moved that Bill C-274, an Act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of small business or family farm or fishing corporation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I have to admit that I am very pleased to debate this bill. It is the first time that I have had the opportunity to introduce and debate a private member's bill in the House as I was unable to do so in the last Parliament.
Bill C-274 would correct and eliminate a gross injustice concerning the transfer of our farms and SMEs. This issue is more important than ever. Demographically speaking, 76% of small business owners plan to transfer ownership of their companies so that they can retire within the next 10 years, and 50% of farm owners want to do the same thing, also within the next 10 years.
The injustice that this bill is intended to remedy is that, if someone has a small business, a farm, or even a fishing boat and wants to sell it to his or her children, in a corporate structure, the seller, who is the owner of the small business or family farm in question, will pay much more income tax than if he or she decided to sell to a stranger.
In a very large number of cases, that means choosing between having a larger pension fund by selling to a stranger—since a pension fund is what business owners get when they sell their business—and having a smaller pension fund by selling to one’s children. The difference can be extremely large. If we ignore the tax planning that such a transaction can entail, for the sale of a farm worth $10 million, which, with all the assets, is quite often a reasonable price, selling to a child can cost up to $1.2 million more in income tax than if the farm is sold to a stranger. In the case of the sale of a business worth $1 million, the difference can be more than $300,000 in income tax.
The reason is very simple: if people want to sell to their children, to someone related to them, the difference between the sale price and the original price at the time of purchase is considered a dividend under the Income Tax Act. Consequently, it is treated like a dividend for tax purposes. Across the country, dividends are taxed at about 35% on average.
If business owners sell to someone who is not a family member, in other words, an unrelated person, a stranger, the difference between the sale price and the original price at the time of purchase is considered a capital gain. In that case, there is a lifetime exemption of about $825,000 for a business and about $1 million for a farm or a fishing boat. The remaining capital gain is taxed at about 25% on average. This explains the difference between selling to a stranger and selling to a child.
Obviously, it is unfair. In every constituency, we have business owners. People who want to sell their small business, their family farm, or their fishing boat in the Atlantic provinces, for example, are faced with an extremely heart-rending choice. Will they agree to sell their business to a family member and have $100,000, $125,000, or $150,000 less in their pension fund because they want their child to succeed them, because they want someone in the family to take over a business that they built with their own hands? They may not have the opportunity to do so if their pension fund is not large enough. Unfortunately, instead of selling to their child, who would be willing to take over, they have to consider selling to a stranger.
My bill seeks to correct this injustice. I admit that the bill is somewhat self-serving because this has been an ongoing problem in my constituency. In fact, the bill was prepared in co-operation with the farmers and SMEs in my riding. Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques is in the Lower St. Lawrence region, and 12% of the region’s economy is dependent on agriculture.
We have many family farms, especially dairy farms, as well as some maple sugar operations. In my constituency, it is not big companies that drive the economy. It is small businesses.
People, particularly those in the farming community, have been telling me about this situation since I first took office in 2011. They are being forced to choose between selling to a child at a tax loss and selling to a stranger.
The situation has become even more worrisome since there has been talk of land speculation. Certain people want to buy farmland to speculate on its value.
Such people have an advantage right from the start, since their offer means that the person selling the company or farm will have a lot less income tax to pay. The current situation is unfair.
My bill is designed to resolve the situation so that the sale of a family business or farm to a child will be treated as a capital gain, the same as if it were sold to a stranger.
There is no real reason to oppose such a measure. There are three reasons why such a measure may have been opposed in the past. First, this type of measure could open the door to aggressive tax avoidance, which is why things are the way they are now. However, my bill eliminates that possibility by requiring the buyer to retain his shares for a minimum of five years, except in case of death. People who retain their shares for five years do so because the family transfer was genuine and not because they were trying to work the system to avoid paying income tax.
The second reason why such a measure may have been opposed in the past is the argument that only the richest farmers or entrepreneurs would benefit from the measure. Once again, that is not the case with my bill because it deals only with transactions of $15 million or less. All transactions over $15 million, like those involving big farms or companies, are excluded from the terms of Bill C-274.
The third reason why such a measure could have been opposed, the last one I can think of, is the cost of the bill. Obviously, there will be a cost in lost revenue for the government. However, that cost is estimated not in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but between $75 million and $90 million. I know that different figures are being advanced, particularly by the finance department, but mine have been corroborated by many tax experts. The reason why we are talking about $75 million to $90 million is that, at present, all of this potential income tax paid by people who are selling small businesses or family farms is reduced through tax planning.
I can back up these figures with the following facts. Quebec, which has its own income taxation system, identified the same problem. It corrected it in its 2015 budget, and the correction has been implemented since March 2016. Its approach to fixing this problem is somewhat different than mine, but ultimately, Quebec estimates that eliminating this injustice will cost it some $15 million in lost revenue.
If Quebec loses $15 million, I think it is quite plausible that the lost revenue at the federal level would be around $75 million to $90 million.
This flagrant injustice has to be corrected. Speaking of injustice, imagine for a moment if the situation were reversed. Imagine if, currently, the rules for selling to a stranger and selling to one's child were the same, and then imagine if a member tabled a bill seeking to make selling to a stranger more appealing, would the House find that acceptable? Would it pass such a bill? Of course not; the question answers itself.
I would like to point out that I am not the only person in the House to note the problem. From what I understand, I should have the support of a great many, if not all, of the opposition members. I am eager to hear the speeches.
Let us not forget that, in June 2015, before the last election, the Liberal member for Bourassa tabled Bill C-691, which sought to correct this injustice regarding SMEs. My bill, at least so far as the SME component is concerned, was modelled on his bill as well as on that of my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé, who drafted a number of clauses for farms and for fishing companies. My colleague from Joliette at the time also drafted a section on transactions between siblings.
My Liberal colleague at the time acknowledged the problem, and so did the government of Quebec, which then corrected it. I expect the hon. members to consider all of the small businesses and family farms in their ridings. I would also like members representing coastal constituencies to consider the impact this might have on fishing companies.
We are talking about small businesses and people who have worked all their lives to try and earn a living, people who, often, found themselves having to get their family business up and running again, as well as those who created it from scratch and now want it to stay in the family.
What this government has always been telling these Canadians is that they have to suffer this injustice when they sell their business to their children. In my opinion, that is totally unfair. Allow me to explain.
My colleague from Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères had tried to table a bill in the wake of a situation that occurred in his riding and that made the headlines in May. Christian Tremblay, of Armoires Tremblay, in Saint-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, wanted to sell his company to his son Patrick, a company worth $1.7 million.
Imagine his surprise when he found out that, if he sold it to his son rather than to a stranger, he would have to pay $100,000 more in income tax. He considers the situation quite unfair. Will he sell to his son and make $100,000 less on a $1.7-million sale, or will he sell to a stranger so that he can keep that money in his account? The issue is receiving media attention, and thousands of new cases are bound to come up, at a growing rate, because of the demographic shift we will be going through over the next 10 years.
I would also like to talk about a problem that my bill will remedy, particularly in the regions. I would say that my bill may have greater importance in regions such as mine than it might have in major urban centres, because we are facing an exodus of young people.
In my constituency, young people are leaving the region for lack of employment opportunities; they go to school in urban centres, never to return again.
My bill will not fully remedy this situation. However, it will give our young people one more reason to stay in the region by giving them a better chance of acquiring the family business. It is something I hear about all the time in Rimouski-Neigette, Témiscouata and Les Basques, and I know that MPs from the regions have observed and heard the same thing.
I have covered a lot of kilometres in Canada promoting my bill. For two weeks last summer, I toured the Atlantic provinces talking to chambers of commerce, farming organizations and fishing organizations, to tell them about my bill, obviously, and find out if they would like to support it. In large part, they said yes.
I did the same thing in some parts of Quebec and Saskatchewan not long ago, and I will continue doing so until we vote on the bill at second reading. I think it is working, because I have enjoyed extraordinary support.
I organized a news conference when I introduced my bill last May. At my side was Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, who supports this bill.
I also have the support of the major chambers of commerce, including the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, the metropolitan Montreal chamber of commerce, and different regional chambers in my riding and my region, as well as all over Quebec. Furthermore I have the support of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Union des producteurs agricoles, the UPA, and other agricultural organizations all over the country. Finally, I have the support of fishers’ organizations, including the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, and I will have others as well. I will not abandon this fight.
I hope to have the support of the members of the House, who will see that this is not a partisan issue, but one that affects each of their ridings all over the country. In my view, it is a victory for common sense to vote in favour of this bill and so bring about tax fairness.
My bill rules out any possibility of fiscal abuse. It rules out the possibility that it will be disproportionately costly for the government, and it ensures that the richest owners or farmers are not going to be the ones to benefit.
Hence there is no reason to vote against this bill. I am eager to hear my colleagues on debate, and I hope to have their support so that this bill can be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for second reading.