Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of my caucus. I am sure that other members will have a chance to do the same, but I am deeply honoured to be taking part in the third reading debate on Bill C-97.
This bill has already been heavily scrutinized here in the House and at the Standing Committee on Finance, and its sheer size has provoked much debate. The bill is more than 400 pages long. It is yet another omnibus bill. Its content has also sparked debate. I would be remiss not to mention the content of the bill, as well as everything that the government left out. I am going to focus on the aspects of the bill that we consider most problematic, as well as the things that were completely left out of this last-chance budget.
It is 2019, and this is the government's last opportunity to deliver on its mandate and vision for the country. It is already June 2019. The latest budget was tabled in March, and this bill seeks to realize the vision outlined in budget 2019. This is the Liberal government's last bill, its last chance to turn its ideas and its vision for the nation into reality. It goes without saying that everything that was left out, everything that still has to be done and everything the Government of Canada is leaving unfinished will have to wait until later.
We will have to take the word of the Prime Minister, who, during the next election campaign, will try to convince Canadians that he will have time in the next four years to do what he did not have time to do in the past four years. We know full well that many promises have been broken over the past few years. Some were much bigger than others. Take electoral reform. Many Canadians remember quite clearly that this was a solemn promise. The Prime Minister repeated it almost daily during the election campaign. Nearly a year and a half later, he did not hesitate to break that promise, brushing it aside by saying that he changed his mind, that it was not a good idea after all, and that he would not be moving forward with electoral reform. This is a government that broke some of its signature promises, such as returning to a balanced budget. I know that my Conservative colleagues like to bring that up quite a bit.
Clearly, this government, which is nearing the end of its term, is suffering from a lack of credibility in terms of its campaign promises, and it will soon try to convince Canadians that it needs another term to complete what it did not have time to do in this last budget. Canadians are not stupid. They know what this Prime Minister's word is worth, because they have had four years to see him at work, to listen to him and to see what he had to offer Canadians. The people of Sherbrooke, Quebec and Canada will realize that his word is unfortunately not worth very much. This is the kind of thing that fuels cynicism among Canadians, and among my constituents back home in Sherbrooke. I often hear people say they are disappointed by politics and politicians. I am trying to get them interested in politics again, but when a government like this one, formed by the Liberal Party of Canada, breaks so many promises so shamelessly, it fuels cynicism about politics. That is why people will be so wary of any of the campaign promises made by the Prime Minister of Canada, and with good reason. We have to give them some credit. They will be right to doubt him, because the Prime Minister has broken so many of his promises during this last term.
This is a last-chance budget. Today we are debating the government's budgetary policy, its execution and its implementation. That is why, on our side of the House, we will ultimately have to vote against it. We will be forced to vote against Bill C-97 at third reading because it does not meet Canadians' needs. Clearly, on many issues, the government has not responded to the concrete problems Canadians are facing, and it is not about to do so over the next few months.
We will be voting against this budget, and we hope that many members will do so as well. We need to send the government a clear message. Its fiscal policy has not worked so far, and the rich are getting richer. We saw this recently. I will give just one example, that of KPMG. The accounting firm and its clients once again reached an out-of-court settlement after they were caught avoiding taxes using a scheme that was dubious and questionable, to say the least. It was certainly questioned by the Canada Revenue Agency.
The Canada Revenue Agency recently made a proposal to these clients. They were told to pay their taxes and the matter would be closed. They could move on once they paid their debt to society.
These people had a minimum of $300,000. For every file that KPMG opened, the client had to pay the firm at least $300,000 to put the scheme in place. In addition, the firm would take a cut of the tax savings that their clients realized with the Isle of Man scheme.
The scheme was revealed to the general public, so I will not repeat all the details. We know that the clients moved money abroad to a place with low taxes. They managed to avoid paying taxes by using all kinds of strategies, such as shell companies and fake directors. In its agreements with clients, this accounting firm demanded a cut of the tax savings. That is not something to be taken lightly. The firm promised tax savings and took a percentage off the top. This week, these clients signed a settlement with officials of the Canada Revenue Agency. With this settlement, they can put the matter behind them, close the books, pay the taxes, say goodbye and carry on as if nothing happened.
That is the message the Government of Canada decided to send all Canadians today. It conflicts with the standard messaging that the government and the Minister of National Revenue has been delivering up to now, about how the net is tightening, how tax cheats will pay, and how there never has been and never will be an amnesty. The Canada Revenue Agency and the minister even sent out photos showing people in handcuffs back when the KPMG scandal broke. She said that tax cheats would pay for their actions and that criminals would be put behind bars.
Today she is sending a different message. People who could afford to spend $300,000 on a scheme, plus a percentage of the money they saved on taxes, can afford to pay lawyers to get them off the hook with just a slap on the wrist.
Understandably, most Canadians, including most of the people of Sherbrooke, find that frustrating. They see rich people who can afford to pay the accounting firm and who have the means to defend themselves in court against charges relating to these borderline schemes getting off with a slap on the wrist, and my constituents find that frustrating in the extreme. I know my colleagues are frustrated too, but, unfortunately, the government decided to do nothing. Rather than do something, the government decided to follow in the Conservatives' footsteps and give preferential treatment to people who can afford to pay accounting firms, tax experts and lawyers to defend them against these charges and emerge virtually unscathed. Sure, they will pay the taxes they owe. It is the least they can do, but the government is signalling that they can keep doing this. The worst-case scenario is that they will end up in the Tax Court of Canada like the family from Vancouver and end up signing a settlement to close the books.
This sends the message that, under the current government, it is acceptable to engage in tax evasion and shady schemes. The government is turning a blind eye to all of that. That is the sort of behaviour that is perpetuated by the implementation of this budget and the government's budgetary fiscal policy.
We heard some powerful, compelling testimony in committee. The witnesses spoke to many parts of the bill, which is 400 pages long. This bill affects many laws and makes significant changes to many sectors of our economy. However, some provisions have nothing to do with the economy, but the government threw them all into the budget implementation bill anyway. It is therefore difficult for parliamentarians to speak to the bill as a whole.
We will soon have to vote on this 400-page bill. It will be a single vote, even though the bill makes many changes to many different laws. Earlier today, we voted on the amendments to this bill at report stage. We therefore had the opportunity to speak to many parts of the bill. At third reading, there will be just a single vote either for or against the bill as a whole. When the Liberal Party was on this side of the House, it spoke out against this practice. The Liberals criticized omnibus bills at every opportunity, because omnibus bills do not allow parliamentarians to vote on each measure or group of measures.
Since we have to cast a single vote on the bill as a whole, we need to consider the pros and cons of the bill. Today, it is clear that the cons outweigh the pros. Although we recognize that the bill contains some good measures, we have no choice but to vote against this budgetary policy.
The government has tried to make up for its blunders on several issues by presenting amendments in committee or at report stage. Earlier today, we debated the amendments that the government had proposed, with a royal recommendation, to change the bill. The government had to backpedal to fix things, particularly as regards the housing act.
The section on the housing act fell well short of what Canadians and housing experts had expected. The experts said that the right to housing is a fundamental human right, something the government refused to acknowledge in the first draft of the bill. It had to fix that, just like it had to fix other parts of the bill.
In committee, we tried to get the government to see reason on certain issues. We wanted it to provide a list pertaining to student loans as quickly as possible. In the bill, the government proposes starting to charge interest on student loans after six months. We tried to persuade it to just make student loans interest-free. It is not right to ask former students to pay interest on loans they took out to train for a career.
In committee we learned that this interest brought $700 million annually into the coffers of the consolidated revenue fund of Canada. That money funds the government's priorities when it could stay in the pockets of young people who just completed their studies and are entering the workforce. Those young people have to save money to get into the real estate market and invest in our economy in various ways. The government is currently taking $700 million out of the pockets of young workers who are fresh out of school, and putting that money in the consolidated revenue fund.
The government is giving former students a six-month relief period when it could have gone further by permanently eliminating interest on student loans and stopping government funding by students. The government rejected this proposal.
As far as worker health and safety is concerned, representatives from the Canadian Labour Congress told us in committee that the flexibilities of the Hazardous Products Act benefited industry to the detriment of the health of the workers who are exposed to these products in the short or long term. They could have accidents with these hazardous products. The government is easing the rules to give the chemical products industry a free pass, which jeopardizes the health and safety of Canadian workers. In committee, the government once again sided with industry and the major lobbies in this country to ensure that their profits keep going up every year.
Furthermore, a large number of witnesses spoke out against the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Bill C-97 is, quite simply, anti-refugee. It creates two classes of refugees: those who enter Canada regularly and those who enter irregularly. The government is creating two parallel systems that it claims complement each other or are nearly identical.
The government could have simply turned to the Immigration and Refugee Board, which does a very good job and which needs more resources. Unfortunately, it decided to create two classes of refugees. One refugee even testified in committee that if the government's heartless bill had been in force, he might not be in Canada right now because he would have been sent back to his country, where he is in danger. Numerous experts called this a bad idea. That is why we are compelled to oppose the bill.
Now let's talk about pensions, which were not protected and which continue to be at the bottom of the order of creditor priority in the event of bankruptcy or insolvency. They could have had the courage to respond to the concerns heard at consultations. Most people said that the order of creditor priority had to be changed. The government decided to ignore all the experts' recommendations.
That was also the case for stock options. The economic update indicated that the government would address this situation, which is clearly problematic because it benefits the wealthy. It even says so in the budget document, but they decided to ignore the issue. In this budget, which is its last chance, the government decided to do nothing and wait until after the election to solve the problem, even though we know this government will be gone in October 2019.
The Liberals gave in to the pharmaceutical lobby on pharmacare. They gave them more time to rake in the biggest profits of the corporate world at the expense of taxpayers. They were given a free pass. The government is asking Canadians to trust it even though it broke many promises. It says that it will keep this one and that we must trust it, even if it has been saying so for 25 years.
As for oil companies, the Liberals continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions of dollars every year. This budget would have been a good opportunity to put an end to that.
Also, household debt continues to rise. Canadians are within $200 of insolvency each and every month, and the government is doing nothing to fix that.
Furthermore, the media bailout has been the talk of Parliament Hill and elsewhere. The media just want tax fairness. Of course, they also need some assistance to meet certain challenges, but above all, they need tax fairness. The government needs to put an end to the double standard that is giving web giants a free ride when it comes to taxes. They are exempted from paying income tax and sales tax, and are raking in billions of dollars in ad revenues, while our local and national media can barely make ends meet and take in sufficient ad revenues.
This is a bad budget bill. The government missed out on its last opportunity to show some courage and make the right choices.
I can assure the House that Canadians will not give the Liberals another term, since they merely spew empty rhetoric and make lofty promises, and have not honoured their commitments over the past four years. Canadians will turn to an alternate serious and credible solution, like the NDP, so we can finally fix the problems facing our society in 2019.