Madam Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege for me to speak to this bill at third reading stage.
At its annual general meeting, the Syndicat de la relève agricole d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue called on MPs from the Abitibi-Témiscamingue area to support Bill C-208 and to actively contribute to its passage before the next election. That is my role today in bringing debate to a close at third reading.
The resolution of the Syndicat de la relève agricole d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue speaks of fairness when transferring agricultural farms. At present, when an individual sells their shares in their small business or family farm corporation to a family member, the difference between the sale price and the initial purchase price is treated as a dividend. However, if the business or corporation is sold to someone other than a family member, this transaction is treated as a capital gain.
Bill C-208 would give small businesses, farming families and fishing families the same tax treatment whether they sell their business to a family member or a third party. The economic landscape of our region is made up of a growing number of incorporated farms and family fishing corporations, which is why the Syndicat de la relève agricole d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue adopted this resolution, and I am here to honour it.
I had the opportunity to take part in the debate on this bill in November 2020, and I remember that my presentation centred on the fact that, incredible as it may seem, a business owner is currently better off selling their business to outside shareholders than to members of their own family. As I said, under the existing legislation, the transfer of a business to a family member is treated as a dividend and not as a capital gain, unlike a sale to a third party. As a result, owners are not entitled to the lifetime capital gains exemption if they decide to sell the business to their children.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-208. For several years now, my party has been calling for measures to encourage and facilitate the transfer of family businesses, especially in the agriculture and fisheries sectors. I would also like to acknowledge the work of my colleague, the member for Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, who had the opportunity to speak before me and who introduced Bill C-275 back in the day.
The Bloc Québécois has been calling for measures to encourage and facilitate the transfer of family businesses for over 15 years. For Quebeckers, the Bloc Québécois and myself, business succession is important. It is also important for our SMEs in general, but especially for family farms in the regions, like the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region. Perhaps we will soon have the opportunity to speak of Bill C-208 and its consequences in the past tense, a thought that fills me with excitement.
The existing legislation makes no sense at all. What is prompting the Liberal Party to vote against Bill C-208? They are raising the possibility of tax abuse and tax fraud, but we know that the Parliamentary Budget Officer questioned the amount of money that the Liberal government estimated would be lost, calculating that it would be tens or hundreds of millions instead of billions of dollars. Speaking of losses, I still do not understand why the government is not cracking down on tax havens.
I would like to share the comments of a farmer from my riding, a friend of mine named Simon Leblond, who was the president of the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec when I was working for the union. With regard to the transfer of family farms, he said that it is important to maintain a large enough pool of farmers to maintain services for farms and, more generally, to ensure the vitality of the industry, make it known to those outside the world of agriculture, and ensure interest.
Farmers face major challenges, and I think it is important to point that out. Some of the challenges faced by farmers in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and everywhere else include land grabbing, farmland financialization, the whole issue of income security, vet services for farm animals, crop insurance and agricultural drainage. These are major challenges, and improving access to land and quality of life for Quebec's young farmers is one way to ensure a future in agriculture for Quebec's youth.
The more people we have who are willing to take over farms, the more services we will be able to provide. It is a cycle, but unfortunately that cycle has been broken. I hope that we can get that cycle going again and that we will see more and more young people taking over farms. Land prices, quota prices and new forms of agricultural production are leading to higher costs every year, and the red tape is becoming increasingly cumbersome, making it harder and harder for farmers to access land and operate their business. As politicians, we have a responsibility in that regard. I repeat: It is not right that a business owner is better off selling the business to a third party than to their own family members.
The Government of Quebec included measures in its 2016 budget to facilitate the transfer of family businesses in the primary and manufacturing sectors. A change to Quebec's Taxation Act relaxed the rule that prohibited the seller from using the capital gains tax exemption. Quebec has addressed this issue, while the federal government still lags behind, or at least it was lagging until now. I remind members that the Parliamentary Budget Officer assessed the cost of these measures, and his figure was lower than what the federal government was claiming.
I want to get back to the speech my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé made about Bill C-208 at second reading. I want to make a little aside, though, and I want to acknowledge and commend our colleague, the member for Brandon—Souris, for his leadership. I would like to congratulate the Conservative Party for its leadership in this debate, because Bill C-208 has been given priority on two occasions at third reading. That is why we are debating it today. I hope that we will be able to vote on this bill by next week so that it can be sent to the Senate and then get royal assent. That would be the blessing that so many have hoped for. I will give some examples soon, but I just wanted to mention that.
The member for Berthier—Maskinongé said:
...what we are really talking about are small and medium-sized businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. We need to keep these businesses alive and make sure they survive. We need to make sure that these small businesses can keep going and that they are not put at a disadvantage where they will end up being bought out by big corporations. The survival of these small businesses is directly connected to the survival of our regions. This is why I am appealing to all of my colleagues.
I second my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé's appeal because the Bloc Québécois stands for human-scale enterprises.
I also want to say that I got to be part of the debates that took place when Bill C-208 was sent to the Standing Committee on Finance. On March 9, Julie Bissonnette, a dairy farmer in L'Avenir and the president of the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec, and Philippe Pagé, the FRAQ's general director and mayor of Saint-Camille, had this to say:
Bill C-208 is significant for young farmers because we believe it will encourage the transfer of farms to family members and go a long way towards correcting tax unfairness, while supporting a strong farming community.
As an organization whose mission is to protect the interests of the next generation of farmers and improve conditions for those starting out, it has taken a clear position. The FRAQ representatives also wanted the committee to know that some young Canadians are seeing their dreams evaporate because of ill-conceived tax rules. They said:
The numbers speak for themselves. A business that is transferred to a family member is six times more likely to succeed than a business transferred to someone outside the family. What's more, 70% of all entrepreneurs in Quebec would prefer to keep their businesses in the family. Even today, selling a business to a related party is the preferred way to transfer a farm. Our tax system should support all young farmers, no matter their path to business ownership, something the system does not currently do.
Marcel Groleau, from the Union des producteurs agricoles, echoed these comments. During the same meeting, he mentioned the pride that comes from completing a successful transfer, saying:
Some 98% of the country's farms are family owned and operated. That business model is a source of pride for Canadians. Family farming promotes sustainable growth, environmental stewardship and reinvestment in local economies.
According to a 2017 study by the Business Development Bank of Canada, nearly 40% of small businesses will be transferred or sold by the end of 2022 as owners near retirement.
There is an urgent need for action. Obviously, the reference to subsection 84(1) of the Income Tax Act is one of the things that needs to be revised. The act has not evolved to reflect the context and the demographic pressure that applies to farms.
I also want to mention the support of Daniel Kelly, the president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, or CFIB, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance and was quite happy to express CFIB's very favourable position on the bill. I should note that 17% of business owners are seriously considering shutting down, that Bill C-208 would facilitate business transfers and, most importantly, that it is time for a resolution and for significant action.
I will conclude by recalling two points raised by Mr. Groleau, who shared some data from the Commission de protection du territoire agricole, Quebec's farmland protection commission. He pointed out that everything is documented and that we are seeing an increasing number of transactions involving farmland being carried out by investors rather than by producers. The investors' interest lies in renting out the land while they wait to potentially do something else with it.
The devil is in the details, and it will be important to move on in order to meet the needs of the next generation of farmers.