moved that Bill C-396, An Act to amend the Department of Industry Act (financial assistance), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is rather unfortunate that we are forced to introduce a bill to ensure greater transparency. It must be said that the Government of Canada provides financial assistance to many businesses. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that when the government says that its financial assistance is repayable, Canadian taxpayers are actually informed that they have been repaid. We do not have that information and that is the purpose of the bill. It is a very simple bill.
I stated that it is unfortunate that we have to introduce a bill because I want to go back to 2006 when I was the industry minister. The information was available. When the industry minister provided repayable assistance, taxpayers could go to the department's website and find out which companies had received financial assistance, how much they received, and the repayment terms.
We have been asking the government for a lot more transparency for many months now. Let us not forget the $275-million repayable loan that the government gave Bombardier a few months ago. I asked the government what the terms and conditions of that loan were, and I was told that they were secret. That is unfortunate because taxpayers will not know whether that money has been repaid. What is more, although the government gave that money to a very reputable company, jobs still left Montreal. Meanwhile, members will recall that shareholders received very generous bonuses, thanks to the $200-odd million the government gave Bombardier.
That said, these agreements are not secret. They should be made public because taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going. That is why we had to introduce a bill today to tell the government that the official opposition, with the support of the NDP, I hope, wants to know what happens with any future grants and whether the amounts are actually repaid.
I am going to give a few figures because the industry minister is really responsible for the contributions and funding given to companies. This is not a new problem. I see here that the Government of Canada gave $57 million to Bell Helicopter. When we look at the “repayment” column on the department's website, it says that the information is confidential. No information is provided. The problem is that the loan was granted int November 2003 and we do not know what is happening with it. We found out about the loan when it was made public a few years later in 2006-07, as I said, but we do not know whether it has been repaid.
I am looking at another file, that of CMC Electronic Inc. In 1997, the government granted CMC $23 million. Was that money ever paid back? No. I can go on because the list is long. I will name only a few. IBM Canada, a company that does very well, received $33 million from the Minister of Industry. Was that money paid back? No, no one knows, because that is confidential. When I look at all this and add up all the companies that did not repay the money they received, I see that more than 200 companies received repayable loans and grants that just slipped through the cracks. No one has any idea what happened to the money that was given to nearly half of those 200 companies. No one knows if, in fact, the money was given as a grant or not. Unpaid repayable loans become subsidies. There is no information for 45% of these companies.
Even more alarming is that this money given to the corporations represents more than $700 million in unpaid loans. Is this $700 million in subsidies to big business or not? No one knows because no one has any idea about the repayment status of these “subsidies”.
Since this is taxpayer money there is nothing confidential about it and everything should be made public. Some civil organizations are asking for this information. They have taken the matter to court to find out what happened with these grants or so-called repayable loans.
The bill is very simple. It says that when the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development gives a business a grant or a non-repayable loan, taxpayers and Canadians should be able to find out if the money is repaid or not. That is a cornerstone of democracy. That is why I am happy my NDP colleagues support this. I very rarely agree with socialists, but they are being sensible here. Like me, they can see that, in this case, the government is using its power to say things are secret when they are not secret.
I hope to have the support of my Liberal colleagues as well. During and after the election campaign, they talked a lot about transparency, open government, and accessible government. If that is really what my Liberal colleagues want to achieve, this is their opportunity to walk the talk. They can choose to take action and support this bill to signal that transparency is important in Canadian society and tell Canadians that upwards of $700 million will be repaid.
It is unfair that so many small businesses, including some in Beauce, do not have the luxury of getting subsidies—excuse me, repayable loans that, between you and me, turn into subsidies when they are not repaid. Businesses in Beauce work hard, pay their taxes, and obey the law, but they do not have this luxury and cannot access any of that money. The government should treat everyone fairly and make sure the money is repaid.
I have a suggestion for my Liberal friends. When the $700 million is repaid, if indeed those were repayable loans, they can use the money to lower the tax rate for all businesses in Canada and adopt a policy that is actually fair and will create wealth.
The bill is on the table, and I am eager to hear from my Liberal colleagues. I think they will see the light and support it.