House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was tax.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Victoria (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 42% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions March 27th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present petitions in support of Bill C-380, a bill which would stop the import of shark fins into Canada once and for all. This was introduced by my colleague, the NDP deputy Fisheries and Oceans critic.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of Fin Free Victoria, a group that includes students from Glenlyon Northfolk School in my riding, which has gathered thousands of signatures.

The bill will come to a vote in the House of Commons this evening and I encourage all members of this House to vote in support of the bill.

Canada Revenue Agency March 27th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, they are making up numbers on tax cheats, making up answers about tax increases and even their own backbenchers do not trust the Prime Minister.

The reality is, Conservatives are raising taxes on almost everything while cutting the people who go after tax cheats. How can they expect any credibility with their claims of cracking down on enforcement when $100 million is being cut from the CRA and 3,000 staff are being eliminated?

Canada Revenue Agency March 27th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the minister seems a bit angry and frustrated, much like one of his party's backbenchers.

While the government is increasing taxes on hospital parking, safety deposit boxes, small businesses, credit unions and groceries, it is still not imposing sanctions on people who evade taxes. Their figures on tax evasion do not cut it.

How can the Conservatives claim to be combatting tax evasion while they are making cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency's budget?

Health March 25th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' attack on credit unions will take $205 million out of the pockets of Canadians over the next five years. The Conservatives are also adding GST to hospital parking in the budget. The Canadian Medical Association Journal noted in 2011 that high fees are a barrier to health care. However, instead of giving Canadians a break, the Conservatives are raising taxes on people who visit their loved ones in hospitals.

Why the attack on sick Canadians and their families?

Financial Institutions March 25th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, when the Quebec government changed its tax arrangements with credit unions, it talked to them first. The Conservative change came out of nowhere. Millions of Canadians are members of credit unions. By increasing the tax on the profits of credit unions, the Conservatives are taking away the shared benefits that credit union members get every year.

Why the backdoor attack on people's pocketbooks and why no consultation?

Minister of Finance March 20th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, since 2006, the Minister of Finance has made a career out of increasing Canadian and household debt. In the last five years, he has increased the federal debt by $125 billion, leaving the largest deficit in Canadian history, but it gets worse. Yesterday we learned that the minister directed his staff to secretly call individual private banks about mortgage rates. Rather than trying to balance the books on the back of a napkin, they refuse to create clear rules for the financial sector and to protect Canadian consumers. Now even the finance minister's own cabinet colleague is disavowing his reckless interference in the free market.

While Conservatives interfere with private banks, New Democrats will proudly stand by our track record. The NDP is the best party to effectively balance the budget, and we will prepare ourselves for 2015, when we can clean up the mess left by this finance minister.

National Charities Week Act March 19th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise on this important debate. I want to say in advance that the official opposition will be in support of the bill. However, it would take it to committee where we think it must be examined before we can sign on entirely to what would at first blush seem to be a fairly straightforward and sensible bill. Let me explain.

I salute my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo for introducing the bill. It has, as he indicated, two separate points. The first is that the Income Tax Act would be amended to provide that charitable gifts, crown gifts, cultural gifts, and ecological gifts made by an individual within 60 days of the end of a taxation year may be deducted from the taxable income of the individual for that taxation year. It would be like, as I understand it, RRSPs, for which there is a later timeline after the taxation year and which can be counted retroactively. That is the first part. The second is to establish a national charities week.

There are essentially two issues that need to be addressed, two separate components that need to be taken into account. We need to examine at committee very carefully the impact on federal revenues the bill might have, total charitable giving and the distribution of charitable giving. All must be taken into account if we are to accept this in the House as a positive step. The true cost is very difficult to examine. I will come to that later, but that is what must be taken into account if we are to examine the bill carefully.

As I understand it, the origin of this concept was a recommendation made by tax lawyers Drache Aptowitzer, who appeared before the finance committee in its study of tax incentives for charitable organizations in October 2012. I think my colleague alluded to that. This occurred before I had the honour of serving on the finance committee. I was not there for that report. I will have more to say later about it.

There have been a lot of challenges facing charities in this country resulting, of course, in part, from the very precarious economic environment facing Canadians during the fiscal crisis of the last couple of years but also, it must be said, based on the attacks on the charitable sector by the Conservative government.

As the member for Victoria, with a strong environmental presence, I have had numerous constituents come to me and ask what is going on in Ottawa. Why is it that the CRA is targeting charities, requiring in some cases, I am advised, hundreds of thousands of dollars in audit costs because these primarily environmental charities were not well liked by the government. That is a very serious accusation. Yet charitable organizations are suffering not only under that concern but also from an increase in red tape, which is ironic, because that was one of the key recommendations of the report on charities alluded to by my colleague. I will have more to say about that in a moment as well.

In order to understand the first element of this, which is the creation of a week, as I understand it, at the end of February to salute charities, we need to take into account that there have already been other statutes proposed and enacted to deal with the charitable sector. For example, there was Bill C-399 on a tax credit for volunteers, Bill S-201 to create a national philanthropy day, tax incentives for a charitable donation study, which the finance committee has undertaken, and so forth and so on.

The context needs to be understood. Is it going to add value to have such a week to salute our charities in light of that reality? That needs to be understood. Again, it is something a committee could look at more carefully. We recommended and support this initiative so that a committee can look at it in the context I have just described.

The government's approach seems to find ways to increasingly transfer what we used to think of as government responsibilities to the private sector. Charities, in short, are often required by the government to take up the slack in what used to be governmental activities.

In my community, we have The Mustard Seed and Our Place. There are innumerable food banks from coast to coast to coast. These charities are doing what many Canadians think is the responsibility of the government. That is something that is increasingly a problem.

No less an authority than the Fraser Institute has indicated that Canadians give only about half as much as our American friends do to charities. Perhaps we are taxed more. Perhaps we are less generous people. I do not know. My friend has indicated that the donor base is in fact going down. Therefore, we need to understand the implications of the second part of the bill in an already quite fragile situation.

I indicated that the government on the one hand is encouraging Canadians to give more. At the same time, it is taking away essential public services.

I want to go to the place the bill originated, which was with the recommendations of the law firm Drache Aptowitzer. I looked at some of the writings they have posted on their website to try to understand where the bill would fit. Sadly, they report that the Conservative government is making charitable donations even more difficult for Canadians.

In an article called “T3010: Mounting Complexity for Charities”, they report that it is getting harder and harder, despite recommendations to the contrary. The breadth of information now required, they state, is enormous. They give a list of forms and information charities are required to provide that is astounding. A booklet of 40 pages in length is provided. There is form T3010, the registered charity information return; form TF725, the registered charity basic information sheet; the financial statements of the charities; and the directors/trustees and like officials worksheet. There are pages of schedules.

What they say, the same people who have recommended this 60-day period, which is the second phase of the bill, is that we now have schedule 7, another form, and that “this has to do with political activity which of course is a hot topic for government”. They continue that in the 2012 budget “there were several announcements about third party political funding and in particular, funding from outside Canada”, and the author states: “How dare those Americans meddle in a Canadian environmental issue!”

They say that the request for information would be very difficult to comply with and point out that a lot of expensive audits would be required.

The official opposition is concerned about the way charities have been targeted if they are not popular with the government. That is something I am hearing daily in my riding.

Imagine Canada and the charitable organizations it represents have a lot of mixed feelings about Bill C-458. They like the concept, but like us, they are very concerned about the administration.

The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants has said that by extending the deadline date by 60 days, from December 31 to the end of February, there will be administrative issues that will create concerns, namely the provision of receipts from the charities to donors to meet the deadline dates for personal tax returns, April 30, and trust returns, March 31.

The Canadian Bar Association, of which I am a proud member, has expressed similar concerns.

The costs are hard to imagine and hard to estimate. Would it result in an increase in personal donations? Perhaps. One would hope so. However, we need to examine carefully the real cost of this initiative.

The NDP will be supporting the bill so that it can be examined with the care it deserves at the finance committee or at the appropriate committee.

With that, I would just like to say that on the one hand the Conservatives are claiming to be helping charitable organizations, but on the other hand often cutting funding for those charities and making it more difficult with their red tape for them to continue to make the contribution they make to our society.

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012 March 8th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-48 as well. Before doing so, I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking today on International Women's Day. I would like particularly to salute the contributions of the remarkable women in my community of Victoria.

The official opposition will support the bill at second reading stage. This legislation is called the technical tax amendment bill, and for a very good reason. However, we should not forget the enormity of its importance.

One of the witnesses appearing before finance committee, of which I am honoured to be a member, noted that 80% of the government's revenue is collected from income tax and excise taxes. Therefore, this is an important bill, although it is masquerading as a very technical, and some would say, dry subject.

We heard many witnesses. Many speakers today have remarked that over 1,000 pages of legislation is at issue, but that needs to be put into context. That is on top of the 2,882 pages of the Income Tax Act.

This is important but convoluted legislation. A lot of it has to do with comfort letters that need to be turned into real legislation so that Canadians have the certainty to know what the law on taxes would be.

In her 2009 report, the Auditor General noted serious problems, and I quote:

Taxpayers' ability to comply with tax legislation depends on their understanding of how the rules apply to their own circumstances.... Uncertainty about how the law should be applied can also add to the time taken and costs incurred by tax audits and tax administration.

It is inexcusable that this legislation, 1,000 pages in length, has taken 11 years, since the last technical amendment bill. I want to talk today about the content of the bill very briefly, why we say the delay has occurred, the consequences of that delay, some process questions and suggestions. That is where I would like to go in the time available to me.

There is much in this bill to like. Several provisions close tax loopholes, and some are of great interest to the opposition, because we are studying tax havens and tax evasion at committee stage. I am honoured to be part of that study.

These rules are also going to frustrate those who are involved in aggressive tax planning and tax avoidance transactions, rules to deal with foreign tax credit generators and specified leasing rules. There is some important legislation here to close loopholes. This could not in any way, shape or form be construed as a partisan piece of legislation. Going after tax havens, getting more money for the Canadian fisc, is obviously something people on all sides of the House would agree with.

Why has there been the delay? We believe the reason is simply that this has not been a priority for the government. The Conservatives had a number of excuses they trotted out during the committee stage. The first reason was that there have been a lot of minority governments. However, the bill has been in Parliament at least twice, and there was unanimous agreement from all MPs to proceed with the predecessor bills. That excuse does not wash.

The Conservatives then said that it was likely that all parties would support this version. Therefore, what was the problem? What was the excuse for such a delay? In committee, the Minister of State (Finance) went so far as to blame the recession, although it is hard for me to understand what that had to do with anything here.

Last, and sadly, we were told in committee by Conservative members that the NDP was responsible for the delay, as if we were somehow trying to slow it down.

The facts are that rather than the 100 days the Conservatives claim this has taken, and that somehow there was a filibuster, this legislation has only been three days before the House. The government then invoked time allocation.

To me, there is no excuse except for a lack of prioritization, which, for reasons I have explained, is critical. These delays have consequences. It has been costly for Canadians. It is a lot of work for people who are tax professionals. That is true, but we know who pays the bills when tax professionals are involved.

The head of the Canadian Tax Foundation, Mr.Chapman, a very wise speaker, appeared before our committee, and he used a useful analogy. He said that like a home or a car, these statutes need to be repaired and maintained to properly serve their purpose. He asked us to imagine how much work would be required if no repairs had been made to a home or a car for more than 10 years. That is exactly what has happened with this legislation.

The process is what I would particularly like to focus on. A tax lawyer in my jurisdiction, Mr. Thomas McDonnell, referred to this 1,000-page technical tax bill, and wrote “This Bill will also be passed”, and he is right, “without much in the way of informed debate in the House”. We have certainly seen that. Further:

Most parliamentarians voting on it will admit that they have not read it, let alone tried to fully understand the consequences of voting for (or against) it. This is not how Parliament is supposed to deal with one of its essential functions—the raising of revenue. It's sad to say it, but I don't think most of our parliamentarians understand this aspect of the role of Parliament, or, if they do, have the courage to go to the wall in defending it.

We have a massive bill, 11 years in the making, 11 years since the last one came along, and here we are.

Going forward, how can we avoid this kind of mammoth bill being debated a decade later? This is likely the last chance we will have to talk about this kind of process question for technical tax bills. We do not know when the next one will be coming. I understand that there are still scores of changes to be addressed and comfort letters that are still outstanding and the like. We know that we are going to have another one of these bills. How can we avoid the debacle this has constituted?

At the committee stage, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance moved the following motion:

That the Finance Department provide an annual update to the Finance Committee on the status of all outstanding technical tax changes.

However, as my learned colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques pointed out to her, this proposed annual update actually applies only until prorogation. It will not survive until the next prorogation.

We need to make a real effort on tax simplification. Ideas such as the office of tax simplification in the U.K. have been suggested by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. I think that is an excellent suggestion.

Second is the idea of establishing an expert panel, or indeed, even a royal commission to look at tax reform going forward. A sunset clause was suggested by the Certified General Accountants. That needs study as well.

The bottom line is that we need to do something. We need to address this in terms of process, because it is just not acceptable that we would be faced with a 1,000-page bill to scrutinize in the way in which this has occurred and then have time allocation imposed upon us.

Canada Revenue Agency March 8th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives do not seem to understand that part of the job of government is to actually serve Canadians.

Tax time is just around the corner. So far, the Conservatives have already stopped letting Canadians file by phone, and with very little warning, they have stopped mailing tax forms out. Now the estimates show another $100 million in cuts coming to the CRA.

While the Prime Minister's appointed senators fudge their paperwork, honest, hard-working Canadians are trying to play by the rules. Why are the Conservatives making it so hard for Canadians to even file their taxes?

Taxation March 6th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the first step to addressing tax evasion is to figure out just how much money we are losing, which is likely millions of dollars. That is what governments that are serious about tax evasion have already done—the United States, the U.K., Australia. But the Conservatives refuse to follow suit, and when the Parliamentary Budget Officer is asked to run the numbers for Parliament, the Conservatives even refuse to release to him the data he needs to do his job.

What is the government trying to hide? Why will it not release the data we need to take action on tax evasion?