Madam Speaker, I want to first address the challenge put forward to me by the member for Yorkton—Melville. She wanted me to show how I can identify with the province of Saskatchewan.
I am a Prairie boy. I spent a number of years living in Saskatchewan, albeit I am a Bombers fan over a Roughriders fan. Unfortunately, I have family members who are Roughriders fans over the Bombers, which I suspect goes back to the time I spent growing up in Saskatchewan with my siblings and others.
Saskatchewan is a beautiful province. Much like with all regions of this country, I would say to my family and friends that Ottawa does care when things are happening in Saskatchewan. Whether they are constitutionally related, employment related, regarding the environment or even something such as charges on pollution, all of these things matter and they are issues we take very seriously.
The government has always been open not only to what people are saying but also to listening to what other parliamentarians have been saying. I thought that is where I would start today.
There has been reference made to this unanimous motion request put forward back in December, and I was one of the individuals who said, no, I did not think we should allow, through unanimous consent of the House of Commons, something to pass through related to a constitutional amendment.
I looked at what happened in the Saskatchewan legislature, where the issue was debated. There were comments put on the record with regard to it, and I want to share some of those comments with members today. I know some people were upset when I indicated that passing a constitutional amendment through unanimous consent without any debate whatsoever in the House of Commons was not an appropriate thing to do. That is the reason I said no back in December.
As I indicated in my remarks, I will be supporting the motion that was brought forward. Since the unanimous consent was requested back in December, I have had the opportunity to become better informed. I understand there has been outreach from MLAs in the Province of Saskatchewan to ensure and provide a sense of comfort to members on all sides of the House regarding why they put in the request.
I want to go right to the floor of the Saskatchewan legislature, where we saw a minister highlight why we are in this situation. Mr. Wyant said, “As members of this House [the Saskatchewan legislature] are likely aware, CPR is suing the Government of Saskatchewan for $341 million, claiming a broad tax exemption under section 24.” He went on to say, “As a matter of tax policy and business competitiveness, there must be a level playing field for all businesses.”
He goes on to highlight what I believe is a very important point, and this is one of the reasons I am very surprised a lawsuit would have even been launched. I do not want to get into the legal proceedings that much. The courts will do whatever the courts will ultimately do on the issue. However, Mr. Wyant continues to say:
...it’s our view that the Canadian Pacific Railway company agreed in 1966 that it would forgo the tax exemption in exchange for regulatory changes made by the federal government. The federal government upheld its end of the agreement by making those regulatory changes which provided significant benefits to the CPR. It’s now time to ensure that our Constitution reflects that reality.
He makes it very clear that during the mid-sixties there was a discussion that took place where CP, the province and the federal government, either directly or indirectly, engaged in a discussion about the constitution of Saskatchewan and the impact of the clause that we are debating today. The consensus and agreement going out of that meeting saw the residents of Saskatchewan and, in fact, all Canadians, ensure that CP would maintain payments or pay their fair share of taxes back then.
For those people who might be following the debate, I do believe it is important to recognize that, since that agreement between CP, Saskatchewan and the federal government, there has been a payment of taxes. That agreement was entered into in good faith. Earlier in the comments, I read that there is a lawsuit for $341 million, which is a significant amount of money coming from a corporation. That makes me question what caused the launch of the lawsuit.
Some may question why, in 2022, we are debating this today. Members will get a better sense of that if they look at the November 29 Hansard from the Saskatchewan legislature, where there was a resolution that was unanimously passed. I just want to pick out two things from it because it is a fairly lengthy resolution. The first of the two aspects of the resolution that I want to highlight for members is that it states:
Whereas the Canadian Pacific Railway company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan since the province was established in 1905....
I do not know all the taxes that CP has been paying. Hopefully there will be a response from CP or someone else as to why it is that the court action has been taken, but it is important that we recognize, as this resolution states, that since 1905 the railway company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan.
The other thing I want to highlight is where it states:
Whereas on August 29th, 1966, the then president of the Canadian Pacific Railway company, Ian D. Sinclair, advised the then federal minister of Transport, Jack Pickersgill, that the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway company had no objection to the constitutional amendments to eliminate the tax exemption....
That is why I make reference to the fact of this agreement. CP was not looking to receive benefits from the tax exemption. In fact, it goes on:
The repeal of section 24 is deemed to have been made on August 29th, 1966, and is retroactive to that date.
That is, therefore, the resolution coming from the Saskatchewan legislature. Appreciating the fact that it passed unanimously, Mr. Wotherspoon from the New Democratic Party makes reference to the Saskatchewan Act and makes it very clear in his explanation stating:
This is why as the official opposition Saskatchewan New Democrats, we’ve called for the repeal of section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act, 1905 and why we are proud to stand united as a legislature to send this motion for approval to Ottawa, the House of Commons, and the Senate.
If members are interested in the details and content of the resolution, it can be found in the Hansard of the Saskatchewan legislature of November 29. Suffice to say, it passed unanimously.
When I look at the Constitution of Canada and the constitutional debates, I do not believe we should, through unanimous consent motions, pass a constitutional amendment. I do not say that lightly because, while I like to think I am still relatively young, I have had some experience with constitutional amendments. First it was as someone sitting in front of the TV back in 1982 watching our then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sign off, along with Her Majesty the Queen, on the Constitution of Canada and bring in the Charter of Rights, which was instilled in me as a very proud moment at that relatively young age but also did a lot to bring Canadians together and instill a sense of pride. Not much longer after I had witnessed that, I was inspired to get engaged in politics in a more tangible way and had the good fortune of getting elected in 1988.
Those who are familiar with constitutional change and amendments and attempts would know that in 1988 we had the Meech Lake accord. I was a member of the Manitoba legislature when it was the only province to not sign on to the accord. Back then, because of the holdup in the Manitoba legislature, I believe the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador withdrew its original support of the Constitution. I remember the significant protests that took place both inside and outside of the legislature, and why indigenous people in particular felt empowered to a certain degree through Elijah Harper to ensure that the national and provincial governments of all political stripes understood why there was an issue with the Meech Lake accord.
If we fast-forward from that experience to the 1990s and the Charlottetown accord, I had the good fortune, or bad fortune depending on how one wants to look at it, of being around for that debate. I remember having a debate in the north end of Winnipeg with a member of Parliament who was speaking against what I was proposing. It was Bill Blaikie, the former member of Parliament for Elmwood—Transcona and the father of the current member.
In that debate I said I disagreed with Mr. Blaikie and that, in fact, the national government had a role to play in housing in Canada, because the Charlottetown accord, among other things, tried to give the direction that housing was an entirely provincial responsibility. There were a number of us, including me, who felt the federal government had a role to play with respect to national housing. I find it ironic today to hear the comments from the members of the opposition saying that we need to do something on the housing file, when the Prime Minister has clearly demonstrated a strong cabinet commitment to national housing through the national housing strategy, with hundreds of millions of dollars coming from Ottawa to support housing.
For example, even Bill C-8, legislation that we were debating, has a direct impact on housing. This is why I say that constitutional issues are important to all of us.
However, sometimes constitutional changes can be all-encompassing. They can consume a great deal of time and effort and they are very difficult to achieve, which is why, when I look at governments from the past since the Charlottetown Accord, I do not believe that the mood of Canadians is to see constitutional change at this time. I do not believe that Canadians want us to be focusing on constitutional changes at this time.
That said, as has been pointed out, there are different ways in which a constitution can be changed, and the type of change we are talking about today is very different from what we have talked about in the past. Members of the Liberal caucus understand and appreciate that the Saskatchewan legislature has passed a unanimous resolution. We understand why the timing of it is so critically important today, even though it was enacted over 100 years ago in an agreement that I will provide some comment on shortly. However, the point is that as things take place in Saskatchewan, we understand the need for the federal government to respond, and today is a good example.
Someone mentioned earlier today that this is an opposition motion. Well, just because it is an opposition member's motion does not necessarily mean that it does not merit passage in the House of Commons or support from the government. That is why the parliamentary secretary who spoke prior to me indicated that the government would in fact be supporting the motion. We recognize that in the last election, as in the previous election, Canadians said they want Parliament and parliamentarians to work together, and where we can, we do. We do work together when there is that higher sense of co-operation, and we are seeing that with respect to this motion.
On other issues related to this motion, there is the issue of tax fairness. This issue was brought up consistently by my New Democratic friends in particular, to try to give the false impression that members of the Liberal government do not support tax fairness. That is so wrong. One of our very first actions in government was the Prime Minister's commitment to tax fairness. He brought in legislation to put a tax on Canada's 1% wealthiest. Ironically, my New Democratic friends voted against it. We have had not one but two budgets in which hundreds of millions of dollars were allocated to try to ensure that those who are avoiding paying taxes, including big business, are held to account. We are investing more in Revenue Canada. I do not need to be told that my constituents want and demand tax fairness. We as a government, through our cabinet and with the support of the Liberal members of caucus, and I suspect even at times the support of opposition members, have brought in initiatives to ensure that there is a higher sense of tax fairness in Canada today.