Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31. This is the Conservatives' first bill to implement budget 2014. It is again another massive omnibus budget bill. It is 359 pages in length, with almost 500 separate clauses.
This bill includes a host of measures that have nothing to do with a budget bill in an effort to limit debate on important issues. Completely unrelated measures are grouped together in a single bill. The Conservatives chose this route in order to adopt these measures quickly and avoid having them reviewed by Parliament.
The inconsistency, and some would say hypocrisy, that the government is demonstrating is exemplified by the Prime Minister's own words as an opposition MP. I heard my colleague for Skeena—Bulkley Valley refer to this quotation a few minutes ago.
In 1994, the Prime Minister, as an opposition MP, said in this House:
...in the interest of democracy, I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?
He went on to say:
The bill contains many distinct proposals and principles and asking members to provide simple answers to such complex questions is in contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House. ... I would also ask government members...to give serious consideration to this issue of democracy....
The Liberal omnibus legislation that the then opposition member, now Prime Minister, was talking about at that time in 1994 was 21 pages in length and altered 11 pieces of legislation. That is a far cry from the 359-page document that lies before us today.
I cannot for the life of me understand how the Prime Minister, and others who were part of that Reform movement at that time, could live with themselves today when what they are doing goes far deeper against the principles that they articulated at that time.
The Conservatives are continuing their reckless abuse of power by using these huge omnibus bills and underhanded procedural manoeuvres to force these policies through. They are ignoring public outcry from coast to coast to coast. They are also potentially creating bad public policy, because the committees, wherein greater expertise lies and which ought to be considering and ultimately voting on these pieces of legislation, are being cut out of the discussion. Perhaps there is some level of engagement of committees when it comes to the evaluation of the legislation, but not at the critical points at which we vote at committee to pass these pieces of legislation.
We are being asked to consider measures, for instance, of compassionate leave, sickness benefits, search and rescue volunteers tax credits, expansion of the adoption expense tax credit, and medical expense tax credits. We would actually be quite supportive of many of these measures as individual measures, and it is unfortunate that these positive measures are being lumped together with some very unreasonable and harmful and regressive measures that we cannot support.
The bill also includes new rules around FATCA, the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Under the bill, Canadians effectively are going to be doing the dirty work and becoming tax collectors for the IRS. Canada-U.S. dual citizens are going to be punished if they do not provide their U.S. tax number to the CRA.
If these Canadians provide their U.S. tax numbers, the Canadian government will hand over all this information, together with information on the Canadians' bank accounts, to the U.S. This will help the U.S. collect tax on registered Canadian savings accounts, including RDSPs, registered disability savings plans; RESPs, registered education savings plans; and tax free savings accounts.
The other night when we were at the briefing by the Finance Canada public servants, they could not answer a very simple question, and that was whether the contributions made to RDSPs and RESPs by the Canadian government as matching grants would be considered taxable by the Americans. They could not answer that basic question.
It was never the public policy intention of RDSPs and RESPs to subsidize the American treasury. They are for helping Canadian families with members with disabilities and for helping young Canadians get good educations. Yet the Conservatives are incapable of answering that question. They have not stood up for Canadian interests during these negotiations.
The budget bill would also change rules around rail safety, food safety, and hazardous products.
It would centralize control over regional development in my part of the country and ACOA. It would take away the authority of regional boards in ACOA. It would dissolve those boards and move all the decision-making to Ottawa. It would dissolve ECBC without real consultation with communities, again centralizing decision-making in Ottawa on matters on which Atlantic Canadians, frankly, may have greater expertise and understanding.
The bill would also change the number of federal judges. We would think the government would have learned something from the Nadon fiasco. Ultimately, one of the casualties of previous budget implementation bills was the government's credibility when it came to the appointment of Supreme Court justices. Members will recall that it was in a previous budget implementation act that the government changed the legislation, the Supreme Court Act, with regard to the appointment of judges to try to facilitate the appointment of Justice Nadon. We know how that ended up. It did not end well. The Supreme Court refused to go along with the government on that.
That is the kind of bad public policy outcome we have when we force all these unrelated measures through the House in an omnibus budget bill of this scale.
I want to talk a little bit about what is not in Bill C-31. There is very little in this piece of legislation to address some of the most serious concerns facing Canadian families today. There is little in the bill that would actually help struggling middle-class families who are having difficulty making ends meet. Conservatives have failed to recognize that large groups within the Canadian economy and society are being left out of this so-called economic recovery.
In my part of Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley, Stats Canada, which tracks unemployment and employment and labour figures, gives some very telling data. I represent Hants County, Kings County, and Annapolis County. Hants, Kings, and Annapolis are represented by me and the member for West Nova.
Since the recession, residents in this part of Nova Scotia have seen good-paying, full-time jobs replaced by temporary and part-time work. That data is laid out for us by Stats Canada. We have seen part-time jobs increase by 1,700. In the same period, the region has lost 9,800 full-time jobs. The percentage of residents in the area who are of working age and have a job, which is labour market participation, has plummeted from 61.6% to 54%.
This is what is happening in my part of Nova Scotia. We are seeing it in families. We are seeing it in small businesses.
We are seeing real economic challenges. The government seems out of touch when it talks about this recovery as if it were a monolithic recovery that is affecting and helping people in all regions of the country, because there are groups that are simply being left behind. A lot of families are struggling just to get by.
These Canadians are tired of the uncertainty. They are tired of struggling to find work to try to make ends meet when they have lost full-time jobs and have had to replace them with part-time work. They are facing record levels of personal debt. The average household in Canada now owes a record $1.66 for every $1 of disposable income. Instead of using this budget to help address some of these challenging needs of middle-class families, Conservatives continue to ignore them.
In the previous four Conservative budgets, the Conservatives actually raised taxes on hard-working Canadian families. Budget 2013 actually raised taxes on imported goods, everything from household goods to wigs for cancer patients. Sadly, the Conservatives raised taxes because they needed the money to cover for their waste and mismanagement. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, and millions to advertise a jobs program that did not even exist. Meanwhile, the middle class is struggling under record levels of personal debt, and the Conservatives are raising taxes on it just to support its own profligacy and wasteful spending on advertising.
Canadian youth are struggling. This bill ignores the unemployment and underemployment challenges of young Canadians. Due to Conservative inaction on youth unemployment and underemployment, we risk losing a generation of potential. We will feel the economic consequences of this disinterest in young Canadians for decades.
For young Canadians, there are 265,000 fewer jobs than there were before the downturn. TD Economics has estimated that prolonged high levels of unemployment and underemployment among young Canadians will cost the Canadian economy $23 billion.
For those who like to argue that youth unemployment is always bad following a recession, it is time to look beyond the simple unemployment rate and examine the whole story. For example, the gap between Canada's youth unemployment and adult unemployment has recently reached an all-time high. Our young people are simply being left out of this so-called recovery.
What is more, the unemployment rate does not reflect the fact that some young people are so discouraged that they are not even looking for work any more.
Students are having a harder time finding summer work. Many of them are taking unpaid internships just for work experience. A lack of paid work means that students are graduating from university with high levels of debt. The need today for government intervention and summer jobs, post-recession, is actually greater than it was before the downturn, yet the Canada summer jobs program last summer created half the number of summer jobs it did back in 2005.
The need is greater today, and the government is doing half as much to create jobs for students during the summer.
This is not just affecting young Canadians. It is affecting parents, and in many cases grandparents, who are footing the bills. According to TD Bank, more than half of baby boom parents are providing financial support to adult children who are no longer in school. It is nearly half, and 43% have allowed their adult children to live at home, rent-free, for extended periods of time.
Helping adult children make ends meet is actually leading a lot of middle-class families into greater levels of debt. They are dipping into retirement savings. It is also one of the reasons Canadian parents 55 years of age and older with children are more likely than those without children to refinance their mortgages. Their average household debt is actually twice that of their childless peers. They are more likely to take on higher non-mortgage debt, such as higher credit card debt and lines of credit, which is one of the reasons non-mortgage debt in Canada continues to climb. The average Canadian owes $28,000 in non-mortgage debt today. That is a record high.
There are too many young Canadians looking for work and there are too many middle-class Canadian families struggling under crushing levels of personal debt. The bill would do little to help Canadian youth or middle-class families and offers no real vision for the future.
I would like to speak again about something in this budget implementation act, and these are the measures regarding FATCA. The Conservatives want to actually turn Canadians into American tax collectors through this budget implementation bill. Earlier this year, when the Conservatives signed an intergovernmental agreement with the U.S. to implement FATCA, we had hoped that some of the concerns we had would be addressed.
Canada and the U.S. had previously achieved an agreement to exchange information on suspected tax cheats, but FATCA goes a step further than any other tax-sharing legislation has. It requires Canadian banks to give the CRA the account information of every U.S. citizen living in Canada. The CRA will then give this information to the IRS, and those U.S. persons will have to file taxes in the U.S.
The problem is that there are many U.S. citizens living in Canada, and they do not even know that they are considered Americans for tax purposes. These include any person born in the U.S. or born to an American parent, even if they have not lived in the U.S. since they were toddlers. The Canadian government has agreed to help the IRS find these individuals.
This will also affect Canadians who are not even U.S. citizens but are married to one, because their joint accounts will now be reported to the IRS. This is a remarkable breach of Canadians' privacy by their own government. Not only will the CRA provide the IRS information with tax identification information and the account balances of U.S. persons without their knowledge, it will impose a $100 penalty for each instance of non-compliance. Why are Conservatives prepared to do Uncle Sam's work in this case and potentially penalize Canadians with dual citizenship or their Canadian spouses?
U.S. persons living in Canada would be required to report and pay taxes to the U.S. on their RDSPs and RESPs. These accounts are supposed to help Canadians pay for education or help disabled Canadians avoid poverty. The Canadian government money was not intended to be used to subsidize the U.S. treasury. Why are the Conservatives allowing this to happen, when it so clearly is inconsistent with the objectives of RDSPs and RESPs?
The other night, as I mentioned earlier today, we asked the public servants at the briefing whether Canadian government contributions, the matching grants to RESPs and RDSPs, would be considered taxable by the Americans, by the IRS. They could not answer the question. The idea that we would sign an agreement when we do not know something as basic as this speaks to the way the government has lost influence, power, and authority in negotiating with the Americans.
The FATCA agreement is very important, and it should be a stand-alone piece of legislation. We should be doing a more thorough evaluation of the agreement the government has signed, and it should not be part of a budget implementation bill, an omnibus bill. Constitutional law experts such as Peter Hogg have raised concerns about whether the agreement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are real issues around this that will be given short shrift through the process by which a budget implementation act, which is such a massive omnibus bill, has been given to Parliament.
There are also provisions in this budget implement act for demutualization. I have heard from insurance providers in Nova Scotia who worry that these changes potentially will hurt rural Canadians. Even the government's own report on demutualization tells us, quote:
Concerns were expressed that demutualization could lead to consolidation, reduce competition, access to services, and weaken ties to rural communities in which most mutual companies are based.
Again, measures on demutualization are something we need to consider more thoroughly.
What is clear is that this tired, out-of-touch Conservative government is devoid of vision and ideas. It is not just anti-democratic; it is totally out of touch with young Canadians and struggling middle-class families. Canadians deserve better.