Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to support this bill on behalf of the people in my riding of Pontiac. A good housecleaning in this area can only help businesses in particular.
Bill C-48 implements over a decade of highly technical amendments to our tax system. I believe that these changes will have a positive impact on revenues and that they will generally discourage tax avoidance, which is an important element.
The very size of this bill shows that the government must manage the tax system in a more responsible manner. It must ensure in particular that it periodically passes legislation on proposed tax measures. Otherwise, there will be greater uncertainty for business people and tax experts, and it will be almost impossible for parliamentarians to deal with such lengthy bills.
I also want to point out the importance of guaranteeing the integrity of the tax system. Moreover, I believe that we must eliminate unanticipated tax loopholes in a timely manner. We must also consider the increasing complexity of tax laws and insist on the need to simplify them over time.
Like my fellow New Democrats, I think we must fight tax avoidance and tax evasion while preserving the integrity of our tax system. That is why I support the changes being made in this bill, especially those that aim to stop tax avoidance. It is a significant loss of revenue for the state, and that revenue is essential to support our social programs, which reflect the values of all Canadians.
Still, at nearly 1,000 pages, this bill is the perfect example of an omnibus bill. Fortunately, unlike the monster budget bills that contain badly designed and poorly conceived policies, this bill makes technical amendments to several closely related acts.
This bill's massive size is proof that there is still some work to be done in transforming such technical amendments into legislation and, as I said, doing that with good speed. Not doing that penalizes businesses and complicates Parliament's tasks. And that has a cost.
The harder it is for businesses to find their way around the country's tax laws and pay their taxes, the less effort they will make to pay their fair and responsible share of taxes. It is these taxes that the state uses to redistribute revenue and help the neediest people in our society and anyone who runs into problems.
In the fall of 2009, the Auditor General reported that there were more than 400 technical amendments that had been proclaimed but had not yet been enacted in legislation. Bill C-48 will enact more than 200 of these changes, or about half, but the others will be left in limbo. When can we expect to see those 200 amendments become law?
We may all wonder what is causing this delay. When the Liberals were in power, they, too, took some time integrating the technical amendments into tax law. The most recent enactment of a technical tax bill was in 2001, more than a decade ago.
I wonder why the Liberals did not pass such technical taxation bills regularly after 2001. They may have an answer. The Conservatives, too, have taken their time transforming these technical amendments into legislation.
Bill C-48 is designed to implement more than 200 of these changes. However, it is crucial that the other 200 be enacted and that the integrity of our tax system be maintained. The Conservatives should try to do a better job of incorporating these technical amendments into the legislation.
Compliance is a key aspect of maintaining the integrity of our tax system. What is the government doing to ensure that people comply with the technical changes being made in the tax system? We have not yet had an answer to that question.
The official opposition has consulted tax professionals and lawyers, who have told us that the technical changes in Bill C-48 are largely beneficial and necessary, but that there are not enough of them. That said, there have been other attempts to pass technical tax bills.
For example, Bill C-10 was introduced in October 2007 and was quickly passed by the House of Commons, but it had not passed the Senate committee stage when the 39th Parliament was dissolved in September 2008.
Governments have not been acting quickly enough. And that costs Canadian companies and taxpayers money. We want the government to act more quickly when it comes to tax changes, and we want these changes to be tabled more often. Many experts agree with us. For example, here is a quote from the Auditor General:
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....
In the 1991 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 2, we expressed concerns that income tax comfort letters were given without public announcement. In response, the Department of Finance Canada stated that “the government intends to release a package of income tax technical amendments on an annual basis, so that taxpayers will not be subject to more lengthy waiting periods as in the past before amendments are released to the public.”... comfort letters have since been regularly released to the public...
Denis Saint-Pierre, the chair of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Advisory Group for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, said the following in committee:
First, 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—which I showed this committee last year...—have been proposed, but not yet enacted, which brings uncertainty and unpredictability to the process.
In its 2012 prebudget submission—not too long ago—the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada said:
CGA-Canada strongly believes that the key to sustained economic recovery [the question was about economic recovery] and enhanced economic growth lies in the government’s commitment to tax reform and red tape reduction.
It is clear that we must take action that is in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers, to develop a tax system that makes sense and serves everyone.