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House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I am afraid I must interrupt the hon. member. It being 6:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the question is deemed put and a recorded division deemed demanded. The vote stands deferred until Monday, October 3, 2011, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion--Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I move we see the clock at 6:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion--Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion--Canadian EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House again today to give more clarification on the question that I asked in this House on June 21. This question involves the Atlantic groundfish licence retirement program, which in fact is a rationalization program.

I would be one of the members in this House who has pushed harder for rationalization in the fishery than probably anybody else in this House. It is so important, and it is so important for the government to carry through after the rationalization program is put in place.

The rationalization program is able to take licences and people out of the fishery who need to come out of the fishery because of the stock issue. What it does is allow people to retire and to pay bills and live a decent life. It also leaves the people in the fishery who wish to make a living in the fishery with an opportunity to make a proper living, so rationalization is indeed a very important issue.

With regard to the groundfish issue, 2,300 fishermen applied for this program. However, 752 fishermen had to take the government to court in 2006 in order to be dealt with fairly.

The court made its decision a few weeks ago. It indicated that Canada Revenue Agency had to review the files again, which in fact meant that the government must settle with the fishermen.

The only thing that I want to make sure of and to stress to the parliamentary secretary and to the government is that the government must settle in an appropriate manner. We have to ensure that everybody in the fishery is treated fairly. There have been some payments made. We have to make sure that the payments that have been made will be the same as the payments that will be made very shortly when they deal with those fishermen.

There are approximately another 1,400 fishermen out there who were not involved in this court case, and these fishermen deserve fair treatment from the government. These 1,400 fishermen worked hard to make a living and worked with the 2,300 fishermen to put a rationalization or, as they call it, an Atlantic groundfish licence retirement program in place. All that I ask the government to do is ensure that it settles with the 750 fishermen in the same way that it settled in the previous settlement and that the 1,400 fishermen who have not been dealt with fairly are dealt with fairly. In the future, when we put a rationalization in place and the licence for the fishermen belongs to the Government of Canada, we must remember that the fishermen invest a lot of dollars--their lives, in fact--into the fishery. When it becomes impossible to make a living and the government has issued the licence, it is the responsibility of the Government of Canada to pay these fishermen a decent payout so that they are able to retire in a decent way and so that the stocks will survive without this type of program right across the country.

In the area that I represent, the lobster fishery is very important. There has been a small rationalization program put in place, but more dollars are needed for these types of rationalization or payment programs. The government must commit to paying the people who have been involved previously properly. I do not mean the 750 who went to court and fought the battle and won; there are now 1,400 fishermen who need to be treated properly without going--

6:20 p.m.

NDP

6:20 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Madam Speaker, I must first say that the Canada Revenue Agency must safeguard the confidential information it receives according to the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act. Therefore, we cannot comment on any specific cases.

Since the inception of the Atlantic groundfish licence retirement program, the matter before us today has received considerable attention by the CRA. The application of the Income Tax Act to these types of payments is a matter of some complexity and disputes.

In general, when a taxpayer disagrees with an assessment, the act provides objections and appeal rights that must be exercised in the manner and within the time frame specified in the act. If a taxpayer fails to exercise his or her objection or appeal right, he or she may choose to request consideration under the taxpayer relief provisions, which are also contained in the Income Tax Act. The court also provide Canadians with an independent review of disputed issues and serves to clarify the law or resolve differences of opinions with the CRA.

The matter considered by the Federal Court was whether the fishers, who had not disputed the tax treatment of the compensation amounts through the objection and appeal process, could benefit from the same tax treatment accorded to the other fishers who had disputed CRA's position.

On May 16, 2011, the Federal Court directed the CRA to reconsider these fishers' requests.

As the minister informed the House on June 21, 2011, “the government will not appeal this decision, and CRA will now reconsider the fishers' claim as requested by the Federal Court”.

The CRA has now reconsidered the fishers' requests and concluded that exceptional circumstances exist to allow a re-examination of the income tax returns of the 752 affected fishers.

The CRA will now review the fishers' income tax returns for the 1999, 2000 and 2001 tax years on a case-by-case basis and this will start October 2011. The CRA will notify each fisher of its decision in due time.

Our government has the absolute expectation that the CRA administers Canadian tax law in a manner that is fair and consistent for all.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's response, but it is often important to remember that when a program is put in place, everybody must be treated the same way.

A number of fishers have been paid. Some 750 people went to court and won their case, but 1,400 more fishermen have not been considered at all. These people work hard and invest a lot of dollars in the fishery. The licence is the property of the Government of Canada. There was a rationalization program. All I would ask is that all people be treated fairly and that all people be treated the same by Canada Revenue Agency.

My hon. colleague has indicated that the Canada Revenue Agency will deal with them in a fair manner. In my opinion, a fair manner is treating every fisher the same.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, while I appreciate the member opposite finally expressing an interest in this file, I would note that it comes about a decade later than it should have.

I would also remind hon. members and the fishers affected that the hon. member for Cardigan actually sat at the cabinet table where the decisions affecting the fishers, who we are discussing today, were first made. The vast majority of these cases date back from 1998 to 2001.

If the member, indeed, feels so strongly about this file, why was he a partner at the cabinet table and why did he participate in the policy that was brought forward, which he now, all of a sudden, criticizes?

Fishers work hard. Our government has the absolute expectation that CRA administers Canadian tax law in a manner that is fair and consistent for all.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise again in discussion with my hon. colleagues on the other side of the House on a question I asked in June.

As we start off, let us look at a report by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada in July of this year, which reported that total household debt in Canada had hit $1.5 trillion. On September 13, Statistics Canada reported that household credit market debt rose to 149% of disposable income in the second quarter. At the same time, due to falling share prices and pension assets, average household net worth fell by 0.3%.

Canadians are feeling squeezed in every direction. As savings disappear, credit becomes both more important to families and more dangerous, both to individuals and to the economy as a whole. Because of this we need comprehensive legislation designed to protect Canadians from the predatory practices of credit card companies and some banks.

Far too many Canadians sign up for credit cards with low introductory rates, only to see their rates soar once the period ends. Too many students and low-income Canadians are aggressively pursued by credit card issuers and end up taking on debt that they are realistically unable to repay. Far too many Canadians are charged excessive fees and penalties for paying their balance a few days late or a few dollars short.

It is not only consumers who are being gouged by credit card companies and some of the banks. On the first anniversary of the government's voluntary code of conduct, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business published a report card on the voluntary code. Its findings were that small-business margins were being eroded by credit card merchant fees. In fact, the Competition Bureau has already ruled that Visa and MasterCard's “honour-all-cards rule”, which forces small businesses to accept higher cost premium cards, is anti-competitive.

It is time for the government to act to protect consumers, to protect small businesses and to protect the Canadian economy.

Just this Tuesday, the finance committee heard from a senior private sector economist who pointed out the precarious situation of our economy. Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns, said that there was a 35% chance of Canada entering a recession in the next year. We need to ensure that the government acts now to ensure that consumers are protected in case the worst happens. The government's wait and see approach is fundamentally flawed. It is better to treat the cause now than to apply a band-aid once it is too late.

In April 2009 the 40th Parliament adopted my motion for the government to introduce comprehensive credit card legislation to protect consumers. The problems facing the global economy may be different today, but this issue continues to affect Canadian consumers and small businesses.

When will the government recognize this and make the legislative changes required to continue to protect consumers and small businesses?

6:25 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, in response to my colleague, who is a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, I take issue with the fact that my colleague's party voted against a number of measures that our government has put forward to address this issue.

The Conservative government is clearly committed to helping protect Canadian consumers especially with regard to financial products like credit cards. We have demonstrated that through the numerous landmark actions we have taken in recent years to protect consumers. Again, these are actions that the NDP voted against.

We believe Canadians should not need a magnifying glass and a dictionary to read their credit card statements or applications. We also believe that they should not have to be lawyers or economists to understand them.

That is why our Conservative government has forced greater clarity and more timely disclosure from credit card issuers when dealing with consumers. It has put into place actions such as the new landmark rules that ensure Canadian consumers now have fair and transparent information and rules for credit cards with new regulations.

I will cite some of those rules.

Summary boxes on contracts and applications will help improve disclosure to consumers by clearly stating key features such as interest rates and fees.

There are clearer implications of minimum payments by improving consumer awareness of the time it would take to fully repay loans if only the minimum payment is made each month.

Timely advanced disclosure of interest rate changes will protect consumers from sudden and poorly disclosed interest rate hikes.

There is a minimum 21 day grace period. All new purchases made within that period shall remain interest free if the consumer pays his or her balance in full by the due date.

There are lower interest costs with mandatory allocations of favoured consumer payments.

There is express consent for credit limit increases.

There are limits on debt collection practices.

There is the prohibition of over-the-limit fees by restricting fees caused by merchant holds placed on credit cards thereby protecting consumers from inadvertent fees for which they are not responsible nor aware of.

These are rules that the Conservative government worked on. Unfortunately, once again the NDP voted against them.

When Canadians make the choice to use a credit card they are not signing away all of their rights. Our new consumer-friendly rules will empower Canadians by making it easier for them to shop around for the credit card best suited to their needs without fearing that they might be taken advantage of later.

Indeed these new regulations were well received by Canadians and consumer groups. In the words of the Consumers Association of Canada, “All of the things that the finance minister has done are actually just what we asked for overall. I've got to congratulate him”.

It boggles my mind to understand why the member stands today to pretend he supports these measures when he and his party in fact voted against them.

However, our Conservative government knows there is always more it can do to protect consumers. We have already acted in that respect. Indeed we have recently announced measures to prohibit negative option billing and reduce cheque holding periods while providing timelier access to funds. Unfortunately, the NDP voted against those too.

Why will the member not do the right thing by supporting the consumer protection measures we have taken and forget this nonsense about being committed? He should be standing in the House and voting for these measures to protect consumers when we put them forward.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague and I are avid motorcyclists. Perhaps we should go for a ride and have this conversation because we are obviously not seeing the same side of this consumer debate.

When we were bringing this issue forward we applauded the Conservative government for what it had brought forward on some of the issues relating to it. Having bigger fonts on a credit card bill though does not help people at the end of the month.

We are calling for stricter guidelines and regulations with regard to credit card companies and banks to ensure that at the end of the month the consumers who have used their cards actually understand what their bills are about. The bigger font helps in doing that. For example, if someone has a $1,000 credit card limit and he or she makes a payment of $800 on that card, that person is not expecting to pay interest on the portion of the debt that was paid off. However, what credit card companies are doing is stating in the fine print of the credit card contract that interest is to be paid on the full amount.

There are many things that we can do. I think this is--

6:30 p.m.

NDP

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Madam Speaker, as my colleague indicated, our government did take action to make sure they can read those applications properly, and yet the member still refers to the applications as if they have some small print. That has been legislated away.

The member is not understanding what it is he voted against. He ought to have voted for it because it sounds as though he wants to better protect consumers, which is exactly what this Conservative government is doing.

In fact in the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, we are taking even more action to protect consumers of financial sector products. In particular, we are further enhancing consumer protection by banning unsolicited credit card cheques and also developing measures to enhance the consumer protection framework related to prepaid cards. These are positive measures that are well received.

Rob Carrick, the well-respected Globe and Mail personal finance columnist, applauded them saying:

[Unsolicited credit card cheques] are insidious because they appear to be an alternative way to use your credit card to pay for something. In reality they are a much worse option.

Yet again—

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor is not present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice has been given. Accordingly, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:35 p.m.)