Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak on Bill C-43, to establish the Canada customs and revenue agency.
The purpose of the agency is, first, to provide programs and services in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, through greater autonomy and flexibility; second, to improve services and reduce the cost of administering revenues and enforcement by working with the provinces to eliminate duplication and overlap; third, to strengthen the effectiveness of the Canadian federation and foster national unity by making the agency responsible for providing federal, provincial and even municipal services to Canadians.
The third objective mysteriously disappeared when the second progress report was tabled. None of the provinces has agreed to enter into an agreement. The provinces, with the exception of Manitoba, remain unenthusiastic about the establishment of such an agency.
In the face of this opposition, Revenue Canada's spokesperson, Michel Cléroux, explained that the provinces had not said no. That is not a very good explanation.
The agency will not produce the promised savings. Its promoters recognized from the start that the greatest savings would come from harmonizing taxation.
However, we all know that the extension of the harmonized or blended sales tax flew like a lead balloon. In addition, the proposed agency will not require the provinces to pay for tax collection and treatment when the provincial program is fully harmonized with a federal taxation program. This free service does not represent a cost reduction but a cost increase for the agency.
The agency's status will also enable its executives to pay themselves salaries comparable to those of business leaders in the private sector.
Regardless of the position one adopts on this matter, one must recognize that it constitutes a new item of expenditure.
Coming at a time when the morale of public servants who are not in executive positions is suffering seriously after a six-year freeze, it must not be lost sight of that, since April 1, the present government has awarded its executives raises of up to 19%.
The agency has already cost the taxpayer rather dearly. Thousands of departmental employees have been involved in design teams and other internal exercises aimed at turning the dream of senior management into reality. A good part of the focus of Revenue Canada has been turned away from more important and more pressing matters.
I will give an example. You will recall a CBC program which reported that, according to Department of National Revenue documents, over 500 of the 1,500 auditor positions in the Toronto region were vacant. This situation would mean a shortfall for the federal treasury in this region of over $500 million in 1997. We estimate the loss would be over $2 billion for all of Canada.
The agency would be a less effective solution than the status quo. The myth surrounding the agency is that it could provide tax services more cheaply and more effectively. However, the structure proposed for the new agency adds another level of bureaucracy in the form of an appointed board of management, which would have nothing more than a supervisory role. Nevertheless, time, money and staff must be provided for the board and its staff.
At the same time, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency would report to Treasury Board on administrative matters, such as its activity and human resources plans.
The agency would upset the balance between tax policy and tax collection. There is, at the present time, a healthy balance between the structure and tax policy, which should be left up to the department and the Minister of Finance, and enforcement of this policy, which is the responsibility of the Minister of Revenue and his department, the Department of National Revenue.
The agency's status would upset this balance. The agency's bureaucrats would inevitably launch into a turf war with their Department of Finance counterparts. This would be a costly and unproductive exercise that would serve the interests of no one but the mandarins.
The agency would open the door to bureaucratic patronage and the abuse of power. In practice, the agency would have carte blanche with respect to contracts, and with respect to the management of property, materiel, information and technology. With limited outside scrutiny, the risk of favouritism and abuse of power by bureaucrats is very, very high.
The agency would pose a threat to taxpayers' privacy. If the agency were actually to achieve its objectives, personal information would be concentrated in a large organization not directly overseen directly by Parliament.
Moreover, internal departmental documents indicate that the creation of a “big brother” raises concerns among some of those involved with privacy issues. We share those concerns.
What do the experts and the business sector have to say about this agency? Nothing good. In his report of December 1997, the Auditor General of Canada voiced concerns about the accountability of the proposed agency by asking: “What assurance will the people of Canada and parliamentarians have that the public interest is protected?”
As well, a Public Policy Forum, or PPF, study commissioned by Revenue Canada reported that Canadian business had serious reservations about the creation of this agency. The PPF report referred to the agency's objective of rationalizing and simplifying tax collection.
However, 40% of the businesses the PPF surveyed saw no advantage to a single national collection agency and 68% felt that such an agency would add to their compliance costs, or have no effect whatsoever.
As we have seen, then, the promise of a single tax collection agency did nothing to bring about the harmonization of taxes in all provinces. For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois and I will be voting against the bill.