Mr. Speaker, I am again pleased to participate in debate in the House of Commons. It has been a little over eight years since I was first elected with the class of 1993. My hon. friend from Edmonton North used to tell us that we would probably wonder for a long time how we ever got here. We also wonder from time to time how some of our colleagues ever got here.
It has been a very interesting time. I feel particularly honoured and privileged to represent not only the people of Elk Island but hopefully the views of Canadians across the country as we discuss various issues.
I hope in my short intervention that I will be able to get past the first letter in Bill S-31. When I hear the letter S I think of various words. The letter S means that the bill originated in the Senate. I pretty well take every opportunity I can to put in a little barb in this regard.
The member from the NDP spoke about the Senate in his intervention. That party has the erroneous idea that it would like to eliminate the Senate. I would like to retain and strengthen it. I would like to see the Senate have a genuine democratic role to play in parliament. I wish its members were elected so they would have a high degree of respect and legitimacy in our parliamentary system instead of being, as so many have said, a source of patronage appointments. That is very unfortunate.
Some of our colleagues in the Senate probably work as hard as some of the lesser working MPs in this place, so we ought to be very careful.
The standing orders state that I am not supposed to say anything to denigrate any other member of parliament, including those in the Senate. I am very careful not to do that. However the fact that those individuals are not elected is a flaw. The bill is diminished by the fact that it originates in the Senate and that senators are not elected but are instead appointed at the will of the prime minister.
When I think of the letter S I also think of some other priorities that the government should have. Softwood lumber is an example of a high priority issue. The conflict in this regard is costing people in British Columbia and Alberta jobs on an ongoing basis. I would like to see our time in parliament spent on high priority items such as this one.
Another issue which is consuming Canadians and North Americans these days is the issue of security. I wish we would pay more attention in the House to the issue of security.
I think of Shawinigate and the fact that there is not enough accountability in government. I had a conversation with some people the other day from Alberta, not from my riding, about how we could make government more accountable. We had a pretty good indepth discussion on this subject. I said that one of the things we ought to do was to have more openness and public disclosure.
Government expenditures are subject to loose privacy laws. If taxpayer money is being spent, taxpayers should be able to see what it is spent on. We want to guard people's privacy, but at the same time we must be aware of some of the mismanagement that has occurred in government not only under the watch of the present Liberal government but also under the watch of the previous government.
There would be a much greater appetite for accountability if parliamentarians, cabinet ministers and bureaucrats knew that these things would become public, if not now, three or five years down the road. Disclosure is one of the things we all recognize as being an important feature. Other things came to mind when I saw the letter S. However I must move past the first letter and get to Bill S-31 that is before us today.
I do not hesitate to compliment colleagues when they do some really good work even if they are not from my party. I listened intently and with great interest to the speech given by my Bloc colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot. I recommend to individuals who happen to be reading this part of today's record in Hansard 10 years from now that they page back to that speech because it was an excellent one. I commend the member for it. He made many interesting points that were relevant to the bill.
We had a great time with the teachers this week discussing parliament, democracy and how government works. One teacher asked me how we get along with members of other parties. I said that we treat them with respect as friends and colleagues even though we may differ with their ideas. We are like a hockey team: When we are on the ice we fight like crazy but when we go to the restaurant after the game we are colleagues and friends.
I would say the same thing about the Bloc members even though we disagree very strongly and emphatically with the main reason for their being here. They have softened their stance a little bit in the last couple of years but they want out of the country. I disagree profoundly with that concept but at the same time they are wonderful people and I respect them. I have no hesitation giving an accolade to the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot for his excellent speech earlier today.
One of the things he talked about was the taxation agreement. He did not use the word tax avoidance, or at least it did not come through that way from the interpreters. The purpose of the bill is to make agreements with eight countries.
Canada has two reasons for making agreements with respect to taxation.The first reason is to avoid double taxation. It is not fair for people to pay taxes in the country where their business operates or where they may have investment income and also in Canada and vice versa. Someone who is from another country who has business interests or investment interests, or somehow earns income here should not have to pay taxes on both. This would make it impossible because if we take federal, provincial and property taxes into consideration, Canadians work approximately half the time for the taxman. Our total cumulative tax rate is about 50%. This is underlined by organizations such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation proclaiming June 30 as taxation freedom day. We work for the taxman from January to the end of June and for the rest of the year we work for our families to provide for them.
If we had two countries that had similar tax rates, 100% of everything that one earned would go to the taxman. Double taxation is something to be avoided. That is one of the purposes of the bill. It would provide for agreements between Canada and the other countries so that only one country would tax the individual.
There are, however, exceptions. I do not know how many members have read the bill but it is a lengthy one. There are many different clauses in it that indicate a few exceptions where both countries could get a portion of the tax from earnings. I noticed one interesting clause that dealt with certain pension income.
I forget which country it was. It may have been with all of them, but I did not have time to check the similar clause for all seven or eight different agreements with respect to certain pension income. However I found it intriguing though, that with respect to certain pension income, the first $12,000 of income is considered tax free. There is no tax on the first $12,000 of pension income from the other country. When tax is paid on the amount over $12,000, lo and behold it is a single rate of 15%. I feel sort of good about that because as members know we have tried to work on reducing the punishment of people who earn money.
We say that if a person earns twice as much, let them pay twice as much tax. However under the graduated system, a person who earns twice as much could pay five or eight times as much tax, depending how much of that proportion they are hitting before they have used up their basic exemption.
It is very important for us to recognize that there is an important principle here, and I commend the government for utilizing that principle in this particular instance.
I could carry on at length about the bill. In principle, it is good because it solves the problem of double taxation for people who have business interests and who have earned income from more than one country.
The second one of course is the issue of tax avoidance. The actual preamble in the bill states that the purpose of it is to prevent fiscal evasion. That is basically a case of doing what we have to do so that we do not have to pay taxes at all. That is when Canada might think the person is being taxed in Slovenia and Slovenia thinks he or she is being taxed in Canada. Without an agreement that is specific, it could be that the person gets away with being taxed no where.
In conclusion, it is very important for us to have these tax agreements. I would like to see them enlarged, as my hon. colleague from the Bloc stated, so that we do not have people avoiding taxes or hugely reducing them by registering their companies in tax free havens and thereby avoiding their share of being part of the Canadian citizenry.
I would be remiss if I did not really emphasize that. We all know of some significant examples of individuals who have said taxes in Canada are too high and we agree with that. However they have a mechanism to avoid the taxes by simply moving offshore. We think that all citizens, including all members of parliament, should pay their fair share of taxes to fund a very good government that we should have, which would be one that spends taxpayer dollars in a careful way.
It is my intention to vote in favour of Bill S-31.