Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on behalf of the official opposition at this stage of Bill S-6.
As I mentioned earlier, I want to assure members right off the bat that the official opposition supports this bill, the spirit of the bill and the measures it proposes, and we understand that there is still a lot of work to be done to combat tax evasion. We believe that this bill is a step in the right direction.
First, I want to give some background about what we are talking about. Bill S-6 is a Senate bill that seeks to facilitate work and trade between Canada and Madagascar by cracking down on tax evasion and eliminating some of the problems that could be created by differences in administration in Madagascar and Canada and the taxation principles underlying trade relations between the two countries.
This bill contains measures to eliminate double taxation, which is good for international trade. The bill also contains measures to eliminate discriminatory taxes. The field needs to be as open as possible to facilitate trade. Every country has its own measures, which is fair. However, some tax measures can undermine things more than others. The bill would therefore eliminate discriminatory taxes. It counters tax evasion. We will be able to talk about this later, but tax havens obviously warrant closer scrutiny, and this is not an issue that can be solved with a snap of the fingers. It takes time, co-operation and the support of some 180 countries on this planet. This is not a problem that can be fixed overnight, but we must do everything we can to fix it, and this bill is a step forward.
Furthermore, this bill would create mechanisms in the unfortunate event of a challenge on either side. These mechanisms will help find a way forward for finding a way forward with trade agreements.
Lastly, this bill will enable different administrations to share information when an investigation is required, for a company or individual, either in Madagascar or in Canada.
In essence, there are five measures in this bill: eliminating double taxation, countering tax evasion, eliminating discriminatory taxes, allowing for information sharing, and creating mechanisms to settle disputes.
We agree with these principles. We also agree that this should become Canada's 93rd treaty with other trade partners to simplify the tax system and boost trade. This is not a free trade deal per se, but it will allow for better agreements and greater flexibility. Madagascar may not be the best-known country in the world, or indeed among Canadians. It is an island in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. It is actually quite a big country. The island is about 1,500 kilometres long and 800 kilometres wide. Fifteen hundred kilometres is like the distance from the Alberta Rockies to the Ontario border, spanning the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. That should give everyone a rough idea of the size of this country, which has a population of 25 million.
History tells us that Canada and Madagascar share similar roots, because Madagascar is a francophone country. We both belong to the Francophonie. We know that the Francophonie summit was held there a few years ago and that Madagascar was a French colony that gained independence in 1960 when a wave of decolonization swept through British and French societies around the globe. The decolonization movement reached Madagascar in the 1960s.
We should also know that Canada and Madagascar have had a trading relationship for years, particularly in the mining sector. A Canadian company has set up shop there, so to speak, to operate one of Madagascar's biggest mines. Furthermore, trade between Canada and Madagascar hovers around $100 million or $115 million.
Canada buys roughly $100 million in goods and services from Madagascar and in return Madagascar spends roughly $20 million buying in Canada. For the record, that represents 0.001% of our volume of trade with our biggest partner, our friends and neighbours, the U.S. Yes, that is significant. We recognize that, but we should still maintain some degree of perspective in terms of Canada's trade with Madagascar and our trade with the U.S.
The thing about this bill that we need to discuss is the issue of tax evasion. I addressed it briefly earlier. Tax evasion is an ongoing challenge facing every country in the world. Yes, we must make an effort. We certainly did when we were in government, and efforts to combat global tax evasion must continue. That is why the 180 or so countries on this planet cannot work in isolation in that regard. Everyone must join forces, work together and share the knowledge, efforts, energy and potential talent of each country and each country's experts in order to combat the scourge of tax evasion.
Canada is making an effort. With Bill S-6, we have a treaty that will help us move in that direction. That is largely why we support this bill. It is important to always be alert and always keep in mind that tax evasion is a blight on our planet that must be tackled in a serious and rigorous manner. However, no one can do it alone. Major countries need to join forces, and tax havens, the smaller countries that unfortunately serve as tax shelters for some people, need to do their part to combat this situation. We completely agree with the principle that everyone must pay their taxes fully and legitimately. Everyone must pay them, and no one should be able to resort to tax havens, for when they do, Canadians do not get value for their money.
I am very concerned about this bill. We agree that this situation should be debated in the context of a truly independent bill. How many issues are never properly debated here in the House of Commons? This is a problem.
A year ago, the government tabled Bill C-74, an omnibus bill that is almost 800 pages long. Ostensibly, the bill implements budget measures, which is fine because that is how things work. However, scattered throughout the 800-page bill are measures that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget tabled by the Minister of Finance.
Need I remind the House that the Liberal Party was elected nearly three and a half years ago? I would say it was a sad day, but democracy is what it is, and we respect the choice Canadians made. Those people were elected on the strength of a clear promise.
I have here the Liberal Party's platform, which was called “Real Change: A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class”. The title sure sounds good. On page 30, under “Prorogation and omnibus bills”, it says:
We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny.
How interesting. That is exactly what is going on with Bill C-74.
[The former Prime Minister of Canada] Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.
That is the Liberal Party of Canada saying that.
Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals.
That is exactly what is going on with Bill C-74. Here is the end of the paragraph:
We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.
That is the Liberal Party promise.
Bill C-74 flies in the face of the party's promise. This reversal should certainly not come as a surprise. I remind members that in their document the Liberals said that they would run three small deficits in the first three years and would then balance the budget in 2019. In reality, the three small deficits they promised were three times higher than projected. The budget that was supposed to be balanced will be presented soon, as the Minister of Finance announced yesterday, but we know that it will not be balanced. There will be a deficit in the neighbourhood of $20 billion or more.
In that same document, the Liberals also spoke about electoral reform. Did that happen? No. This is the very essence of the Liberal Party's privilege. It was elected on its promises, but it did not keep its word. On October 19, 2015, Canadians elected the Liberal Party. I respect democracy, but as they say, the people's will is not foolish, but the people can be fooled. This is exactly what is happening here.
Bill C-74 is supposed to implement budget measures, but dozens of items that have nothing to do with the budget were slipped into the bill, in particular clauses 715.3, 715.31, 715.32, 715.33, 715.34, 715.35, 715.36 and 715.37. This is no small matter. These clauses are found in the section “Remediation Agreements”. I do not have the time to read all of them. They directly address the problem that the government and, unfortunately, Canadians are grappling with today, and have to do with the special agreements that the government can enter into with corporations that, sadly, have failed to fulfill their responsibilities and find themselves in court on fraud charges.
That is exactly the crux of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which broke two weeks ago. Every day new situations arise that are an embarrassment for the government. The problem is that they are not only an embarrassment for the government but also for Canadians, who want answers.
I would like to remind members that these clauses were inserted into an 800-page bill. Earlier, the parliamentary secretary said that we could have discussed it in committee. Quite frankly, how would he expect us to directly address this issue if we have to study an 800-page bill. Today, we are spending many hours, and rightfully so, studying Bill S-6 on trade and tax agreements between Canada and Madagascar. However, we did not have the time to appropriately debate a matter that has embarrassed the Government of Canada and, consequently, Canada and Canadians.
Unfortunately, that is typical of this government, which says one thing and then does the opposite. When it comes time to get to the bottom of things, the Liberals trip on their own shoelaces, which results in what we have been seeing for the past two weeks. It has been a real comedy of errors on the part of the government, which is incapable of telling Canadians the truth about the Liberal SNC-Lavalin scandal. What is more, the government is preventing the former attorney general from giving clear and specific explanations.
Day after day, we have been asking the Prime Minister very simple questions. On September 17, 2018, he met with the former attorney general. Yesterday, in the House, the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister more than a dozen times what was said at that meeting and who asked for the meeting to discuss what has now become the Liberal SNC-Lavalin scandal. The Prime Minister never gave a clear answer to the very simple question of who asked for the September 17 meeting. The same goes for the other very important meeting in the Liberal SNC-Lavalin scandal, the meeting that took place on December 5, 2018, at the Château Laurier, between the former attorney general and the Prime Minister's former principal secretary, Gerald Butts.
Once again, yesterday, the leader of the official opposition asked the Prime Minister a very simple question: who asked for the meeting between the Prime Minister's top adviser and the former attorney general?
The Prime Minister did not give anything remotely resembling an answer, even though it was a very simple question. Which one of them requested the meeting? He was not even able to answer that. Canadians want answers. They have the right to know what happened.
Canadians deserve clear and simple answers to clear and simple questions on this issue. The Liberal SNC-Lavalin scandal is totally unacceptable to Canadians.
What we have noticed is that we are debating this bill in the House for many hours today, which is fine. I agree we have to debate Bill S-6, with respect to taxation between Canada and Madagascar. This is an important issue and we have to take the time to address it. On the other hand, why did the government dodge its responsibility to address the specific issues we find in proposed sections 715.32 to 715.37 of Bill C-74, an omnibus bill of more than 800 pages? Those sections in the bill addressed the specific issue that we have today with the Liberal SNC-Lavalin scandal.
This is the trademark of the Liberals. They say one thing during their electoral campaign and do the exact reverse during their mandate. Do members remember that they had clearly indicated in their platform that they would never table omnibus bills containing other issues that do not address the main omnibus bill, which is the budget implementation bill?
Unfortunately, they failed to do what they had promised Canadians, just as they failed to bring about the electoral reform they promised in their electoral campaign. Everybody knows they failed to budget the Canadian economy properly. During their campaign, they said there would be three small deficits in the first three years to invest in infrastructure and then a zero deficit in 2019. This is not the situation. During the last three years, the current government has tabled three huge deficit budgets. That is the reality of the situation. It is three times more than was expected and what they promised.
Also, 2019 was supposed to be a zero-deficit year. That is not the case. We are talking about at least $20 billion of deficit. The government has failed its responsibility and nobody in the government knows when the budget will balance, or I should say, when the budget will balance itself. That was the famous economic theory of the Right Hon. Prime Minister of Canada, who is the only person in the world to table that economic theory, which is absolutely stupid. However, this is the Liberal trademark.
Talking about deficits, let me remind members that, during the election, the Liberals said they would run small deficits because they wanted to invest in infrastructure. Let me remind hon. colleagues that the plan was to invest $180 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years, starting in 2015. Only 10% of that amount has been invested in infrastructure. Therefore, the huge deficits were not for infrastructure but for the daily business of the government, which was not elected to do that.
I want to reiterate that our party supports Bill S-6, but unfortunately, although we are spending plenty of time debating the omnibus Bill C-74, which is perfectly normal, there are other very important elements that the government snuck in and that should have been debated. If they had been, maybe the Liberal SNC-Lavalin scandal we are facing today would not have happened.