Madam Speaker, today I am so very pleased to add my voice to the chorus of those across Canada who support Bill C-274, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of small business or family farm or fishing corporation). I would like to thank my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for introducing this bill. I know he worked long and hard to make sure this bill is written in such a way as to protect everything that matters to our small businesses.
As we all know, our small and medium-sized businesses are the bedrock of our economy. Whole families make a living thanks to them.
I am from Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where life can be very different from that in big cities. Many of my colleagues, such as those from Abitibi and the Lower St. Lawrence, as well as some of the other provinces, are familiar with those differences.
The reality in our regions, in places like Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, is that there are often only two, three, or four large businesses that contribute to their economies. Most of the time, small and medium-sized businesses are the main contributors. Many of our small businesses have only three or four employees, but they are what are sustaining our regions. We are seeing this more and more. The men and women of our regions are developing projects and new ideas and are doing their part every day to keep our regional economies going.
At the same time, our small and medium-sized businesses are facing many problems that make it harder for people back home to succeed. For example, the customer base is much smaller in our region.
Another problem is the shortage of young people willing to take over these businesses. It is really hard for SMEs to find people to take over, so when an entrepreneur is lucky enough to have someone in their family they can count on to take over the family business, that creates wealth for our communities. When people are lucky enough to have a family member to carry on a family business, it means they can pass down traditions, and for some, even memories. It means they can pass on what they have learned through experience and hard work.
Unfortunately, there is a great injustice. Federal legislation penalizes business owners and dissuades from passing on their life's work to members of their family. The reason is quite simple: when a business is sold to the owner's children or another relative, the profit from the sale is considered a dividend and is taxed as such under the Income Tax Act. On average in Canada, a dividend is taxed at roughly 35%.
If the business is sold to someone who is not part of the family, who is not a relative but a stranger, then the profit is considered a capital gain. In that case, there is a lifetime exemption of roughly $825,000 for a business and about $1 million for a farm or a fishing vessel. The remaining capital gain is taxed at about 25%, on average. That explains the difference between the sale to a stranger and the sale to a child or another family member.
We have to do something about this unfair situation. I have met with business owners in my region. They all agree on this. That is why various stakeholders in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region support Bill C-274.
I will quote Carl Côté of the Saguenay-Le Fjord chamber of commerce and industry.
Business succession is a major economic issue, especially in remote areas. Family businesses play an important role in economic development and they must have support. At present, they are subject to very unfair tax treatment. Family business succession is an issue that we are following closely...
The former president of the Union des producteurs agricoles du Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, Yvon Simard, believes that it is appalling that, in 2016, the dismantling and sale of companies to a stranger is subject to less tax than the sale or transfer to a family member, someone who could pursue their parents' dream and continue farming in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.
When we contacted businesses in my riding, dozens responded and supported the NDP's efforts. Many deplore the current situation and hope that this injustice will be addressed.
I would like to read a few comments I received about this. They paint a clear picture of the reality facing small businesses and what the people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are going through.
A motel owner said that this is a major problem and that his father thought about selling the business to a stranger because it was more beneficial for him than to sell it to a family member.
Another business owner said the following: “I co-own a business with my son, so who do you think I will sell my shares to? However, by selling to my son, I am going to lose a lot of money. It is not fair.”
Finally, the owner of a small business said, “Two years ago, I sold my business to my son. It is unacceptable that I was penalized because of this unfair provision. It is a double standard.”
It is completely unacceptable for these business owners to be penalized for selling their company to a family member. We are not talking about opening the door to tax avoidance. We are talking about correcting the inequity that exists in the Income Tax Act, which considers the sale of a family business or farm to be a capital gain. Things should work the same whether the business is sold to a family member or a stranger. Bill C-274 simply seeks to correct the inequity, so that the process is the same regardless of whether the company is sold to a family member or a stranger.
In my opinion, my colleague's bill is well written and prevents tax avoidance. The bill is very clear about that. Our SMEs should not be penalized because of this inequity.
It is high time we abolished the unfair tax on the transfer of family businesses. When a business is transferred, potential buyers who are related to the owner should have the same rights and privileges as those who are not.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that all regions will benefit from this. This bill is good for everyone. It is good for our small and medium-sized businesses. In my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, this is the kind of positive change we really need to help revitalize our local economy.
I invite my colleagues in government and in opposition to consider the economic and social benefits of the bill. Facilitating the transfer of family businesses will help make our regions stronger. Something we talk about a lot in the regions is the retention of young people. My riding, Jonquière, is home to many farms and small businesses. We talk about the exodus of young people, who leave to work in big cities. Bill C-274 will boost local economies. Family farms are usually passed down from generation to generation. I visited a farm last winter, and the owners told me that it had been in their family for four generations.
I invite all my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-274, introduced by my colleague.