Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak today about this bill, which seeks to recognize the work done by thousands, if not millions, of Quebeckers and Canadians who have worked in the United States. They have crossed the border to earn a living in another country.
I was first elected in my riding in 1993. In 1994-95, we had to wage a tremendous battle to correct a mistake made by the Liberal government. Those were the years when the government was trying to raise as much money as possible to fight the deficit. The government could find no better solution than to tighten the employment insurance criteria and turn the system into the federal government's cash cow. In addition, in a trade with the Americans, the government introduced a system that made no sense.
Early in its first mandate, the Chrétien government decided that, instead of receiving their pensions from the Americans and having them taxed at 50% here in Canada, Canadian citizens would be taxed directly by the Americans. The absurd result was that people never saw their money again. We had to wage an ongoing battle to rectify this situation.
I was able to see just how many people in the riding I represented at the time, especially people in Témiscouata, needed that income to make ends meet. I remember meetings of 350 to 400 people in Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Cabano and other towns. People wanted the situation to be corrected. I made representations at the time, as did François Langlois, who was the Bloc member for the neighbouring riding of Bellechasse—Etchemins— Montmagny—L'Islet. We succeeded in making a change, not alone, but in collaboration with many members of this House, who represented ridings where people were also living along the border and dealing with the sad new reality approved by the Chrétien government.
I remember that Herb Gray, a member of the government at the time, took action and said, “Listen, our decision makes no sense. We have to change things”. When the situation was rectified, part of the reality was forgotten. As I mentioned, the government at the time wanted to raise as much money as possible to fight the deficit, so it agreed to tax at 85% the money received by Canadian citizens who had worked in the United States.
As of that time, people receiving American pensions were taxed on 85% of the amount they received, despite being Canadian citizens who paid into those pensions while working in the United States. Those people did not have the option of putting some of that money in a tax shelter, such as an RRSP. The Canadian government collects tax on 85% of every cheque those people get. The bill before us today aims to correct that situation.
It was a Liberal mistake. The member for Essex has introduced the bill before us now. At least it will restore the system we had before the Liberal blunder. It will restore a 50% tax rate, thus creating greater equality between American workers who make contributions to pension plans and Canadian and Quebec workers who work in the United States and make contributions to the same thing. The bill will ensure greater equality in that respect and greater equality for the problem that remains to be corrected. Currently, when people receive their American pension cheques, they are taxed on 85% of the amount, but a fair system would reduce that to 50%, as was the case before the Liberals' big mistake.
These sound like very theoretical arguments, but they are not that at all. There are a lot of elderly people who receive the American old age pension, and that is what enables them to make ends meet and to support several regional economies along the border. This is the result of people's very hard work, work that, in my riding, was mainly in the forest industry.
There are still a lot of people in my riding today, especially in the Montmagny—L'Islet part, but also in Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, who are in this situation. I am thinking of the people in Saint-Pamphile, the people in all of the towns along the border and the people of Saint-Just-de-Bretenières.
Some towns are located along the U.S. border. Often the people in those towns earn their living in the United States and they are currently victims of the unfairness we still find in this legislation, which should be corrected. We hope this will happen as soon as possible.
That is why the Bloc Québécois hopes this bill will pass and be referred to a committee to be considered in greater detail. This is a private member's bill. It should perhaps be tidied up to bring its rules in line with Canada's Income Tax Act.
Nonetheless, as far as the principle of the bill is concerned, we feel it is important, justified and more equitable to pass this measure. In my opinion, this is the type of gesture that deserves to be supported since our constituents have dedicated their lives to supporting their family by being willing to leave for the United States to work in logging camps and in the tourism industry.
One of the places my constituents often go to work is Maine because they are considered to be good workers and are received with open arms by the Americans, who hope these people can continue to work there. However, current inequity in the legislation discourages them from doing so.
People do not realize the contribution rates they are paying when they are 25, 30 or 35. They just think there are always a lot of deductions on their paycheque. They really begin to notice when they start getting their pension because the pension cheque is important to people whose sole family income is often only a basic pension. It is this cheque that allows them to stay at home longer. Rather than leaving their home at age 70, 72 or 75, this cheque gives them the means to stay at home and hire someone to help with the housekeeping. This cheque at the end of the month allows them to continue to have a decent life, because it provides the necessary amount of money to cover such expenses.
In this context, the Bloc Québécois believes that the gender equality initiative is worthy of our support so that we can correct the mistakes made by the Liberals at the time of the 1995 convention. At that time, it was decided that the Americans would withhold taxes at source. Thus, Quebeckers and Canadians had their taxes withheld by the Americans, with no means of recovering that money. That mistake was partially corrected as a result of the efforts of some of the members of this House, especially some Bloc Québécois members at that time. However, a second part of the reform was not implemented and it is essential that it be addressed by the bill before us here today.
We are seeking recognition for our seniors, for the work they did, and we hope to see them get everything they deserve. As we must all be aware, in the last 25 years, the income of Canadian seniors has improved. However, certain groups in our society—some people living in Canada—are not receiving fair treatment, especially women who become widowed and are living alone. These women must go through a drastic change in their life, in how they manage their budget. Furthermore, a correction would also lead to greater tax equity and give our seniors an income that would allow them to make ends meet.
This Parliament has an opportunity to give recognition where recognition is due, by ensuring that these Canadians are entitled to tax rates that are as equitable as possible, given that they dedicated their lives to supporting their families and even agreed to work outside Canada. For this reason, the Bloc Québécois will support this motion.