Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak to Canadians this evening on Bill C-48, which is a technical tax bill. We dealt with this bill at the finance committee. Bill C-48 is a very large piece of legislation that contains more than 1,000 pages and presents numerous technical tax changes to the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act and other legislation.
I said these are technical tax changes. These are changes to the tax code that, in sum, will be revenue positive for Canadians. They generally move to discourage tax avoidance, which is a positive thing. All Canadians should pay their fair share. The vast majority of the changes contained in Bill C-48 are already adopted in practice. Tax practitioners across the country are respecting these changes, which have already been announced by the government. Many have been in practice for several years, because there has not been a technical tax bill like Bill C-48 since 2001. Clearly, we are long overdue in terms of updating our tax legislation.
These changes have already been in place and taking effect for several years. What has not been in place are elements of the direct reporting that is required under Bill C-48, aspects of the compliance contained in this bill. Clearly, this bill is of massive scale. As I said, it consists of more than 1,000 pages of tax legislation, very technical, detailed tax changes. The scale of this bill clearly indicates that not only the current government but the previous government has been asleep at the wheel in terms of updating these changes on a regular basis.
We have heard from tax practitioners across the country who have said it creates confusion and uncertainty generally for Canadians and it is particularly difficult for businesses that are trying to do tax planning when they do not have the certainty of these tax changes taking place in law. Clearly, the government has been falling down on the job by not updating the tax legislation on a regular basis. We do not want this uncertainty, but it has also created a bill of great scale—as I said, 1,000 pages of technical tax changes. Tax specialists went before the finance committee and said there are some changes that are so detailed and arcane that they had difficulty understanding them. Yet the finance committee had very limited time to study these changes and, once again, the government has put time allocation in the House to limit the amount of time to study and debate something so complex.
We want to emphasize the importance of focusing on compliance in this bill in order to ensure the integrity of our tax system. We would argue that we need to close unexpected tax loopholes in a timely manner. This bill would close unexpected loopholes, but it has taken more than a decade to do so. Clearly, the Conservatives are not doing their job as government in making sure Canadians comply with tax legislation.
We want to point out the ever-growing complexity of the tax code and the need for simplification of the tax code that needs to take place. I want to emphasize that the New Democrats on this side of the House believe in cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion. We had to fight hard to get the government to complete a study of tax evasion and tax havens that was begun by the previous government. If members can believe it, prior to the election in 2011, there was a study on tax havens that was almost completed. We have had to fight since the election in 2011 to get the government to complete that study.
Conservatives wanted to have more than 10 meetings to look at increasing charitable tax donations. They put a whole range of bills through the Standing Committee on Finance, but surprisingly, they did not want to study tax havens, tax evasion or tax avoidance. The government seems to at least say that it wants to focus on fixing the deficit the government has created, and that we face still, and that it wants to restore the books to balance. One would think that a government in that situation would be scrambling to close tax loopholes and to ensure that every bit of money salted away in tax havens and some islands where tax laws currently are not capturing that revenue could be tracked down.
However, we had to fight, and it was only this spring that we were able to drag the government, kicking and screaming, to a study of tax havens. We had very few meetings, by the way. We had far fewer sessions to study tax havens than we should have had. It is a disgrace. When we look at what is happening in the United Kingdom, in the U.S., large corporations have not been paying their fair share of taxes. Major companies, such as Starbucks, Amazon and Google, have been found in other countries to not be paying their fair share of taxes.
The government suddenly wants to scuttle away and not study these issues of corporate taxation. I say that the Conservatives are falling down on the job, but no fear, this side of the House will do a much better job after 2015.
The bill we are presented with and that we are debating this evening is more than 1,000 pages. It is definitely an omnibus bill. New Democrats have complained vigorously about the omnibus budget bills the government has put before the House and put before our finance company. They are Trojan Horse budget bills that have contained everything but the kitchen. We have been debating the inspector general of CSIS, the navigable waters act and first nations legislation. We have been debating all manner of legislation. Clearly the government has wanted to gut in every way possible environmental legislation. It has all come before the finance committee, as opposed to the appropriate committees, for study in the House. We have been vociferous in opposing the omnibus budget bills, which clearly are an affront to democracy and which Canadians have joined with us in opposing.
However, while this bill is an exceptionally large bill, the fact is that it is all on related subject matter. It is a detailed tax bill, and all of the provisions in it make technical tax changes, which clearly are related and are quite properly housed in one bill. However, again, I want to emphasize that the government has fallen down on the job by being asleep at the switch for over a decade and not presenting these technical tax changes in a more timely fashion.
Clearly, there was still tremendous work to do to create the system whereby these technical tax changes were put in place in a timely manner. I am sure that Canadians, who I am sure are listening, whose attention is gripped before the television, are understandably concerned about tax legislation, because Canadians work hard. We heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board complain about having to be here at this hour of the evening, whereas Canadians are working hard across the country in manufacturing, the service sector, retail and all kinds of sectors across this country. They are hard at work, and they are sending their precious dollars to Ottawa in the form of taxes, and they want to be sure that all Canadians are paying their fair share of taxes.
Let me explain what happens to those Canadians who are watching this evening.
When changes are announced in budgets and other pieces of legislation, the Department of Finance issues what are called “comfort letters”. These letters give comfort to businesses and individuals that these changes are being brought into practice and are to be complied with even though the actual legislation has not yet been changed. The vast majority of these changes subsequently are adopted, and then the technical changes are later made as amendments to tax legislation and adopted as tax law.
As I said, the last technical tax bill was adopted in 2001, so Canadians quite rightly are concerned about the uncertainty that this delay has caused.
When the Conservative government was in power in 2009, the Auditor General raised concerns that there were at least 400 outstanding technical amendments that had not yet been put into legislation. Some 200 or so of these changes are contained in Bill C-48. Bravo; it is maybe a decade late, but bravo. Here they are.
The comfort letter process generally works well, but the Auditor General expressed in 2009, in the report that I previously referred to, that tax practitioners “expressed a need for the legislative changes that the comfort letters identified to be enacted.”
While the vast majority of these changes have already been announced in press releases, Department of Finance comfort letters and budgets over the last 11 years since the last technical bill was passed, the bill also contains a few previously unannounced measures, which we also support. I will not go into them because, as I have said, they are extremely detailed.
We have consulted with tax specialists and lawyers, who have indicated that the measures in Bill C-48 are overwhelmingly positive. They generally support these measures, and New Democrats on this side of the House support these as necessary technical tax changes.
However, I want to emphasize our concerns about the generally slow pace with which the government is legislating the technical changes found in the Department of Finance comfort letters. This is what we emphasized at the finance committee and what we have been emphasizing in the House of Commons, and it is what members opposite do not seem to understand and do not want to hear.
I want to emphasize the size of the bill. The bill contains more than 1,000 pages of very dense technical tax changes. It really indicates the long, slow, lapse of time between Bill C-48 and the last technical tax bill. This process definitely needs improvement, but the government clearly has presented no plan and refuses to answer the question of how it is going to improve this process.
We heard some testimony before the finance committee that Britain, for example, has a law that if technical tax amendments that are announced are not brought into law within one year, those amendments are null and void and have to be reintroduced. We heard others say that there may be a different way to deal with this need for timeliness in introducing technical tax changes.
What we felt was important was perhaps to change the Standing Orders for the House so that the finance committee would be required every year to hear a report from the Department of Finance on how many outstanding technical tax changes there were that had not yet been put into law. That seems like a very common sense proposal that would remind the finance committee, the Department of Finance and the Minister of Finance that they better do some housekeeping and get these technical tax changes into law on an annual basis.
We did have quite a bit of debate about whether we wanted to have a drop dead date whereby these changes had to be made. That is still an open question because we really did not have enough time to debate that measure fully.
I see my time is almost up. I am sorry about that. I appreciate the opportunity to be here this evening and to have the chance to debate this important issue on behalf of all Canadians.
Again, we support the changes that are being made, we disagree with being forced to limit the amount of time on debate of these important measures and we do, again, urge the government to put a measure or procedure in place that requires these changes to be made on a timely basis every year on behalf of all Canadians.