Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill.
I am a little surprised to see the member here. He and I had a good debate on Thursday of last week and he indicated that if I showed him where in the Liberal red book it said that the GST was going to be cancelled, scrapped and changed, he would resign, but he is here today to speak to his private member's motion. I took him up on his challenge, mano-a-mano, and, like the Liberal Party, he did not keep his commitment.
I take this opportunity to contribute to the debate on Motion No. 321, a proposal that represents another sorry chapter in the tale of Liberal mismanagement on the issue of income trusts. It is a book that is never going to become a best seller, and I would like to think, as probably all Canadians would, that the conclusion of the Liberal Party is actually being written as we speak.
The Liberal Party now has had at least three policies on income trusts: one with the tax, one without a tax, and now we are back with a tax in another Liberal plan.
The proposal in this motion fails in every respect. First, there is no tax neutrality between trusts and corporations. Second, it does not address significant federal and provincial revenue losses if existing trusts continue to grow. Third, there is no level playing field. It maintains a tax advantage for income trusts over corporations, which we have seen is bad for this country.
It would open the door for corporate taxpayers like Hibernia and EnCana to convert to trusts. No wonder, as the member for Peterborough so aptly put it, that Finn Poschmann of the C.D. Howe Institute called it “a politically funky stew”. I have seen Finn at our finance committee meetings and I am not saying that he always agrees with us, but I will say that he and the government are 100% on side in terms of what we needed to do with income trusts.
Our government is committed to tax fairness, as we announced on October 31, 2006. Prior to that, Canadian companies were announcing intentions to convert to the income trusts and it was happening at a frenetic pace. Such decisions offered short term tax benefits but created significant economic distortions. It threatened Canada's long term economic growth and it shifted future tax burdens onto taxpaying Canadians, both families and individuals.
It would have meant unchecked growth that would have resulted in billions in lost revenue, which would not have been invested in the priorities of Canadians. This has been confirmed by a number of experts. Economist Andrew Teasdale noted that “exploitation was set to expand to a level which could have significantly impacted the ability of the government's right to make tax policy”.
Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge said:
By giving incentives that led to the inappropriate use of the income trust form of organization, the tax system was actually creating inefficiencies in capital markets, inefficiencies that, over time, would lead to lower levels of investment, output and productivity.
The introduction of the tax fairness plan restores balance and fairness to the federal tax system.
The decision was not an easy one. It was a tough one, but it was the right one. The provision of doing the right thing and addressing tax relief means that we could reduce the general corporate income tax rate; we could increase the age credit amount for seniors; and in regard to a recommendation, after 40 years we actually could introduce pension income splitting for seniors.
This is the right plan. It will not indefinitely maintain a tax imbalance between income trusts and corporations, and it will not maintain the economic distortions which that imbalance entailed, an imbalance that over the next number of years would have forced personal income tax rate increases that would have shocked Canadians.
Dominic D'Alessandro of Manulife Financial said it was “the right thing” and that “continuing on this path [of income trusts] would not be in the long-term interest of this country”.
In April 2007 the Financial Post had a poll that showed that a majority of Canada's business leaders supported our action and saw income trusts “as an increasing threat to economic growth because income trusts, unlike normal companies, were obliged to distribute their earnings and couldn't readily reinvest”.
They couldn't talk about the reinvestment of capital equipment, of machinery. That is something we put right in the budget with the accelerated capital cost allowance that allows companies and corporations across this country to accelerate the investment they make into their companies. Instead of doing it over 10 or 15 years, they can now do it in two years. We are starting to see companies and corporations move in that direction.
Even the Liberal member for Halton said that “reforming the [income] trust business and stemming the tide of conversions is necessary for the long-term health of the economy”.
Motion No. 321 offers dangerous false hope to Canadians who suffered losses, regrettably, and it suggests that going back to an imbalance is actually the right thing to do. It would reintroduce unnecessary uncertainty into financial markets. We have seen, as I outlined, that the movement of the Liberal Party on income trusts has shown that the financial markets were imbalanced when they tried to and did not move on this.
I am not the only one saying that. Jack Mintz of the Rotman School of Management said that the Liberals are “creating market uncertainty by extending false hope to investors”. The National Post said, “The issue is settled”. It said, “In other words, it's time to move on“.
Everyone in the House got the message except the Liberals. Why not? Why are the Liberals proposing a plan that will exacerbate revenue loss? Let us imagine the revenue loss if Hibernia or EnCana and other large energy companies were to convert to income trusts. The Liberal plan would create a burden on Canadian taxpayers and would cost the federal and provincial treasuries billions.
Every single province supported our tax fairness plan. From across this country finance ministers from every province and territory wrote letters to every member of the finance committee to tell them that this was the right thing to do.
P.E.I. finance minister Mitch Murphy said that without our plan the province could find itself “facing a severe tax base decline...[that] would be very damaging to [Prince Edward Island's] efforts to build a strong, self reliant corporate tax base...as well as in the Atlantic region in general”.
Canada's Conservative government has said it repeatedly: Canadians pay far too much tax.
Budgets 2006 and 2007 introduced a total of over $40 billion of tax relief benefiting Canadian individuals and businesses.
Ignoring the issue of income trusts would have resulted in ordinary Canadians paying more tax today and for years to come.
Corporate tax avoidance left us with us with a choice. We either balance our budget on the backs of ordinary Canadians or we take firm action to implement tax fairness. It was not an easy decision. When leadership is required and when tough decisions are made, leadership is never easy and those decisions are never easy, but those decisions have to be made.
The tax fairness plan provides certainty and security. Proceeding with the plan means acting in the national interest and enhancing incentives to save and invest for family retirement and security.
Unlike previous governments, we did not base our decisions on political calculation but on principles of tax fairness, balancing the needs of the individual investors versus the interests of taxpayers.
Decisions are all about fairness: fairness for Canadian taxpayers and their families who would otherwise be asked to pay more and more; fairness for the corporate sector, by removing the tax distortion in favour of income trusts relative to corporations; and fairness for all Canadian governments, federal, provincial and territorial, by preventing a significant loss of tax revenue, by setting right a significant wrong.
Where once there was speculation, today there is certainty. Where once there was posturing, today there are principled decisions. Where once there was dithering, today we have decisiveness. Where once we had confusion, today we have confidence.
Businesses are making their own choices and they are moving on. It is time we all moved on. The result of our decision is clear: a tax system that is fairer for Canadians and that will help our economy to become more productive, efficient and dynamic today and for years to come.