Mr. Speaker, there was nothing petty in what I said. It is rather tiresome to be speaking and hear the whispers of a Liberal MP over there. Out of mere courtesy, perhaps out of respect for this House, if there is a need for private conversations, they should be held in the lobby. Moreover, the Chair has often stopped conversations of that nature in order to ensure that the institution operates as it should. That was all I was asking for. I see that my colleague has finished his discussion, so I can now continue my speech.
I was saying that, in 1998-99, the Minister of Finance could have done great things. He had choices to make. The same thing goes for 1999-2000, but since Bill C-72 is connected with the 1998 budget, I will limit myself to that budget.
He knew he had a surplus of $15 billion. He could count just as we could. If we in the Bloc Quebecois were able to determine that the surplus for fiscal year 1998-99 would range between $12 billion and $15 billion, he could have done the same with the whole gang of public servants, specialists, and the amazing prediction machine at his disposal. But instead he concealed the real figures.
We have been calling for tax reform for years now. The Reform Party did exactly the same recently. The Minister of Finance prefers to focus on economic conditions rather than taking a serious look at the tax system.
This is certainly a major undertaking, because the last tax reform was in 1968, with the Carter report. That report led to the implementation of certain measures which resulted in some marked improvements to the tax system, ones which were of considerable significance.
But it is work. It is true that the time he spent on reforming the tax system he would not spend promoting his candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Minister of Finance must have the interest of the public more at heart than his own interests, and, until he convinces me otherwise, I think he has worked more for his own interests, and he has displayed a certain laziness not found among his predecessors.
He could have done extraordinary things. When he felt the lid on the pot was beginning to lift, he decided to establish an empty working group that produced an empty report. Some considerations were correct, but most did not relate to the needs for significant change, particularly in the area of personal income tax.
The Mintz working group, which he set up in order to reform taxes, focussed on corporate taxes only. What did the Minister of Finance do with the report Mr. Mintz submitted? He took it and he put it on a shelf. He applied none of its recommendations.
He did not deign to work on reforming personal income taxes, which would be easy to do. As I mentioned earlier, the reports the Bloc Quebecois produced were applauded and welcomed by the Minister of Finance. But there has been no follow up. There really is a lack of interest.
What could the Minister of Finance have done without racking his brains and compromising his race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada? He could have fully indexed the tax tables and all the parameters of federal taxation. He could have done it very simply. I will illustrate my remarks in this respect in a few minutes.
Here is what happens without indexation. Since 1986, the government has not taken inflation lower than 3% into account. When the rate of inflation is such as the one we have been experiencing for several years, the federal government gets tax revenues that increase every year, without having to impose any direct tax increase or specific tax measure. So, by not fully indexing tax tables, the Minister of Finance is quietly getting more money, every year, in the federal treasury.
When inflation is high, taxpayers must pay more for goods and services. They must pay more for food, housing and even in taxes. They pay more indirectly because no adjustment, or only partial adjustment, is made by the federal government to the tax tables and the various federal tax components, to take into account the cost of living increase.
If the government fully took inflation into account, it would lower federal tax rates for certain income categories, or it would allow a tax rate that is currently low and that applies to a specific income category to apply to a higher income category.
Instead of doing that, the government decided it was just too easy to get more money. It was just too easy to fully index tax tables and components. Instead of helping middle income families, the Minister of Finance decided to maintain the unfair system that has been in place since 1986.
What is the result of all this? I tried to illustrate how it affects taxpayers, particularly middle income earners, who account for 70% of all taxpayers. On the first $29,590, the federal tax rate in 17%. If the government had fully taken inflation into account since 1986, and had also fully indexed federal tax brackets, taxpayers would now be paying 17% not on the first $29,590 that they earn, but on the first $36,918.
This makes a difference. Because taxes are not fully indexed, taxpayers are paying 17% on the first $29,590 of earnings instead of on the first $36,918. This has a negative impact on families' disposable income.
We are told that families' disposable income has continued to fall since the late 1970s. This is a measure that reduces disposable income. Disposable income is what is left over after taxpayers have paid all their taxes. It is what they have left to buy goods and services and to make investments.
When tax brackets are not indexed, it starts to add up: 17% on the first $36,000 rather than 17% on the first $29,590 starts to add up to thousands of dollars a year.
The $29,591 to $59,180 federal tax bracket is taxed at 26%. After that, it goes up. Normally, with full indexing, the 26% tax rate would have kicked in between $36,000 and $73,800 instead of between $29,000 and $59,000. This becomes important, because the first $36,000 earned would be taxed at only 26% instead of 29% or 30%, which is quite a difference.
The Minister of Finance preferred instead to continue with this unfair system, to allow the economic situation and inflation to continue unchecked so as to provide him with additional revenue, rather than impose any unpopular measures like raising income and other taxes.
I would remind hon. members that some 72% or 73% of taxpayers fall within the category of the two taxation levels I referred to, of 17% and 26%, for incomes of between $29,000 and $59,000. So not having fully indexed tax tables, tax levels and other tax parameters since 1986 has cost the majority of taxpayers very dearly.
I will give an illustration of what not having full indexation can represent for a resident of Quebec and a resident of Ontario. For example, for a family with one wage-earner and two children, with a 1986 income of $25,800 and a 1996 income of $35,400, the lack of indexation of the tax tables and other tax parameters has meant a loss of between $7,000 and $10,000 since 1986. That is a considerable amount of money.
We are not talking about a family with millions in income, but a family with one wage earner and two children, whose income was $25,800 in 1986 and had risen to $35,400 by 1996, as a result of inflation and promotions. The lack of indexation of the tax tables and other tax parameters has meant a loss of $7,000 since 1986. That is a considerable amount of money.
These people do not have any money to throw away. They are not taking vacations in Acapulco every year. Since 1986 they have seen between $7,000 and $10,000 in net revenue taken out of their pockets. They could have invested it in their children's education. They could have used it to improve their general situation. They also could have perhaps put it toward buying a house.
Maintaining such unjust situations is a serious matter. We have a family with one wage earner, a family of two adults and two children, losing between $7,000 and $10,000, if their present income is $35,000 or $36,000.
That is what lies behind the inaction of the Liberal government and the laziness of the Minister of Finance .
It is not for the fun of it that we have been asking him to reform taxes since 1993 and keep asking him to do so. They could have done something else to improve people's situation. They should have reformed taxes years ago. It needs to be done soon. It needed to be done in 1993, when there were one million poor children in Canada. Today, in 1999, there are 1.6 million poor children.
This man, rising every week with his hand on his heart and speaking of his compassion for poor children, is helping make the parents of these children poorer. This category of middle income earner, representing 70% of taxpayers, makes the greatest contribution to the employment insurance fund. The Minister of Finance is literally stealing the surplus from it, to the tune of $6 billion or $7 billion a year, rather than take this money and give it back to workers in the middle class and employers in SMBs or give a significant part of it back to the unemployed who are excluded from the application of the employment insurance plan.
The Minister of Human Resources Development, who says that he too has great compassion for those worst off, cut the plan and tightened eligibility criteria with the complicity of the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Human Resources Development is a kind of sherpa for the Minister of Finance.
Middle income earners paying because the tax tables and brackets are not fully indexed are also paying in terms of the money they take—and I am being polite—the money they rob from the employment insurance fund. These people pay double, and this is the fault of the Minister of Finance. If we look at the category of the public servants, these are the same middle income earners whose pension plan surplus will be taken by the President of the Treasury Board.
He has just introduced a bill that will establish the pension investment board for the main pension plans. He also announced that he expects he will use the $30 billion surplus accumulated in the plan as he sees fit, without consulting anyone.
This is a curious style of management, in which money is taken from middle income earners, because there is no tax reform. More money is taken from them when the government helps itself to the surplus in the EI fund. And moreover the same thing is happening to federal public servants, as the government is grabbing the surpluses in their pension funds.
I was going to say something unparliamentary, but I will refrain. I am casting about for a word that is parliamentary but conveys my meaning. It begins to look like the federal government is systematically misrepresenting the numbers, using money that does not belong to it, wasting this money on measures designed more for the visibility, such as the millennium scholarships, the Minister of Canadian Heritage's Canadian flag operation, or the Council on Canadian Unity. This is no way to manage taxpayers' money and the public knows it. The public should not be underestimated.
When we travel throughout Quebec, as I often do, people, not necessarily hard-liners, tell us that the federal government's management of taxpayers' money and the type of hypocrisy we see here make absolutely no sense.
Since 1996, the Minister of Finance has been promising legislation to eliminate tax loopholes that mostly benefit Canada's millionaires and billionaires. We have not seen it yet.
People will remember the auditor general's criticism in 1996, following our denunciations that went all the way back to the 1993 election campaign of the family trust system for millionaires—not for middle income earners, but for millionaires—that lets them use tax loopholes for tax planning purposes instead of the purposes for which they were originally intended, such as providing a life annuity for a permanently disabled child.
Here we have a situation that was denounced by the auditor general, a situation where officials from the Department of National Revenue, the Department of Finance and the Department of Justice got together of an evening one December 24 a few years ago and came up with an advance ruling allowing a family of billionaires to transfer two family trusts totalling $2 billion completely tax free to the United States.
This was unprecedented. At least, we were not aware of any other similar situation.
There was a public outcry and the Bloc Quebecois strongly condemned what had taken place. I must say that the public servants who were present when that advance ruling was made and who appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts found it to be most uncomfortable to say the least.
Following that incident, the Minister of Finance announced that he would table a bill to make taxpayers accountable in the case of such transfers by providing a certain amount to pay taxes to Revenue Canada when assets are transferred abroad.
Three years ago, when the minister announced his intention to eliminate that loophole, what did these millionaires and billionaires do? They came up with all sorts of schemes to immediately transfer their trusts to tax havens abroad, by taking advantage of the precedent created by that advance ruling. They took advantage of the situation. In 1999, three years after alerting robbers, the Minister of Finance has yet to table his bill to eliminate the tax loopholes available to these millionaires.
It is hardly surprising. In the last budget, the most significant tax reductions are for those with incomes of $250,000 and up. Based on the proposed tax reductions, these people, who do not have a hard time making ends meet—unlike a family of two adults and two children with an income of $36,000—will benefit from tax savings of $3,800 as early as this year. On the other hand, those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 are not going to benefit from a tax saving of any more than $80 to $350.
The reason is obvious. We see where the friends of the Liberal Party and the friends of the Minister of Finance fit in. They are not families with one wage earner, with two adults and two children, and an income of $36,000. They are millionaires and billionaires. Moreover, what came out yesterday or the day before about the key contributors to the Liberal Party of Canada's campaign fund is most revealing. There are many banks, trust companies and family trusts. No change there. Join the dots between a $35,000 or $45,000 contribution, even $100,000, from major companies to the Liberal Party coffers, and then ask yourself whether the Liberals will end up with their hands tied afterward when it comes to tax reform, to blocking the loopholes for millionaires, for preventing the banks from doing certain things.
It is so ridiculous that I recently cut out an article on this subject, which I found most instructive. In 1993, when I first came to this House, I said we would be fighting to block the gaps in the taxation system, the so-called loopholes. These loopholes enable people who are far from being in need to do tax planning, to do all sorts of tricky tax moves, with the blessing of the Minister of Finance, in order to find themselves tax-exempt in foreign tax havens.
In the newspapers in 1993, there were classified ads that read “Come and plan the retirement of your dreams with us”. They were talking about tax havens. At that point, the Income Tax Act permitted millions and millions of dollars in taxes to be saved through various means.
I was looking at a paper last week again, and it made no sense. There was another classified ad, which read in English and French, “Come and see us, we have ways for you to save hundreds of thousands if not millions in taxes, depending on your income”. No family earning $36,000 a year will be able to take advantage of the advice on how to save money in tax havens. One has to have money to do that.
Six years later, nothing has changed, with tax havens. With permissive federal taxes and the federal Income Tax Act, the situation is similar to that of 1993, in which millionaires and billionaires paid no taxes and 70% of Quebeckers and Canadians pay most of the taxes, that is, the average income earners. Yet the Minister of Finance still has not introduced a bill to put an end to this scandal.
Bill C-72 contains some positive measures. They are the ones we praised in the 1998 budget. The Minister of Finance could have done so much better that it is ironic he is getting off so lightly.
With the options available to him then and now, he could have helped improve the situation of people in this country, of middle income families that have been struggling for years. Some of them have sunk into poverty because of the measures of the Minister of Finance and of the Minister of Human Resources Development in the area of employment insurance. He could have done a lot.
Still, this bill is a small step in the right direction, and we would not want to tell taxpayers “These incomplete measures would save you a few dollars, and we could not oppose the bill simply because it really did not go far enough”.
Therefore, we will support this bill, but we will continue to condemn this rip-off of middle income families and the fact that the Minister of Finance has simply let economic—and political—conditions dictate his course of action for several years, not assuming his responsibilities as he should have.
Who knows, perhaps he will make it and become Prime Minister some day, but I certainly do not wish it on Canada. As for us, we will be gone; we will have left and probably have achieved sovereignty a few years earlier. Canada deserves better than a minister like this one, a minister who did not take his responsibilities when he was in a position to effect social change, but chose not to.