Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-10 today. I will start by dealing with a bit of a problem that opposition members have with various bits of government legislation.
When I first came to parliament I made what is euphemistically known as my maiden speech. I am surprised feminists nowadays have not insisted we change that name. In any case, I made my speech in which I said that I was not here to oppose for opposition sake, that if the government came forward with good legislation I would be the first to congratulate it. If it came forward with legislation that had merit but could be improved, I would try to suggest constructive improvements to it. Only when it was clearly bad and virtually unfixable would I then try to oppose it very strongly.
One of the other problems we have is what to do with legislation in which there is a bit of good and a bit of bad. What do we do in that situation? Do we really congratulate them because they have actually come out with some good? Or, do we criticize them for all the things that are missing and the things that are wrong in it? In the case of the particular bill I will do both and I will do it concurrently because the merits and the deficiencies of the bill are intertwined.
Under the bill interest may now be paid by the federal government to municipalities. This is one of the good parts of the bill. However, it is only if in the opinion of the minister the payment has been unreasonably delayed. Likewise, supplementary payments can be made but only if the payment has been unreasonably delayed as defined by the minister.
Some government property is currently leased to non-government third parties. In some cases these parties do not pay their taxes. Of the hierarchy of people who get tax revenues, the ones that can least afford to be hit are the municipalities, cities, and particularly small towns.
Bill C-10 proposes that the Department of Public Works and Government Services would make payment in lieu of taxes at the end of the taxation year, provided the taxing authority has made all reasonable efforts to collect the taxes and there is no likelihood they will ever collect them, if in the opinion of the minister the necessary conditions have been met. At this point I think everyone can clearly see what kind of pattern is starting to appear.
In 1983 the Minister of Public Works and Government Services established a municipal grants review committee. Its function was to provide advice on resolution of disputes between the taxing authorities and the federal government. The advice was non-binding and thus most people felt it was meaningless. We hope that this will finally be corrected under Bill C-10. Essentially Bill C-10 puts this whole process into legislation.
However, let us look at exactly how it does so. The minister hand picks the members and appoints the chair as well. With this kind of control over the advisory panel, its recommendations are non-binding to the minister. This is really a lot of show because we can see the predominant pattern once again.
Schedule IV of the Municipal Grants Act lists corporations involved in profit oriented activities and therefore pay both property and business occupancy related payments in lieu of taxes. The joint technical committee on payment in lieu of taxes recommended that Canada Post Corporation and the Royal Canadian Mint be added to schedule IV. This recommendation has been ignored.
As we know Canada Post now has a mandate to make a profit and has indeed been making a profit. Even more notoriously the Canadian Mint has been going nose to nose against private sector companies for the minting of not only Canadian coins but foreign orders and business as well. It stands to put an Alberta company out of business because the highly subsidized Canadian Mint is going into competition with it and using the stature of being a crown corporation, on top of the subsidies it gets, to compete against this private sector company.
This certainly sends a message to those who might wonder how the minister will deal with other non-binding aspects of the bill. If he ignores this recommendation, why would anybody believe he would follow a recommendation in favour of a taxing authority in any of the other circumstances I have previously listed?
At the beginning of my speech I implied that the bill had some good points. In review, those good points are so softened by the discretionary powers of the minister to suggest that they are worthless. However these problems could be fixed and could be fixed very easily.
All we need to do is remove the discretionary power of the minister and make interest for late payments a requirement for payment of delinquent third party taxes, recommend that the recommendations of the advisory panel be binding, and include Canada Post and the Royal Canadian Mint in schedule IV of the Municipal Grants Act. It is that simple and that fair. I hope the government would seriously consider putting these kinds of amendments into its bill.
Sometimes it is a stretch, but I have to assume that the government actually wants to write good legislation. When we see things like Bill C-68, like the Nisga'a legislation and a lot of others, we have to wonder if in fact it wants to write good legislation. In this case I think there has been at least a half hearted effort to write something with some decency in it. Perhaps it will consider these amendments.
Also the legislation gives cause to look at another situation which is in direct conflict with the alleged intent of Bill C-10. Bill C-10 sets out certain rights for local taxing authorities which in essence are local, civil, municipal or regional governments. It also makes clear that those rights are extremely limited and given only through the discretion of the federal minister. This means they can be taken away or never even granted in the first place despite the legislation.
What a contrast this makes to the unprecedented constitutionally enshrined self-government powers of the Nisga'a under the Nisga'a treaty. The Nisga'a will have the only recognized government outside the federal and provincial governments. What a comparison when we compare Nisga'a rights against those of the small towns in my riding. Towns like Oliver, Osoyoos, Grand Forks, Trail, Castlegar and Nelson will get absolutely no guarantees of anything under this legislation. Neither will large cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto or Montreal.
The Nisga'a legislation gives powers to approximately 2,000 people living on Nisga'a lands. It gives them the ability to direct even the federal government in certain areas. They have powers in terms of such things as schooling, policing and a variety of things over which municipalities have no say whatsoever. They even have in their treaty a special provision for future potential taxing rights which no other town, city or municipality in Canada has.
Would it not be interesting if we went to the Nisga'a and said that there were a lot of payments they should be getting from the Canadian Government but we have made them discretionary and will decide on a case by case basis whether or not we think we should pay them? If we think we should not pay then we will not and they will have absolutely no say in it.
Let us compare that to what the Nisga'a actually get and what all the other towns I have listed get. These are towns like the ones that everybody in parliament represents. If the government wants to be fair it has to remove that discretionary consideration and at least give some pretence of giving something not only to small towns like those in my riding but even to the largest cities.
Right now the mayor of Toronto is talking about seceding from Ontario. The Bloc must have really loved that when he came out with that one. Toronto would secede from Ontario and set up a new province of Toronto. Heaven only knows it has enough people. I suspect that it would probably be the fourth or fifth largest populated province in Canada.
As it stands on the edge of expressing a desire to do this, even Toronto does not have the powers the government is giving to 2,000 people living on Nisga'a lands. What a comparison when we start talking about discretionary powers where the government may make some payment to a town or a municipality under Bill C-10.
I would like to end my comments by making an analogy that gives some perspective on Bill C-10. It promises certain things to municipalities and towns but in fact is only teasing with it because they may never see it.
I said the bill had good things and bad things. I would like to leave members with the picture of going out to a store and buying a great big meaty bone for a dog. That is good thing to do. The dog will be happy. Animal rights people will be happy. They will feel good about the good thing they have done. Then if they bring the bone home and use it to tease the dog by dangling it in front of it and snatching it away every time it reaches for it, that would be bad. That is exactly what the bill does.
The bill issues a potential of living up to its obligations to the municipalities, of making the payments that many of the municipalities desperately need, because they are providing services to crown owned properties inside their areas. The federal government is saying “Here is this tax. We think we will give it to you but if we think that you do not deserve it, we will not pay and there is not a damn thing you can do about it”.
The government has started with something that has a little bit of potential. I hope it has the integrity and fortitude to make the changes and turn good intentions into reality.