Mr. Speaker, I have just 10 minutes to talk about Bill C-97, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019 and other measures. I would have liked to have my colleague answer my question, since he had the time and it was not too complicated.
When the Liberals were in opposition and during the 2015 election campaign, they promised to stop this trend of including measures that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget in the budget and budget implementation bills. This is an undemocratic measure and practice. It forces us to vote on the budget, which is a confidence vote, and on measures that should be considered separately from the budget.
The Liberals were critical of this practice for four years, but they continue to utilize this undemocratic process.
I would like to talk about Bill C-97 and the budget in general, not necessarily about what is in the budget or the bill, but about what is not there. Over the past four years I have raised some very important issues highlighting how the Liberals did not keep their promises.
The first thing that I wanted from Bill C-97 was to see that the Minister of Finance was keeping his promise to address the issue of tax transfers for businesses and farms. The tax transfer issue is important because, at present, an individual who owns a small business or family farm and wants to transfer it to his children or a family member must pay more tax than if he transferred or sold it to a stranger or someone who is not a family member. There is a very simple reason for this. Selling to a stranger triggers a capital gain with a set of exemptions. However, the profits from the sale to children are treated as dividends and fully taxed.
In 2016, I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-274, to address this issue. The bill sought to ensure that these two types of transactions received equal treatment and that individuals would not be at a disadvantage when selling their assets to their children.
I spent a year working on Bill C-274. I visited many areas of Canada, particularly the maritime provinces, which are represented by 32 Liberal members. I did not go to speak with MPs, but rather to speak with representatives of chambers of commerce and organizations that advocate for fishers and farmers. Everyone agrees that this legislation is necessary. I would even say that the tax treatment involved when businesses and family farms are sold or transferred is one of the top concerns of small business owners.
I worked on this for a year. At the end of that year, when it was time to begin debating the bill, I had the support of about 25 Liberal members. I had the support of the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the independent members of the House. The only thing missing was the support I needed from the Liberals. I was able to get the support of at least 25 members after making citizens aware, citizens who then spoke to their MPs about it.
The bill made it through its first hour of debate, but then, before the start of the second hour, the Minister of Finance made a surprising announcement. He said that the bill was going to cost the government between $800 million and $1.2 billion in lost revenue. It was surprising because the tax specialists we hired to study the impacts of the bill estimated the tax loss at between $90 million and $100 million, which is hardly peanuts, but still an acceptable cost to insure that we level the playing field, so to say.
Clearly, these are two different price ranges. The Minister of Finance took his department's figures and successfully convinced a string of Liberal MPs that, though he understands how important this bill is for SMEs and family farms, they had to vote against it because losing $1 billion in tax revenue would be irresponsible. He promised that, by the end of this Parliament, there would be a tax measure in the budget that would truly meet those needs. He promised that.
In the meantime, there have been three budgets and five budget implementation bills. There is still nothing to deal with this inequity, this injustice that exists for owners of small business, family farms, and fish companies who want to transfer their business to their children.
I am appealing to the Liberal members who represent rural and farming regions and who have a lot of SMEs in their riding to think about the consequences of voting against Bill C-274. Once again, there is no measure in this budget bill to address the tax inequity and unfairness. That is the first thing I wanted to note. The Minister of Finance broke the promise he made to his own caucus, to correct the situation in a later budget. The election is fast approaching and this still has not been addressed. My colleagues can be sure that this issue will be raised in a number of ridings come election time. Liberal candidates will have to defend the finance minister's position, as well as his failure.
Another issue that is very important to MPs from rural areas is cell coverage. We hear a lot about investment in high-speed Internet, and clearly, there has been some. Not everyone has access, but there has been some investment. However, none of the new Liberal or Conservative programs have included measures for cell coverage, even though it is so important. In my riding, Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, 13 of the 39 municipalities I represent have little or no cell coverage. Over 1,000 people live in the municipality of Squatec, and they have no cell coverage unless they find exactly the right spot on top of a little hill or on the second floor of the high school.
We have raised this issue repeatedly in the House. The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has brought it to the government's attention many times during question period. The government's answers always focus on investment in high-speed Internet. Those are two different things. Investing in high-speed Internet does not mean investing in cell coverage. Essentially, telecom companies are not interested in investing in rural regions without adequate population density. Individual companies will not risk making that investment because it could end up benefiting all the other companies. The government needs to intervene because the market has failed, but the Liberal government has done nothing for four years now.
Several members are concerned about this issue. I am thinking of the member for Laurentides—Labelle and the member for Pontiac, who represent large rural areas and who tentatively bring up this issue from time to time. We voted on a motion moved by the member for Pontiac that emphasized the urgent need for action. That is the problem right there. The government talks about the urgent need to act, but it never does, even though it is in a position to do so. If the government does not want to make the necessary investments so that rural regions and rural residents are no longer treated as second class, then concrete action needs to be taken.
If the government does not want to make real investments, it needs to think of another solution to take the responsibility for making investments away from the companies and give it to an independent Canadian agency, for example. That agency would be funded by the companies as a condition of licence, and it could make investment decisions and acquire the necessary spectrum to do so. That would ensure coverage in all of the regions that would not otherwise have it, and all of the companies that made investments could also benefit from the new coverage. That is one solution that the government could implement. Another solution would be for the government to invest in cell coverage as it did for high-speed Internet.
There are solutions. All it takes is a little goodwill. However, since we began raising this issue, I have not seen any goodwill from the Liberals in this regard.
I will not have much time to talk about the third item, but I brought it up in my question to my colleague earlier. It is the fact that the Liberals did not keep their promise to table budget bills that actually focus on budget-related issues. Instead they chose to play petty politics and try to speed through their legislative agenda by throwing in tons of measures that have nothing to do with the budget. This Liberal tactic is as politically cynical now as it was when it was first used by the Conservatives from 2011 to 2015.
For all of these reasons, I find myself unable to vote for this bill. I am happy to have had a chance to explain why.