In Debate on C-48, Amending Income Tax Act

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

     Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this afternoon.

     I am most pleased to join the debate on Bill C-48, a bill to amend the Income Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the First Nations Goods and Services Act and related legislation.

     The bill makes important and long-overdue changes to the tax laws, and this is the issue. While New Democrats support the bill, we do take issue with the omnibus nature of it. At close to 1,000 pages, it leaves little opportunity for study and debate.

     The very point of Parliament and our democratic system is not only to introduce laws but to scrutinize those laws and ensure they are accurate and they work in the best interests of the country. That is the very reason we are all here, to work toward the betterment of this great country.

     We put at risk our very democracy and we shun the very core of Parliament by introducing huge pieces of legislation that leave little time for such scrutiny.

    I notice the members across have chosen to put up only one speaker on the bill, leaving the official opposition with the task of carrying out that important scrutiny of Bill C-48. That should be the role of all parliamentarians, but it seems that upholding the functions, checks and balances that Parliament is supposed to provide is not a priority with the government.

      Conservatives take partisan rhetoric to the extreme and continue to introduce mammoth bills with as little debate as possible, and in fact with closure motions, so that there is as little debate as possible.

     I want to add that it is not the changes that Bill C-48 undertakes that New Democrats are concerned about; it is the fact that the bill is so very large that the ability to scrutinize it is almost impossible. The changes outlined in Bill C-48 should have been introduced over the years, not grouped into one unwieldy bill.

     There is no need for this massive piece of legislation. It should have been introduced in smaller pieces as routine housekeeping bills over the years. In fact, Bill C-48 includes outstanding legislative proposals dating back as far as 1998. Many of us in this chamber were children then. Good heavens, what a long time to postpone and procrastinate.

     Even if the Prime Minister was not aware of these much needed updates to taxes, in 2009, the Auditor General raised concerns about the fact that there were at least 400 outstanding technical amendments that had not yet been put into legislation. There is no excuse. There were several years and plenty of time after this report was released to introduce the smaller bills that would have addressed the backlog of tax changes that needed to be addressed.

     Of the outstanding changes outlined by the Auditor General, more than 200 are now in Bill C-48. Most tax practitioners have been relatively happy with the practice of the comfort letter process. However, as I have indicated already, the Auditor General's 2009 report noted “an expressed need for the legislative changes that the comfort letters identified and should be enacted”.

     I want to quote a little further from the Auditor General's fall report of 2009:

 

 

    No income tax technical bill has been passed since 2001. Although the government has said that an annual technical bill of routine housekeeping amendments to the Act is desirable, this has not happened. As a result, the Department of Finance Canada has a backlog of at least 400 technical amendments that have not been enacted, including 250 “comfort letters” dating back to 1998.

 

    The Auditor General is very clear. The need for updates to the legislation is important, perhaps even critical, and we had plenty of opportunities to pass bills related to tax legislation long before now.

     Sadly, this is not the first time the Auditor General has complained about this issue. She expressed concerns over and over again, and in response the Department of Finance Canada stated:

 

 

—the government intends to release a package of income tax technical amendments on an annual basis, so that taxpayers will not be subject to more lengthy waiting periods as in the past before amendments are released to the public.

 

    While comfort letters have since been regularly released to the public, very few technical bills have been introduced or passed in recent years. In the last 18 years, only four such income tax bills have been enacted. Annual income tax technical amendments were promised, but neither Liberals nor Conservatives bothered to do this basic annual housekeeping. How on earth can they continue to misrepresent themselves as good managers when their ability to manage is so obviously bad?

     I would like to reiterate that there is absolutely no need to create massive bills such as this. At close to 1,000 pages, this is most definitely an omnibus bill. However, in contrast to the government's Trojan Horse budget bills, Bill C-48 does make some technical changes and does have a purpose as opposed to the callous lumping together of Conservative legislation into two omnibus bills in the spring and fall sessions. In those bills we saw the dismantling of environmental reviews, the rewriting of the Fisheries Act, the elimination of wildlife habitat protection, the repeal of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, the reduction of the powers of the Auditor General and the dissolving of the Public Appointments Commission meant to fight patronage.

     We also saw the gutting of food safety inspection. It was a one-stop shop of Conservative slicing and dicing through services Canadians rely on, while making changes to a slew of laws that they never once mentioned in their budget. By forcing omnibus bills such as the Trojan Horse bills through, the Conservatives demonstrated a mastery of the art of circumventing the democratic process and ignoring the concerns of Canadians and the concerns of first nations.

     We now see another massive bill in Bill C-48 and that tells me that there is still work to be done among Conservatives if we are to see important changes legislated in a timely fashion. Failing to do so would hurt the business community and make it difficult for proper evaluation by Parliament.

     It is not just difficult for parliamentarians. The government claims that its goal is to boost the economy, but by introducing overly complex bills, it does not allow small business people to invest the time and resources they need in order to understand them. They are in the business of business. They are not in the business of circumventing all of this red tape.

     The Auditor General was clear about this and said, “If proposed technical changes are not tabled regularly, the volume of amendments becomes difficult for taxpayers [and] tax practitioners...”.

     It is not just the Auditor General who has noted this issue. We heard from the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada. In its pre-budget submission, it said that, “CGA-Canada strongly believes that the key to sustained economic recovery and enhanced economic growth lies in the government’s commitment to tax reform and red tape reduction”.

      There is a need to modernize the system and smaller bills would do that.

     Finally, I would like to address the very important issue of tax avoidance, parts of which have been addressed in Bill C-48. It is very important for the government. New Democrats absolutely believe in cracking down on both tax avoidance and tax evasion while ensuring the integrity of the tax system.

     As members know, there are many honest and hard-working Canadians out there who believe in the systems that our taxes support such as health care, social assistance and various environmental policies, even though they have been dismantled and disrupted. Those Canadians need to know that everyone is paying his or her fair share and that every business and every person is making the contribution to this country that we need. Therefore, it is important to focus on compliance in order to ensure the integrity of our tax system. It is important to get rid of the loopholes in a timely manner. In an ever-growing complexity of tax codes, we now need simplification, clarity and changes that will make it progressive and effective.

 Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP):  

     Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

     We have continually challenged the government on its primary responsibility to respect Canadians by being predictable, fair, clear and disciplined in being accountable and in adopting tax measures, in order to help the public cope with economic difficulties. I am thinking about the business owners I spoke to when I came back after the holidays, just a few days ago. They are demanding recognition and respect from the government.

     My colleague is facing many challenges, as am I in Beauport—Limoilou. Big businesses have made massive cuts, and this affects small businesses that subcontract or that draw some type of benefit. I would like my colleague to talk about the lack of trust business owners in her riding have in the government because of its negligence and inaction.

 Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right about the difficulties facing people not only in all of Canada but particularly in ridings where multinational corporations have taken and taken and taken, whether tax benefits, resources, consuming infrastructure, or utilizing the expertise of the workers who made them wealthy and competitive industries and simply walked away, leaving the country high and dry, as we saw with the community of London—Fanshawe when the offshoot of Caterpillar left.

     The future of this country is very clearly with small- and medium-size businesses. They are part of the community. In fact, last week I had the profound pleasure of speaking to members of the Rotary Club, made up of members of the small- and medium-size businesses that employ people, that are contributors to the community. They are not just there to take, take, take; they are there to give back and make for strong neighbourhoods. Therefore, we need a tax system that suits their needs. We need to stop these huge and ridiculous tax breaks for multinational corporations, the polluters, the banks, which are giving back very little, if anything at all, and we need to look very closely at small- and medium-size business and in that process make it as easy and expedient as possible for them to do their jobs as we would like.

 Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Beauharnois—Salaberry, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to know whether my colleague can tell us if there would be a way for the government to make these tax measures much easier for the average person to understand—for me, for all MPs here, as well as for all businesses—instead of presenting a massive one-time reform of tax laws with 1,000 pages every 10 or 11 years. How could it be simpler?

 Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, I think it is really quite clear to us on this side of the House that smaller, more manageable bills would be the way to go. The promise to have an annual legislative process in place, I think, is the intelligent way to go. In that way, people could digest the small chunks at a time instead of this 10-year process where a thousand pages come at us and we try to sift and sort and understand them.

      This is not exactly in regard to taxation, but very recently I received a number of complaints from concerned seniors who are being told that their income tax returns will now have to be done over the Internet. They are absolutely apoplectic. This is just another example of a government that is not looking at the needs of Canadians and is steamrolling over those Canadians.