Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-21, An Act to control the administrative burden that regulations impose on businesses.
I hesitantly support this bill. My reticence has nothing to do with the objective of the bill but about the government's reputation of saying one thing and and then failing to abide by its own bills.
I am in favour of the bill for the following reason. The one-for-one rule shows businesses that every time a new administrative burden is placed on them, another will be lifted. That is a start. We are telling businesses that their administrative burden will not grow heavier in the future.
That is why the Liberal Party supports this bill. We sincerely hope that Canadian businesses will not be hindered or penalized by too much red tape. However, much more ambitious measures could have been implemented to help companies reduce their paperwork and administrative workload. Judging by the many bills that the Conservatives have introduced to date, the government is creating more paperwork, not less. We are in favour of this bill, but the government could have been a bit more ambitious. It could have ensured that every time a regulation was imposed, there would be 1.1 or 1.2 times less paperwork.
On the one hand, the government wants to seem co-operative by introducing a bill like this, and on the other hand, its actions show that all it does is keep increasing administrative measures, whether it is through personal income tax measures or through various government programs that never reach their targets.
There are a number of initiatives that would make the administrative process more efficient for businesses and, at the same time, for individuals. For instance, the government should ensure that all the forms that businesses and individuals need are electronically available and that government websites that provide services to the public are more in line with the needs of the public. The information should be easily accessible and the documents should be easy to find and download.
All services that can be provided through the Internet should be available through the various departmental web portals. Businesses should not have to go to several offices or to make several phone calls to obtain documents or information that they need. Since red tape has a negative impact on businesses as it makes them waste time and money, we have to do everything we can to reduce it. Efficiency is paramount for businesses and that is what often makes them successful.
According to a 2013 report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 68% of Canadian businesses feel that red tape lowers their productivity significantly. According to the same report, the total cost of regulation to Canadian businesses was estimated at $31 billion in 2012. Those are huge costs and we are just talking about small businesses. Instead, businesses could use that money to raise the wages of employees or to lower the prices of goods and services for Canadians.
As stated in the 2012 recommendations of the Red Tape Reduction Commission, it is important to remove information-sharing barriers related to business across departments. As we know, various forms from various departments often ask for the same information over and over again. A more conciliatory and respectful measure for businesses would be to ask for information only once and to improve the sharing of information across departments. As a result, the government would reduce red tape for businesses and provide an improved and more modern service.
There are ways to respect privacy while providing more streamlined, efficient communication between government agencies. Some administrative procedures are needed, and that is not a problem.
In the vast catalogue of current regulations, some of them could easily be eliminated without any impact. That is where the focus is needed, and in fact that is why the government is not afraid to proceed with Bill C-21. It is aware that there are a bunch of regulations that could be done away with.
However, the government should do more if it really wants to help businesses and individuals and to cut red tape. It should come up with a plan that is much more ambitious and comprehensive than what is in Bill C-21.
Furthermore, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the client service provided to individuals and businesses. Red tape can be cut, but more efficient service is also needed, since wait times have the same impact on businesses as the administrative burden.
The quality and efficiency of service to individuals and businesses need to be reviewed. For example, with respect to the time it takes to deliver licences and certificates, the priority should be on setting target processing times. In 2012, during consultations between the government and businesses on red tape, businesses felt this was a priority.
The government is also talking about aiming to reduce the number of complaints and to resolve existing complaints more quickly. These improvements are an integral part of the assistance to be provided to businesses — which is completely normal — to make them more efficient and avoid needless delays, whether in terms of red tape or delays in obtaining documents.
If we look at what I have been saying up to now, a simple example would be when the government first was elected. It decided to introduce, as members well know, an income tax credit called the fitness tax credit. It announced it as being a $500 tax credit to families. Everybody was excited. As a parent, I was excited, as well. I was going to get $500 because my kids were going to be involved in a sports program. There was a lot publicity and hoopla surrounding the announcement.
All of a sudden, we realized that it was a $500 tax credit that resulted in $80.00 of actual money in our pockets. However, in order to get that tax credit, our kids had to be enrolled in a sports program, which is perfectly normal. However, the sporting association, whether it was a profitable sporting association or not or if it was a school group, had to provide us with a receipt. It had to keep track of the money, which is totally fine. It needed to have a certificate number, an attestation number, then be able to print out the receipts and balance their books. Most of those sporting organizations took two to three years to provide an adequate receipt so we were able to receive a measly $500 non-refundable tax credit. Most of the parents in areas where they had difficulty paying their bills were unable to take advantage of this because these tax credits were non-refundable. The non-profit organizations, even the ones that were profit-oriented like sports camps or privatized specialized sporting schools, were unable to generate the proper receipts that were returned by the tax department.
This is one example where the government, while introducing an initiative to reduce taxes, increased the administrative burden for all individuals involved.
Then the government also came out with the public transit tax credit, which again, was a great initiative on paper. However, even the large transport companies were unable to generate receipts. They had to change their software. They had to ensure the receipts were issued in the proper format. They went to an electronic format. My kids pay for their bus passes electronically, but they have to sit there and wait for a receipt, then they have to provide me with the receipt and I have to file it. If they do not find the receipt, then they have to go back to the bus company and ask for a proper receipt.
Again we were stuck with administrative challenges. Perhaps the government only added one extra line on the income tax return, but it created all sorts of paperwork for the people having to respond to the criteria the government implemented.
When it comes to other things, I can give a whole bunch of examples from the Income Tax Act. Any professional accountant will tell us that the Income Tax Act has grown by more than 20% in just the last five to six years. If we look at the size of the Income Tax Act, we can see why it is not printed anymore. It is so voluminous it is not even possible to print it.
I sit on the trade committee, and a couple of examples come to mind from there. We are hearing how the government loves to sign free trade agreements, but the biggest complaint is that when the goods come in, all of a sudden they are stuck there because of the paperwork. The government says it is open for business for importing and exporting, but the biggest complaints we hear are about goods getting stuck at customs or that goods are having a hard time coming in or getting out.
As one example I sort of laugh at, someone said that if we bring in a pickle, it is pickles. However, if it is pickled pickles or jarred pickles, they are determined to be in a different duty category. By the time the duty rate is decided on, the cost can have increased by 10% or 15% or 20%. Sometimes fresh pickles expire in terms of their freshness date, so there is a whole big hoopla around that. This is all an extra administrative burden that the government has created.
There are tons of other examples. We heard about the paperwork and lack of proper scheduling when the government tried to get grain shipped across the country throughout the winter. Other departments that I am not an expert on also have administrative burdens that we need to deal with.
Earlier I saw the former immigration minister in the House. When we export our services to certain countries, we need to get visas. Conversely, my colleague from Markham, the immigration critic, cited the fact that if someone wants to bring in labourers from Mexico, there are tons of problems. They are asked for their passports and they are not given back their passports. There are a whole bunch of problems when it comes to getting visas and work permits, whether it is to go or to come back.
These are all things that businesses have to deal with. Sometimes the fact that they only need a temporary worker for a temporary amount of time just defeats the purpose of getting someone, and the owners end up having to work 20- and 30-hour days, if that is possible.
The government says it is going to reduce one administrative burden before it puts in a new one. However, has anyone here ever decided to automate their bills? It is great. Now we do not get our bills in the mail anymore, but we get an email. Now we have an email added to the rest of our emails. We do not know if they are good or bad emails because there is so much spam that we may not be sure if it is a legitimate email or not.
However, let us assume we get the proper email. Now we want to get our bank statement. We have to log on. We have to make sure we log on with the right password, with exactly the right number of upper-case and lower-case letters and the right alphanumeric numbers. Once we have logged on, there is a security password and then a security question to determine if we are the proper person. Then we are logged on.
We look at our statement online and decide to print it. Then we realize that our printer is not attached or has not been downloaded or has run out of toner. Maybe we realize the kids have taken all our paper, so we have no paper. It used to take half a second to open an envelope and find our bank statement, but all of a sudden it now takes a lifetime. It takes forever.
This is what the government is doing. It is doing the same thing big business is doing: transferring the administrative burden. I just hope the government is cognizant of that fact.
I am hoping we can work toward getting the bill into committee. We are going to vote in favour of it to get it out of the House at second reading and into committee, where we will see if we can improve it. Based on our experience with this government, we have not seen much openness to improving bills or accepting amendments, but we will see. That is why we work in this place. We try to make it a better place.
One more area I would like to also get onto the record is this. The CRA has gotten its act together for a few things, and as an accountant I have to admit that, but one of the areas where it is still having difficulty is with respect to businesses that have non-resident employees. In that case, employers have to open separate non-resident accounts, which have nothing to do with their corporate account. They have to deal with a lot of paperwork in terms of withholding. They have to send in the paperwork to tell the CRA that they are withholding. They may not have a withholding tax, but because they have promised to withhold, they have to withhold at a certain rate. That rate may change based on the country the person who has been subcontracted is doing business in. The rate also depends on the tax treaty and the type of service. Then if the business is one day late in making that withholding payment, they are stuck having to pay a fee, even though they may be expecting a refund elsewhere.
Therefore, with respect to the non-resident aspects, the CRA is still lacking in certain areas. I would like the committee to study some of the issues with respect to the CRA, because that is one of the big complaints we get.
In conclusion, the Liberal Party will support the bill, which is intended to limit the administrative burden that regulations impose on businesses. However, we believe that this is just one small step in the right direction and that it provides very little to businesses. The bill is fine in itself, but it is incomplete.
I call on the government to commit to helping Canadian businesses by instituting additional provisions, and I urge them to consolidate the possible administrative changes that could improve service to businesses. I also believe it would be worthwhile to review all regulations imposed on businesses and individuals to ensure that each regulation makes sense.
Each small step toward reducing paperwork will have a real impact on the productivity and efficiency of Canadian businesses. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of small business owners, who constantly have to fill out forms and often run into red tape. We need to streamline the entire process and make it much more efficient.