Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-33. I am going to read the title so that the people listening will understand it. This is an Act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts, and to provide for the bijural expression of the provisions of that Act.
Now, just from reading the title of the bill, it is clear that it is somewhat complicated, for everyone. This bill is over 400 pages long. I was not joking when I asked my Liberal colleague, a few moments ago, whether his party was for or against tax avoidance, because in the speeches we hear in this House, no one has taken a clear position as the Bloc Québécois has done.
This bill must be passed for the good and simple reason that at present, as we speak, as old age pensions are not being indexed by the federal government, as electricity bills are going up for families in Quebec and probably everywhere else in Canada, as registration fees for car licence plates are going up, as the cost of everything is going up, companies and individuals are using legal entities that are allowed in Canada either to transfer capital abroad or so as not to pay income tax on investment funds. This bill must therefore be passed.
Our position is clear, but we will never stop there. The Bloc Québécois has a single principle: all tax avoidance must be eliminated. It is not acceptable that while some people are having a hard time, others are taking advantage of the situation in order not to pay their taxes here. And then, once those taxes have been collected, we could index old age pensions and raise the various income supports so that people would be able to pay for what they need to survive and meet their everyday expenses.
That is why what some colleagues in this House are saying is incomprehensible. We must never distance ourselves from the public. Certainly this is complex, and we can try, as the Liberal member was just saying, to say that these 400 pages do not solve anything. It is not accurate to say that in 400 pages nothing is being solved. However, he is entirely correct, because tax avoidance is not being solved once and for all. As well, I am not sure that the Liberal Party, which was in power for 13 years, wanted to solve the problem of tax evasion. It did not want to solve the problem, and today, even though the Liberals are in opposition, they will not solve it and they will not do everything in their power precisely to recover all the money that is needed so that we can restore fairness.
I was pleased to hear the minister of the Environment say a moment ago that he wanted to try to restore fairness. This is true of this bill, in part, but the Conservative Party has to be logical in what it says, and restore fairness once and for all. The first aspect of fairness that it should have restored was to index old age pensions on April 1, so that at last everyone who has contributed to the growth of Quebec and Canada would be able to receive dividends on all the time, money and energy they have invested and all the taxes they have paid in the last 40 or 50 or 60 years. That has not been done.
It would be even better if we were told today that what will be recovered with Bill C-33 will be given to those most in need in our society. Never has a Conservative risen in this House, however, to tell us that money would be recovered so that it could be given to those who deserve it. No, that is not what happens. The money is going to be recovered and that is good. The Bloc Québécois agrees with these measures and supports them. You will have our entire support with regard to Bill C-33 and all bills that you propose to eradicate tax evasion once and for all. We will be there to help you, provided that afterwards we can take this money, reinvest it in programs to help those most in need, index old age pensions—as I told you earlier—and be able to reform employment insurance.
With regard to employment insurance, since 1994 the federal government has not invested one cent in the employment insurance plan. It consists of contributions from employers and employees. Believe it or not, the government has managed to generate over $51 billion since 1996, which it has used to reduce the debt and for all sorts of investments, except improving the employment insurance system so that those who have paid into employment insurance are capable of avoiding the famous black hole or seasonal gap, except in a few regions. It is true that the governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have listened to part of what we had to say, since in certain types of industry and in certain regions some pilot projects have been adopted.
The problem is the lack of jobs in all sectors. There have been massive job losses, particularly in manufacturing, in the past two years.
Furthermore no solution has been found for the problem of older workers who have lost their jobs and who deserve an assistance program so that they can enjoy their old age pensions with decent incomes. We have not been able to do that, even though we are swimming in billions of surplus dollars from the employment insurance fund.
All the Liberal and Conservative members will say today that there is no employment insurance fund; it is the government’s consolidated revenue fund. Obviously they collect more from the plan than it costs them, more than they expend on services or insurance for workers.
They make a profit, quite simply. They make money with the employment insurance premiums paid by employees and employers. The reality is that they make a profit. What do they do with the money? They do not give it to the citizens who need it most. They do not improve the plan. We are talking about seasonal workers and workers over 55 who have lost their jobs and who deserve some help until they are eligible for their pensions. We do not see any of that.
There has been no speech in this House, neither from a Liberal nor a Conservative, to say that if we ever passed a bill such as Bill C-33, we could help the least fortunate with that money.
I am not asking that we give this money to those who could benefit from a new employment insurance program. We could simply use the surplus in the fund to improve the EI system. And we could very well use the money saved or recovered through Bill C-33, which addresses tax evasion, to index old age pensions and any other assistance program for the least fortunate in our society.
Once again, and as usual, we are in for a long fight. Those watching us must realize that things do not progress very quickly in the Parliament of Canada. It is a big machine, a big, spacious box with many members and bills that are renewed from one Parliament to the next. Often bills come from previous Parliaments because of elections, etc.
A bill is introduced and then we are informed in this House that the bill did not go through, that we were unable to see it through because we ran out of time and it did not go through all the stages. It is very complicated. However, we must not forget that the party in power often benefits from this, in other words, it arranges things to ensure that the bill does not see the light of day. That is the harsh reality.
We work hard, we try to see bills through, but sometimes the government decides not to pass them quickly. A fast-track procedure exists. Many journalists and media report that we have fast-tracked a bill. What is fast tracking? It is used when we want a bill to pass and we set things up so that it does: we do it quickly and we skip a few stages.
This will not be the case for Bill C-33. The Conservative Party does not want to fast-track. It apparently wants to show an interest in correcting tax evasion.
The Bloc Québécois will give its full support to this bill and any measure seeking to advance the bill as quickly as possible on the parliamentary, jurisdictional, constitutional or any other agenda.
We are prepared to fast-track this bill so that it is enacted as quickly as possible. Why? Because Bill C-33 corrects various provisions of the Income Tax Act. These provisions are being corrected because they made it possible to circumvent tax rules and to evade taxes. The bill is 400 pages and is indeed complex.
Some follow what is happening in terms of tax evasion. Major tax evasion trials are often televised. Individuals have been accused of tax evasion and fraud. Do not get me wrong, but it does not constitute fraud because the law allows tax evasion.
Those who avoid tax have often paid consultants, professionals and a whole host of experts. They have a lot of money and they spend a lot of it to have experts find loopholes in the Income Tax Act, enabling them to avoid expenses and paying taxes.
Today, to deal with the problem, we could all just say that if the government wants to solve the problem of tax evasions it should go ahead and do so. More than 400 pages is needed just to correct some small paragraphs in each amendment. I will not read them all, unless I have the unanimous consent of the House to continue speaking until next week, which I will certainly not obtain.
Be that as it may I would gladly list the sections, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs that have been amended by this bill. In the end, the objective is quite simply to make it more difficult to circumvent the tax regulations and to avoid paying taxes.
The bill responds to the shortcomings identified by the Auditor General in her 2005 report.
It often happens that, here in Parliament, we need the Auditor General to tell us things that we all know. We know that there is tax avoidance in Canada. Cases are reported in the media. People find it maddening that investment money can be legally transferred to other countries without being taxed in Canada. In order to verify that a request was made to the Auditor General. In 2005, in her report, the Auditor General raised the very problem we are trying to rectify today.
The bill before us today will require disclosure of additional information about foreign trusts, which will allow a more rigorous analysis of the figures submitted to the Canada Revenue Agency, in accordance with the recommendations of the Auditor General.
This means data will have to be up to date in order to have all the required information. That is also complicated. We would be hard-pressed to find out how the money was moved, as was the case with trusts; where the money went; where it came from and all the rest. The government absolutely must adopt legislation to control that because, as I said earlier, the big financiers and all those who want to take advantage of the loopholes in the act can hire any number of professionals to help them.
The Auditor General said that this has to stop and that all the required information must be provided. The bill requires that foreign trusts and foreign investment groups must provide all the information required so that we can curb tax avoidance and put an end to it.
I listened to my Liberal colleague earlier and what seems to be the Liberal philosophy. They say they want to put an end to tax avoidance and go after the money offshore so that people pay the taxes they owe. That could take a long time because the money is already gone.
This bill at least has the advantage of allowing the money to be collected before it leaves. That is a good thing in itself. We agree with collecting money that is already in other countries and has not been taxed. We have said that we support any regulations or amendments to the bill for the purpose of recovering taxes from people who have not paid them. But let us start with Bill C-33 to collect taxes from people who want to send their money abroad. We know about foreign trusts, and about all of the foreign investment bodies and entities that transfer capital, and that should be declaring it. We will therefore be collecting the tax right at the start. That is the primary objective that this bill adopts and that the Bloc Québécois adopts.
Tax evasion is much more complex and significant than it appears. This is a principle of fairness. People have to pay their taxes on the money they earn, in Quebec and in Canada, on their sales or however they get it.
When someone sells a car, or a household item, or shares, or whatever, the Income Tax Act allows for exemptions, and that is good because it encourages investment. However, apart from those exemptions, once everyone has understood that after so much profit, they have to pay income tax, this is a simple principle of fairness. In order to redistribute wealth better, we must be able to collect all of the money owing.
We have to stand up. On the day when a government stands up tall, it can tell everyone that they have to pay their taxes, as the law requires them to do, and there will be no more tax evasion or signing of agreements with countries like Barbados, as was done in the past. We denounced the agreements with Barbados, which also allowed the former Liberal prime minister to transfer capital to foreign countries. We have already said a lot about that here in Parliament. This has to stop.
On the day when this message is sent, businessmen will understand that when they make profits, they pay taxes. Our problem is that we allow them to do things and we open the doors that they use. They pay professionals so they can use those doors. On the day when we stop and say that it is over, because we want to have fairness, we will require that they pay their taxes. Because the profits they make are thanks to all the taxpayers who make a lot of corporations wealthy. They often try to make even more profits. We can name them. We saw them when we were talking about income trusts. They are banks and companies that we are dealing with today. Even Bell Canada wanted to create a trust.
One day, we will say to all of them who tried everything they could to make their shareholders wealthy from dividends every quarter, that they have to pay their taxes as they should, and that after that has been done, they will pay dividends. That is it. Dividends will be a little lower, but they will have paid their taxes. When that time comes, the government will be able to resolve the fiscal imbalance once and for all, as we are calling on it to do, not half of it or part of it.
Yes, the Bloc supported the government because it fixed 60% of the fiscal imbalance. But maybe if it recovers all that, it will fix 100% of the imbalance. It will index the old age pension, as it should have on April 1. Maybe it will take a look some day at what an old age pension cheque is supposed to cover. Maybe it will look not only at the cost of living but more at the cost of medications for older people.
It will also look at the cost of housing. Safe housing, including services, is getting more expensive. But the pension has not been indexed for the last 10 years. We have never taken time to discuss the cheque received by older people. Is it really suited to the current needs of our older people, who find that it is getting more expensive to find safe housing. There are a lot of home invasions and people need housing with good security. Are we there yet? No, and we know it. The old age pension was not even indexed on April 1, and it will not be. People who did not know that know it now. I think that most people have already received their cheque and they know that it was not indexed.
In my view, there will have to be a debate some day and the richer people in our society will have to be told that they already have enough and are wealthy enough. They should therefore pay their extra share in taxes. After all, they are not losing all their perks. Corporations and trusts have their own tax rate, which is much lower than the individual rate. They already benefit from the largesse of the system. They already have their ways of saving a few bucks. They will just not get any additional gifts.
The problem is that people who make a lot of money cannot be prevented from wanting to make even more. When people find that the door is wide open and they can detour their funds through foreign trusts and invest their money tax-free elsewhere, why would they not do so, when they can see that their neighbours are doing it?
The income trust story is something like that. The Conservatives are now wrestling with a promise they did not keep and the Liberals with a promise they probably should not have kept. Why? Because originally it seemed like a good idea. But when everybody took advantage of it, they realized that if it continued, one day the big companies would no longer be paying any tax. All of that because they created a little loophole in the Income Tax Act to try to help out. That was done by lobbyists.
We often hear our colleagues tell us that MPs should no longer be there and that lobbyists should take our place. Income trusts have led to this. Lobbyists probably treated members and ministers to lovely evenings with a bottle or two where they had some fine chats about the future. However, lobbyists work for banks and large corporations. They try to find ways for them to make more money. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens sit in front of their televisions and may no longer be able to pay for a meal out. That is difficult to reconcile.
The Conservatives rise to tell us that the Bloc Québécois should disappear. We now have lobbyists. So, all MPs will be replaced. Members will all belong to the same party and the lobbyists will become the official opposition. That will be great, right? That will be just great. Usually, lobbyists do not speak or ask questions in public. Everything is done behind closed doors in order to obtain results.
So, that is how the Conservatives want to govern, and the Liberals before them were not much better. That is the harsh reality. We have allowed lobbies to take over Parliament. It is one of the hard realities faced by new members and they are aware of it.
We receive dozens, even hundreds of invitations every month from various lobby groups trying to take our place as politicians. Personally, I think it is quite something that we have let them take over. Today it has become such a part of daily life that members of the Conservative Party say that there should be no opposition members; the lobbyists will do their work for them. Well, that is how it is. That is what they want because they can be controlled and they have the money to buy them.
One thing is certain: you cannot buy members of the Bloc Québécois. We will always defend a bill, such as Bill C-33, that makes the rich pay their fair share in order to distribute it to those most in need.