Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint Boniface has a number of good intentions, but her Tim Hortons in Saint Boniface is a lot like the ones in my riding of Hochelaga. Even the Tim Hortons on Ontario Street in Montreal has always paid taxes to Quebec and Canada. Delaware is not the problem. The fact that the company became Canadian again, as she said, is the result of an initial public offering that was done by the parent company, Wendy's, which has owned Tim Hortons for many years. Obviously we will learn these kinds of things.
We are here today because on November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance, of which I am a member, adopted a motion. I will read some points:
The committee also orders that the Government of Canada provide the committee with electronic copies of the following...
We were not asking a lot. We did not want a tonne of papers. We wanted electronic copies of the five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from 2010 to 2015. If the Department of Finance was able to publish budget documents last year, it is because it had them.
On November 17, 2010, we asked for detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board guide to costing. Again, it was already there. We asked about what the Treasury Board had and asked that it be sent to us electronically.
The committee's motion says the following:
That the committee orders that all information requested in this motion from the Government of Canada be provided to the committee within 7 calendar days.
That is what we wanted on November 17. Now it is February 17, three months later. We asked for the information within seven days, but we have still not received anything 90 days later. On November 24, seven days after our request, we received a response saying that “projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.”
That is why we are here. Upon its return on February 3, the Standing Committee on Finance looked at the Government of Canada's pitiful response. We spoke to the committee chair, who, I must add, does a wonderful job. And this is what was written in the committee chair's report:
...the Committee wishes to draw the attention of the House on what appears to be a breach of its privileges by the Government of Canada’s refusal to provide documents ordered by the Committee, and recommends [the Standing Committee on Finance, on which the Saint Boniface member sits] that House take whatever measures it deems appropriate.
I raised questions in the House as recently as yesterday. I first spoke about how the Parliamentary Budget Officer has spoken out against the government's obscurantism and the fact that it too often uses the cloak of cabinet confidence.
I was asking if the government would understand a basic principle of democracy: House privileges exist and the federal spending power is granted to the government by us here in the House. The power comes from here. Therefore, in order to grant that power, we need information.
The President of the Treasury Board replied that if the Parliamentary Budget Officer wanted information, all he had to do was call him and the Treasury Board president would provide it. I poked fun at him and suggested that the two of them had gone out for a beer to discuss it. That is not how a government works or how it should work.
Today's motion states that the Canadian Constitution gives Parliament the absolute power to require the government to produce documents, yet the government persistently refuses to do so, despite our reasonable request. We requested electronic documents and information that have been available in past years. Thus, our requests are reasonable.
Three months later, we have received nothing, absolutely nothing. Is it important? Everyone here has been elected to this House. What are we all doing here, on either side of the House? We are here to exercise a certain power. That power is not to simply sit here on this side of the House and complacently admire what the government does. Some members choose to do that, and that is fine. Let them sit there and complacently listen to what the government tells them to do; let them read their planted questions and complacently read their members' statements. However, they are not exercising the power given to us by voters. I represent Hochelaga. Other members represent other ridings. The voters give us a mandate to exercise some power in the House. Some members have the power to govern, yes, but the power of the House exists and we must exercise it. During the next election—very soon, according to rumours—some voters will say that they sent us to Ottawa to exercise some power and that we failed to do so. That is a serious judgment.
What do we need to exercise power? We need information. It is a universally recognized fundamental principle that information is power. It is our right. You know that better than I do, but I just want to reiterate that to inexperienced hon. members. A long time ago, almost 100 years ago, in 1916, Bourinot said that “it is the constitutional right of either House to ask for such information as it can directly obtain by its own order from any department”.
We can keep quoting from our procedural guides. As a new MP, I read the House of Commons Procedure and Practice from cover to cover because if I am going to sit here I want to know how things work. It says that, legally, “Parliament has the ability to institute its own inquiries, to require the attendance of witnesses and to order the production of documents”. Why does it say that? Because documents are essential to the proper functioning of Parliament. It says that quite clearly.
Further, the Standing Orders talk about the standing committees, which brings me to my point. The parliamentary secretary, who is still here, can sit on those committees. What do the standing orders say about the standing committees? They say the same thing: that we can order the production of documents, etc. It is essential to committee work, they say. To order the production of documents we can adopt a motion to that effect. That is what we did. According to the Standing Orders, this power is absolute and has no limits.
They cannot say: “There are limits”. As long as the request is reasonable, we can ask for a document and obtain it.
Further on, it says that if something happens and we do not obtain the documentation, one option at our disposal is to move a motion requiring the government to produce it.
I have not been a member of Parliament for very long. However, this is the second time we have found ourselves in this type of situation. On April 27, 2010, the House took the government to task over documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. Probably all of us have children and grandchildren. When they are admonished once, it does not mean that it applies only the one time and that they can misbehave again. At a given point, enough is enough. This is now the second time, at least since I entered federal politics. It is not right.
On April 27, the Speaker ruled that it is an indisputable privilege, on which the parliamentary system is based, and he ordered the government to do its job.
In the case of the Afghan detainees, national security was the reason given by the government. Today, they are claiming cabinet confidence. Every day, they invent something new. They will invent something else for the next time. I am still trying to understand why the Conservatives are doing this.
Just yesterday, the second question I asked the President of the Treasury Board was why it had become a secret. I even gave him some possible answers. Does the government have something to hide? Is it incompetent? Intransigent? Incapable? Inept? Powerless? Insolent? Motivated by ideology? Perhaps the government does not want to provide the information. For ideological reasons, it wants to hide things.
We have a fine example, that of the Minister of International Cooperation. She hid the facts for one year. We wonder why she did it. She did not do it inadvertently, out of incompetence or for lack of authority. She was motivated by ideology. She did not want to make it seem as though she had changed the recommendation. The government does have the right to decide, but it must do so appropriately, without hiding anything, and without preventing us from exercising our authority to ask questions.
Information management by this government is an issue, and unfortunately not just in this case. There is also the long form census. That is another fine example. Ever since Canada came into being, there have been census forms. We have measurements, we have the right to statistics and information. Why? To exercise power.
I am thinking of the father of the member for Louis-Hébert, who is my brother and a noted demographer. Where will he go for information? His entire career has been based on information collected during the census. What will he do? What will future demographers do? We are talking about the power of information and information management. The Information Commissioner is complaining because it takes too long to get information. Why are they not providing the information? Why are they keeping it? It is important because we are talking about corporate taxes. Corporate taxes are important because our tax system is based on what? Either we tax individuals or we tax businesses.
If we decide to tax businesses, we tax SMEs or we tax large corporations. The government says that it wants lower taxes for large corporations. Why? It must give us some information on that.
Since 2007, the taxes for SMEs have been cut from 12% to 11%, a difference of 8%. But for large corporations, taxes have gone from 22% to 15%, a difference of 32%. Anyone who is familiar with the second derivative can calculate that the tax cut for SMEs is four times lower. I want to know because we believe that tax policy is important. I want to know where the Conservatives are getting their numbers.
The Bloc Québécois has released its budget bible for this year. We think that it should be Quebec's turn. The bible was given to the Minister of Finance. The Minister of State for Finance was there, as was the member for Saint Boniface. They said that it was serious work, and it was. We worked hard with the information we had and we want to continue to do so.
I have the 2010 annual report of the Royal Bank of Canada right here. It is not the report for 1810 but for 2010. The estimates of the taxes that would be payable if all foreign subsidiaries' accumulated unremitted earnings were repatriated are set out on page 125. We have the information from the Royal Bank. The estimates are $763 million for 2010, $821 million for 2009 and $920 million for 2008. I have information. I can say whether or not I agree. I can form my own opinion because I have the facts. The government is hiding the facts from us.
For as long as we are here, we will act as an ethics watchdog. We know what the Liberals' ethics led to. We need only look so far as the sponsorship scandal. They wanted to circumvent or violate the law but they were punished. The Conservatives think that exercising power means having complete control. That is not what it means to exercise power.
Public funds do not belong to the Liberal Party of Canada. They know that; they paid for it. Public funds do not belong to the Conservative Party of Canada. The money is not theirs. They cannot do whatever they want with it, however they want, without any accountability and without telling us how they are using it.
The Bloc Québécois's opinion has not changed. Why are we working toward independence for Quebec? There are three reasons: to sign our own treaties, pass our own laws and collect our own taxes. We want to have a tax policy that will make it possible to distribute the wealth much more effectively. We have the means to do it because we have information on this subject. A lack of information about big business restricts my freedom. I do not think that I came her to have my freedom restricted.