Madam Speaker, this is a continuation of an argument on a point of order that I raised last Tuesday and which was responded to by the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale yesterday. The point of order I raised at that time was with regard to Bill C-317. It is an act to amend the Income Tax Act as it affects labour organizations in this country.
When I raised the point of order, I asked the Speaker at the time that he rule that the proceedings to date under Bill C-317, standing in the name of the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, that the introduction and first reading has not respected the provisions of our Standing Orders and is therefore null and void, and that he direct that the order for second reading of Bill C-317 be discharged and the bill be withdrawn from the order paper.
I will summarize that quickly. What I was asking for and continue to ask for is a ruling that the bill, in effect, is improperly before the House and should not even have made to this stage, so we should be taking it off the order paper and not allow it to proceed into the future.
My objections to the bill were laid out on the grounds that the bill would have the effect of creating taxpayers where ones did not exist before.
This, of course, is the sole prerogative of the ministers of the Crown and cannot be done through private members' business.
The attempt here, by doing it through a private member's bill, is clearly contrary to all sorts of precedents where governments, when they are doing this, do it through the form of a government bill, a ways and means motions and a budget bill.
In his remarks, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale attempted to discredit the arguments that I presented on October 18.
Over many years in the legal field and in the courts of this country, I came to recognize that type of argument, that type of case presented by an opponent counsel. It always represents the last gasp of a lost argument, which is what we saw yesterday. It was a bit disturbing. I felt that he had misrepresented and, in one case, actually misquoted my words, attributing words to me that I did not say. He also ignored my most substantial argument. Finally, he held on for dear life to the straws of a paraphrased reference while ignoring the actual precedent on which the reference was based.
Madam Speaker, if you go back and look at my original argument, you will see the distinguishment I was making in that regard.
In his brief remarks he said:
My colleague also raised the issue of my bill creating a “new class of taxpayer”. According to the Income Tax Act....
He said that was what I said. He went on from there and spent the next 276 words of his response critiquing my apparent reference to the creation of a new class of taxpayers, as though it were the crux of my argument, which it was not at all.
Unfortunately, the member opposite attributed to me that I used the word “class” only one time. He repeated it I do not know how many times in his argument. I used the word only once. When I used that word, he appeared to have completely lost that context that was coming forth or he ignored it. I used it to point out that the guideline for determining whether or not a ways and means motion was necessary, and I was quoting from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition at page 900 where it uses the words, “extension of a tax to a new class of taxpayer”.
The root of that reference is Beauchesne, not me, who does not use the words “class of taxpayer” at all. In quoting me in such a way would be a similar way of me saying that he agreed with my case where, in a fragment of one of his sentences he said, “It is accepted that the bill may have the effect claimed by my colleague”. That is the kind of argument he was making. It was completely out of context and it was quite erroneous of the argument I was placing before the Speaker on October 18.
Such a selective use of quotes would be irresponsible and misleading, as it was when my colleague opposite did so yesterday.
Madam Speaker, while clearly lost on the member opposite, I am confident that you will see the marked difference between the paraphrasing he used for my argument, “a class of taxpayer”, and the actual reference from Beauchesne's, which states, “an extension of the incidence of a tax so as to include persons not already payers”. The difference between them may seem negligible but, in this case, it means the difference between it being eligible for a private member's bill or being required to be brought forth by way of a ways and means motion by the government of the day and, therefore, ineligible for a private member's bill.
The member went on in his remarks to counter my assertion that a member of a labour organization's dues were actually discretionary. This one actually blew me away in the sense of the level of lack of knowledge on the part of the member. He was arguing that the fees that union members pay were akin to the contributions one makes to a charitable organization. They are not.
I know very well that union members are required by the laws of this country, if they are represented by a union,to pay union dues. This came out of the Rand Formula, which came out of the city of Windsor as a result of a Ford strike back in 1946. It was a long fight. It is very much a major part of the history of this country. Mr. Justice Rand at that time was appointed to deal with it. He created the Rand Formula, which makes it mandatory for members of unions to pay dues. It is not a choice.
This was what he said, and it blew me away. He said:
—union members whose union has lost its tax exempt status for refusing to disclose have the right to exercise certain options. Those options include the option to be represented by another union....
That is totally false. It is not how the labour relations system in this country functions at all. An individual union member cannot just go across the street and tell another union that he or she now wants to be a member of that union and ask that it represent him or her. It does not work that way. The argument is really at the level of being preposterous.
Labour unions or organizations are democratically elected by their members. It is very similar to a government in that respect. There is a formal election process. I wonder if the member would feel that the taxes citizens pay to the federal government are discretionary in this sense as well. The answer to that is obvious: it is not at all discretionary. It is not discretionary for people to pay their taxes and it is not discretionary for people to pay their union dues.
As I said, after his remarks yesterday, his efforts to discredit my remarks had virtually no substance and my argument today confirms that. There was one exception to that and that was his contention that his bill did not actually change the tax rules. This was basically a new point that he had raised. I will summarize what he said. He said that it made the provisions of financial disclosure that must be followed that much more stringent, so it was not changing things. I disagree strongly with that interpretation, but the argument got me thinking about what door we would be opening if in fact, Madam Speaker, you found that line of argument persuasive
I will now take this idea close to the limits of its application. There are provisions in the Income Tax Act that, if broken, revoke the tax benefits of businesses, charities or non-profits, just like the one dealt with in this bill. The member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale asserts that no ways and means motion is required for amending the rules which would trigger the loss of those benefits.
Just last month, in September, the government adjusted some of the tax benefit rules in its second budget implementation act, specifically the rules around the business partnerships that allow taxes to be deferred within the partnership arrangements. In fact, what happened with regard to that change in benefits was that the government tabled a ways and means motion ahead of the bill being presented. That is what is required in that circumstance. It is what is required in the circumstances that we are dealing with in Bill C-317.
I do not want to be extreme in my examples regarding the ability to allow this type of an amendment. However, we have to look at the door that we would potentially open here. I say that from this vantage point.
A few years ago, as part of the G8 preparatory meetings, I happened to be in Russia and in the course of the meetings we met with a number of human rights groups, set up by our embassy there. Human rights groups were showing the leadership of that country, at that time, taking extreme measures, and I equate that to some degree with what we are seeing here. We are certainly away ahead of where this bill would be, but it is along the same slippery slope.
What Russia was doing was imposing such onerous requirements on the human rights groups to report and report that even large organizations were having to spend anywhere from 25% to 50% of their human resources and budgets on this reporting function. It made it virtually impossible for them to continue to function. The law was just coming into effect at that point, but since then a number of the organizations have collapsed under the weight of that kind of rule.
We could see the same thing happening if we continue to go down this route, where we have private members' bills coming forward, in one of the examples I used, that require a human rights non-profit group or union to have a transcript of every phone call or communication made by an employee of the organization and that information had to be provided to the government.
That was the kind of thing being done in the Russian legal system to, in effect, thwart the good work that a number of those human rights agencies were doing. That is the kind of thing we could be seeing, in any number of sectors, where that kind of an approach would have the effect of either significantly encumbering the operation of the organization or, in fact, putting it out of business.
To some degree, that is a problem with this bill. The requirements of this bill are so onerous, especially to small local unions of, say, 100 or 150 members in the local community. They would be required to do so much to comply with this bill that they could be put out of business, leaving their membership with no representation.