Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to speak on Bill C-28, amendments to the Income Tax Act.
As I have said many times before, we have here a very complex income tax bill which is 464 pages in length. It deals with nine particular subjects according to the preamble. Is it any wonder that Canadians are losing faith with their tax system and the complexity of the Income Tax Act when it takes 464 pages of amendments to deal with some changes the Minister of Finance has announced to nine particular areas of the act.
These are the types of things that Canadians throw up their hands about and say “We have no idea how the Income Tax Act is administered, we do not understand it, all we know is we are getting taxed to death”. This type of bill and the complexity of it add credence to their argument.
I have also quoted before some of the paragraphs in these amendments. Let me quote paragraph 196(1) which deals with subparagraph 181.3(3)(d)(i) of the act. This is how it reads:
Subparagraph 181.3(3)(d)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(i) the amount that is the greater of
(A) the amount, if any, by which
(I) the corporation's surplus funds derived from operations (as defined in subsection 138(12)) as of the end of the year, computed as if no tax were payable under this part or part VI for the year.
It goes on and on. That kind of gobbledegook loses the taxpayer completely.
If we are ever to regain the confidence of the Canadian public when it comes to income tax and their faith in the system and that they are being treated fairly and properly, we have to realize that a complete rewrite of the Income Tax Act is long overdue. Its simplification and understanding by the ordinary person has to take precedence over this type of complexity that even challenges the best minds in the accounting and legal professions. This is why of course we have tax cases and tax courts wrangling over issues ad infinitum.
I remember too the famous case about two years ago where $2 billion left this country without taxes. The Department of Finance and the Department of National Revenue flip-flopped on advance tax rulings. They gave out misleading information to one person and gave a favourable tax ruling to somebody else. Hundreds of millions of dollars escaped taxation. As a result, people again lost confidence in the system.
The Minister of Finance should seriously think about simplification rather than adding more and more complexity.
I was listening to the speech of the parliamentary secretary, the previous speaker. Not all of it was really focused on the the details of the Income Tax Act. He got more on to the government's record and I would like to respond to the issues he raised.
He was taking great pride in the Team Canada approach whereby the federal government took trade missions around the world at great expense to the Canadian taxpayer. And sunscreen too. The premier of Alberta left his at home at great pain to himself. At great expense to the taxpayer, the trade missions went to different parts of the world to drum up business.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance would have us believe that these trade missions added significantly to the economic growth of this country, to the well-being and to the fact that we have dug ourselves out of the fiscal mess by balancing the budget. He failed to tell us that the countries they visited with Team Canada, the total exports to those countries, not the ones that Team Canada generated, but the total exports to those countries represented only 5% of the exports of our country.
If we say that our exports represent only 40% of our gross domestic product, then the total exports to those countries would represent at best 2% of our gross domestic product. Team Canada may have increased that 2% to 2.1% or maybe 2.05%. However, for the parliamentary secretary to stand up here and claim that these trade missions were the formula for success and have caused this country to be able to dig itself out of the debt hole it was in and to balance the budget is absolutely false and misleading. The $42 billion deficit which was number one in this country when the government took over in 1993 is significantly in excess of the exports we generated by these Team Canada junkets abroad.
I do hope that the government will evaluate the benefits of these Team Canada junkets, even if they do not take the sunscreen along with them. They will find that many of these junkets are not worth the effort when it comes to a return on taxpayers' dollars and investment. I do hope that the parliamentary secretary will refrain from the hype that carried him away to make these extraordinary claims about the benefits of the Team Canada junkets abroad.
I would also like to talk about health care. He talked about health care. He talked about how the Liberal government said that it was protecting health care with the cash transfers. He said the fact was that they were putting more money back into Health Canada and into health for Canadians by putting in a floor of $12.5 billion in cash investments.
This floor, as my hon. colleague from Peace River pointed out, is 30% less than the cash that was going to the provinces when this government took over in 1993. They had intended to reduce it to $11.5 billion. In the last election in order to counter the lack of faith Canadians had in what the government was saying, I remember not just the Minister of Health but the Prime Minister saying there was going to be an absolute guarantee that the government would put $12.5 billion cash into health care. Unfortunately the Canadian public bought that line.
Late in the fall of 1997 the Liberal government tabled the supplementary estimates (A). On page 48 under “Statutory—Canada Health and Social Transfer” it states that it has been reduced from $12.5 billion to $12.328 billion. That is a reduction of $172 million below the fundamental floor.
This Prime Minister and this government committed to Canadians that they would not under any circumstances transfer less than $12.5 billion to the provinces to pay for health care. Within a few months in the supplementary estimates, where the government normally asks for more money, we find out it is taking money away from Health Canada, from the transfers to the provinces, and is using that money in other areas.
The Canadian public have been misled. The Canadian public have been sold down the drain. Obviously a commitment by the Prime Minister and the Liberal government to Canadians at election time is meaningless and worthless. We have the proof here. The $12.5 billion was a commitment that Canadians could take to the bank. A very short few months later it was reduced by $171 million as per the supplementary estimates (A) which were tabled in the fall. It is an absolute disgrace that this government should deceive the Canadian public in this way.
The Minister of Health and the Prime Minister should be standing in the House to explain to Canadians how their unconditional guarantee of $12.5 billion has already been eroded. And we can expect to see it being eroded even more.
Health care is an important issue. As my colleague from Peace River has said, while Canadians have talked about the erosion of health care and blamed the provinces because they are in charge of delivering health care, it is a fact that the federal government has cut and cut and continues to cut the amount of money that is put into health care. That is the major cause of the crisis in health care today. It has to change.
That is what the Reform Party has said it would change. We said during the election campaign that we would put money back into health care and would not surreptitiously cut beyond the floor which we committed ourselves to.
Let Canadians be warned that what they hear from this government is not necessarily what they get. There is proof in the pudding.
Bill C-28 in part deals with education by the fact that it allows for contributions to registered education savings plans to be increased from $2,000 to $4,000 per beneficiary. This is an acknowledgement that education is becoming more and more expensive.
Yes, education is expensive. Demonstrations were held across the country last week by students who told us they are being buried under a mountain of debt. By the time they get their degree and find a job they are mortgaged to the hilt. Their capacity to start building a life of their own by starting families, acquiring houses, cars and so on is seriously compromised by virtue of the fact that they have a mountain of debt. Some of them are $20,000, $30,000 and even $40,000 in debt by the time they graduate from university.
The answer is not necessarily to just give another $2,000 to those who can put money into an education fund for their children. Many families cannot afford to save that money in advance or in anticipation of their children going to university.
This government has to take a serious look at the cost of education in this country and the way money is being spent in this country. It needs to ensure we are getting some kind of value for the education dollars we spend. Surely when we spend money on education the concept is that an educated child will be produced, that when a child goes to school for grades one through twelve, by the end of twelve years we will have an educated child who meets a minimum standard. When that child goes on to university he should be capable of meeting the challenges of the university because the prior school education has provided him with the tools necessary to survive and to thrive at university rather than the opposite.
This past weekend I read an article in the Globe and Mail about the fact that one university in Ontario was having severe financial problems in paying its bills. Therefore it reduced the minimum standard for eligibility into the university. It accepted a large number of students who were guaranteed to fail, and they were failing. We were giving these people a false hope, we were wasting a year of their time, we were spending money on education they could not absorb because they had not acquired the skills from school. This was all because the university needed the bodies on the student roll in order to generate the finds to flow from the province and the federal government so it could pay its bills.
That is a funny methodology for ensuring you can balance your books. It guarantees waste of millions of dollars of university education because it accomplishes nothing except that it turns people away and shows they cannot be a success in this world. This government can rethink the way education is done in this country. It is time we started to put the onus on the educational industry.
Surely the objective is to produce an educated child. If we start with that premise, then the focus for where the money should flow will surely improve. In the private sector it is only businesses that provide good quality products that will prosper and thrive. This is because they know they have a market that is prepared to buy their products. If they do not provide quality products they will not continue to be around. Yet we have universities and other schools that are not providing anything close to a quality product and we keep them afloat and continue to give them raises, increases, more money and bigger budgets while we get nothing in return. Much can be done to rethink how we spend education dollars in this country and universities are a good place to start.
Take a look at Bill C-28 in its complexity and the way we are trying to nickel and dime the Canadian taxpayer into paying more taxes. The thrust of most of Bill C-28 is to close little loopholes so we can get more tax from this person and more tax from that corporation and so on.
However, now we have a balanced budget. The November Fiscal Monitor showed that we have a fairly significant surplus so far this year. I know the Minister of Finance will add on his $800 million extra accounting charge, which really is not an accounting charge but he will want to stick it on anyway as he did it last year. The auditor general pointed that out. He did that the year before with $960 million while the auditor general said he could not. But the Minister of Finance said that he wanted to do it anyway. After this kind of smoke and mirrors I think the Minister of Finance will tell us that we have a balanced budget.
The question now before Canadians is what to do with this balanced budget or with any excess cash that is available.
We already know that our hon. friends on the other side of the House are just itching to get their hands on that money to spend it on their own little pet projects.
Surely after 30 years of deficit financing, where we have run our credit card up to $600 billion, $20,000 per Canadian, which includes newborns, we should try to resist the concept of saying my goodness, now it is my chance to buy some more goodies.
We have four simple choices for what to do with a balanced budget and any excess. First, we can pay down the debt. Many Canadians want to pay down the debt. Second, we can reduce taxation. We are grossly overtaxed in this country and we can reduce taxation. Third, there is a need for strategic reinvestment in some areas. I can think of health care as being one. Regardless of what the Minister of Health thinks about taking more money out of health care, we in the Reform Party think that health care needs some reinvestment. The fourth is to invest in more goodies. Unfortunately this government feels that buying more goodies, more things it can woo the voters with, is more important than tax relief, debt reduction and strategic reinvestment.
I do hope that in the next short little while this government will come to its senses and not flagrantly waste the wonderful opportunity that this country has to once and for all put ourselves in a sound fiscal situation where we can get our finances in order and ensure that this country continues to grow to become one of the great countries in the world. Unfortunately it will not be with this government at the helm.