Madam Speaker, it is encouraging to hear my colleague from Winnipeg talk about the implications of tax policy, with having done so much research on it, because those implications affect so much of what we do in this place, primarily the government's ability and willingness to collect taxes fairly across the country. Are there special understandings within the political class here, the cabinet, and those families that can even afford to even consider things like tax havens?
I suspect that most Canadians watching this have not contemplated with their families around the dinner table what to do with their tax haven structures this year. Most Canadians are struggling to make ends meet and pay their fair share of taxes, and are willing to do so, but it is when they hear stories of the excessively rich families in Canada making a certain amount of money, wanting to avoid taxes and then skipping town, essentially.
Some of these same folks end up getting a little pin on their lapels or the Order of Canada from prime ministers for their great and dutiful work for Canadians. The irony and the hypocrisy in that alone smacks so hard against Canadian values.
Bill S-3 is a bill that has come forward from the Senate. It is great to know that every once in a while the senators rouse themselves from their afternoon naps and produce something. However, it is a bill that does not necessarily mean a lot in its particulars but, in general, has implications for all of us.
In Bill S-3, as my friend from Winnipeg said, the government quite intentionally included a country that may cause problems, because it is trying to do a free trade deal with Colombia right now and now it is slipping it into this taxation bill. It is striking to me and to others why these three particular countries are locked together and why it is of interest to the government to include such diverse economies together into one piece, but the government has chosen to do that so we must work with that.
The issue that is in front of us is how to deal with this bill. The NDP has suggested, quite rightly, that the bill should be split, that it should be broken up into its contingent parts so we can deal with each reality on its own. The government at this point has refused that, but let us look at the pattern of how the government operates when it comes to making legislation and the role of the government.
Right now at the finance committee, members are dealing with Bill C-9, which, by all measures and accounts, is a Trojan Horse bill. It is supposed to be a budget bill but it is an omnibus bill, which means that it includes a whole bunch of different pieces. The government has included things like raising airport taxes and the selling off of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the largest crown corporation in this country. It is the nuclear industry. It has also included a watering down of environmental regulations on, of all things, the oil and gas industry, which is quite ironic to think about doing that right now. All of these things are embedded into a piece of legislation that is meant to be a budget bill, a finance bill. That is a cynical form of politics. It is a form of politics that says that it does not want to debate these things on their merits.
Let us just take one of those pieces as an example, the selling of AECL. Canadians, over the 50 years of this crown corporation existing, have put somewhere north of $21 billion into it to develop the nuclear industry here in Canada, both on the energy side and creating isotopes. That is a lot of money. What else could have been done with $21 billion? However, here we are and the money has been put in.
It actually says in legislation that was crafted in this place that in order to sell or break up AECL, the government must bring a bill before the House for debate. That makes sense. That is reasonable. That is what every other country around the world does. However, rather than debate the sale of AECL or how to break it up, or any of these other things, the government instead has slipped it into a budget bill and has said that it is a matter of confidence.
It also tacked in this thing about raising taxes at airports. This is from a government that is constantly claiming that it is cutting taxes. It is becoming laughable because at the same time it is raising them, like the HST.
I am a member from British Columbia and I was just at our first farmers' market in Terrace, B.C. this weekend. I manned the HST booth for a couple of hours and heard from constituents in British Columbia how frustrated they are that when they flick on the evening news they hear Conservative minister after minister talk about their glorious tax cuts, when they know in British Columbia and in Ontario that they are moving the HST onto the backs of hard-working families who will pay more taxes.
It was a tax that was brought in by a British Columbia premier who promised not to do it. The Conservatives pretend they had nothing to do with it, forgetting that their fingerprints are all over a $1.6 billion bribe that they sent to Ontario. The government took $1.5 billion from taxpayers to bribe another level of government to raise taxes on those same taxpayers. This is the way the Conservative government cuts taxes.
It is unbelievable that those guys can still walk upright and claim the high moral ground on taxation when they took $1.5 billion and slipped it into a budget bill to raise taxes in British Columbia and another $3.5 billion or so to Ontario. That is remarkable.
What is remarkable is that the folks who were coming up to us at this farmers market were from all political persuasions. Folks from across the political spectrum were saying that whether it was this type of tax or another type of tax, the process stunk. They were signing a petition so a free and fair vote could be held in British Columbia to decide things.
Bill S-3 is another effort at talking about things without actually doing anything. We have asked for evidence from the government about the effect of these treaties. The government has signed, I believe, 87 agreements. The Conservatives think they are great free traders because they have signed these agreements. They say that they are fantastic, thereby implying that something actually has changed in the world.
It must have cost a lot of money to print 87 treaties, never mind sending negotiators all over the world to make these things happen. These things are not free. We have invested in these things. We are asking for a return on our investment.
We want to know what has changed in tax policy. Have we caught those folks who take their money offshore to a tax haven? Have we recovered any funds from the people who have earned their money from investments by Canadians and then skipped town before the bill is due? The government has not provided any evidence.
This leads one to some suspicions. This is again the portrayal of action without anything actually changing. This is a level of government of which people are growing increasingly tired. If the government is going to do something, then it should do it.
I come from a remote rural part of northern British Columbia. When somebody says he or she is going to do something, often it is a handshake and the agreement is made. Then we go forth and do it.
To set up all these agreements with no evidence as to whether they work or not, or which kind work better for which situation, is governance by a certain ideology rather than governance by any kind of thoughtfulness and debate.
With this bill, the government is lumping three countries together so it can get the numbers up. It is signing more treaties, all the while refusing a fundamental principle of trade, which has been evolving, growing and maturing around the world for the last 50 years.
That is the counter to the free trade ideology. We can trade with other partner countries but we have to do it fairly. Everybody knows that nothing is free in this world. Even the terminology free trade must sound good, it must mean good things. However, when we ask about fair trade, when we ask about trade that is on good terms with our trading partners, that would improve working standards, that would take care of the environment, that would ensure we do not support regimes that we would never tolerate here, the government is silent. It is not interested in those types of trade agreements, and we see that with Colombia.
Our member for Burnaby—New Westminster has been pushing hard to get some sort of review of the human rights situation in Colombia. He has made some progress with members after a massive campaign involving thousands of Canadians. They would like to know that their trading partners are living up to some sort of standards, some sort of requirement, for the privilege of trading.
That is how trade works. It is a privileged status. It is not a right. Countries do not trade with each other based on any fundamental rights. Countries trade as a privilege. It is the same with operating a business. It is not a right to operate a business in Canada. It is a privilege. One has to follow certain rules and those rules cannot be broken.
If someone ducks out on taxes, the government comes after that individual, and rightly so, except for a particular class of Canadians. When we get into the billions of dollars, suddenly a whole new set of rules apply. People go to what is called a tax haven, and tax havens, as has been described earlier today, are set up by countries that have a skeleton of a banking sector. They are often islands. They are often very small countries, sometimes democratic, sometimes not. The list of prestigious Canadian families who have their money socked away in these tax havens is astounding.
We see it time and time again, whether it is Liberal or Conservative governments. A little private meeting goes on and Revenue Canada says that is all right. We saw it with a former prime minister, for goodness sake, who got caught evading taxes. It was Brian Mulroney, a Conservative. Those folks used to know him, then they pretended they did not him and now they know him again, I think. What did he do once he got caught. He cut a deal with Revenue Canada. If he paid back a portion of those taxes, it would be satisfied.
I wonder if the government offers that same deal to the average hard-working Canadian taxpayers. If they are having a hard time this year or last year paying their taxes, Revenue Canada will cut them a deal and they will only pay 50%. Of course not. The system would not work that way.
However, when we move up into this upper echelon, if it is a Brian Mulroney, or a Bronfman, or somebody who has some connections to this place, they can cut deals with the government to pay half of the taxes they actually owe. How does that make any sense? How can those guys call themselves fiscally conservative if, at the same time, they allow tax avoidance to go on? How can they be running deficits while, at the same time, taxes owed to the good people of Canada are not paid. The only reason is because there are connections, there is the familiarity, there is a need to have some sort of comfort with certain Canadians who are of a certain wealth.
On the agreements with countries, we hope, as Canadians, that our presence in the world, our ability to connect with other countries is for a betterment of the world. We do not go forth, whether it is through military or diplomacy or trade, hoping to make the world a worse place. Part of our underlying belief as Canadians is that we have accomplished something in our country that is, as some have said, a country that works well in practice but not in theory. We want to be a symbol and an example on certain issues, particularly, for other countries struggling to establish a democratic rule of law, struggling to establish women's rights and rights for minorities, rights for the gay-lesbian community. Canadians feel okay with promoting those things overseas. We hope we do that through our diplomatic core and our military, from time to time.
However, when we look at the free trade ideology coming from the government, all these other issues get short shrift. One wonders if the government even believes that trade is a mechanism and a vehicle for promoting human rights and environmental standards around the world. Conversely, and I think this is much closer to the reality for those guys. The very nature and vision of the role of Canada, the very vision of Canada promoted by the Conservative government is not one that supports human rights. It is not one that supports environmental protection or the rights of first nations people. The reason I can make that strong statement is there is so much proof that the government does not mind cutting access to women's programs. The government does not seem to mind cutting back funding for certain groups that it does not like if their ideology is not right. It does not mind watering down environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry. In fact, the government suggests the oil and gas industry can regulate itself, which might be better.
In committee this morning we heard that our national regulator that governs oil and gas for most of the country, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, had said that it was no good to have these regulations any more, that we should just be goal-oriented in our rules. Let us not have rules, in fact. Let us just have guidelines. Would it be a good idea to just have goal-oriented guidelines for driving regulations or for the safety of our homes and our streets? Of course not. We put regulations in place.
As my father-in-law, who works for a compensation board in British Columbia, says that a lot of the rules and regulations that govern industry for workers' safety are written blood. What he means is those rules were not invented out of nowhere. They were often invented after there had been an accident. In his case, workers' safety, somebody died, or somebody was hurt seriously. They realized they had to change the rules guiding construction, or a certain industry. The had to make them stronger so people could go to work knowing they would come home at the end of the day. That is the principle from where regulations and rules come. There is not a little office of people sitting around Ottawa, not that I am aware of, who make up rules for the sake of it. We make up rules and regulations so they enable good practice to flourish, so they give people a fair opportunity earn a decent buck to be social citizens. There is a social licence to operate that is buried within it.
However, when it comes to the regulations, the government promotes a Canada that does not necessarily belive in this, that industry can self-regulate. If we look to the Gulf of Mexico right now, we see what happens when an industry is given more self-regulation.
This does not always happen in one shot. It happens over time. There is a creep, they call it. It creeps edge by edge. We saw it in the stock market in the U.S. and in Canada. We put rules and guidelines in place to try to contain some of the greed that would be rampant in any stock market, because it is a profitable place to make money. We put those in place because not everybody was very ethical. Some traders want to bend and break rules and rip off their investors. In American, it was the Glass-Steagall act. In Canada, we had a bunch of other stuff, but the creep happened.
Bit by bit, the Americans eroded some of their guidelines. They eroded the rules and decided to do outcome-based guidelines. The outcome-based guideline for the stock market is to make money. If people keep making money, that is all right, but they will not be guided. The invisible hand of the free market will save them at the end of the day.
The marketplace is a magical thing. It can bring billions of dollars into new technology, ideas that spur innovation and that ambition can be allowed to flourish. However, it needs to have some rules and some sort of containment so people who try to do the right thing are rewarded and those who are crooks are thrown in jail. We take away all those regulations and they make guidelines. We make goal-oriented objectives and we get what we get, which is the worst of the worst are able to manipulate the system to their best abilities and make money in unethical ways.
Now we move to trade in Bill S-3, the bill from the Senate. We need to have these tax deals so people are not double taxed. That is a very fine principle. It is something we can support. Then we look at all the existing tax haven countries. Has the government signed any treaties with those countries, the places where people actually set up tax havens?
I have not known Turkey to be a great and rampant source of tax havens for the wealthy and rich around the globe, because it is not. We have the list of the places that are. Transparency International runs a list of the most corrupt regimes every year. Some of those are also the regimes where these tax havens exist. All one has to do is pay somebody off to not pay any taxes in the country, to never have to declare it and to have one board member.
Former Prime Minister Martin ran his whole shipping company under different flags of convenience. Why are they convenient? Because if people have shipping companies like the former Prime Minister of Canada did and they do not want to follow Canadian, American or European law, they fly them under the flags of some backwater African country, which has no rules or regulations for shipping. Therefore, they do not have to stand by any labour or environmental laws because they have this convenient flag flying over their ships.
The problem with the government's ideology on this is it also applies a flag of convenience to its trade policy. It uses trade in a convenient way to accomplish only a very narrow band of things. There are those of us who believe strongly that trade with a country can be an opening of a conversation about improving the conditions for people on both sides of the deal, both Canada and the country with which we are trading.
There is some evidence that this has happened around the world. In the last 25 years, we have seen steady improvements for the lowest-income people across the globe in some regions. However, it is false to think that this just happens naturally and that it is some byproduct that will happen no matter what we do. Very strong evidence exists to show this is the case.
We traded with Iraq during the entire Saddam Hussein regime. We bought its oil. The Americans bought its oil. We did not put a single stipulation in place. We had to drive furiously at a previous Conservative government to get a proper regime set up against South Africa when apartheid existed. We had to make the moral implication. The argument against any trade sanctions against South Africa was that free trade had to reign. That was the most fundamental principle. If we just traded with South Africa, it would eventually let apartheid dissipate.
Of course that was never going to happen. It would still be there today if the world did not get together and say that, as part of human trade, we would insist on human rights. As part of our trade with South Africa, to buy its resources and products, we would insist that it also treated all its citizens with some level of dignity. It was a good moment for the world when we finally decided that. Conservative ideological thinkers were against it. They opposed every step of the way.
We see it again here today. We need good trade policy in Canada. We are a trading nation. We need to shut down tax havens around the world and have people, whatever their social standing, pay their fair share of taxes. It is the right thing to do.