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House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was opposition.

Topics

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5:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I just wonder if the member is concerned about the fact that all of this is in limbo. We are fighting petty battles that should never be fought because we agree on the procedure, the same procedure as the government is suggesting but wants to manipulate to make sure that it controls the individuals placed in the positions of chairs. While all of this is happening, the business of the country is being held up.

A number of bills that will affect business in the country are waiting to be addressed by the committees. Right now businesses cannot move forward in developing the concerns they want to get involved in and get the necessary funding because they really do not know what the legislation covering said business will be like.

I just wonder if the member has a concern that while the government is fiddling, Rome is burning.

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5:45 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is no question as we are in this debate and disagreement over how the committee chairs should be elected that a lot of important business is being made secondary.

One thing a number of us have acknowledged is that a lot of the legislation has been reintroduced. It is legislation we were working with before. We really have not seen a whole lot of new legislation before us. Today the public safety legislation was introduced and there are some changes to it. I look forward to the discussions in the House and in committee on the public safety legislation.

Yes, there is work that has to be done. It would be great to have this settled once and for all and then we could get on with it.

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5:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough. Many of our members want to speak and I will keep my remarks very short.

The member for St. John's West made a comment concerning the business of the country. It is really a shame that we have to go through this debate on what we would consider the most democratic issue to come before these committees in a long time, that is, the secret ballot to choose committee chairmen.

I agree with many of the members who spoke before me that it has nothing to do with party politics. Many of us on this side of the House recognize the good work done in the majority of committees by government members who are the chairs. We are not talking about opposition members suddenly becoming committee chairmen. That point has been emphasized in the House all day. It has nothing to do with who wins that secret ballot.

On many occasions opposition members are going to vote for a government member to be the committee chairman because some of them have really mastered the art of running a committee and they are very good at it. We have acknowledged that.

Basically it comes down to the principle of whether we are going to democratize this institution called Parliament. In the last number of years we have often used a phrase around this place, but there is a democratic deficit here in Parliament and this is one example of it.

The question is, why is the Prime Minister so reluctant to allow the chairman of a committee to be elected by secret ballot? I go back to some of the interventions we have heard earlier this day. It simply comes back to the Prime Minister wanting absolute control over Parliament.

We do have the rules of Parliament that allow me to get up and disagree with the Prime Minister. In fact most of us on this side of the House get up on a routine basis and disagree with the Prime Minister. It comes down to some of the other things that he or future prime ministers can do and they are very reluctant to give up anything.

Mr. Speaker, I think we came to this place at the same time, the difference being of course that you have survived more elections than I have. We came to this place in 1988, just after the McGrath commission. You will remember, Mr. Speaker, the person who was sitting in the chair where you are today was the first Speaker ever elected by secret ballot in the House.

Believe it or not, successive prime ministers had rejected the notion of an elected Speaker of the House of Commons, which is quite bizarre when we think about it. In fact, the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Mulroney, rejected the idea when he first came to Parliament. It was almost two years after being here that he agreed that we should do it.

To be very honest, aside from the recommendations of the McGrath committee I think one of the reasons we moved to that is the Prime Minister and his government got into some difficulty with the Speaker that had been chosen by the Prime Minister in 1984. It was a convenient way to move it over to a secret ballot in the House. Mr. Fraser became our first elected Speaker, the Speaker who was here when you, Mr. Speaker, and I were sworn in and the first Speaker that you rose in the House to speak to.

That was a raging debate at the time. I know a prime minister that every one of us in the House has a lot of respect for, regardless of what side we sit on, was former Prime Minister Trudeau. He was absolutely against any suggestion of an elected Speaker.

The question that I would throw out to our colleagues is, has that hurt Parliament or has it helped Parliament in the functioning of Parliament and the debate back and forth in the House? I would say that it has helped Parliament.

There is a sense of independence that you as Speaker now can exercise knowing full well that you have the collective support of the House. I think it gives more authority to you as the Speaker and to your other colleagues who sit in that chair on a day to day basis. In a sense, they are not threatened by the Prime Minister in terms of that position.

I would use that same argument when it comes to committees. The committees in this place do good work. Unfortunately a lot of that good work is shelved because it does not fit in with the government's agenda. Sometimes committees are accused of doing busy work. I can remember this from our early days here. Committees sometimes in the past were accused of being organized in such a fashion that they kept backbench members of the government party busy so there would never be an idle member of Parliament. We have seen some of that as well, but there is no question, and there are members surrounding me as I speak, that members have been on committees that have done exceptionally good work. We have seen many examples of that in this place.

I think we should take a completely serious look at this. I think the Prime Minister should take a second look. I am a little concerned about the state of mind of the Prime Minister. I am quite serious when I say this, and I do not say it disrespectfully, but all of the same signs were displayed in the personality of Richard Nixon in the dying days of his administration. I know that sounds cold and cruel, but I do not think he is functioning as capably as he did a couple of years ago. The Prime Minister is under tremendous pressure. This can be seen and is carried out on the faces and the expressions of the members opposite. There is a great deal of tension that his own colleagues are under. There is certainly division on the other side of the House in terms of what should happen, secret ballot or no secret ballot, power in the Prime Minister's Office or power to the elected members.

We come down for the principle of democracy. We are elected to the House to do our best and represent the people who put us here, to the best of our ability. Most of us on any given day fall down three or four times, but the truth is the majority of us do our best day in and day out.

I think one of the best things we could do for this place is to address that idea of a democratic deficit head on. We must take it on and show the Canadian people that we are willing to do something about it. I would hope that the Prime Minister would be in agreement with us. It is never too late to change one's mind. I guess eventually this will be coming to a vote on the floor of the House of Commons and I would hate to think that the government members would be, as we say, whipped into doing what the Prime Minister wants them to do.

Let us hope that it can change and that it will change, and at the end of the day we will be beneficiaries of a system that truly reflects the will of the Chamber.

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5:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering whether the hon. member would like to expand somewhat on one point he made earlier. Given that we will finally be voting on this issue in the House of Commons, and given that, in recent months at least, the former minister of finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard, would like people to believe that he is an outspoken champion of parliamentary reform and democratic reform, and in fact he uses the phrase democratic deficit in almost every speech that he gives, does the hon. member think that the former minister of finance will attend next week's vote? Does the hon. member think that the former minister of finance will put his money where his mouth is and stand up and vote in favour of this opposition day motion? What does he think the consequences might be if that were to happen?

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5:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, my guess is that the former minister of finance will behave in the same way he did when the Bloc motion was up for a vote on Tuesday evening. Basically he completely ignored everything he has ever said about the democratic deficit and actually voted with the government.

My belief is that he probably will show up for the vote and most likely will vote with the government. I think the threat of an election call by the Prime Minister is there. If that did happen, and again we would never want to admit that we are probably not in as strong a position as the government at this particular time in terms of public support, but the fact is the Prime Minister probably would win another election. The former minister of finance would be sitting on the outside for another four or five years, so I think that is the threat the Prime Minister is holding over him.

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5:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I also agree with the member that the Prime Minister is not what he used to be. He seems to be appalled by what some of his members are doing. He is not operating in the manly fashion in which he used to. He is certainly not the rock solid member that we have seen in the past. We see more cops around him outside than usual. He undoubtedly has some concerns on his shoulders, especially when he looks over his shoulders.

I am reminded of the movie A Few Good Men. One way to avoid having the country really see what some of the issues are, one way to avoid dealing with some of the real issues, is to have committee chairs who stifle any real issues that come forth. Good, solid, independent people and good, solid independent Liberals deal with issues as they are presented to committees. People who are put there to stifle debate and stifle issues coming forth do so on the orders of the Prime Minister. What he is trying to do is to avoid the truth. We remember Jack Nicholson saying to Tom Cruise “The truth? You can't handle the truth.” We are wondering if that is what is wrong with the Prime Minister. Perhaps the member would comment on that.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where to begin. There is no question that the Prime Minister is under a lot of pressure and under a lot of strain. I guess there is a time to arrive and a time to leave. I think that some of his own caucus members are suggesting that he should in fact do that.

But again, we in this place have a way of getting off the topic. I am not saying that the member is because I am probably more guilty of that than he is. The fact is that we are talking about a ground level of democracy in this place, democracy in its basic sense in this place. The question really would be, why would the Prime Minister object to it? It again comes back to total control. I think it is simply that: total control by the Prime Minister.

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6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased in some ways to take part in this debate and share the time with my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest.

Clearly what has been discussed I think many Canadians would deem to be somewhat of a insider baseball type of debate as to how committees are structured and how chairmanships are arrived at. Yet what is most significant about the debate still comes back to fundamental principles of democracy, issues that I think are very basic to many Canadians, and perhaps the larger issue of how Parliament is functioning or not functioning in a way that serves its constituents, which are clearly the people of Canada, the people who elect each and every member of Parliament in this place.

Mr. Speaker, you chaired a very important committee, a modernization committee that bears your name, the Kilger report. Within that report is some of the same pith and substance that has been the formation of this debate, that has been bandied about here today. Coupled with that and the rhetoric that often accompanies these types of debates, the partisanship and the toing and froing, I believe that at the very least we have exposed and shed light on some of these important issues that need to be discussed. Clearly the commentary by my colleagues and others does bear some repetition. There is almost a Nixonian feel to what has been taking place in recent years.

One of the oldest maxims in justice talks about delay being the deadliest form of denial. What is happening here is very much about delay. What we have seen is the hon. member for Mississauga Centre who had the courage to stand up and vote against her government, which is a rarity in the past nine and a half years, and much of what she said was true. We can lose sight of the bigger issue here. The bigger issue here is that all members, I would suggest, want to see a better functioning Parliament. All members want to participate in an institution that they can be proud of, an institution that they feel is representative of the very ideals of democracy and those principles that we hold so dear. Yet what has been happening in recent days and in the last 24 hours is that we have seen once again the iron hand of the Prime Minister and his office intervening in the direction in which this issue was headed, and that was to make Parliament function better by virtue of having committees elect their chairs, by greater participation in that process, I would suggest.

I hasten to add, and I am glad my colleague from Fredericton is present, that were this process to go through as recommended by the report and as recommended by the motion before the House, many of the same chairs would remain in place. Many of the chairs who are currently serving those posts are doing so competently and admirably. They are doing good work and that work would be recognized by the existing or new membership of these committees.

I say that about the member opposite who chairs the justice committee. I suggest, and I have told him, I would support him in that post. I want to back up that point by saying that what is going to happen if we adopt this motion, if we adopt this report, is that Liberals, the governing party, will still hold the chairmanship of each and every committee in the House. It is not as if they are forfeiting power to the opposition. What they are forfeiting, I would suggest, is some control over that process. That process is still subject to manipulation. It is still subject to attempts, at least, to have those hand-picked individuals in place. Remuneration is there, and I am not disagreeing with that, but it is still seen as a reward. It is still much of the carrot and stick approach that is brought to play by the Prime Minister. That is simply something that has to change.

We have to be prepared to put some faith in the common sense, the inner fortitude and the strength of members of Parliament to exercise discretion. I suggest that the cracks in the foundation of this place would not open and the Parliament buildings themselves, these great buildings, would not fall if we were to have elected chairs.

Some of the alarmist talk coming from the government side suggests that democracy would be at risk, that the opposition would somehow form an insurrection and the seas would boil and the skies would fall. That is simply not the case. What we would have is greater credibility. What we would have is a better functioning committee.

We would have demonstrated at the committee level that members of Parliament can get along. As the Speaker himself is elected, there would be an attempt by government to actually work in an open-handed way with members of Parliament to do good things at the committee level, to pass legislation that is perhaps better functioning and better in its application.

This debate is very apropos to what is taking place. I feel there is a sea of change afoot. We see it in the province of Quebec and in provinces around the country where we could have as many as six or seven provincial elections in the next 10 to 14 months. We will see the leadership change in federal parties.

I met with students today representing CASA. In meeting with these young people they are looking for a sign of faith. They are looking for credibility and substance. They are looking for a sign that Parliament itself can modernize itself, and that members of Parliament can show an open mind. We know this is a partisan atmosphere, but at times we can strive for the greater good. I believe we are capable of that. I believe that if and when we do that we will see a greater interest and relevance of this place.

We will also see perhaps, and I say this with the greatest respect to members present and present company included, a greater participation in elections, participation in nominations to put names forward, and a direct involvement in a process that is fundamental to the functioning of this country. We have had an opportunity in each party to examine these issues in depth and to reflect upon our own policies.

We had a report on democratic reform that was adopted at our convention in Edmonton this summer. It spoke to this issue specifically and to many other issues. It spoke of the need, for example, to have greater free votes, fewer confidence votes, and to have this code of ethics that has been wanting adopted by the House of Commons so that it would apply to the ethics of members of Parliament and how they conduct themselves, not only here, but around the country.

We talked about the power of the purse and the ability to have greater examination of how public money would be spent and how we should have fulsome examinations of that at the committee level. Much of what we do, the inner workings, the engine of how legislation is crafted and how legislation is adopted, is done by those committees so it comes back time and time again.

It would be advisable not to have parliamentary secretaries on those committees because they are the ever-present guiding hand of the Prime Minister. It is about this control and endless need of this particular Prime Minister to never relinquish the control that he has.

A noted political author, Donald Savoie of New Brunswick, spoke of the concentration of power. This individual, who has studied this subject matter extensively, echoes the sentiments of many. The former Prime Minister, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, said in the House today that democracy loses its strength gradually, by increments, and it takes vigilance and a concerted political will to stem the erosion of democracy by those who would seek to concentrate power in the hands of a few. He added that never before in the history of Canada has power been so concentrated in the hands of a few, a small handful of unelected political flacks in the Prime Minister's Office.

It is a sad commentary coming from a man who has served in the highest office in the land. He is echoing the sentiment of many members who have spoken today, many political commentators, editorialists, and persons at the Tim Hortons drive-through.

Canadians know things must change. They are looking to us to do it. They are looking to the government which has the power to do it. Members like the member for LaSalle—Émard have expressed the will but it is clear that when push comes to shove, it is like the new remix of the Elvis song “A little less conversation, a little more action please” is what has to happen. It must be demonstrated, played out here and around the country.

We have an opportunity to do that. There will be an opportunity for members to show that willingness next week when this matter comes to a vote. Much of the antagonism and much of the apathy will disappear when we see that happen. I look forward to seeing that next week.

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6:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to the remarks of the hon. member. I know that until yesterday he was the House leader for his party. I know he is embarking on new challenges. I must say that I have enjoyed tremendously working with him over recent years. I wanted to preface my remarks by saying that.

I want to get to the remarks that the member made. He used as an example of democracy remarks that he says show what great democratic values are in the House by quoting a speech of the member for Calgary Centre. Is he by any chance the same member who at one point was the prime minister of the country and who was prime minister nine months before he saw fit to recall Parliament?

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6:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the remarks that were made by the hon. government House leader. I too enjoyed my time as House leader and dealing with him on a daily basis. He taught me much. What he taught me in particular was to watch what he did on many occasions. It also reminded me of how people change and the process of erosion sometimes of being around here too long.

I do not say that disrespectfully. Time and time again we have seen attempts by the government and the member to hearken back and to dredge up what happened one, two or three decades ago. The fact is there is now an opportunity. When these issues come forward, let us not forget where the control and the power rests. It rests in the hands of the member's party. His party has the power to make the decisions. It can point out things that were wrong in the past. It has the ability to change them.

What the member ceases to recognize time and time again is he may get a lot of play out of pointing out what was wrong in the past, but what is he doing about it and where has he been for a decade to make some change?

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 6:15 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the business of supply are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, November 5 at 3:00 p.m.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I recently asked the government if it would consider amending the Income Tax Act by making a subtle change so that business fines, penalties and levies would not be considered legitimate business expenses and, therefore, tax deductible. It was my argument that when the Income Tax Act was first put together and approved, surely Parliament never intended that breaking the law would be considered tax deductible.

When it first came to my attention in 1999, when the supreme court ruled that this was in fact the case, that fines and penalties could be tax deductible, I was shocked. We cannot deduct our parking tickets or speeding tickets, but if a business gets fined $1 million for dumping PCBs into the Red River in my home province of Manitoba it can deduct that on its income tax providing it was done in the course of operating its business or its enterprise. Most Canadians would be horrified to learn that.

It is my argument that Parliament surely never intended that. However the act is silent on the issue and therefore the supreme court, when it had to deal with it, had no alternative but to say that under the current act a business can deduct its fines.

Surely there are other good arguments reasonable people can see here. It undermines the deterrent value of a fine if that fine can be reduced simply by filing it in our income tax. A business in British Columbia , for example, was fined $270,000 for an offence, wrote the money off on its income tax and received $125,000 back. A business might even get more back depending on its tax status in that particular year.

When the courts dealt with the law, they pointed out that if the act was silent on it then they had to ask whether Parliament was aware of the situation and whether it deliberately left the act silent on the issue.

Justice Bastarache reasoned that Parliament could not have intended to permit the deduction of fines under the taxing statute because that would have had the effect of undermining the effectiveness of the fine under the penalizing statute. In other words, the taxation statute would be undermining the impact of the statute under which the person was fined. It would be a contradiction. However the court ruled that the fines do stand.

Parliament has had the opportunity to deal with the issue of writing off fines as tax deductions. In 1994 we stopped the practice of allowing bribes to be deducted as a business expense.

We should note that in 1969 the United States passed legislation to specifically deny any penalty or fine ordered under law as a tax deduction. The United Kingdom and other countries have done the same. Therefore I was not satisfied with the answer I received from the government on this issue.

SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the government takes very seriously the issue of whether fines and penalties should be deductible for income tax purposes. However it is first important to clarify what penalties are and are not deductible under the law today.

First, not all fines and penalties are deductible for tax purposes. Only fines and penalties that are business expenses are deductible, and they must have been incurred in order to earn business income. Illegal payments to government officials are specifically denied a deduction, as are fines and penalties levied under the Income Tax Act.

Finally, and most important, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled:

It is conceivable that a breach could be so egregious or repulsive that the fine subsequently imposed could not be justified as being incurred for the purpose of producing income.

What types of fines or penalties are deductible as a business expense? The supreme court reviewed the case of an egg producer who was assessed an over quota surcharge by a marketing board. The court found that the levy imposed was a legitimate business expense.

The supreme court suggested that certain fines and penalties would not be deductible. If, for example, a business owner were to commit a criminal offence or deliberately and illegally dump toxic waste, would the resulting fine be deductible? The supreme court has left open the door to challenge the suggestion that penalties for such offences and repulsive acts would deducted. In this regard, the government will monitor the effects of the supreme court decision to ensure that the fines for serious infractions are not deductible.

Would the hon. member have the government dictate to the business community which infractions are worthy of deductibility in a business context and which are not? This goes beyond the concern for fairly and accurately calculating the net profit of a taxpayer that should be subject of tax. The object of such a rule would be to address public policy concerns.

What types of fine or penalties would be contrary to public policy? If a trucking company can buy a permit to carry freight overweight, is it contrary to public policy to allow a business deduction for overweight charges? What about the case of the egg producer? Should the farmer have destroyed the eggs in order to avoid a non-deductible levy? There are other examples.

These examples suggest that many fines and penalties levied against Canadian business owners can be regarded as a normal risk of doing business. Sometimes they are simply a means of encouraging acceptable behaviour, regulating the marketplace or are in the nature of user fees. It is not necessarily contrary to public policy to incur these charges. Likewise, it would be unfair to deny a deduction as an expense if such levies are incurred in the ordinary day to day operation of business.

In creating a specific rule to delineate the deductibility of fines and penalties, the government would be attempting to draw a line between levies that are acceptable versus those that are not, even though the acceptability of the underlying actions of the business owner would depend on the facts and the circumstances in each case.

SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the act does not differentiate between levies, fines and penalties, and therein lies the problem. That is why the supreme court ruled that in the absence of any clarifying language, fines and penalties must be allowed at this time.

The whole issue could be resolved with a simple amendment to the Income Tax Act which would simply say “for greater clarity”--and the Income Tax Act is full of these clauses--“no fine or penalty that is imposed by law on a taxpayer should be considered a tax deductible expense”. It is one simple line.

If we agree that it is bad public policy, for the reasons cited and others, then we can fix that very quickly. The United States and United Kingdom have done it. Australia and most western developed nations have taken active steps to clarify their revenue and income tax acts so that business fines are not allowed as tax deductible. I believe that we should be making the same move in this country.

SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear my colleague. I would say to him that the supreme court decision already provides the government with a basis to challenge a business deduction for a penalty that results from a repulsive act or certainly beyond the scope.

I would suggest to my colleague that the government will therefore continue to monitor on an ongoing basis various cases. We will consider the matter further in consideration of input from interested parties. We will take further comments both, I am sure, from this colleague and from others, and from those in the business community, and we will take further action if deemed warranted.

SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.25 p.m.)