenditures in health, education and social services are only 17.2%.

Where is the fairness in slashing, in strangling, instead of doing some tidying up, putting affairs in order? Speaking of cutting back on waste, it is no big deal, a mere $220,000 the development bank in Montreal decided to invest in golf courses, not in their facilities but in memberships. A mere $220,000.

Yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue told us “No problem. This is an agency and they are supposed to be able to govern themselves properly. Golf memberships are a recognized business practice”. I'd like to know the Royal Bank's golf budget. I doubt it spends $220,000 a year on golf in the Montreal region. This shows a lack of respect.

Governing also means making choices. The government has chosen to establish agencies. From the experience it acquired with the agencies it has already established, it ought to be able to understand that the customs and revenue agency is quite simply doomed to failure like the rest or to look after and provide jobs for the friends of those in power. In my opinion, this is not sufficient grounds for establishing an agency which will cut at least 40,000 public service jobs in the public service.

The majority of the representatives of the 18 organizations that appeared before the committee told us that the department of revenue had many shortcomings, but was improving considerably and a good team could be created there, since we have what is required to do so. Even the auditor general says the agency will not remedy the current problems in the department of revenue. That is what our auditor general says.

Why spend money to create another level of public officials? The appointment of a commissioner and a deputy commissioner creates another level of officials. I think the only reason the minister of revenue is keeping to this position is to please the Prime Minister and the President of the Treasury Board by saying “Our union is too powerful, so we will muzzle it”.

I mentioned existing agencies earlier. Before I give the floor over to my friend the member for Rimouski—Mitis, I would like to quickly go over the existing agencies. Let us look at the new wheat board in western Canada.

It comes. It goes. It flies by the seat of its pants. I do not know whether there is one too many or one too few wheels in the board, but we will soon find out.

There is Nav Canada, an agency that has relieved Transport Canada of all responsibility for air traffic control. Nav Canada simply decided to close the control tower in Gatineau. Nav Canada closed the tower at Baie-Comeau. An accident occurred at Baie-Comeau yesterday. Had there been controllers present at the Baie-Comeau tower, help might have arrived more quickly and more lives might have been saved. I do not know, but at least chance would have been on our side in this instance.

Nav Canada said “No problem. We will not cut jobs. At least for two or three years, we will not cut jobs”. It has been only 18 months since the agency was established and some 20% of jobs have been eliminated. What happened to the promise? On questioning, the Minister of Transport says “They are making adjustments. They are doing their job. They are responsible”.

There is the ADM, the Montreal airports agency. This issue is important to me and to all the members from the Lower Laurentians, because it means the region's survival,

Previously, there was a good and interesting arrangement. International flights landed in Mirabel and local and North American ones in Dorval. The year before they decided to close Mirabel down partially, Dorval had made $12 million in profit, Mirabel $13 million. It was not a record profit, but neither was it a loss.

On the strength of misleading studies, ADM management sold all of Quebec, including the Montreal region, on the idea that it would be better to transfer all flights from Mirabel to Dorval. This was done, but there has been chaos ever since. Flights are backed up and many from Europe now go to Toronto, not even stopping over in Montreal.

We have questioned the Minister of Transport and he replies that it is not the government's fault, that the agency is responsible for making its own decisions.

That is what we get with agencies. They are something a minister can hide behind, instead of doing his job and answering questions in the House about any problems in his particular department. He can wash his hands of his responsibilities. The government is afraid to govern, afraid to do its job. But its job is to make decisions that serve the interests of Quebeckers and Canadians. Its job is to act in everyone's interests, not just the interests of its friends and of the rich.

It has been hinted that, after the next budget, the rich, those earning over $50,000, would no longer pay the 3% surtax.

Governing is about making fair and equitable decisions, good decisions in the economic interests of all Quebeckers and Canadians. That is what governing is about, not what the government is doing.

My twenty minutes are up, so I will turn the floor over to my colleague, the member for Rimouski—Mitis. I have made it clear that Bloc Quebecois members are completely opposed to Bill C-43 and that we will be voting against it, as will, I hope, most of the opposition members.

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Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today for two reasons. First of all, because I would like to take part in this debate concerning Bill C-43, which establishes the Canada customs and revenue agency, but also to fulfill a commitment made by me on November 27, when I accepted a mandate from Quebec City radio personality Robert Gillet.

Every week, the private radio station he works for gives out the bolo award to the person who gets the most listener votes. On November 27, the Minister of Canadian Heritage was voted by the people of Quebec as the bolo award winner, for her involvement in the olympic games bids. So, I can say mission accomplished as far as the bolo award for the hon. member for Hamilton East is concerned.

Now, for a more serious mission, addressing Bill C-43. What amazes me is that no one, or virtually no one, in the Quebec and Canadian public seems to be aware of what is going on at the present time in the House in this connection.

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet a number of my constituents. I asked them all “What do you know about the Canada customs and revenue agency?” No one could answer, and yet we have spent a number of hours debating this already.

I asked myself why the information was not reaching the public. We have to find a way to inform people. It may be that our debates so far have been much too abstract for the public to realize the importance of this issue. We are discussing an extremely important issue, but the public does not seem to be aware of it.

The opposition made it clear why it objects to this bill. Since I was going to take part in today's debate, on the weekend I surfed the Internet to see what had been said last week, at second reading and during the clause by clause review at report stage.

I learned a few good ones. Among other things, I realized that the government introduced a bill that is a further symptom of the degenerative disease that has plagued it at least since the days of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a disease better known as “acute centralizationitis”. I know of no other disease that is a greater threat to Canada's future. This government never stops accusing us of acting in bad faith, of saying that we want to break up the country. Come to think of it, we did everything we could to save Canada, if only with the arguments we put forward during the debate on Bill C-43.

The government's negligence gives us one more reason to want to leave this country, because the government is truly insensitive to the perverse effects of this legislation.

The government has no qualms about creating a legal framework that will allow it to look over the provinces' shoulder at will, even though it means interfering in provincial jurisdictions.

This is a government that imposes gag orders in order to keep the opposition quiet and keep it from playing its role, basically.

Everyone knows this arrogant Liberal government forgets it has the support of only 38% of the population. So, the 62% of the population that we on this side of the House represent is trying to convince the government that it cannot proceed with its bill. It is a ridiculous bill that most Canadians reject.

So, day after day this government shows us its very twisted view of Canada's future. If the Liberal government were more democratic and less dictatorial, it would allow the opposition to express its dissent, especially because, since June 2, 1997 when it was unfortunately returned to power, this government has done nothing valid. It lets the time go by. It manages time, that is all. When things do not suit it, it manages time by stifling the opposition.

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Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

It takes out the baseball bat.

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Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Yes, as my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm has said, it takes out the baseball bat or its pepper shakers, which I add on my own.

So the government does not let the opposition express its dissent. On the contrary. This minority government in terms of votes and barely majority government in terms of seats was so afraid of having a hard time controlling its majority that it gave you, Mr. Speaker, the honour and us the pleasure of allowing you to sit, as an opposition member, even, in the Chair during our debates.

This says just how much Canadians decided. But I invite them seriously, right off, to follow the debates in this House daily so they do not get taken in the next election and can decide that the government deserves a holiday on the opposition benches next time.

Let us look at the situation a little more closely. Ever since it came to this House five years ago, the Bloc Quebecois has consistently supported the government whenever the bill before us was well structured, everything looked great and we had assurances from officials that all was in keeping with the many international treaties Canada is a party to.

We did, on occasion, suggest to the government a number of amendments, some of which the government actually accepted because, more often than not, these opposition amendments improved the government bill under consideration. In such cases, after a healthy debate that was beneficial to the people of Quebec and Canada, we helped move the bill forward, we did not object to it, we let the government take the necessary votes, where we either approved the bill or registered our dissent, without unduly dragging out debate.

However, on a number of occasions, the Bloc Quebecois did object to the speedy passage of a bill, which we felt did not make any sense, was not consistent with the interests of Quebec or Canada, lacked clarity or invaded provincial jurisdiction, or was too complex and required further consultation. We also stood our ground if the bill represented a major change from how we thought things should be done and the government was not allowing us enough time to present our views or was simply not interested in hearing what we had to say.

If anyone were to compare the number of times we have stood our ground in the last five years to the number of ridiculous bills the government used its majority to pass, we, the opposition parties, would win the day, compared to the government, which has bungled several bills, often completely ignoring accountability, and which is now taking cover behind a series of agencies so as not to be seen mismanaging the country.

It is interesting that every time the opposition's views differed substantially from those of the government, closure was invoked and any continuation of debate that might have resulted in common ground being found was squelched.

It is instructive to read all the impassioned speeches against closure made by members of the Liberal Party when they were in opposition, during the Mulroney era. In five years, the Liberals have already beaten the Mulroney government's record. Not a single government in recent democracy has gagged its opposition as often as this one. This shows how fundamentally unsure and dissatisfied they are with what they are doing.

They are no longer able to stand us telling them what a rotten job they are doing. They say “We will stop them from speaking, because it could get out to the public that we are doing a bad job”. The honeymoon continues, and until it is over, this government thinks it can keep getting re-elected. But the honeymoon is nearly over.

We criticize this government every day. Soon we will be bringing out the horrible truths, and I do not know which one is the worst.

There is something horrible about the arrogance of this government, which has done nothing but mark time since June 2, 1997. This is a government that does not govern, one that pockets the funds of workers and puts them to illegal use. This is a government which contributes each and every day to widening the gap between the haves and the have nots. This is a government which is saying that it is prepared to turn millions of dollars over to sports millionaires, while it refuses to pay the unemployed the benefits they need to support their families.

This is a government which has unjustly slashed transfer payments to the provinces in order to cut itself some slack to invest in propaganda, waving the flag, giving contracts to buddies, while middle-class taxpayers are getting poorer. This is a government which makes a conscious effort each and every day to ensure Quebec is punished, crushed, humiliated, made a mockery of.

But there is even more. Last Friday in this House, the Minister of Industry had the gall to not even try to hide his face when he responded to a question from the member for Laurentides, saying he was punishing us for having an opinion different from his. It is this different concept of the organization of a real federation that forces us, because he has understood nothing, to leave and to advance our plan, which offers much greater possibility for development and growth to the Quebec cultural community than this centralizing vision, and especially that of the Minister of Industry.

By imposing its gag order and ramming the bill through at third reading, the government agrees wittingly—and that is the crazy part—that the bill has major flaws, which will prevent it from serving the interests of the people of Quebec and Canada.

By wanting the bill passed at any cost, the federal government is gagging us to force us to end this debate before all the members have had a chance to express their ideas.

There is no urgency in this area. There was some urgency with respect to other bills, including the one on periodicals. There was some urgency about it, in order to protect an industry. When it comes to protecting an industry, the government is in no hurry, even though the opposition parties were offering to co-operate, with the exception of course of the Reform Party. We could have moved more quickly with that bill. It was to defend one of our industries, to defend Canadian culture. No, the government preferred to push ahead with a bill that will cause harm to everyone in Quebec and Canada.

There is no national crisis, nor international one. This bill requires major improvements.

Many provisions should have been included at report stage to make the bill acceptable to most parties in the House. This bill is far from enjoying unanimous support. Quite the contrary.

The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, who worked so hard to try to improve this legislation and who participated in the hearings, told the House that, when the committee conducted its clause by clause review of the bill, 18 groups, organizations or individuals came to the committee to state their views on this legislation. Two witnesses who appeared before the committee supported the bill: the minister who tabled it, and André Vallerand, a former Quebec revenue minister under Mr. Bourassa.

Because he is a good Liberal, Mr. Vallerand probably came to do some lobbying, just in case—he had carefully reviewed the bill—the government might need a chair, a deputy chair or a commissioner for that customs and revenue agency. He told himself “I will go to Ottawa and tell them their bill is perfect. This will get me a good job”.

The qualifications listed in the act for the positions of chair, commissioner or director are that the appointees must be Canadian citizens, but cannot be members of the Senate or House of Commons, or full-time public servants. An exception is made in the case of the commissioner.

Mr. Vallerand came and told the committee how great this agency would be. However, the 16 other groups that appeared before the committee explained, one after the other, why this agency should not be established as proposed. Some were lukewarm to the idea, some were timid in their objections, while others were very much opposed to the agency. The 16 other groups or organizations that appeared had strong reservations against the bill. But the government turned a deaf ear.

Our opposition is based on a large number of major and important reasons. The government turned a deaf ear not only to the groups that appeared before the committee, but to all the opposition parties. It is rejecting our input and it refuses to change anything.

It is frustrating to work as hard as the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles did, only to run into a wall of misunderstanding. To submit our recommendations, table our research or express our concerns would be pointless. The government is not interested in what the opposition can bring to this debate, because they know that, with a majority in the House, they can impose this legislation. Its meagre 38% of the popular vote should be enough to remind them to be more cooperative, more careful, more open, less arrogant and less conceited.

Bill C-43, which establishes the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, is an extremely important piece of legislation that affects all Quebeckers and all Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, through you, I would like to point out to our dear friends who are watching this debate that, by setting up this Customs and Revenue Agency, the Liberal government led by the little guy from Shawinigan is giving them, on Christmas Eve, a poisoned gift. I want the people to know how harmful this agency will be. I hope everyone who hears this message will repeat it to a family member during the holidays.

People throughout Quebec and Canada should know that, while thinking about giving tax breaks to our sports millionaires, the government is spinning a web in which they hope to catch every taxpayer owing a penny to Revenue Canada, but from which the rich will find it easy to escape, as usual.

I urge the people to use their privilege and make representations to their senators, in the other place, since they will have to rely on their cooperation to railroad such a harmful, vicious and dangerous bill for the people of Quebec and Canada.