Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-33, especially since, as you know, it implements certain provisions of the 2004 budget, and this week we were unpleasantly surprised by what was in the 2005 budget. I will quickly address Bill C-33 and then broaden the debate to cover what the government announced both in 2004 and in 2005. We have noticed that, despite the election promises by the Liberals, the Prime Minister, Minister of Transport and other ministers in this government, there was nothing in this budget to address Quebec's concerns.
As I was saying, Bill C-33 implements provisions of the budget tabled on March 23, 2004. This bill is in three parts: one on the air travellers security charges, another on the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act for facilitating fiscal arrangements, and a third on implementing a series of amendments to the Income Tax Act.
I will not go into great detail about the first two parts. I will, however, note in passing that, from day one, we have condemned the air travellers security charge, the purpose of which is still unknown. This tax heavily penalizes the airlines, particularly regional airlines and people in the regions needing to travel by air regularly for business or even to obtain health care. Therefore, in our opinion, this tax was never appropriate. Under Bill C-33, it has been reduced. However, it should have just been axed.
As for the second measure, there is a community in the Charlevoix region that would like to take advantage of this. So, obviously, in keeping with tradition, the Bloc Québécois always supports the demands of the first nations when it is a matter of providing them with the means to ensure their own development. We are convinced that the first nations are able to manage their own destiny, particularly their economic destiny. So this will not pose a problem.
However, I want to mention one point in relation to the third part before I return once again to the main budgetary policies—when I say main, I mean the largest, not necessarily the most intelligent ones—in the recent budget.
I want to come back to the general anti-avoidance rule set out in the Income Tax Act, which targets misuse or abuse of the income tax regulations, tax treaties and all other federal legislation.
We are being led to believe that Bill C-33 closes an important loophole identified by the Auditor General with regard to tax evasion. In other words, the capacity of some taxpayers—be it a corporate citizen or an individual—to avoid paying taxes in Canada.
At first glance, this measure seems positive. It was a minimum. However, we are missing the main point, which is that, since the Liberals came to power, the Canadian government has constantly promoted tax havens, particularly its own, which is Barbados.
Since the Liberals came to power, direct investments by Canadians in Barbados has increased 400%. This is a small island of 270,000 inhabitants, which receives approximately $24 billion in direct investments from Canada each year. I wonder what kind of services or goods are produced in Barbados that require that level of direct investments.
I remind the House that Barbados is now the third destination in terms of Canadian direct investments, after the United States and Great Britain. It is strange that an island of 270,000 inhabitants is able to absorb $23 billion to $24 billion in Canadian direct investments. We are no fools. To a large degree, it is simply money sent to Barbados to avoid the responsibilities of all citizens in a democratic country, that of paying taxes to fund our collective tools.
Barbados is now Canada's tax haven. I think particularly of the business held by the sons of the Prime Minister, who greatly benefits from this. Last Spring, on Enjeux , we saw a program on CSL Inc. It was quite interesting to see, when cameramen and the reporter arrived at the headquarters of CSL, that it was a law firm with about 130 names of other companies. In fact, it is an empty shell that benefits from good tax treatment in Barbados, because it must be recognized as an international business corporation .
In this context, it pays 1% to 2.5% in taxes. What is very interesting in Barbados is that, contrary to all logic, the tax is regressive. For example, if your volume of business and your revenues are low, you will pay a 2.5% tax. However, the higher your volume of business and your revenues, the lower is your tax rate. Beyond a certain amount, your tax is only 1%.
Let us do an exercise here and assume that CSL International pays a 1.5% tax rate on its income, which is more or less the average, between 1% and 2.5%. Let us not forget that it is the holding company that owns the companies which, in turn, own the CSL ships that sail the seas. By figuring out, based on the information available to us, the sales that CSL International must make, that is a profit rate equivalent to the average for that industry, we were able to calculate that, over the five-year period from 1997 to 2002, CSL International saved over $100 million in taxes by using this scheme, namely the tax treaty between Canada and Barbados.
These savings of $100 million by CSL International were covered by the average taxpayers, by those who cannot escape their fiscal responsibilities. This scheme results in a heavier tax burden for the middle class. I gave the example of CSL International. As I said, at least $23 billion are invested in Barbados every year.
Banks also benefit significantly from this convention. Recently, I read a small paragraph in the Bank of Montreal's report to the effect that the bank had saved $500 million in taxes. As we know, this is one of the five major banks. Therefore, it is easy to assume that, together, Canada's major banks saved $2.5 billion in taxes. These figures are from the bank's annual report; I am not making them up.
This additional burden lands on the middle class. It explains, to a large extent, why we are being overtaxed by the federal government.
Under the tax treaty between Barbados and Canada, once CSL International has paid its taxes to Barbados, at a rate of 1.5%, it can take its revenues back to Canada without having to pay tax on them here in Canada.
There was a slight problem, though. Since 1972, if my memory serves me right, we have had regulations on what is called passive income, in other words income generated by investments that are not used for concrete economic activity. For example, if you put money in the bank, earned interest is an income that is taxable in Canada, just like dividends, even if it has been earned in Barbados. This was a problem for CSL International, because this corporation is a holding company which does not own ships, but owns companies who are the owners of ships. Thus, the dividends paid by these companies to CSL International were taxable in Canada, under the Income Tax Act because this was a passive income.
This government has been quite creative in finding a way for CSL International and a few other companies that benefited from this taxation amendment—there were only eight of them, I think—to bring their income back to Canada after paying taxes in Barbados and not to pay taxes in Canada. Section 5907(11.2)( c ) of the Income Tax Act was amended so that, in the international shipping industry, the airline industry and another industry I cannot remember right now, holding companies would be considered as the owners and operators of their subsidiaries.
In this case, the scheme went like this: CSL would be the operator of the ships that generate the income and profits of the subsidiaries, so that it could get the dividends from these companies without having to pay taxes.
The Income Tax Act was amended to meet the requirements of a few taxpayers, including CSL International which has, I would remind you, been under the ownership of the Prime Minister's son since 2003. What is rather incredible, however—everyone alive must know this by now—is that the sponsor of the changes, the sponsor of Bill C-28, is none other than the Prime Minister, finance minister at the time. It is pretty incredible, in a country presented as an exemplary democracy, for there to be such a blatant conflict of interest and for this government and the governing party not to be more scandalized by it.
We have spoken out on numerous occasions about it, and have been accused of demagoguery and everything else under the sun, but one fact remains: the present Prime Minister is the one who amended the Income Tax Act in order to enable a handful of taxpayers, eight or so, to benefit from a change allowing them to bring back their profits from Barbados, thanks to the tax law in that country and the tax convention Canada has with it, and to pay no Canadian income tax. That needs to be mentioned.
There is another really juicy tidbit, if I can call it that. When the Prime Minister was in the finance portfolio , he had to move CSL International's headquarters, which had been in Liberia, because there was U.S. government pressure after Bill Clinton was elected to tighten up the rules on tax havens. Overnight, Liberia lost its status as a jurisdiction with all manner of tax advantages.
So then the Prime Minister moved CSL International's headquarters from Liberia to Barbados. That was in 1995. In 1996, the then Minister of Finance introduced Bill C-28, although that was not its title at the time, with the provision I have referred to. It stipulated that a shipping holding company is considered to be the direct operator of the ships of its subsidiaries.
However, along came the 1997 election. We know that during Mr. Chrétien's time the mandates were very short. I was not here at the time; they say they were about three years. In 1997 we had an election, and the bill died automatically. The finance minister at the time, who is now Prime Minister, came back with the same Bill C-28 after the election. That was in 1998. At that point, there was a little problem. What about the years from 1995 to 1998? Those three years fell through the cracks. That could not be, so they made the law retroactive to 1995, the date CSL International moved to Barbados.
We are not fooled. While the general anti-avoidance rule is a step in the right direction, it is not the solution to the problem. If the government had a bare minimum of ethics, I think this situation could be corrected once and for all. It would improve the reputations of the Prime Minister, the Liberal Party and Canadian democracy as a whole. I have a great deal of difficulty understanding why this essential amendment is still being resisted.
However, as you know, the Standing Committee on Finance, spurred on by our two representatives on it, will begin studying this issue of the tax treaty with Barbados. I believe this debate is far from over. Let up hope that common sense prevails and that all taxpayers assume an equitable share of their responsibilities for financing of our collective tools.
I am coming to the budget introduced this week, on Wednesday in fact, by the Minister of Finance. Unfortunately, he has not corrected any of the elements missing from the 2004 budget. There is not one word about tax havens. I will not say any more about it. I think I have been sufficiently eloquent.
What was particularly shocking on Wednesday, and it was pointed out by a number of political observers, was that not only have the legitimate demands of the Bloc Québécois concerning the issues the budget should address been brushed aside, but the needs of Quebec have been completely ignored, as well.
The first thing the Bloc Québécois asked the government to correct was the fiscal imbalance. People are well aware of that. Some may call it financial pressures on the provinces, but the fact remains that the Speech from the Throne recognized there was a problem financially for the provinces. We would therefore have expected corrective measures from the government. Yet, there is nothing more than what was negotiated or imposed by this government in the past few months.
Let me give the example of Quebec for the current year. As hon. members know, the governing party in Quebec is a federalist party. So, I do not think that anyone will question the objectivity of the numbers.
The Government of Quebec has estimated at $3.3. billion the shortfall caused this year by the fiscal imbalance, from too much tax paid to Ottawa compared with its responsibilities and not enough fiscal room for Quebec compared with its responsibilities.
At the time the health accord was signed, in September, Quebec's share resulting from the negotiations was $500 million. This has to be put into perspective. Quebec's health budget is $20 billion. That is to say that $500 million is the cost of operating this system for just a few days. It is no great hardship, but that is what was agreed on in September.
Following the imposition of the equalization formula by this government before budget 2004 and the October meeting, Quebec will end up with an extra $300 million this year. So, for Quebec, this year, what was agreed on in September and what was imposed in October adds up to $800 million.
We need $3.3 billion. The shortfall for this year is $2.5 billion. These agreements have done little to correct the fiscal imbalance.
Given the multi-billion dollar federal surplus, we would have expected the government to do a little more, in its latest budget, towards correcting the fiscal imbalance. The Bloc Quebecois never asked for it to be corrected completely. We struck a committee, presided by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, to find solutions. It should have a report ready by June. We would have liked to see some kind of political effort to alleviate the financial pressures felt by the provinces.
But there is none. The government, sticking close to the books, gave $800 million to Quebec, instead of the $3.3 billion it needed.
We have been told there will be an $11 billion surplus for the coming years. What does the Minster of Finance do? Exactly what Mr. Manley did before him, and what the Prime Minister did when he was finance minister. He does a little arithmetic . He says he'll put $3 billion in the contingency reserve, and $1 billion in the economic prudence reserve. I have already asked Mr. Manley what the difference is between those two reserves. There is none. They are exactly the same. Their sole purpose is to hide the federal government's surplus.
As surpluses will keep increasing, $3 billion will be maintained for the contingency reserve and, over the years, the reserve for prudence will be beefed up by $2 billion, and then $3 billion, $4 billion, etc.
The result is that we are being told that for the next three years, there will be a $15 billion surplus. Where does that surplus come from? Three plus one equals four; three plus two equals five; three plus three equals six. If you remember your arithmetic, that totals 15. It is not any more complicated than that. This is a wholly arbitrary assessment.
Actually, it will be at least double that figure and these are numbers that come from private sector forecasters whom the Standing Committee on Finance heard. In fact, a summary assessment foresees $34 billion to $35 billion over the next few years. So the trick which has been used by this government for many years, when the Prime Minister was Minister of Finance, when Mr. Manley was there and now, with the current Minister of Finance, remains.
The real financial situation of the federal government is being covered up so as not to meet the needs of provinces, to financially strangle Quebec. This is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois, just as it is unacceptable to the Government of Quebec and to Quebeckers. Indeed, the latter issued a reminder to the Liberals last June 28. They will never accept a federal government continuing to strangle them like that.
I would have liked to talk about employment insurance, but I will have an opportunity to come back to that issue, hopefully, in the debate on the budget. I would have liked also to speak to social housing, for which there is absolutely nothing. As to tax cuts, it makes no sense at all. It is utterly absurd.
In closing, let me state again that if Quebec were sovereign, we would be able to collect all of our taxes, to make our laws, to make choices and to sign international treaties, and we would no longer talk about fiscal imbalance. That would be settled once and for all.