Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party to listen to what I have to say, as well the member from the NDP who never seems to have any solutions except criticizing.
Today I rise to voice my opposition to Bill C-21, an act to amend the Small Business Loans Act.
The purpose of this act is to extend the small business loans program to March 31, 1999 and to raise the government's liability under this program to $15 billion, a $1 billion increase. Few will deny the importance of small businesses. They symbolize the entrepreneurial spirit and the work ethic that have made this country what it is today. They are the engines of the growth of the Canadian economy.
In 1994 more than 98% of all businesses in Canada were small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. In 1995 the numbers indicate that small business accounted for over 40% of Canada's private sector economic output.
My wife owns a dry-cleaning store in Calgary. I am a junior partner. She has been operating this business for the last 15 years. I am an owner of a small international consulting firm. I was a business delegate with Team Canada to Asia. Therefore I know the struggle that small business owners go through just to make ends meet.
I also have firsthand experience in dealing with well intentioned but misguided government policies such as the small business loans program. This program does not successfully aid small business owners who truly need assistance.
The small business loans program has incurred a net loss estimated at $210 billion for loans issued between 1993 and 1995. Why? This program lacks accountability and clear objectives.
The banks are guaranteed the money at no risk to them if there is a default. Businesses will access more money than they can handle, thereby raising their debtloads. The government will try to look like a friend of small business by implementing this program. Lastly, enforcement is poor.
The auditor general, a non-partisan evaluator of government spending, has recommended that this government make a comprehensive evaluation of this program before it is extended. I agree with the auditor general because of the following reasons.
The Canadian economy is in a state of transition. No one would have expected in 1961 when the program was created the extent of change that would occur during the following 35 years. The Canadian economy has gone from being primarily based on the manufacturing sector to now being dominated by the service sector.
Who would have envisaged the growth of the high tech sector and the effects of the Internet in 1961? The Canadian economy and the business environment has changed and therefore the needs of small businesses have changed.
The current small business loans program does not take this into account. As well, the auditor general remains doubtful that the program's move toward full cost recovery will succeed. He suggests that careful monitoring and better systems to forecast the future performance of this program are needed. He also calls on this government to strengthen the program's auditing of potential borrowers.
The auditor general recommends that the department provide Parliament with information in order to allow us to assess whether this program is effective.
I have just listed several programs that both the auditor general and my Reform caucus colleagues share about the small business loans program.
We agree with the government on one thing, that we must encourage the growth of small business. This entails giving entrepreneurs access to capital.
While the Liberals feel that the inefficient and wasteful government programs will achieve this, the official opposition believes businesses will thrive if taxes are cut and bureaucratic red tape is reduced.
As one of those with experience in small businesses, I can attest to the havoc this government's excessive taxes and unnecessary bureaucratic paper work have on the small business community.
Business owners need the government off their backs. They need an economic environment which allows entrepreneurial spirit to excel. Let us start by reducing the tax burden that, simply put, kills jobs and profit.
Let us for the moment reflect on the tax burden for an average small business, the payroll taxes, CPP, UIC and WCB. While the objectives of this program are noble, government mismanagement has raised these premiums to very unacceptable high levels.
Then there is the business tax, a tax that is not tied to performance but to space occupation. Witness what happened in Toronto yesterday when small business owners were hit with huge tax increases.
Then we have the property taxes charged by the landlord through the operating tax, and finally the GST, a supposedly revenue neutral tax. Ask any small owner about GST. The GST came from their profits as competition and consumer resistance forced businesses to absorb this tax.
Therefore it is no coincidence that the provinces with the lowest provincial tax rates, Alberta and Ontario, are leading the country in job creation.
It is also no coincidence that the United States, whose taxes are considerably lower than ours, has an unemployment rate of under 7% and dropping while ours remains stuck at more than 9%.
The government had an ideal opportunity to show its commitment to the hundreds of thousands of small business owners of Canada by reducing the tax burden in the last budget.
Did the government do that? No. In fact it went the other way and compounded the problem by throwing more money at what can best be described as a band-aid solution.
Rather than setting up more rules government should be allowing entrepreneurs to keep more dollars in their pockets, which will allow them to hire the extra person they need.
Government interference in the marketplace discourages the development of alternative and innovative financing solutions for small business. At the same time there must be a re-evaluation of the way in which financial institutions lend money to small business.
The banks must show a human face to the thousands of struggling individuals who need that extra infusion of capital to kickstart their businesses. The major banks must realize that their monopoly carries with it certain social responsibilities and obligations. They must also take certain risks. Right now the risk is zero or, at the very least, ridiculously low. They are thriving in this economy. Profits are at record levels. They should be partners in our society and at least assume some burden.
Today with their record profits banks can afford to be partners. They should be joining those pulling the wagon of prosperity instead of merely riding on it. They must do this or risk losing their monopoly.
The dual process of reducing taxes and having banks deal more compassionately with small business owners will be mutually beneficial. Less taxes mean more profit. More profit means better loan risks. Better loan risks translate into easier financing. Easier financing brings about expansion and thus more employment. This is the route we should be following.
We have before us a government that now seeks to extend the small business loans program by one year. I could possibly commit to supporting this if the government initiated a thorough review of the program, just as the auditor general recommended.
However the government has added an additional $1 billion in liability despite the fact that the program has $1.3 billion remaining before it reaches its maximum limit of $14 billion. This $1.3 billion is adequate—