House of Commons Hansard #198 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was system.


Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

moved that Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, as a new session of Parliament gets under way, I would like to begin by wishing all of my colleagues and everyone who works here in the House of Commons the very best for 2013. I hope our debates will be positive and as democratic as possible.

Without further delay, I would like to discuss my bill, Bill C-457. Every MP should introduce a bill for debate and make sure that Canadians understand all of the issues involved. That is of course the whole point of the democratic process in this House: we are here to represent our constituents and to communicate what they want, especially what they want in a bill like this one.

All bills are of equal importance, but to me, this bill is particularly important, because achieving Quebec's sovereignty and independence was why I entered politics in the first place. Without a doubt, the implementation of the Clarity Act in 2000 was, and remains today, a sword of Damocles threatening Quebec's right to self-determination.

I think it is important to point out here today that my bill is really quite simple. It contains only a few “whereas” statements and just one clause, which, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to the House.

Whereas the Québécois form a nation;

Whereas that nation has been formally recognized by the House of Commons;

Whereas the decision on its future within Canada lies with the Québécois nation, not the federal government;

And whereas the Québécois nation has laws that give its government both the right to consult the people of Quebec by means of a referendum on the subjects of its choice and the right to determine the wording of the referendum question;


1. The Clarity Act, chapter 26 of the Statutes of Canada, 2000, is repealed.

In French I often refer to the “Loi de clarification” as the “loi sur la clarté” because that is what it has been known as in Quebec since it was passed.

When we introduced this bill, many people asked us why now. I jokingly said because it was my turn to do something about this. There is obviously more to it than that. We speak for Bloc Québécois members. Because the BQ is a sovereignist party, its members have always asked us to focus, here, in Parliament, on Quebec's sovereignty and to defend Quebec's interests, of course. Members brought forward this request at the last Bloc Québécois general assembly. I should add that my colleague for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia worked on and also seconded my bill.

November 2012 marked the six-year anniversary of the recognition of the Quebec nation, right here in the House of Commons. We have also had the election of a sovereignist party in Quebec City led by the first female Premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois.

As I was saying, last March, at our party's general assembly, our members instructed us to be even more focused on the future of the Quebec nation and the issue of Quebec's sovereignty. It was crucial that we introduce a bill to abolish the Clarity Act, which denies the Quebec nation the right to determine its future, especially since the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation on November 27, 2006, after having recognized Quebec as a distinct society in 1995.

If you want my opinion—which is definitely not shared by many federalist members in this House—these are just empty words. Furthermore, the right to self-determination allows a people to make its own decisions. This is an inherent aspect of any nation and an inalienable right. Anyone who is the least bit democratic would agree.

Like all parties in the National Assembly, the Bloc Quebecois never accepted the idea that the Clarity Act would take precedence over Quebec's laws. The National Assembly is sovereign and must be able to consult its people on anything it chooses and as it sees fit.

Now, it is important to remember the impact of the Clarity Act. The House of Commons used this law to give itself the power of disallowance with regard to the results of a referendum on Quebec's sovereignty. The House of Commons wants to determine, retroactively, whether the question is clear and whether there is a clear majority, including by taking into account the views of the governments and legislative assemblies of the other provinces. In short, the Clarity Act places conditions on the federal government's recognition of the validity of a referendum on Quebec's independence. In fact, the sole purpose of this law is to prevent Quebeckers from freely deciding their own future. That is why it is important to repeal it.

Clearly, people reacted when this law, which was introduced by the current member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, the then Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, was passed.

Henri Brun, a constitutional expert, eminent lawyer and professor of constitutional law, said that the Supreme Court's ruling would require the federal government to negotiate should a Quebec referendum end with a victory for the yes side, while the Clarity Act imposes obligations on the Government of Quebec. Mr. Brun said that the Clarity Act is an intimidation tactic that the federal government is using on the people of Quebec to make it clear that the federal government remains free to negotiate regardless of the democratic choice Quebeckers make. He also said that there is a contradiction between the Supreme Court's opinion and the Clarity Act, which is unconstitutional.

Joseph Facal, who at the time was the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's counterpart and Quebec's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, also spoke out about this law. He said:

Let us remember that nowhere in the reference does the Supreme Court confer upon the federal Parliament the right to oversee the content of a referendum question by authorizing Parliament to rule upon the clarity of the question even before the National Assembly has adopted it. Nowhere in the reference does the Supreme Court give the federal Parliament the right to impose, on the pretext of clarity, a simplistic question that must expressly exclude any reference to an offer of political or economic partnership. Nowhere does the Supreme Court give authority to the federal Parliament to determine a posteriori and of its own accord the required majority. Nowhere does the Supreme Court give authority to the federal Parliament to dictate the content of post-referendum negotiations.

If we take a look at federalists in Quebec, Claude Ryan is respected by all Quebeckers—federalists, sovereignists and those who have yet to decide which camp they are in. Mr. Ryan was the leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec and also a well-known editorial writer and journalist. He said:

The bill also lists a number of criteria that Parliament is to rely on to come to a decision concerning the clarity of the question. By making these criteria into law, Parliament and the federal government would be interfering, at least indirectly, in the process of drafting the question. This is not true federalism but a trusteeship system.

Such comments from someone like Claude Ryan are nothing to sneeze at.

Jean Charest, who until recently was Premier of Quebec and leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec—he was when this law was passed—held a press conference immediately after the one held by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was, I repeat, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs at the time and the sponsor of the Clarity Act, then known as Bill C-20. He reacted quickly. He was joined by his intergovernmental affairs spokesperson, his house leader and his deputy leader, now the member for Outremont and the leader of the New Democratic Party. I will quote what Jean Charest said at the time:

This bill is called the clarity bill, but I have read it and have listened to what people have to say about it, and from what I can see, things are far from being clear...

He went on to say:

...we want to point out that the Quebec National Assembly must determine the conditions surrounding any potential referendum. As Quebec parliamentarians, we will not allow another parliament or government to diminish the powers, authority, sovereignty or legitimacy of the National Assembly.

Clearly, in those quotations, Mr. Charest and Mr. Ryan are both professing their federalist beliefs. They are saying they oppose this. They would rather not have a referendum and, of course, would prefer that Quebec decide to remain in Canada, which is completely legitimate and democratic. However, on that particular point, clearly, even Quebec federalists were definitely not thrilled with the Clarity Act as it was written at the time by the Liberal government.

I am going to share a quotation in English, because at the same press conference, a journalist asked the deputy leader at the time, who I repeat, is currently the member for Outremont and leader of the NDP, what he thought of the partition of Quebec. The journalist was Robert McKenzie and his question, in English, was this:

I would like to know what the [current member for Outremont] thinks of section 3, subsection 2 of the federal legislation, which would make Quebec's borders subject to negotiation following a “yes” vote in a referendum.

Here is how the NDP leader replied:

“I read the section, Mr. McKenzie, and I can only repeat what we've always said. As far as we're concerned, the current borders of Quebec are what they are and shall remain thus, and the best way to ensure that is to stay within the current constitutional framework. But, as far as we're concerned, it is something that we have always fought for and that we will continue to fight for.”

These people were part of the federalist camp who were speaking out on Bill C-20. There was also a former Prime Minister of Canada and former leader of the Conservative Party—at the time, the Progressive Conservative Party—Mr. Joe Clark, who is also well-known. He appeared in committee when Bill C-20 was being discussed and had this to say:

The government itself is unclear about the clarity bill. In Toronto on January 25, the minister said the question of the majority should not be decided now, in what he called a quiet Canada like today, but should wait until what he called a crisis situation, when members of Parliament would assess it under the circumstances.

Well, sir, the very logic and justification of clarity is to set out the rules in advance so everyone knows where they stand well before a crisis situation. If the minister says the question of what constitutes a majority will not be known in advance, that it will be decided at the time, in the crisis situation, sir, that sabotages clarity. That confirms the suspicion that the rules will be subjective, written at the time, designed to discredit whatever a referendum decides.

Joe Clark cannot be accused of being pro-independence or of being a sovereignist or even a Quebec separatist. However, he is a great democrat, as these words demonstrate.

These days, comparisons are often made between this situation and what is currently happening in Scotland. I heard it on TV just this morning. There is a big difference between the clarity bill and what is currently happening in Scotland with regard to a planned referendum on Scottish sovereignty, since the Scottish government came to an agreement in advance with Westminster, the British government, regarding the procedure for such a referendum. Now that the two levels of government have reached an agreement, it would be very inappropriate for one of the parties not to abide by the results of the Scottish referendum.

In this case, the Clarity Act does exactly the opposite. Quebec can hold as many referendums as it wants, ask whatever question it wants and get the result it wants, but one thing is certain: the government retains the latitude to reverse any democratic result after the fact because the term “clear majority” is not clearly defined. This bill does not provide a number that defines what constitutes a clear majority. Would a federalist party in the House of Commons define a clear majority as 55%, 60%, 66%? We do not know because it is not set out in the legislation.

By invoking Bill C-20 after a referendum, whether that referendum was held in Quebec or elsewhere—I do not think any other provinces want to hold a referendum, but the Clarity Act also applies to them regardless—the government could state, after the fact, that the question or the result was unclear. Yet, before the 1995 referendum, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was then the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, wrote the following in the papers on September 21, 1995: least the referendum in which Premier Parizeau is inviting us to participate clarifies the issue: do we want Quebec to no longer be part of Canada, yes or no? Do we want Quebeckers to stop being Canadians?

That member of Parliament and all the other federalists knowingly participated in the referendum. It is important to remember that they even spent more than the allowable limit in 1995 and in 1980. After the fact, these people introduced a bill saying that they were going to participate and do everything to win but that, no matter what happened, they were going to overturn the results because a sword of Damocles was hanging over the heads of Quebeckers.

I am pleased to respond to any questions and comments, but I urge my colleagues, particularly those from Quebec, to vote in favour of Bill C-457 to recognize Quebec's right to govern itself and particularly its right to decide for itself what it wants to do and how it wants to do it in accordance with its own laws, which were passed by the National Assembly of Quebec.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned a sword of Damocles a few times. Would he not agree that, in 1995, the Parizeau government held a sword of Damocles over Quebeckers' heads? Its question was so ambiguous that, according to polls at the time, 20% to 30% of those voting “yes” believed that Quebec would remain in Canada even if the “yes” side won.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that Quebeckers have to be respected. Almost 95% of Quebeckers participated in the referendum. If the question was so ambiguous, would they have gone to vote? There was an election-style campaign in the months before the referendum. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and all the federalist members from Quebec and elsewhere in Canada made their positions known. There was even a love-in held by people who came to tell us just how much Canadians loved us. After everyone voted, we were told exactly what the 1995 question meant, as though we had not understood.

In a very democratic way, all the parties in Quebec's National Assembly, federalist or not, said that that the referendum question and Quebeckers' decision had to be respected. In my opinion, the question was not at all ambiguous.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Peter Goldring Independent Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a little clarity around what exactly the bill is intended to do and what that means.

It intends to ignore the Supreme Court of Canada and its ruling on this issue. It means to allow the proposal of yet another ambiguous, misleading question. It means to deny the people of Quebec a clear expression of their will in determining their future and direction. It also means to risk a minority decision that could tragically partition and break up Quebec. The supporters of the bill also intend to propose this to be sent to the Queen for a decision.

The bill has to be voted down by every Canadian in the House.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is obviously my colleague's opinion.

He does not have the same reasons as I do for saying that this law has to be thrown out. However, one thing is clear: it is a denial. We could even say that it is a denial of democracy. As I was saying, the federalist parties participated in the 1980 and 1995 referendums and also the Charlottetown referendum in 1992. The 1980 and 1995 referendums were held in accordance with the legislation on referendums and popular consultation introduced by René Lévesque's government and passed by all parties in 1977.

Let us look at history: 52% of Newfoundlanders decided to join Canada after another unsuccessful referendum. No one has questioned Newfoundland joining Canada, and I will not be doing so today.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, on his excellent speech. His speech is all the more important given that the House of Commons has recognized the Quebec nation. It is now time to recognize the characteristics that are an inherent part of any nation.

I would like the member to speak to the fundamental reasons why federalist parties in the National Assembly categorically refused to support this bill, in light of the fundamental democratic rights that nations must obtain and possess.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is probably because the federalist parties in Quebec have always democratically determined that it is up to the Parliament of Quebec to decide what to do with decisions made by Quebeckers. We will not take orders from some other parliament, whether it is in Canada, England or any other country in the world. It is up to the Quebec National Assembly to democratically decide what it wants.

I think many federalist parties turn to what Robert Bourassa—a man who could not be characterized as a sovereignist—said on June 22, 1990, that: matter what, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free and capable of assuming its destiny and its development.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec


Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I too would first like to wish all my colleagues in every party a happy new year.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act, which was introduced by the member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

It proposes to repeal an act that was intended to give effect to the requirement for clarity in referendums relating to secession by a province of Canada. I think it is unfortunate that the member for Richmond—Arthabaska is using every means necessary to revive debates from the past. Moreover, when Bill C-457 was introduced, my Bloc colleague stated that the purpose of his bill was “to right an historical wrong for the Quebec nation, because this federal Parliament created conditions meant to tell the Quebec nation how to go about exercising its self-determination“.

As a member from Quebec, I understand that this act has always been a sensitive issue for Quebeckers. However, the way ahead does not lie in trying to revive debates like this one, particularly in the current economic climate. Bill C-457 takes us backward, to the constitutional debates of the past. Our government is looking ahead, toward the future of Canada, and in particular toward what is most important to Canadians: job creation, growth and economic prosperity.

The opposition’s priorities are not what is important to Canadians. From coast to coast, Canadians have spoken clearly: they want a government that focuses on the economy, and that is what we are doing. Thanks to our government, Canada’s debt is by far the lowest and our job creation record is the strongest in the G7, with more than 900,000 net new jobs created since July 2009.

In Quebec alone, our government has created over 200,000 net jobs since July 2009. The principle of federalism recognizes the diversity of the constituent parts of our country and the autonomy of the provinces in building our society, acting within their own jurisdiction and using the powers granted to them under the Constitution.

Federalism is a political system that enables a society to progress and prosper as long as the federal and provincial governments abide by the constitutional division of powers and clearly understand the function of each level of government. Our government is well aware that a strong federal government has to focus on its fundamental responsibilities. That is what we have done since 2006, and that is what we will continue to do.

Since our government first came to power it has practised open federalism, which respects the division of constitutional powers, limits the use of the federal spending power and encourages co-operation among all levels of government. Canadians, including Quebeckers, have benefited from our vision of open federalism.

Our successes include the adoption of a motion by the House recognizing Quebec as a nation within a united Canada, the representation of Quebec within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO, and the co-operation of all of our federal partners in the economic action plan. In addition, Quebec will be receiving more than $17 billion in federal transfers this year, representing a 44 % increase over the previous government.

Bill C-457 is a step backwards, but we are firmly focused on the future. Let us be very clear: in introducing this bill, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska was trying to reopen old debates. Our government does not believe that Quebeckers and other Canadians want to reopen constitutional debates from days gone by.

Like the rest of Canadians, Quebeckers have shown that they want to move forward and want the focus shifted to other challenges. Our government is committed to doing just that, by focusing on what is most important to Canadians—job creation, growth and economic prosperity.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Outremont Québec


Thomas Mulcair NDPLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I wish we could have been talking about the economy, jobs and poverty today. Those issues are of great concern to Canadians. But that is not what the Bloc wants to talk about today. The Bloc would rather reignite old debates from the past.

It seems that the Bloc does not understand what Quebeckers were trying to say in the last election. I would remind the House that in that election, the NDP received record levels of support and a historic mandate here in Ottawa. On May 2, 2011, four and a half million Canadians voted for the unifying vision put forward by my friend, Jack Layton. It is a vision of a Canada that is more inclusive, greener and more prosperous, a Canada that respects Quebec.

As a result, the NDP elected over 100 members, creating the largest official opposition the House of Commons has seen in 40 years.

The New Democratic Party has succeeded where the Liberals and Conservatives failed again and again. For the first time since 1988, the people of Quebec have elected a federalist majority in the House of Commons, thanks to the NDP. That was one of the winning conditions for Canada in Quebec that Jack Layton and our team fought so hard for.

Quebeckers massively rejected the parties that had disappointed them in the past and those that took them for granted from one election to the next. The people expressed a desire for deep and sincere change. That is what the NDP offers. It promises to unite people around an optimistic and progressive vision, to restore the hope that Ottawa will respect Quebeckers and work together with them to build a better Canada for everyone.

Quebeckers do not want to move backward. They have had enough of the old disputes that were the trademark of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois. We must put an end to those pointless quarrels and move forward. That is what the NDP is committed to doing.

Our team has managed to restore hope among Quebeckers, the hope that they can be listened to, understood and respected in their own country and the hope that their values will be shared by other Canadians and that they may soon guide our government's actions.

Unfortunately, some people are prepared to stifle that hope merely to score political points, because that is precisely what the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois are trying to do by reopening their old debates. Quebeckers deserve better than the Bloc's desperate efforts and definitely better than having to pay for the irresponsible political games of the Liberal Party, which wants to manufacture a national unity crisis where there is none. This lack of respect for Quebec began under Pierre Trudeau. It continued under Jean Chrétien and led Canada to the brink of disaster in the 1995 referendum.

Even after the 1995 referendum, which brought Canada to the brink, what did the Liberals do? They tried to buy Quebeckers with their disastrous, corrupt sponsorship scandal. In the process, they managed to renew the sovereignist movement and gave a boost to the Bloc Québécois.

In 2011, Quebeckers said loud and clear that they were tired of the politics of division. They said it was time to do better, and that is why they chose the NDP. Yet today in Ottawa we face a Prime Minister who did not get the message. Under his government, old debates have once again resumed.

The Conservatives' record in Quebec has given Quebeckers every reason to view the federal government as an adversary rather than an ally. There is a reason why the Parti Québécois campaigned against the Conservative Party and against this Prime Minister. There is still time to change the situation, to show Quebeckers that we belong to one big family that shares fundamental values regardless of political leanings. One need only look at the history of our country to realize that.

The history of our country is filled with examples of what is possible when we work together and stay true to our values. Universal public health care for the sick, retirement security for our seniors, these are the institutions that define us and unite us.

We in the NDP are well aware of the great things we can achieve when we work together. That is why we oppose this attempt by the Bloc to plunge people back into the quarrels of the past.

New Democrats understand that there is more in our country to unite us than there is to divide us. That is why we are proposing practical solutions to improve the lives of all Canadians. That is why we are fighting for a balanced 21st century economy that is based on the principles of sustainable development, an economy that creates wealth not only for a handful of industries and regions but for communities from coast to coast to coast.

Apart from our economic vision, our leadership style would also help us establish a lasting relationship of trust with the people and particularly with Quebeckers. Like my colleagues, I remember the time when the Conservatives advocated open federalism. They have just done it again. What have Quebeckers received instead? Nothing but than a door shut and locked in their face.

Compare the Conservatives' closed attitude to the openness of the Sherbrooke declaration and to the NDP vision of a Canada in which Quebec is respected. The Sherbrooke declaration was adopted at the first NDP convention I had the honour to attend in 2006, and it inspired me as it did many people in Quebec. Its positive and confident vision is that of a successful future for all of us, together.

Since that declaration was adopted, the NDP has undertaken to implement the principles of asymmetrical federalism, with recognition of Quebec's right to opt out, with compensation, of all federal programs that encroach on the Quebec government's areas of constitutional jurisdiction.

The Sherbrooke declaration also expresses a willingness to establish a federalism based on good faith, a federalism that acknowledges that Quebeckers have a right to make democratic decisions about their own future, a federalism that recognizes that, in the undesired event of a referendum on the question in Quebec, that referendum would be won by a majority of ballots cast, a rule on which there is a strong consensus in Quebec.

A simple majority to express the will of Quebeckers was the ground rule in both the 1980 and the 1995 referendums when I was fighting to keep Quebec in Canada.

While the current Prime Minister was proposing the construction of “firewalls” between provinces, I was working to build bridges.

Ironically, it was the same Prime Minister who tabled a private member's bill in 1996, Bill C-341, the Quebec Contingency Act, recognizing the majority threshold for a Quebec referendum.

Robert Bourassa, one of the greatest federalists in Quebec history, said: matter what, Quebec is today and for all times a distinct society, free and capable of taking charge of its own destiny and development.

When it came time to vote, Quebeckers chose Canada twice. The NDP will continue to do everything it can to prove to Quebeckers that their future is within Canada, because our country cannot be built on threats. It takes mutual understanding and respect.

The NDP team has already shown what it is capable of doing in opposition. For example, my colleague from Trois-Rivières put forward a bill to guarantee language rights for employees of companies under federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent has introduced a bill to recognize the bilingual nature of our institutions and to make it mandatory to appoint judges and officers of Parliament who understand both official languages.

Since its founding more than 50 years ago, the NDP has taken a positive and constructive approach to politics, an approach based on good faith, which is the very culture of our party. This is the approach that will define a future New Democratic government. It is also in good faith that my colleague from Toronto—Danforth has put a bill on the order paper, a unity act, to implement both the Sherbrooke Declaration and the Supreme Court secession reference.

Anyone who reads the Clarity Act can immediately see one thing: the Clarity Act is not clear, and it therefore does not fix anything.

Good faith dictates that once subjective clarity is established, objective clarity is obtained by a majority of the votes. That is why former NDP House leader Bill Blaikie tabled an amendment to put this concept in the Clarity Act. The Liberals rejected that amendment and, instead, the Liberals decided to abandon the political fight for Canada in favour of a purely legalistic approach, a losing approach.

I fought from the trenches in both the 1980 and 1995 referendums. I am proud of the active role I played in convincing my fellow Quebeckers to choose Canada.

The NDP believes in Canada and also believes that the vast majority of Quebeckers want to remain in Canada. We believe in the political maturity of Quebeckers. We trust Quebeckers and Quebeckers trust us. We will continue to work together. Together we will build a fairer and more inclusive Canada that respects Quebec and Quebeckers.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I once said that Bill 101 was a great Canadian law. Today, I say that the Clarity Act is a great law for Quebeckers. This act, which I had the honour of sponsoring under Jean Chrétien's leadership, was adopted in the year 2000 to give effect to the 1998 opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding Quebec's secession.

The Clarity Act protects the rights of Quebeckers within Canada. We, Quebeckers, are just as Canadian as those living in other provinces and in the territories. We have a right to the full benefits provided by Canadian citizenship, the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have a right to the full protection provided by Canadian legislation and by the duty to assist that the Canadian federation governments have toward us wherever we might be located, in Canada and abroad. Like all Canadians, we have the right to participate to the fullest in the building of the nation.

Nobody can take these full citizenship rights away from us. No premier, no government, no politician. Nobody! Not unless we, Quebeckers, clearly give those rights up.

If we Quebeckers clearly gave up on Canada with a clear majority in response to a clear question on secession, governments would have the obligation to enter into negotiations on secession. These negotiations would have to be held within Canada's constitutional framework in order to conclude a separation agreement that is fair for all. If there were clear support for a secession, there would be negotiation. If there were no clear support, there would be no negotiation, and without negotiation there would be no secession. That was the case the Government of Canada pleaded before the Supreme Court. That was also the court's 1998 opinion to which the Clarity Act gave effect in 2000, and that is also the stance all members of this House should take in 2013, by voting against Bill C-457, a bill to repeal the Clarity Act.

The Clarity Act prohibits the Government of Canada from entering into negotiations on secession before this House is convinced that there is clear support for secession. Who can oppose this fundamental principle? Who can argue that the Government of Canada should undertake to take Canada away from Quebeckers without being sure that this is what they truly want? Whether we are for Canadian unity or Quebec independence, we all have to agree on a fundamental principle: clearly expressed consent.

No attempt at Quebec's secession should be made until Quebeckers have clearly expressed their support for it. That is why we must all support the Clarity Act. In no democracy in the world can a government proceed with something as serious as the break-up of the country, and abdicate its constitutional responsibilities toward one-quarter of its population, without having the assurance that this is what that population truly wants. But this is exactly what my colleagues from the Bloc are asking for when they propose to repeal the Clarity Act: they want the Government of Canada to consider helping a secessionist government secede without Quebeckers having clearly expressed their support for secession.

The Bloc argues that the Clarity Act has been rendered obsolete because in 2006, this House recognized that we, Quebeckers, form a nation within a united Canada. But in no way does that recognition weaken the rights to which Quebeckers are entitled when dealing with their governments. In no way do those governments have the right to make arrangements to negotiate our expulsion from Canada against our will. Taking the Clarity Act away from us, Quebeckers, would weaken the protection we enjoy with respect to our rights. In its 1998 opinion, the Supreme Court states that:

...whatever be the correct application of the definition of people(s) in this context, their right of self-determination cannot in the present circumstances be said to ground a right to unilateral secession.

Accordingly, a secessionist government would have no right to take Canada away from Quebeckers unilaterally. It could not claim this right for itself by arguing that Quebeckers form a people or a nation. It would have no such right, either under Canadian law or international law. The only procedure that can lead to secession is described in the Clarity Act.

It is a simple one. Firstly, the referendum question must be clearly about secession. The Government of Quebec can ask whatever question it wants but only a question on secession can lead to secession. It is easy to imagine what such a question might be: “Do you want Quebec to separate from Canada?” “Do you want Quebec to cease being a part of Canada and to become an independent country?”

Secondly, the response to a clear question on secession must show that a clear majority supports that option. The Supreme Court does not encourage us to predetermine what the majority threshold should be. To quote the court: will be for the political actors to determine what constitutes “a clear majority on a clear question” in the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may be taken.

In other words, determining the level of clarity of a majority has a qualitative aspect, which requires that a political assessment be made with full understanding of the concrete circumstances of the time.

Contrary to the Supreme Court's opinion, the New Democratic Party professes that it would establish a majority threshold in advance of a referendum. In its 2005 Sherbrooke Declaration, the NDP set the threshold at 50% plus one vote. Yet, in its opinion, the court insists often and strongly that a clear majority vote for secession is a must for this option to be considered. If 50% plus one is a clear majority, what constitutes an unclear majority?

The NDP requires a two-thirds majority to modify the party's own constitution, yet it does not hesitate to consider breaking up Canada on the basis of a judicial recount. The NDP says it is open to Quebeckers, yet it wants to impose on Quebeckers such a radical upheaval as secession on the basis of a majority that would be so flimsy that it could easily turn into a minority as soon as the first implementation problem arose. The NDP has no qualms about imposing on Quebeckers, their children and future generations such a serious and irreversible decision as secession on the basis of a majority so uncertain that the referendum result could have been the opposite if the vote had been held one day before or one day after.

Like my colleagues from the other parties, the NDP MPs would be well advised to vote against Bill C-457. They would thus confirm the support given to the Clarity Act by such great New Democrats as Ed Broadbent, Alexa McDonough, Roy Romanow, Gary Doer and Bill Blaikie.

Along with my NDP and Bloc colleagues, we should all encourage Premier Pauline Marois, Bloc leader Daniel Paillé and other separatist leaders to adopt the only position that is fair and responsible: that they will hold the referendum on secession only when they have reasonable assurance of a clear win.

Such a crucial referendum cannot be decided on the roll of a dice; it cannot be allowed to split Quebeckers into two camps. It must only be held if it constitutes an opportunity to confirm clearly, officially and with no ambiguity that Quebeckers wish to reject Canada and have Quebec become an independent country.

Thirdly, secession can only happen—following a clear question and a clear majority—after a separation agreement has been duly negotiated within the present constitutional framework, in accordance with the four constitutional principles identified by the Supreme Court. It goes without saying that these negotiations, “a period of considerable upheaval and uncertainty”, would inevitably “give rise to many issues of great complexity and difficulty”—to quote the Court's own words. Achieving secession would be an inherently difficult task; that is why it should only be considered within the rule of law and on the basis of a clear support for secession.

That is the only way to achieve secession—the dream of my Bloc colleagues—while respecting everybody's rights, including those of Quebeckers. That is why my Bloc colleagues must also support the Clarity Act.

My own firm conviction is that we, Quebeckers, will never let go of Canada. However, neither the Clarity Act nor the Supreme Court's opinion take sides on the issue. The act does not say whether it would be advisable or not to secede. It simply indicates what the only legal, fair and feasible way of doing it would be.

Quebec's separatist movement has given itself a very difficult task: convincing us, Quebeckers, that we would be happier if we were not Canadians; they want us to abandon the country we have built with other Canadians, the country that makes us the envy of the whole world. The secessionist leaders are well aware that it would be very difficult for them to win in clarity; but this does not give them the right to try to do so in confusion. Clarity has virtues for everybody.

So it is as a proud Quebecker, determined to defend my Quebecker rights anywhere and anytime, notably in this House, that I invite all my colleagues to vote against Bill C-457—and in the same breath, to reaffirm the House of Commons' support for the Clarity Act.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all my colleagues for their speeches, and particularly my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who has done a lot of work on this issue and was the architect of the Clarity Law, which we are debating again today.

First, I would like to say that I have a great deal of respect for my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska and for all of my Bloc Québécois colleagues. The work done by all members of the House is of equal value. However, I obviously do not share the opinion held by the Bloc Québécois on this issue. The Green Party therefore cannot support Bill C-457.

I will explain. The Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois support the principle that, as a people, the population of Quebec has the right and the power to make decisions regarding its future. Only the Quebec people can make decisions of that kind.

The question is how an amazing, democratic country like Canada can make clear and just decisions about sensitive, fundamental issues raised in the past, such as Quebec sovereignty and the rights of Quebeckers.

The bill introduced by the member for Richmond—Arthabaska revisits the motion moved in the House of Commons recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation. The Green Party is the only party in the House that did not agree to that motion.

When it came out that the Prime Minister had decided to put forward a motion that Quebeckers are a nation, there were a lot of questions as to what this would mean. At the time, and it may be a bit in our history, the current member of Parliament for Wellington—Halton Hills was the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs. He could not agree with the position and he had not been consulted by the Prime Minister. It is unfortunate in this particular administration that the Prime Minister presumes to run all portfolios. The member, who was minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs at the time, did something quite extraordinary and with great integrity: he chose to leave cabinet and sit on the backbenches voluntarily because he could not agree with that position.

I agree with the member for Wellington—Halton Hills that when a motion is put forward, it either means something or it does not. This particular private member's bill rests on the reality that the motion did not mean anything. If it meant what it said, then this Bloc Quebecois private member's bill would have to pass. If all members of Parliament in the House who voted for the motion that Quebeckers are a nation really meant it, then this private member's bill would have to pass.

We all recognize there is very little support in the House for this private member's bill because we want the Clarity Act. We want to make sure that in the process of coming up with a question on an issue as important as another referendum on the question of Quebec leaving Canada, which we all hope will never occur, the Clarity Act will be followed.

As a political ploy, as a convenient motion which in effect meant nothing, every other party in the House, other than the Green Party, supported a motion that Quebeckers are a nation. Today those members are all hoist with their own petard. The reality is that if the motion meant anything they would have to vote for this private member's bill being put forward by the member of Parliament for Richmond—Arthabaska. It would be a shame to turn a vote on anything as important as touching on the sovereignty of Quebeckers and Quebec as a nation into a political point that means nothing.

Evidently, the motion that Quebeckers form a nation, in principle, has had no effect. If it had, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska would be perfectly correct: it would not be reasonable for a clarity act to require clear questions and assign this kind of role to the Parliament of Canada.

We obviously need the Clarity Act. It is essential for the people of Quebec and for all Canadians who respect the rights of Quebeckers that there be a clear question. I hope that everyone will honour that principle. It is essential that there be a clear question regarding the future of the people of Quebec. This is a very important issue for the future. For that reason, the Green Party supports the Clarity Act. Unfortunately, the motion stating that Quebeckers form a nation has no real meaning.

The Green Party will not be voting for Bill C-457, but I thank the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for demonstrating very clearly that the motions supported by all the other parties in this House in the past are not effective. It is unfortunate for Quebeckers that such a motion was passed.

I am sorry to say that the motion that Quebeckers are a nation was, as I always suspected, a bit of political theatre without effect. I thank the member of Parliament for Richmond—Arthabaska for pointing it out so clearly.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate.

The member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia has six minutes for his speech.

The hon. member has the floor.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank this House for allowing me to speak on the bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska. It is a very important bill.

At the outset, I would like to pursue the argument of the member who spoke before me. She is right on one fundamental point. When the House of Commons adopts a motion recognizing the Quebec nation, as it did in the matter before us, there must be some consistency whereby the acknowledged attributes of a nation may be recognized by the House. The Clarity Act violates, in every respect, the rights that a nation must have.

Quebeckers form a nation. That was formally recognized by the House of Commons on November 27, 2006. Now it is time to recognize all its attributes, including its inalienable right to self-determination. In passing the Clarity Act in 2000, the federal government unilaterally claimed the right to interfere in the democratic process central to the sovereignist approach.

Even at the time—I mentioned this earlier, at the outset, during the period of comments on the speech by my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska—all the federalist parties in the National Assembly rose up against this legislation, which violated the fundamental democratic principles of every nation. Even worse, the federal government of the time acted as judge and jury by deciding what constituted a clear majority and a clear question, allowing itself all the leeway to acknowledge or deny the validity of a consultation exercise in Quebec.

The Clarity Act also gives the House of Commons of Canada power to disallow important legislation passed by the National Assembly, that is to say an act that recognizes the choice of the Quebec people. This act also denies Quebeckers the freedom to choose their political destiny and to include in a referendum question, should they so wish, a proposal of partnership with Canada. The act also denies the universally accepted rule of 50% plus one for the majority and the fundamental rule of the equality of votes. That rule is recognized in international law.

Like all parties in the National Assembly, the Bloc Quebecois never accepted the idea that the Clarity Act would take precedence over Quebec's laws. I would like to go back to the universal rule of 50% plus one. The undemocratic nature of the bill is all the more apparent when you observe Canadian and international practice with regard to the majority principle, the rule of 50% plus one. All Canadian referenda have been held based on that important principle. Newfoundland entered Confederation on the basis of 52% of the ballots validly cast.

Our bill is simple and unambiguous. It contains one clause. It is quite simply the consequence of the formal recognition of the right of a people, the Quebec nation, to decide its own destiny. No one can recognize a nation or recognize that a people forms a nation without acknowledging that it has all the inherent attributes of a nation.

In our opinion, the National Assembly is entirely at liberty to consult its own population in accordance with its own laws, and may legitimately do so. The Bloc Quebecois proposes that Parliament repeal this act, which is an affront to Quebec democracy and a demonstration of the federal government's bad faith with respect to the judgment of the Supreme Court.

In 1995, the House of Commons recognized Quebec as a distinct society. As pointed out by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, when it comes time to follow through on this and other meaningless ideas, nothing happens. But when you recognize a nation, you must also recognize all of the rights that go along with nationhood. The Supreme Court did not take that into consideration, including in the 1998 secession reference.

In 2006, the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation.

However, this recognition was not paired with any tangible measures. This is a unique opportunity for the House. There have been other opportunities before, but this is a real chance for the House to decide. Is Quebec a nation, yes or no?

For the sake of consistency and logic, the members must support the bill introduced by my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska.

As I said before, you cannot recognize a nation and then refuse to recognize the consequences that has. The right to self-determination, which is a people's right to determine its own future, is an inalienable right all nations have.

Clarity ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia will have four minutes to finish his speech when the House resumes debate on this motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders



Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders


Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be back here in this wonderful House of Commons, where I am pleased to kick-off debate on this important piece of legislation, both for taxpayers and tax professionals, because it represents a major advancement in the simplification of Canada's tax system.

While admittedly it is technical, I should remind members of the many Canadians who helped craft its development over the years through numerous open and public consultations. In fact, the technical tax amendments act represents over a decade of miscellaneous tax announcements that have already been made public but have yet to be formally enacted, causing a significant backlog in our tax system. This backlog can be traced back to the fact that Parliament has not passed technical tax legislation in over a decade, something the Auditor General identified as a matter of legitimate concern.

I will read directly from the Auditor General's fall 2009 report, to provide members with further background on this issue. It states:

The last technical bill on income tax law received royal assent in 2001. Each year, more deficiencies are identified, contributing to an ever-growing backlog of needed technical amendments.

—The Department of Finance Canada alone cannot correct this situation, but it can do more to bring the urgency of the problem to the attention of the government and Parliament....

The Auditor General also articulated some powerful reasons to explain why clearing this backlog should be a priority for Parliament. Again, the report states:

Canada’s tax system relies on taxpayers to self-assess and pay the income taxes they owe.... [M]ost taxpayers will meet their tax obligations if given the proper tools and information.

Taxpayers’ ability to comply with tax legislation depends on their understanding of how the rules apply to their own circumstances. When the intent of the legislation is not clearly conveyed by the words, taxpayers may find it difficult to assess the income taxes they owe and this could foster tax avoidance. Uncertainty about how the law should be applied can also add to the time taken and costs incurred by tax audits and tax administration.

I strongly encourage all parliamentarians and Canadians watching at home who want to learn more about this issue to read the very comprehensive work of the Auditor General, available online at Specifically, I suggest they look at chapter 3 of the fall 2009 report, which shows that the government agreed wholeheartedly with its findings and recommendations. Indeed, we indicated in a formal response included in the report that we recognized these concerns and would once again introduce technical tax legislation in Parliament.

To facilitate passage of the bill, we have consulted extensively with Canadians over the past few years in order to get as much feedback as possible before introducing it and so that we could proactively address any concerns that were raised.

We are now at the most important stage of the legislative process: the careful review of the bill in Parliament.

For many years now, as Parliament has tried to pass tax bills under other governments, Parliament has never managed to complete its examinations.

I think all members will agree that it is time to address this backlog of over 10 years, and that taxpayers should not have to live with the uncertainty of additional backlogs.

Even the all-party Standing Committee on Public Accounts agreed. In its 2010 study of the Auditor General's report, the committee issued the following statement:

The Public Accounts Committee believes that the integrity of Canada’s income tax system depends upon taxpayers and tax auditors having a clear understanding of the requirements of the Income Tax Act and its associated regulations. A lack of clarity can lead to increased costs for taxpayers who may need to seek out professional advice. As a result, it is of particular concern to the Committee that no income tax technical amendment bill has been passed since 2001.

I would also note that the all-party finance committee, of which I am honoured to be a member, has heard from diverse witnesses about the importance of addressing the technical tax backlog. These groups include the Real Property Association of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Tax Executives Institute, the Canadian Tax Foundation, and many more. However, perhaps the most vocal of these groups has been the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, sometimes known as CGA Canada.

While I know that all members would likely support the general principles of tax simplification, as well as ending uncertainty for taxpayers, we must nevertheless conduct a thorough study of this legislation, especially at the finance committee. In fact I have already consulted with my committee colleagues about holding multiple meetings on this legislation, and I am pleased to report that members are in broad agreement.

As some of the amendments included in today's act date as far back as the late 1990s, pre-dating both our government and the majority of sitting MPs, I think we can all appreciate the need to examine them closely in a non-partisan manner.

I will briefly go over the content of this legislation for those who are not familiar with this substantial bill.

As I already mentioned, this bill is about further simplifying Canada's tax system by making various changes to the Income Tax Act and other related legislation.

The CGA represents over 75,000 tax professionals and has appeared before various committees over the years to stress the need for Parliament to act to clear this backlog. As such, I would like to read at length part of the statement made by CGA Canada following the release of this legislation in November:

By tabling this legislation, the government is taking concrete action to deal with the backlog of unlegislated tax proposals....The new bill will provide more certainty to Canadian taxpayers and lessen the burden of compliance.

Some of the measures contained in today’s bill were initially proposed as early as 1999.... What’s more, since 1999 these draft rules have been re-released a number of times and revised by the government, making taxpayers uncertain.... With unlegislated tax measures, taxpayers and professional accountants must maintain their records and forms–sometimes for years–to be in a position to comply, even without knowing when and if these measures will be approved by Parliament and enacted. This uncertainty and unpredictability places an enormous compliance burden on taxpayers, businesses, professionals and their clients.

I will now walk through this legislation, piece by piece, to highlight key measures and their intended purpose. Although the legislation is highly technical, I will be brief in my remarks.

Let us start with part 1 of the bill. Our government is proposing enhancements to the Income Tax Act to better target and simplify the rules relating to non-resident trusts, taking into account comments received during extensive public consultations.

Parts 2 and 3 relate to the taxation of Canadian multinational corporations with foreign affiliates. Again, our government consulted extensively with stakeholders and the public on these proposals, some of which date all the way back to 2004. The result will be a simplified, fair and equitable tax system that will be easier to comply with and more straightforward to administer.

Part 4 of the bill will help ensure that its amendments will function under both common and civil laws. More specifically, these amendments will ensure that provisions that rely on certain private law concepts are bijural, such as right and interest; real and personal property; life estate and remainder interest; tangible and intangible property; and joint and several liability. In other words, the bill will ensure that they reflect both the common law and the civil law in both linguistic versions.

Part 5 of the bill will close certain tax loopholes and ensure greater fairness for taxpayers, measures on which we consulted extensively. These measures include closing tax loopholes related to a specified leasing property; ensuring that conversion of specified investment flow-through trusts and partnerships into corporations are subject to the same rules as transactions between corporations; preventing schemes designed to shelter tax by artificially increasing foreign tax credits; and finally, implementing a regime for reporting tax avoidance.

Taken all together, these measures will help crack down on the problem of tax avoidance and ensure that everyone pays his or her fair share.

Tax fairness is a basic principle that we have worked hard to respect ever since we took office. We are proud of our commitment to strengthening the integrity and fairness of the tax system and of our continued efforts to eliminate tax loopholes.

In fact, since 2006, we have introduced over 50 measures to eliminate these loopholes in order to guarantee that taxes are collected in a manner that is fair and consistent with their intended policy objectives.

Our efforts have therefore allowed us to collect nearly $2 billion on behalf of taxpayers. Canadians can be assured that in the future, our government will continue to take the necessary measures to ensure the integrity of the tax system, because eliminating tax loopholes helps to keep taxes low for everyone.

Before moving to part 6, I should also note that part 5 includes a number of technical changes designed to ensure that the income tax system functions in the way it was intended. Many of these changes are relieving measures and will address issues previously identified by taxpayers.

Part 5 also implements an amendment relating to the enactment of the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act. It extends the personal income tax credit in respect of employment insurance premiums to apply to premiums paid by self-employed individuals.

Part 6 of the bill implements technical improvements to the GST and HST, including relieving GST or HST on the administrative service of collecting and distributing the levy on blank media imposed by the Copyright Act.

Part 7, the final portion of the bill, makes administrative changes to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

As all of these parts will be examined in greater detail by the finance committee, I will simply say that the underlying intent of each of these measures is to simplify the tax system and thereby ensure fairness and equity for all Canadian taxpayers.

In closing, I will quote from an op-ed originally published in The Globe and Mail by Tim Wach, a respected tax professional with the firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson, which speaks again to the importance of passing today's legislation. It states:

—there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. While one cannot take issue with the first part of that statement, the second is increasingly coming into question. The fact that we have to pay tax is no less certain, but certainty in the detail of Canada’s tax laws arguably has been decreasing. This results from the increasing “legislative backlog”–the gap between the announcement of changes to the tax system and the legislative enactment of those changes.

This gap is making it increasingly difficult for Canadians to plan their affairs with confidence and certainty and to comply with their tax obligations. When taxpayers are uncertain about their obligations, their trust and faith in the system diminishes.

It continues:

—parliamentarians can bring a higher degree of certainty to our tax laws by moving forward swiftly, in a non-partisan, non-politicized manner, to enact outstanding changes. Let’s hope they do just that.

In closing, I encourage all members to listen to the advice of the Governor General and the appeals of the tax experts represented by CGA-Canada, as well as taxpayers, who have told us repeatedly that they want to know where they stand with the tax system.

Let us take this historic opportunity to move forward in a non-partisan manner to give this legislation the careful consideration and passage it deserves.

I look forward to any questions.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her comments and look forward to continuing to work with her on the finance committee.

She is quite right that there is a huge backlog of tax changes that have been announced but not implemented in law. In fact, there is well over a decade's worth of changes, which creates uncertainty and unpredictability around our tax legislation. Therefore, we acknowledge that it is important to get these changes coded into law.

However, my question to the hon. member is this. Given that there are still hundreds of outstanding changes that have been made or addressed in comfort letters or other ways, will the government wait another decade or more before bringing in additional technical changes, or will it agree with the recommendations that have been made to bring in technical changes on an annual basis to create greater certainty, predictability and transparency in our tax system?

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I, too, want to welcome my colleague, the finance critic for the NDP, back to this wonderful House. It leads me to believe that the NDP members are excited about the bill and that they want to see it move forward quickly because they have asked a question about how we will progress in the future.

This government has indicated clearly that we intend to bring forward legislation in a timely fashion so we do not have this backlog repeat itself. It is this government that put forward an attempt to solve this backlog in 2008, and we continue to move forward in that way. I might add that part 8 has been added to the technical tax bill, which deals with some very recent tax changes.

Once again, I want to reassure all colleagues in the House that this government is set to continue to pursue tax legislation in a timely and considerate manner.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the tone of the member's speech. When most Canadians think of tax reform, they want to see tax reform that is fair and that will make a difference. However, they also want it to be consumer-friendly. There is a sense that our tax laws are very complicated and more and more people have to use accounting services, whether it is the H&Rs or private accountants, but there is a certain percentage of the population like the 130 or 140 people I met with yesterday. On their annual T4s, I would suggest they probably make less than $40,000 a year. They want consumer-friendly tax legislation to enable them to file and get a tax rebate or if they have to pay some money that it can be done in a relatively simple fashion.

To what degree does the member believe this legislation will serve the desire of many who want to see a simpler taxation system?

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome my colleague from the Liberal Party back to the House. I find it a bit odd to be standing here answering the question. Although I have tremendous respect for my colleague from Winnipeg where I reside, it was the Liberal Party and the official opposition that put forward a number of amendments to the Budget Implementation Act, which passed before the Christmas break, to go against any desire to close tax loopholes.

I am glad he and the Liberal Party have come on board to try to ensure that tax loopholes are closed, because that is what consumers want to see. They want to see tax fairness. I can assure the member that consumers and tax professionals will be well served by getting through this backlog. If they look at the Income Tax Act and all the grey pages in the book that governs how to deal with income tax issues that many tax professionals use, it is so complex that this technical tax bill would eliminate many of those grey pages and make it simpler.

I thank my colleague for coming to the table and I hope he will be supporting this in a timely fashion.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.


Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague talked about the grey part in the Income Tax Act. It is important to reflect on that further. In budget pre-committee, we had many experts who showed us the grey sections. Those grey sections related to pieces of the budget that had not actually been turned into legislation.

Could my colleague talk further about the importance of turning that grey section of the Income Tax Act into legislation and how visual that was in terms of assuring us that we needed to move forward?

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary sits in committee, at times for hours and hours, trying to ensure she serves the people in her riding and all Canadians in an effective way. This is just another example of how the parliamentary secretary has been very involved in trying to ensure this technical tax bill moves forward. Her expertise on this issue has been very much appreciated, so I want to thank her publicly for all she has done in this endeavour.

With regard to her description of the grey pages in the book that was presented in committee, let me just describe for Canadians at home how that looked to all of us on the finance committee as the CGA representatives explained the complexity of those grey pages. They produced a book, the Income Tax Act, which is about the size of a bible. My family bible is fairly large. They were very disturbed that almost every second page in it contained what was a grey page or a grey section. The grey pages or sections are those parts that have been announced as measures to be changed but have not been enacted. This caused a complexity because the tax professionals had to keep track. Every budget, for over a decade, that announced a measure that would change went in as a grey section and they had to keep track of them year after year to ensure they followed comfort letters or followed the intent, even though legislation clarifying and detailing the measures was not enacted.

One can imagine a book the size of a bible with almost every second page having a grey paragraph or a grey page. It is time to fix this. I am glad to have the support of members opposite to ensure it is done quickly.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary's speech, and I would like to welcome my colleague back to the House.

One thing she mentioned in her speech seems particularly important to me. She talked about simplifying the tax system. As everyone knows, the Income Tax Act was adopted in 1917. At the time, it was only about 10 pages long. Now the act is 3,000 pages long. The bill before us covers technicalities and seeks to do away with tax loopholes and ensure greater fairness. This bill would make the Income Tax Act almost 4,000 pages long, which is a major problem. To my knowledge, no other Canadian law is as long as this one.

Canadian accountants, businesses and even individuals have written to tell us that the current system is really too complex for them to understand all of the finer points of the legislation. On their behalf, I would like to ask my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, two questions.

First, even if this bill closes tax loopholes, how can she justify calling it a simplification when it will make the Income Tax Act nearly 33% longer?

Second, does the government intend to truly simplify the Income Tax Act someday?

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question and welcome him back to the House of Commons too.

As I said before, our government is committed to simplifying this law. We have listened to what Canadians and the experts have to say about this. They want clarification. They were the ones who asked us to introduce a bill that would put an end to confusion about things that were announced in budgets over the past 10 years but that were never implemented at the legislative level.

Once again, I would like to reassure my colleague that our government is making an effort to work with experts and Canadians to create a simplified tax system that will protect them, a system that is fair and efficient.

I hope that my colleague will support our efforts. We will see when it comes time to vote.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to welcome all my colleagues back to the House. I trust they had an enjoyable break over the holiday period, and that they are all energized and looking forward to getting back to what I am sure will be a very busy winter and spring session.

Today I am pleased to rise on Bill C-48. The bill implements over a decade of highly technical changes to Canada's tax code.

The way I feel about it is that one of the most if not the most important work for us, as elected members of Parliament, is to make decisions about taxation and spending. It is about respecting how hard Canadians work to earn the money they get. We make decisions about taxing that money so we can provide for public services, public infrastructure and democratic machinery.

Most Canadians accept the principle of paying taxes as something that keeps a healthy society. However, they want us to have a very careful eye on their tax dollars and on how that money is spent. I think most Canadians want, and I fear they do not feel they get enough of, is transparency and integrity in our system of tax collection and spending and in our government. They want accountability. They want respect for every dollar they send here.

When we have a situation, for example, like the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who has to take the government to court to get information about how tax dollars are being spent or what cuts to services, which Canadians depend on, are being made, that decreases confidence in our system, in the accountability and transparency of government.

So too does the complicated nature of our tax legislation. Individuals who may not have English or French as their first language, or seniors or young people really struggle with the complicated nature of our tax legislation and certainly yearn for greater simplicity.

That brings me to this bill. Many of these changes seem like they make a lot of good sense. There are provisions in Bill C-48 to ensure that all of an airline corporation's taxable income will be attributed to the provinces and territories in which the corporation has a permanent establishment. There are provisions to discourage tax avoidance in the taxation of foreign affiliates of Canadian multinational corporations. There are anti-avoidance measures for specific leasing of property, limits on the use of foreign tax credit generators for international tax avoidance, as well as housekeeping changes to the Excise Tax Act such as repealing a provision that has not been in use since 1999.

We believe these changes in total will be revenue positive and that they generally move to discourage tax avoidance and therefore ensure the integrity of our existing tax law. Furthermore, the vast majority of these measures have already been in practice for several years, since it is standard practice for tax measures to take effect upon their proposal. Once they have been announced, people accept them as adopted. For these reasons the official opposition New Democrats will be supporting the bill.

Bill C-48 implements over a decade of highly technical changes to Canada's tax system.

In the end, we believe that these changes will be revenue positive. They generally move to discourage tax avoidance and ensure the integrity of the tax system.

The vast majority of these measures have been in place for several years, since it is standard practice for tax measures to take effect upon their proposal. For these reasons, the official opposition will be supporting this bill.

New Democrats believe in cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion, while ensuring the integrity of our tax system. That is why we have pushed, since the election in 2011, to have the finance committee complete its study of tax evasion. It looks like we will finally be doing that this year. However, that is why we support the changes being made in the bill, especially those that aim to reduce tax avoidance.

I do want to raise some concerns relating to the size of the bill, which comes to us at close to 1,000 pages.

First, the massive scale of the bill indicates that the government needs to be more responsible regarding its handling of the tax code. In particular, it must ensure that tax proposals are legislated on a regular basis. In fact, the last technical tax bill was passed in 2001. In her fall 2009 update, the former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, raised concerns about the fact that there were at least 400 outstanding technical amendments to the tax code, which had not yet been put into legislation.

No technical income tax bill has been passed since 2001. Although the government has said that an annual technical bill of routine housekeeping amendments to the Act is desirable, this has not happened. As a result, the Department of Finance Canada has a backlog of at least 400 technical amendments that have not been enacted, including 250 “comfort letters” dating back to 1998, recommending changes that have not been legislated.

Over 200 of these outstanding changes are addressed in Bill C-48, but that still leaves hundreds of outstanding amendments.

I spoke recently in Calgary to a group of more than 1,000 tax practitioners, general accountants, certified general accountants and tax lawyers. They agreed that the comfort letter process works, but they wanted the clarity of having these laws fully in place. It would make their jobs so much easier and create greater clarity for Canadians. The Auditor General's 2009 fall report also expressed a need for these legislative changes so that the comfort letters identified could be enacted.

During this fall's pre-budget consultations, the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada told the finance committee:

—the government must introduce a technical tax amendments bill. The last time a technical tax bill was passed by Parliament was over 11 years ago. Literally hundreds of unlegislated tax amendments to the Income Tax Act...have been proposed, but not yet enacted, which brings uncertainty and unpredictability to the process.

These are the experts speaking, the tax practitioners who deal with this work every day of the week. The quote continues:

—we strongly feel that implementing a sunset provision would ensure that tax amendments are legislated, which ultimately will eliminate the ever-growing backlog of unlegislated tax measures once and for all. With this provision, if a tax policy change is announced and not incorporated into legislation within a reasonable amount of time, the measure would lapse. This would bring greater clarity and certainty to tax legislation, reduce the compliance and paperwork burden, and, perhaps most importantly, prevent any future legislative backlogs.

What they are asking for is a sunset clause so that if government announces tax changes in one year, by the end of that year, it would bring those changes into law. It makes perfect sense. We should not be waiting 11 years to get clarity on tax changes the government has already made. We strongly support this recommendation from the CGA.

The Income Tax Act is a living document, perhaps more so than any other piece of legislation. Feedback from the lived experience of taxpayers and tax practitioners can help us make amendments in order to ensure the integrity of our tax system. The responsible management of the tax code means that these changes must be made on an ongoing basis. Failing to do so can lead to uncertainty for business and for tax practitioners.

One thing I have heard, while going across this country and talking to businesses from the east to the west coast and in many places in between, is that they find the government takes too much action on an ad hoc basis for political reasons and does not create enough certainty by laying out a plan and following that plan.

Anything we can do to create greater certainty for business leads to a better investment climate. It helps businesses make decisions about investing in machinery and equipment and creating more jobs, because they have greater certainty of what the future will look like. Clear tax legislation helps do that. Failing to do so leads to uncertainty. That is why we need the government to act so we do not have decisions being made on an ad hoc basis. People and business want predictability and reliability in our tax system. Without these basic building blocks of predictability and reliability, businesses cannot do effective fiscal planning.

Canadian families need the same certainty. These ad hoc, boutique tax credits, which undermine our tax base and take revenue out of our tax system, are also unpredictable for Canadian families. Their introduction on an ad hoc basis means that it is difficult for families to plan ahead for their tax obligations.

As the former Auditor General noted:

If proposed technical changes are not tabled regularly, the volume of amendments becomes difficult for taxpayers, tax practitioners, and parliamentarians to absorb when they are grouped into a large package.

Amen. That is what we have today, a bill of about 1,000 pages. Bringing more than a decade of tax changes into one bill does not create a situation of the greatest transparency. Yet we need transparency and accountability for our tax legislation, which is something that touches all Canadians and all businesses. It has become a pattern in this Parliament to create these massive omnibus budget bills with hundreds of pages of legislation and very little time to examine them. Furthermore, only a fraction of MPs, similar to the Canadian public in general, are tax specialists.

With regard to Bill C-48, tax lawyer Thomas McDonnell said that we should also remember the huge so-called technical tax bill introduced last fall. The hard copy of the amendments and explanatory notes was over 900 pages. He believes that this bill will also be passed without an informed debate in the House of Commons, and most parliamentarians who vote on the bill will admit that they did not read it or really try to understand the impact of their vote no matter which way they vote. He added that this is not the way Parliament is supposed to carry out one of its main duties, which is to generate revenue. It is sad to say, but he believes that most parliamentarians do not understand this aspect of Parliament's role or they do not have the courage to stand up and defend this role.

While we do not support the government's serial use of omnibus legislation, we recognize that it makes a big difference that Bill C-48 makes technical changes to a smaller number of closely related laws. The vast majority of these measures have already been in practice for several years and have incorporated feedback from tax practitioners. This is a stark contrast to the Conservatives' Trojan Horse budget bills, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, which made sweeping changes to everything from environmental protection and government accountability to immigration and EI, all without thorough consultation, debate or scrutiny.

That being said, the bill still poses a definite challenge for most parliamentarians, who will not have the opportunity to thoroughly study it and will not be able to study it at committee.

Transparency must be at the heart of our work as publicly elected representatives. We must do everything in our power to ensure that legislation receives full and informed debate in the House. I therefore urge my colleagues to ensure that the legislation receives thorough debate and consideration at all stages, but we also need to go further.

It is our responsibility as MPs to be continually examining how we can most effectively represent the interests of our constituents, including in the tax system. People lose confidence when they see the government's ineptitudes, such as the financing of the F-35 procurement program or individual expenses such as $16 orange juice.

However, in the tax system, when a dishonest few refuse to live up to their responsibilities not only do the rest of us pay more to make up for it, but those who do seek to live up to their responsibilities are put at a competitive disadvantage, and I am thinking of businesses here. This places enormous pressure on corporations and business owners. Too many businesses find themselves in a race to match the tax avoidance measures of their competitors. Yet public budgets provide so much of what Canadians value most. Basic government services are the foundation of our economy: infrastructure, police, education, our legal system.

In testimony to the Senate banking committee Marlene Legare, the former chief of the sales tax division in the Department of Finance's tax policy branch, explained:

Until now, the choice has probably been more in favour of combining measures so as to put forward fewer bills. I think the lesson that we learned from this experience is that it may be preferable to change the balance somewhat.

She is speaking of the omnibus bills. She continues:

That may mean putting forward smaller bills which would contain measures that would be enacted on a more timely basis.

That is, going forward, let us make the changes within a year after they are announced so that there is clarity for taxpayers and for tax practitioners, and so that we are fully recouping the tax dollars for changes that have been announced. It is inexcusable that it has taken so long for the sitting government to take action on these changes.

The official opposition stands firmly in support of focusing on compliance and creating clear tax structures in a timely manner to ensure the integrity of our tax system. That is why we are supporting Bill C-48. However, the massive size of the legislation demonstrates that there is still a huge amount of work to do in getting such technical changes legislated in a timely fashion. Failing to do so hurts taxpayers and tax practitioners and makes it difficult for a proper evaluation by Parliament.

The official opposition stands firmly in support of focusing on compliance in order to ensure the integrity of our tax system. That is why we are supporting Bill C-48.

However, the massive size of this legislation demonstrates that there is still a huge amount of work to do in getting such technical changes legislated in a timely fashion. Failure to do so would hurt taxpayers and tax practitioners and make it difficult for a proper evaluation by Parliament.

I therefore urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to work to ensure that the bill receives thorough examination and discussion in Parliament. We will continue to work to ensure the integrity of our tax system with a more effective process when it comes to technical tax legislation. We need to continually demonstrate our respect for the hard work of Canadians and the taxes they send to Ottawa, and to reward that with transparency and predictability. New Democrats, when we get the opportunity in 2015, will do just that.