Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-33, the budget implementation act. It is very important to look at a number of issues in the bill. There were a lot of issues that went to committee. I know that there is much interest in deciding what is going to happen with our economy. There were great presentations by hundreds of Canadians who submitted documents. It is important to note, though, that a couple of elements make this legislation very significant.
I am going to focus my remarks on a couple of elements, because I believe they deserve some attention and should be noted in this debate at second reading. One of them is an element that should be closed as it is something that is atrocious: the allowing, in business tax deductions, of fines and penalties to be tax deductible. That is going to be closed.
The second relates to the issue of infrastructure in our communities and our nation. I again will discuss, as I have many times, issues related to the crossing at Windsor--Detroit. I will certainly discuss some of the things that are happening now but also how this relates to our budgetary process. That is a moving target; there are a lot of things changing on a regular basis.
First I want to highlight some of the positive things that we New Democrats were very pleased to see in the budget bill. One in particular is the introduction of the closing of that loophole I mentioned, that gap.
It is hard for Canadians to believe this. A corporation could go to court and be convicted of a criminal offence related to polluting the environment, conspiracy related to market practices and a number of serious elements that are predatory not only to Canadian taxpayers but also to other businesses. The government would then go through the process, there would be a review, charges would be laid and a judgment cast. At the end of the day, behind closed doors, an accountant could then deduct those fines and penalties as a tax break.
It is amazing that the process to get here was so difficult. As New Democrats, we want to make this chamber work and we have been doing that in a number of different initiatives. This was very difficult to push through at the end, but I think it is important to talk about the first part of that process.
I do want to recognize the member for Winnipeg Centre, who pioneered this fight. This fight goes back to a time before I was elected to the House of Commons. It goes back to the member's comments in the House of Commons. I will read that question to the House. It will be shocking for Canadians to learn that there was no response until 2005, when we pressured the government to close the loophole:
Mr. Speaker, I cannot deduct my traffic tickets from my income tax yet a recent court ruling says that businesses can deduct fines, penalties and levies as a legitimate business expense. I find this outrageous. Will the Minister of National Revenue agree that it undermines the deterrent value of a fine if a company can write it off as a tax deduction?
That was said by the member for Winnipeg Centre in May 2002.
What we are talking about is the decision that it is a legitimate business expense to poison our water, a legitimate business expense to practice predatory behaviour that costs other Canadians jobs because their company might play by the rules, whether it is safety or product information that is valid as opposed to unfair advertising or practising predatory behaviour on consumers. These fines were a legitimate business expense and could be deducted.
We have not done all the research on this, but we know it has cost us tens of millions of dollars each year. One of the fines that was levied was for $50 million. It was a joint issue related to drug companies that were fined for conspiracy related to bulk vitamins. There were several companies involved. We estimate that from that $50 million they could have had $10 million of taxpayers' money coming back to them. It is a crime that this type of practice was allowed.
When the member for Winnipeg Centre brought this to the government's attention, nothing was done. In fact, he followed that up with this question back in 2002, about six months later:
Mr. Speaker, six months ago I asked the revenue minister to plug the tax loophole that allows businesses to deduct fines and penalties from their income tax as a business expense. Since when is breaking the law supposed to be tax deductible?
It is unbelievable that we still had no movement even then.
We continue to fight as New Democrats on this issue. We continue to raise the consciences of Canadians and make them aware that for this coming tax year they will not be able to deduct fines and penalties. At the same time, Canadians were having to pay more because the government was shovelling the money back to the people who had gone to court, lost a case and had been fined, penalized or had a levy placed upon them. We would shovel money back behind the scenes to them because they had good accountants and because there was no progress made on this file.
What happened here in the House of Commons is unbelievable. The government at the industry committee then introduced Bill C-19 which looked at increasing administrative monetary penalties but still did not fix the loophole.
I was pleased to introduce a motion at the industry committee to suspend deliberations and discussions on Bill C-19 until this gap was plugged. What was amazing was that we found out the legislation to fix this gap, which was again one of the promises in the Speech from the Throne that never reached fruition, was ready but the government refused to introduce the elements to actually cast the last completion to fix this loophole. It was sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
The motion passed, and I must give credit to the Conservative Party of Canada which supported the motion. Although the Conservatives did not necessarily agree with my position that tax deductions on fines, penalties and levies should not be tax deductible, they said that they were quite clear on that but that they were not fully convinced that was their thing. However they said that a promise was made by the government in the Speech from the Throne, that New Democrats had been raising the issue and that the promise should be honoured. The Conservatives were straight up and I give them credit for that. They have accountability. The Bloc Québécois supported it as well.
Do members know what happened? The Liberals on the committee stormed out of the meeting after we got the suspension. I will give credit to the Liberal chair of the committee who did a good job of handling the situation, handling the committee and making sure that we were working together in a non-partisan way. He was also very much interested in a dialoguing with me to get this moving, which was very important.
A week and a half later the government did introduce Bill C-33 and made sure the amendment was in the bill. We then came back to the House of Commons after the break and we are now in the final stages of the bill.
It is because of that that I kept my word as well and in committee this week we agreed to put Bill C-19 back on the table, which is how Parliament should work.
I do not understand why we had to drag the government kicking and screaming to end something that was so egregious for Canadian citizens. Once again I have to say that the member for Winnipeg Centre should be commended for pioneering this fight. It not only has an implication on individuals and the money they will save as taxpayers that will not be shovelled back to people that break the law, it will also set the record straight that if people are going to pollute, if they are going to use predatory practices that affect consumers and other Canadians and they are caught, they will be fined and not be able to get that money back through the back door. This sets an example.
We have seen a couple of vivid examples in the last few days where a special investigation unit of the RCMP has been out on Bay Street with a big van outside offices and securing records because of the potential problems on Bay Street. This is another issue that was behind the scenes. We did not have the van, but unethical practices were happening through the shuffling of paper that at least as Canadians we can say will be completed and finished. We are very proud to be part of that.
The budget is a very important document in terms of the way in which the process is developed and the promises that are made and things that are laid out later.
Another issue that is evolving right now is the importance of recognizing the decisions being made by this nation regarding infrastructure and investment that has already cost us a lot of money.
Forty-two percent of the nation's trade goes through the Windsor-Detroit border. At the present time there is a rail tunnel with a small load capacity which is not being used much right now because it has only a single stack and it needs a double stack to be more efficient. There is a tunnel for cars and trucks but it is predominantly trucks that use it. There is a ferry crossing and there is the Ambassador Bridge. These elements span about two kilometre's over the Detroit River. Forty-two percent of our nation's trade goes along those two kilometres.
The city and county councils of the day have just released a constructive plan from the Schwartz report. The community has struggled a great deal to find a solution to the gridlock and to ensure the proper infrastructure is in place. Many different community groups have been seeking solutions to this gridlock because it not only has an impact on the air quality, it also has an impact on the community in terms of travelling from the east side of the city to the west side. It is also having an impact on international trade and is prohibiting business development in the community.
The city has come up with a consensus on the problem but it is a problem that requires infrastructure dollars. I will remind the House that the Prime Minister promised that he would look for a solution but that he would not impose anything on the City of Windsor. What the Prime Minister needs to understand is that words are not good enough. Any action that has to be taken must also come with the resources.
After many months of study the Schwartz report is finally finished and now we have the bureaucrats suggesting that it might or might not work. That is not good enough. We were told that appropriate resources would be provided for this.
Let me put the importance of 42% of the nation's trade going through this corridor into context. There has been no infrastructure investment of any significant magnitude in this corridor since NAFTA. Despite all the growth, despite the years and years of warnings from the councils to the former minister of finance, now the Prime Minister, and finance ministers after him, and despite all the county and city resolutions, no action has yet been taken.
As a result, a report was released this year from the Michigan department of transportation that calculates that this year alone the Canadian economy lost $18 billion from delays at the border; double the surplus. We know that the auto plants and parts manufacturers are coming up with other options because of this infrastructure deficiency.
It is interesting to note that the city came back with a consensus report. What had happened was that the federal Liberal government, along with the provincial Conservative government at that time, behind closed doors, attempted to impose something on the community called a nine point plan. They tried to shovel taxpayer dollars to private companies to promote their advancement of solutions that would not work and had no modelling or grounding as solutions.
Our community fought that plan. We exposed its weakness not only in the planning but in the process. The governments had breached the trust of every resident of the city. There was no solution. They were just trying to seek taxpayer dollars. The city was asked to come up with a solution so it hired the brightest traffic guru in North America, Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner, to do a study and come up with a report, which he did. They have consensus for the first time. The warden and the mayor deserve credit for that.
It is not the perfect solution that I would have liked, nor is it everything I was seeking, but it is something. It actually has traffic modelling and it has an actual plan that is multi-model, that will carry the day and that will rebuild confidence.
However the plan will cost money. It has been estimated that it will cost about $1 billion to carry out that plan. Nothing is wrong with that because $18 billion was just lost last year and it will be lost again this year. I can tell members that if the resources are not there, the communities of Windsor and Essex county will fight something being imposed on them. If somebody else wants to impose something that does not support what the community has asked and advocated for, the timelines better be built in for what we are going to do to protect our community to make sure that it is a healthy and vibrant city, not only for raising families but also for economic development. That is important to note.
Once again the word of the Prime Minister and others was that they would be there. In fact just recently in the House of Commons the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said they would be there when I asked a question. Well they had better be there. We see stories though that give me concern. The Windsor Star reads:
Border money up in air--Federal and provincial politicians will decide within "a few weeks" how much funding will be provided and when construction will begin on the next phase of improvements to fix Windsor's border traffic problems.
That is fine, but I have not heard the political leadership say that the money will be there.
What is interesting about all of this is that on the U.S. side the Americans do not seem to have that problem. I will quote Paul Cellucci:
Cellucci urges border decision: Ambassador says U.S. may split costs:"U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci says Washington wants quick approval of a new border crossing between Windsor and Detroit and suggested the U.S. is prepared to split the cost.
He noted Canada and the U.S. have worked out a 50/50 cost-sharing formula to pay for a new bridge being built between New Brunswick and Maine, saying this could be the model for the new crossing under study in Windsor and Detroit to relieve the logjams that plague the countries' busiest border crossing.”
What is amazing and what is not talked about often enough is the fact that this corridor, with 42% of our nation's trade, the busiest and most important corridor that we have, has no coordinating body despite four crossings to get the trucks, people, cars and goods and services across the two kilometres. It is not done like that in Fort Erie. It is not done like that in Niagara Falls. It is not done like that in Sarnia. They have a border authority or a public commission. They at least have something that helps coordinate the long term development of the region, the traffic management, the flow and the infrastructure.
With all the changing legislation coming from the United States, it is more important today because just as important as infrastructure is legislation, programming, staff and technology to move the border traffic through at a good rate.
Why is that not being done in Windsor? Why is it that we are going to let 42% of our nation's trade hang in the balance of chaos and no coordination? Part of the reason is that unlike everywhere else, except for one other place, 24 crossings, which are tunnels and bridges, are held by the public sector. Two crossings are held by the private sector: the Ambassador Bridge and Fort Frances. The other ones are usually owned by state, provincial or sometimes municipal governments. In Windsor our tunnel pays a revenue and a dividend back to the people to relieve taxes as opposed to filling somebody else's pocket.
However in Windsor there has been no comment by the government to date as to whether it will fund the next crossing, which is incredible because we are going to let 42% of our nation's trade become a business for someone to usurp the profits of the auto industry, the agricultural industry and people crossing on a daily basis, as opposed to saying that it is a social and economic conduit between our two nations that should not be a profiteering model, not off the backs of industry and not off the backs of people. It is an important connection link between our two countries.
Those moneys for the border could go toward a solution for the future so that we will not have to dig back and try to find money. This should be done properly. I do not understand why we have been left in this situation. I cannot understand why we would let 42% of our nation's trade be thrown up in the air for the interests of a few as opposed to the benefits of many.