Madam Speaker, for me the outstanding feature of the whole debate that was launched in July is that when the government decided to put out a discussion document about how to change the tax code, there were some proposals, but there was not actually a complete proposal for how to change the tax code.
The government identified three key areas where they think the tax code lacks fairness. The NDP has been a long-standing champion for tax fairness. We recognize that there are incentives within the existing tax code for people to incorporate, some for the right reasons and some for the wrong reasons. It is something we are keen to get to the bottom of, but it is hard to get to the bottom of it when the government announces just half a proposal.
It bears repeating that the tax code is one of the most complicated pieces of legislation we have in Canada, so for anyone to say that somehow this is going to be a simple debate is just simply not on.
We are discussing one of the most complex bits of legislation in the country. We want to get to the bottom of what are some pretty clever moves, in some cases, by certain individuals in order to be able to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It is unfortunate that there is a legal structure, sanctioned by Liberals and Conservatives over the years, that gives them the legal tools to be able to do that.
What happened when that partial proposal came down in July was that all of a sudden people were taking very strong and clear-cut positions about the substance of the so-called proposal itself, when in fact that proposal has yet to land. We have some concrete proposals when it comes to income sprinkling within a corporation and when it comes to capital gains, but the government itself has said that those may not ultimately be what are tabled in the House, that those may not ultimately be the proposals it goes ahead with, that other mitigating measures may be introduced that have not been discussed and are not part of the discussion paper.
Here we are now, with everybody wanting to take a strong position on one of the most complex matters in Canadian law, but we do not know what it is yet. I kind of scratch my head, because I do not understand how we could come to such fervent conclusions about such an uncertain proposal. I hesitate even to call it that.
We have, in the Conservative motion today, some strong language about what these proposals are going to entail. For instance, the Conservatives say that the proposed changes to the taxation of private corporations would have a drastic negative impact on small and medium-sized local businesses. What I want to contribute to this debate is that I think that this language is far too strong, because we do not yet know what the impact of proposed potential legislation would be. We have some proposed legislation that was meant to be discussed, but it is not necessarily what is going to be tabled in the House, so I think it is far too soon to say that it is going to drastically negatively affect small business.
Of course, if it does, that would not be fair, and then as advocates for tax fairness, the NDP is going to have to oppose measures that have a drastic negative impact on all small businesses in Canada. That is not what tax fairness is about, but we are not in a position yet to make that judgment, because we do not have the full proposal.
There is an issue of rhetoric on the one side from the Conservatives, who want to say, I think prematurely, that this measure is going to have a drastic negative impact on small businesses, and then there is a problem of rhetoric on the other side from the Liberals, who want to vaunt an incomplete proposal as somehow ushering in a new era of tax fairness. We can hardly say that either, because they have not even tabled the legislation in Parliament yet. We have not had a study of what the real legislation is going to be, and we have not had an opportunity to try to understand what its effect is going to be in a very complicated legal structure that has to do with how certain Canadians pay their taxes.
What we have heard in the media since July and in the House since we have come back has been this polemic debate that has been set up between those who are fighting for tax fairness—although we do not really know how, because we do not know what the proposal is—and those who are certain that those proposals are going to harm small business, although it is not clear how we can be certain of that, since we do not know what the proposal is.
I hope Canadians listening at home will hear the message, which in this case is the truth: we do not know what we are talking about yet because we do not actually have a real proposal.
The only thing that is going to affect how small businesses pay their taxes in the country is real changes to the law, and until we have a bill, we do not have concrete suggestions about how the government is going to change those laws. If someone were to go to an accountant today and ask how this was going to affect his business, any professional accountant would have to say that they could not tell him how the Liberals' proposal was going to affect his business, because the proposal is not complete. If that person was engaged in any passive investment, the accountant, unless he knows how the Liberals are going to change the rules on passive investment for companies, cannot in good conscience, as a professional, tell him how his business is going to be affected.
That is why the NDP has called for, first, more consultation. The motion does that, but it does it in a way that does not do what we really need to do, which is tone down the rhetoric on both sides, get a concrete proposal, and then be able to talk about it. In that sense, the language of the motion contributes to the problem. It seem we are not able to have—or anyway we have not yet had—a sober conversation about how small businesses are taxed in Canada, about what is fair about it, what is not, how it might change, or how changing it in a particular way would affect particular businesses and classes of small businesses. If unfair negative impacts to small businesses—like a mom-and-pop shop, or whatever else—are going to have a serious effect on the owners' retirement plan, which they made in good faith under the existing rules, then we can have the conversation about what kind of mitigating measures we might make so that the unfair effect does not end up prevailing.
There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle. We are not there yet in terms of taking polemic positions. We do not have enough information. That is where the motion, unfortunately, contributes to that lack of clarity. It contributes to what has been a pretty poor quality of debate overall on how small businesses are taxed.
In addition to calling for more consultation because we want to better understand how the proposals the government has put out would affect small businesses, we are also anxious to know the other part of the proposal so that we can consult on the clear and full picture.
The other piece of the puzzle is that conversations on tax fairness are not just about how small businesses are taxed. They are about whether CEOs get sweetheart tax deals because they are paid in stock options instead of salaries. They are conversations about whether big companies or rich individuals get to stash their money in other countries because we have sweetheart deals between the Government of Canada and those other countries, such as Barbados—and we could name others—that allow them to do that.
Ordinary Canadians, even if they have a little savings, would never have the resources or know the right people to figure out how to take advantage of those tax shelters. Even if they could, that would not be right either, because taxation is important if we want to deliver good health services in Canada, if we want to build roads and bridges, if we want to make sure that people who cannot work because they have a disability continue to have an income and can live with dignity. Taxation has to be part of that conversation.
That is the other problem with this discussion. The rhetoric has been super-elevated, and we have not been getting to some of the real issues in terms of where the real revenue loss is when it comes to tax fairness. The biggest companies and the richest individuals are getting away with sheltering the largest amount of money from government and are therefore not paying their fair share.
That is the issue in this debate. We do not have the full proposal. We have not consulted enough or had lengthy enough consultations to know what the effect of a proposal would be.
If we do not have the full proposal, it seems to me that once the rest of the proposal is announced, any consultation they did earlier is not going to be that relevant because whatever the other measures are, they will change the overall tax situation for those small businesses, for better or worse. The Liberals will have to re-launch the consultation, as far as I am concerned, once they table their full proposals here in the House.
Not only did we not have enough of a consultation period—and I think we need more in order to understand better—but the hope would also be that at some point during that extended consultation period, the Liberals would reveal the rest of their plan so that it could be part of the consultation as well. If not, there would be a need for further consultation once we have the full picture.
We would hope, of course, that then, when we are considering the bill here in the House, it would not just be time allocated and we would not have just two committee meetings to look at it, because we would essentially have to redo a lot of the work that was done or was supposed to have been done by the government during the summer.
We do not have the full proposal and we have not had full consultation. We also are not talking about the full picture, and in some ways the real picture, when it comes to tax fairness, because the government is going after the small fish and letting the big fish off the hook. Members may have heard that phrase here in the House before. I repeat it because it is a good one. It captures well what is going on. Here we have two parties, which for their own reasons want to have a polemic, high-rhetoric debate about taxation, and the government is wasting a good opportunity to have a real conversation about tax fairness because they do not want to spend the time on consultation that they really ought to spend and they apparently do not want to table their full proposal before ending that consultation period, which to me just seems absurd.
To the extent that this motion contributes to the problem in terms of rhetoric, it is unfortunate. Again, that was a missed opportunity by our colleagues in the official opposition to try to tone down the rhetoric and get to the real crux of the issue, which is this: who in Canada are paying their fair share and who are not?
When I watch the news and when I read the paper, that is not what we are actually talking about. What we are talking about is just a classic dichotomy between “We are standing up for business because any tax is a bad tax” and the government's saying, “We are going to implement tax fairness, except we are not going to say how we are going to do it, so no one can judge if it is really fair or not.” They want to get people on board and write in the details afterward, and if the details are not what the government led people to believe, too bad.
. God knows, we saw that in the election, when civil servants were led to believe that they would have a government that they could actually bargain with and maybe get somewhere with at the bargaining table. That was certainly implied. First nations people in Canada got a big dose of that in the last election, when they were led to believe that they were going to have a government that was going to meaningfully embark on a path toward reconciliation, and then we continue to see the government fighting first nations people in court and not providing the kind of funding that is needed in first nations communities to bring fairness to those communities. We saw it on advocates for the environment, who believed that they were going to get a new National Energy Board, one that actually took into consideration what the climate change effects of large natural resources projects were going to be, and that the big projects that were already on the table would be reconsidered if they did not meet those standards. However, we did not get that either.
When it came to electoral reform, people clearly expected more. I do not know they how got the impression that 2015 might be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. It might be because the Prime Minister repeated it ad nauseam during the campaign and afterward, but of course that did not come to pass.
Now the Liberals are saying to trust them that they are going for tax fairness, but they are not going to show people the whole program. No, they want people to sign up to support something very general and trust them to write in the details later. I am sorry, but we have seen too many times that the current government is great on high rhetoric, which is why the Liberals are happy to engage in this unreal debate with the Conservatives on tax reform. We are not even talking about concrete reforms yet, but they want to marshal support for whatever it is they are going to do at the end of the day. That is something I object to. I object to it as a Canadian who wants some straight talk from my government and I object to it as a parliamentarian who is being asked to take a position on something that I do not know the details of yet, and I refuse to be bullied into that position.
We do have a great opportunity to talk about tax fairness. We do not realize the potential of that debate, because the other two parties have an interest in ramping up the rhetoric on this and not getting into the details.
The government has not provided us with the details that we would need to be able to get into it. It has not given us the time we would need in order to consult once we have those details. The government does not have sufficient scope for that study either, because a lot more people are legally evading taxes than some of the small business people who are being targeted by these so-called proposals. That is where we are at.
I hope people listening at home feel this is a worthy contribution to the debate. It is a different point of view from the one they have been hearing from Conservatives and Liberals today. Accepting those insights is just the first step toward having a real conversation in this country about tax fairness. I hope we can get there. What we have so far is not that, and that is disappointing.
The high level of rhetoric in this debate has not served people well. I have heard from people in Elmwood—Transcona who now, because of the way this debate has unfolded, are worried. They are worried about their retirement security and they are worried about their income. They are worried about whether they are going to be able to keep their business open. Why is that? It because they are being told, by people who do not have the full picture, that this is going to happen.
This is not a foregone conclusion. It is not being responsible when we make people fearful of losing their business when we do not have the full proposal yet. That is why the rhetoric needs to come down and consultation needs to increase. The details need to be provided and the scope needs to be expanded, so that we capture the CEOs and the large corporations that are by far the worst tax evaders.
That would help to bring some comfort to small business owners in Elmwood—Transcona and across the country who are worried about losing their business. They should not be worried until we see the government's full proposal. It would be nice to hear someone today tell us when we could expect that, because then we would have an idea about when we could have a meaningful consultation and start talking about taking a position on a concrete government measure.