The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-3, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
Mr. Ted Menzies (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the great support I am getting from across the way. As a matter of fact, I will refer to the hon. member's support.
I thank the House for the opportunity to start the third and final reading on Bill S-3, and before continuing, let me quickly thank all fellow members of the House of Commons finance committee for their swift consideration of this legislation and their unanimous support of its passage.
This important legislation will implement Canada's tax treaties with Colombia, Greece and Turkey. Tax treaties like these are important for Canadians, as they protect taxpayers both by helping to prevent unfair double taxation as well as in the matter of tax evasion. Canada has nearly 90 tax treaties already in place with other countries, and Bill S-3 is simply part of our Conservative government's ongoing effort to update and modernize the already extensive network of tax treaties.
Before continuing, let me again emphasize that although Bill S-3 is important legislation, it follows closely in form to previous similar tax treaties adopted by this Parliament. For instance, in the 39th Parliament, tax treaties with Finland, Mexico and Korea were adopted. Additionally, in both the 38th and 37th Parliaments, under the previous Liberal government, numerous tax treaties with countries such as Gabon, Armenia, Mongolia, Moldova and Norway were also adopted.
Furthermore, let me again underline that Bill S-3, like the legislation related to tax treaties from previous Parliaments, is based on the commonly accepted international standard for such treaties, and that is the OECD model tax convention. This OECD framework has long been established throughout the world as the standard for tax treaties. Indeed, as the OECD itself points out:
|| Most bilateral tax treaties follow both the principles and the detailed provisions of the OECD Model. There are close to 350 treaties between OECD Member countries and over 1500 world-wide which are based on the Model, and it has had considerable influence on the bilateral treaties between non-member countries.
Likewise, Peter Barnes, the noted former U.S. Treasury Department tax counsel, has remarked, in a recent edition of the OECD Observer magazine:
|| the OECD model has achieved a consensus position as the benchmark against which essentially all tax treaty negotiations take place. [...] But make no mistake: the OECD is a vitally important organisation and the OECD Model Tax Convention is a tremendously important tool for smoothing the way of international business and global trade.
Canada maintains one of the world's largest networks of bilateral tax treaties, serving as a key feature in both our ability to compete and to ensure everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Without a doubt, parliamentarians and Canadians are strongly opposed to tax evasion. We all know that tax evasion by some only punishes honest, hard-working Canadians and job-creating businesses. This is simply not fair. To detect and deter tax evasion, we need to work with and share information with our international partners. That is why Canada participates in international tax information exchange agreements and encourages countries to do so, as demonstrated in Bill S-3 here today.
Indeed, our Conservative government has been very aggressive and proactive in that regard. For example, in 2007, we unveiled a policy that introduced incentives to have non-treaty countries enter into OECD-model tax information exchange agreements with Canada. It also requires that all new tax treaties and revisions to existing tax treaties include the OECD standard for tax information exchange.
I am happy to report that negotiations on tax information exchange agreements are all well under way with over a dozen jurisdictions. Indeed, Canada signed its landmark first tax information exchange agreement with the Netherlands Antilles last August.
Canada also contributes actively to the efforts of the OECD's Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information, as well as in the G20, in order to push for further implementation of the previously mentioned OECD standard.
What is more, according to the director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration of the OECD, Jeffrey Owens, during his tenure as chair of the G7 and G20, Canada's Minister of Finance has, “shown leadership in getting G20 members to crack down on tax havens with new sanctions.”
Clearly Canada is serious about combatting tax evasion and is committed to advancing this effort internationally.
While tax treaties help guard against tax evasion, they also provide individuals and businesses in Canada and the other signatory countries with predictable and equitable tax results in their cross-border dealings.
I would now like to talk in a little greater detail about how these tax treaties will improve a number of areas, namely: reducing withholding taxes, avoiding double taxation, preventing tax evasion, and removing barriers to trade and investment.
First, let me briefly look at the withholding taxes. Withholding taxes are a common feature in international taxation. They are taxes imposed by a country on income arising in that country and paid to residents of another country. Indeed, Canada with respect to non-tax treaty countries usually taxes this income at a rate of 25%. Given that one of the principle functions of a tax treaty is to fairly allocate taxation powers between the respective treaty partners, tax treaties include provisions to properly determine the level of withholding tax that can be applied by the jurisdiction in which certain payments arise.
The withholding tax rates vary from one tax treaty to the next as they reflect the result of negotiations with Canada's tax treaty partners, as is the case in Bill S-3. Indeed, Bill S-3 provides for a maximum withholding tax on portfolio dividends paid to non-residents of 15% in the case of Colombia and Greece, and 20% in the case of Turkey. For dividends paid by subsidiaries to their parent companies, the maximum withholding rate is reduced to 5% in the case of Colombia and Greece, and 15% in the case of Turkey.
Withholding rate reductions also apply to royalty, interest and pension payments. The treaties in Bill S-3 cap the maximum withholding tax rate on interest at 10% in the case of Colombia and Greece, and at 15% in the case of Turkey.
Each treaty in Bill S-3 also caps the maximum withholding tax rate on royalty payments at 10% and on periodic pension payments at 15%.
Tax treaties like this one help ensure fairness for taxpayers, both domestic and international, and help ensure that they are not essentially overtaxed due to withholding taxes.
As the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood, a former colleague on the finance committee and a former parliamentary secretary to a finance minister, has pointed out:
||withholding taxes do not provide for the deductability of expenses incurred in generating income and are imposed on the gross amount of the payment. The taxpayer will therefore be subject to an effective rate that is significantly higher than the tax rate that applies to net income in either the source or the residence country. To remedy this, Canada's network of tax treaties limits the rate of withholding tax that can be withheld by the source country on various types of income so as to more accurately reflect the level of taxes that would be payable on a net income basis.
The second area that I would like to address is somewhat similar, that being double taxation. Double taxation in an international sense arises when two or more states tax the same income for the same period of time. Obviously, nobody should have to pay their income tax twice.
Tax treaties like in Bill S-3 help avoid double taxation and ensure that taxpayers pay tax on the same income only once. Again, in the words of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, “Without a tax treaty in place to set out the tax rules, the same income can be taxed in both countries without consequential relief. This situation can have a negative impact on the expansion of trade, and the movement of capital and labour between countries”.
Tax treaties utilize numerous methods to address the potential for double taxation. This happens in one of three ways. First, the income may be taxable exclusively in the country in which it arises, that is the source country. Second, it may be taxable only in the country in which the taxpayer is resident, that is the resident country.
Third, it may be taxable by both the source country and the residence country, with double taxation relief provided in some form.
The treaties in Bill S-3 grant exclusive taxing rights to a number of items, meaning the other treaty partner cannot tax those items, thus avoiding double taxation.
For example, if a Canadian resident employed by a Canadian company is sent on a short-term assignment such as two to three months to any one of the three treaty countries contained in Bill S-3, Canada has the exclusive right to tax that person's employment income. Also, from an administrative point of view, this greatly reduces the paperwork and red-tape burden associated with multiple jurisdiction tax filing. However, in the case of most items, taxing rights are shared.
The third area I would like to elaborate on is tax evasion. Tax evasion and avoidance are also unfair and economically damaging. One of the most important benefits of increased co-operation between Canada and the other countries is preventing tax evasion.
Indeed, tax treaties are an important tool in protecting Canada's tax base in that they allow consultations and information to be exchanged between Canada and the countries with which we have tax treaties. What this means is that these treaties help ensure fairness and equity in our tax system by helping to ensure that taxes owed are indeed paid.
Equally important, as I mentioned earlier, international tax treaties help ensure that taxpayers do not pay more tax than they should. Treaties such as those found in Bill S-3 permit the exchange of tax information between revenue authorities, and in so doing, help them identify cases of tax avoidance and evasion and act on them.
Indeed, our Conservative government firmly believes all Canadians should pay their fair share of taxes and has aggressively targeted tax loopholes. We again confirmed that fact in budget 2010 when we rolled back nearly 10 tax loopholes in order to protect Canada's tax system. This included, for instance, better targeting tax incentives for stock options, as well as ensuring that businesses cannot inappropriately capitalize on differences between the tax systems of Canada and the other countries to artificially increase foreign tax credits in order to pay less tax.
Noted public policy commentator and co-founder of the Dominion Institute, Rudyard Griffiths, writing in the March 10 National Post in response to budget 2010's aggressive initiatives to close tax loopholes, said:
||the Conservative’s snipping of a raft of erroneous tax loopholes met with near universal applause, and rightly so.
||...it defies logic, in an era of fiscal restraint, to allow corporate mucky-mucks to use generous stock options to take gobs of cash out of their companies tax free.
The final area that I would like to discuss is how tax treaties help remove barriers to trade and investment. Investors, traders and others involved in the global marketplace want to know the tax implications associated with their activities both in Canada and abroad. Equally important, Canadians with business interests or investments abroad want to be sure that they also will receive fair and consistent tax treatment.
Tax treaties boost international trade in goods and services by providing individuals and businesses in Canada and the other signatory countries with predictable and equitable tax results in their cross-border dealings. This in turn helps Canada's economic performance at home by encouraging our exporters. Indeed, over 40% of Canada's annual GDP can be attributed to exports alone. Moreover, it helps attract new investments into Canada as well.
In short, the tax treaties contained in Bill S-3 will serve as a key step in solidifying Canada's economic links with Turkey, Colombia and Greece by eliminating tax barriers to bilateral trade and investment.
In the words of the Hellenic Canadian Association president, Theodoros Aslanidis, “The agreement is very positive”.
To summarize, the tax treaties covered in Bill S-3 comply with the international OECD standards. They would promote certainty, combat tax evasion, and promote a better business climate for taxpayers and businesses in Canada and in these treaty countries.
Additionally, these treaties would help to secure Canada's position in the increasingly competitive world of international trade and investment.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today, of course, on Bill S-3, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.
The Liberal Party of Canada recognizes that Canada is a country whose prosperity is based on trade. We have a small, open economy, and as such, we depend disproportionately on external trade for our wealth and prosperity and our standard of living.
The fact is that when the Canadian economy is healthy it is because we are producing and exporting more than we are consuming or importing. The sale of Canadian goods and services to foreign markets is the source of Canadian jobs and prosperity, and securing access for Canadian exports to foreign markets is essential to the Canadian economy and to creating the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.
With this in mind, we understand and support the principle of free trade and the principle behind Canada's tax treaties with our trading partners, and as such, we support the goals of Bill S-3. But we are very concerned about the state of Canada's economy and we are very concerned about Canada falling behind in terms of our share of the global economy. We are concerned about the Conservatives' mismanagement of Canada's finances and their mismanagement of our important and vital trade relations.
The Conservative record on international trade has been troubling. The Conservatives have given us, for the first time in 30 years, a trade deficit, in fact a $4.5 billion trade deficit. That is the largest trade deficit in Canadian history and it is the first annual trade deficit that Canada has had since 1975.
What is troubling about this is that, for a small, open economy such as Canada's, when we are actually buying more from the world than we are selling to the world it is an ominous sign in terms of our ability to strengthen and continue to build our standard of living and quality of life. That is an ominous sign in terms of our ability to protect the jobs of today or create the jobs of tomorrow.
In the first nine months of 2010, Canada has accumulated a trade deficit of $7.6 billion. This puts us on pace now for an even more massive trade deficit this year than the record trade deficit that we had last year.
The Conservatives have to take responsibility for these massive trade deficits. It was their misguided trade policy that has failed to defend Canadian interests in the world. Under the Conservatives we have been far too dependent on the U.S. market. We have seen how vulnerable we are to U.S. protectionism, whether it is Buy American provisions or other protectionist measures in the U.S. Congress.
The Conservatives have not only failed to defend Canadian jobs against U.S. protectionism, but they have failed to effectively defend Canadian jobs in the world by building the kinds of important trade relations that would enable Canadian companies to diversify their trade relations.
The Conservatives spent their first three years in office chiding China and ignoring India. The Conservatives turned their back on a remarkable and profoundly important 40-year relationship with China, a relationship starting 40 years ago when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had the vision and foresight to lead the first western developed country to establish diplomatic relations with post-revolution China, building a profound social, cultural and foreign trade relationship with China. The Conservatives turned their backs on that relationship for ideological reasons in their first three years of office and set the relationship back decades.
We have seen the Conservatives' clumsy foreign and trade policy with the treatment of important trading partners like China, Mexico, the Czech Republic, at a time when it held the presidency of the EU. More recently, I do not have to remind Canadians or this Parliament as to how embarrassing it has been to watch the Conservatives' bungling of our vital relationship with the United Arab Emirates, and the internal cabinet squabbles that have come to light between ministers on this issue. The fact that we have squandered a vital trade investment and defence alliance with the UAE demonstrates a Prime Minister, a cabinet and a government that are not really ready for prime time when it comes to the world stage, that really are unsafe at any speed, as Ralph Nader would say. This is part of the cost Canadians have paid for having a Prime Minister who really has never been outside North America without a government jet and a motorcade.
It is important that we have prime ministers and governments with foreign experience and an understanding of the world. Canadians benefit from prime ministers and governments that have that kind of understanding of Canada's place in the world.
The Prime Minister does not do multilateralism well. In fact, that is because he does not really believe in multilateralism. The Prime Minister was critical of the G20 when Paul Martin, as the Liberal finance minister, was leading the charge and in fact building the G20. The G20 has emerged as the principal and most important voice of financial reform today, during and after the financial crisis.
Canadians should take some pride in the fact that it was a Canadian finance minister, Paul Martin, a Liberal finance minister, who looked ahead and saw the need to expand the G8, to build a G20 that would welcome in some of the emerging economies and be ready for whatever turbulence emerged on the global stage, but also to deepen relations and governance among our countries as we deal with what are no longer issues that are faced by individual countries but increasingly by the entire world.
Again, when we talk about emerging economies, we have talked in the last few years about the BRIC countries. We could say today perhaps it is more the BIC countries because it is Brazil, India and China; Russia has had some challenges. There is the next wave of emerging economies, the CIVETS countries, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa. It has never been more important for Canada to diversify and deepen its trade relations with some of these economies. Canada has a natural advantage to do that, and that is our multiculturalism.
Over the weekend, I met with a group of Chinese Canadian business people in Winnipeg. I also met with a group of Indo-Canadian business people in Winnipeg. Winnepeg, like a lot of Canadian cities and towns, has emerged as a very multicultural community. What is really quite remarkable is that we look at multiculturalism as a successful Canadian social policy, and it is. Increasingly, it is not just a successful social policy, but it is a source of immense economic advantage because our multicultural communities are among the most entrepreneurial communities we have in Canada. They also represent natural bridges to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, which leads me to what a Liberal approach would be on trade and foreign policy.
We would build a global network strategy that leverages on the rich connections that Canadians have around the world, connections that derive from our multicultural communities, and our universities which are educating citizens from around the world today. We recognize the importance of partnering with Canadian businesses, universities, civil society and private citizens to better identify and capitalize on trading opportunities and foreign trade relations and influence around the world.
We would return to the very successful team Canada missions. We would focus them on sectoral areas where we have a comparative advantage, such as education, clean technology and clean energy technology. We would focus on creating the jobs of tomorrow by building bridges and deepening our ties with the markets of tomorrow in areas where Canada really has something to offer: clean conventional energy, water treatment, education.
Canada has some of the best universities anywhere. I come from Nova Scotia, a cradle of higher education in Canada. I am immensely proud of Nova Scotian universities and the role that Nova Scotian universities play in educating people from across Canada and around the world. I think we can do more to attract students from around the world to study in Canada. That would be a really good and important thing to do for the future of Canada.
If we look at the CVs of cabinet ministers from India, China and Brazil, over half of them have some educational experience either in the U.K. or the U.S. That educational experience gives the United States and the United Kingdom a lifetime of relations and influence on those countries through those individuals. Educational experiences are critically important in terms of trade and foreign relations.
A Liberal government would introduce a Canada global scholarship program which would enable young Canadians to study abroad at universities around the world, to learn the cultures and the languages to become citizens of the world. It would enable young citizens of the world, particularly from the emerging economies, to study here in Canada, to exchange students between our countries, to attract students to Canada and to encourage Canadian students to study abroad.
We would be building a global network advantage where Canada and the next generation of Canadian graduates could be the most networked and connected citizens anywhere in the world. Canada would be seen as the best place in the world to get an education, to start a career, perhaps to return to one's country of origin, but to represent a natural bridge to a country with which the person has a great fondness and respect.
Education is an industry that can benefit from more foreign trade. When we attract students from other countries to study at Canadian universities, that is a form of trade. It is a form of trade that not only helps create jobs and prosperity today, but for decades to come will strengthen and augment our influence in the world through trade relations, foreign relations and the creation of jobs.
We would take a very different approach as a Liberal government to deepening and diversifying our trade relations. We would ensure that Canada was not trying to escape the world, but was once again shaping the world. Whether it is on the environment, defence or security policy, the Canadian voice would be heard again and it would be an effective voice.
I want to speak about the fiscal mismanagement of the Conservative government. A Liberal government would clean up the fiscal mess created by the borrow and spend Conservative government. I would remind the House that the Conservatives inherited a $13 billion surplus from the Liberals, which was the best fiscal situation of any incoming government in the history of Canada.
The Conservatives increased government spending by an astonishing 18% in their first three years in office. That is three times the rate of inflation. They combined these massive spending increases with reckless tax policy to actually give Canada a structural deficit even before the downturn began. Now the Conservative legacy is a $56 billion deficit, the biggest deficit in Canadian history.
While Canadians are watching the Conservatives plunge Canada deeper into debt, they are asking themselves what they are getting in return. Let us compare the stimulus package of this Conservative government to the stimulus packages of other governments.
Other governments invested in long-term competitiveness, modernizing their energy systems, energy production and energy transmission, helping households and companies cut their energy consumption so that when the recession was over, ultimately companies would become more profitable and at the end of the month households would have a little more money in their back pockets.
The Conservative government was more interested in buying votes than in building competitiveness. It was more interested in counting signs than counting jobs. The stimulus package was a hodgepodge of spending measures aimed at short-term politics, not on long-term prosperity.
We often hear the Conservatives talk about Canada's debt and deficit numbers compared to those in other countries of the world in a favourable way, as if Canada is a lot better off than many other countries. However, when we combine federal and provincial debt numbers in Canada, we get a startlingly different picture.
If we combine federal and provincial numbers for something called gross debt, our gross debt to GDP ratio is actually at 82.5%. To put this in perspective, the U.S. is around 83%, so we are almost as bad off as the U.S. in terms of gross government debt in Canada. That figure is worse than those in Germany and the U.K. The fact is that provincial and federal debts impose a burden on all Canadian taxpayers. There is only one taxpayer.
In the coming years, as we now enter the negotiation around the health and social transfer culminating in 2014 with the new agreement, these issues are going to come home to roost. We are going to see increased pressures on Canadian provinces to deal with an aging demographic. Fewer Canadians will be working. More Canadians will be relying on retirement income and depending on an increasingly challenged health care system.
How have the Conservatives been preparing for this? Has there been any discussion on how to prepare for that demographic shift? How have they been saving for a rainy day in the future? Let us look at what the Conservatives have been doing.
They have proposed spending $16 billion on untendered fighter jets, and $10 billion to $13 billion on U.S.-style mega prisons during a time when crime rates are on their way down. They spent $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo op for the G20 and G8 summits. Spending on the G8 and G20 summits included $1 million for fake lakes, $300,000 for a gazebo and bathrooms that were 20 kilometres away from the summit site, $400,000 for bug spray, $300,000 for luxury furniture, $14,000 for glow sticks and, of course, millions on high-end hotels.
The last finance minister to cut government spending in Canada, not just to hold government spending but actually to cut government spending, was the hon. member for Wascana. It was a Liberal government, and under the leadership of finance minister Paul Martin, that implemented the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history after having paid down the biggest deficit to date in Canadian history.
We will once again cut corporate taxes in the future but only after we pay off the Conservative's deficit and get Canada back in the black responsibly, not on borrowed money. We will also invest in the priorities of Canadians, in Canadian families, in learning, in jobs, in pensions and in family care. We will not invest in the these wasteful priorities of the Conservatives.
Mr. Daniel Paillé (Hochelaga, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, there are days like this when we must promote the interests of the Bloc and Quebeckers. We have before us a bill with a title that is a bit long and a bit grand-sounding, namely, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation—the first objective—and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income—the second objective. Are these objectives being met?
Everyone, particularly those who have done business abroad based out of Quebec or Canada, knows that taxation is a very complex area that only becomes more complicated with each budget speech. Sometimes people ask us why taxation is so complicated. It is because, every year, we have finance ministers who go into all of Canada's legislatures or national assemblies to announce what they plan to do. Since 1867, I do not think that Canada has ever seen a single finance minister stand up to give a budget speech and simply say that the taxation, treaties, taxes and fees are fine as they are and that no changes are needed, and then sit back down. This is the ideal, but it has never actually happened. Instead, each year, more and more layers are added to the giant fiscal onion making it harder and harder to digest.
This type of bill emulates treaties that prevent a source of income from being taxed twice for the same purpose. I am using this term because personal income, in Quebec for example, is taxed once by the Government of Quebec and then a second time by the Government of Canada or vice versa. Thus, it is not unusual for income to be taxed twice in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and elsewhere. That is an everyday occurrence.
Under this legislation, at the international level, income would be taxed by the country where it is earned or by the country where the taxpayer is a resident. There are thousands of treaties. The OECD has a model tax convention that has been used thousands of times over. Canada has about one hundred such treaties.
Which tax jurisdiction will apply? In the case of remuneration, a person's income will be taxed based on their residency, no matter where they earned the income. Thus, the parliamentary secretary from Calgary will be taxed by Alberta. Or, if I am from Hochelaga, my income will be taxed by Quebec under the treaty because I am a resident of that province. The residency rules are considered next. For example, to be considered a Quebec citizen with income taxable by Quebec, one must have lived there for at least six months plus one day.
Under international agreements, capital gains will also be taxed by the country where the asset that gave rise to the gain was sold.
The earnings of a company should be taxed based on its residency, or if the company is established—with a subsidiary—in a foreign country, local taxation laws apply. And that is where a number of problems arise.
For dividends, interest and royalties, each country basically gets its share. In the agreements we have before us with Colombia, Greece and Turkey, this varies between 5% and 15% for dividends. It is 10% for interest and 10% for royalties. That tax is payable to the foreign country and is deductible from taxes paid in Canada. So we essentially have an agreement. Why? To encourage free trade. Quebec has always been in favour of free trade. Everyone in Quebec and Canada knows that Quebec was the driving force behind the Canada-U.S. and Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreements. It goes without saying that Quebeckers support it.
But the tax systems must be comparable. We must ensure that the Canadian and Quebec tax systems are comparable to that of the country with which we are signing a tax agreement.
We have three countries here. For example, Quebec exports to Greece, Colombia and Turkey represented $550 million in 2009. So we cannot say that these three countries will change anything for Canada or Quebec with respect to international trade. With all due respect, that is rather minimal. For example, among these three countries, we do the most trade with Greece, and that represents only 0.64%, or one-third of 1%, of our imports.
In principle, we agree with it. We need to know the difference in the application, since we want to avoid double taxation, but we do not want this arrangement to encourage tax evasion or tax avoidance in the countries in question.
We apply section 26, as suggested by the OECD. Section 26 is often mentioned in these agreements. In Canada, we used it once with the Canada-Netherlands agreement on the Dutch Antilles in 2009. We applied the OECD principles to the letter. That is one country out of 87. As for the rest, it seems as though either the Canadian political system or the negotiators are in a hurry to go slow.
For example, there are 14 countries. And I remember that these negotiations were mentioned at second reading. They have been negotiating since that time. What are they negotiating? What are they discussing? Are they exchanging documents? Are they just chatting and visiting? We do not know. There is Anguilla, Aruba, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Guernsey, and all kinds of islands, such as the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Saint Kitts and Saint Lucia.
They are negotiating. But what has been happening in the meantime? We are beginning to wonder if Parliament can have a say in it and not just be asked to pass a bill and its schedules.
We think that we should have some say. What has been happening while they have been in talks with the 14 countries I just mentioned, which are not exactly large industrialized, trading or manufacturing countries? In 2008, Canadian direct investment in Barbados, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands totalled $86 billion. Canada is in talks with these three countries, but does not have agreements with them. They represent 14% of Canada's direct investments. That is a lot.
In 2000, direct investments totalled $33 billion, compared to $86 billion in 2008. After eight years, investments were 2.6 times higher. Using a cumulative interest rate, this equals an annual increase of 12.7%. How could we, from 2000 to 2008—remember 2009 and 2010 are not included—have gone from $33 billion to $86 billion of direct foreign investment in countries that are considered to be tax havens? All that time, there have been so-called talks.
We want the negotiations to produce results. We want them to sign agreements following negotiations with these countries. We want them to come to the House to report on all of these agreements.
The former revenue minister, who is responsible for these agreements, said at one time that tax agreements between countries should be as unrestricted as possible. I would love them to be as unrestricted as possible, but there have to be some restrictions. That is why we think parliamentarians need to get the information directly. It is good to have information, but that information needs to be accurate and complete.
The OECD has defined tax havens. What does the OECD say about tax havens? They are countries with little or no taxation. I was saying earlier that we agree that Canada and Quebec should enter into international agreements with countries that have similar tax rates. When tax rates on dividends, corporation income and individuals are similar to those of a tax haven with very low tax rates, we need to ask some questions.
Furthermore, since the bill very clearly says that the goal is to prevent tax evasion, we need clear, transparent information.
Just a couple of hours ago, I spoke to another bill, the bill concerning information the PBO was requesting from the government. As we said, the danger is that the government would ostracize the PBO and prevent him from getting accurate information.
Once again, for the second time in less than two hours and regarding another bill, we are saying that the information we get from countries with which we want to negotiate must be accurate and clear, not like pea soup. Clear information is needed.
We also need to avoid all legal and administrative barriers. We are coming up against more and more administrative barriers when trying to get this information. Requesting information is all well and good, but we need to obtain the information.
Again, I am referring to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's statement in fall 2010 that he still had not received the information requested from the government in June 2009. That is an administrative barrier. Is the government becoming a tax haven for information? It is not far off the OECD definition of one.
According to the OECD, to determine whether a country is a tax haven, you have to ask yourself whether the country advertises or invites other countries or businesses to invest in it because of its rather lax tax system. Quebec might invite countries to invest in it for its technologies, aerospace sector and people who understand hydroelectric energy. In this country we truly have the information, technology and resources. However, when a country invites us to invest in it because it has a rather lax tax system, that is the definition of a tax haven. It is a very good definition because it is easy to understand.
On April 1, 2010, the OECD came up with a grey list of 17 countries that are making efforts to move from the black list to the white list by signing a few treaties. However, we have to be careful.
I am all for signing tax treaties with countries such as Belize, the Cook Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Montserrat, Nauru, Niue, Panama, Saint Lucia, Vanuatu, Brunei, Costa Rica, Guatemala, the Philippines and Uruguay, but let us be careful.
A tax treaty has to include five conditions: exchange of relevant information, no restrictions, the possibility of accessing information, respect for rights and complete respect of confidentiality. Our electors and taxpayers are sometimes sick of the agreements reached with that type of country. They get the impression that rich people or people who work for companies that have the means to go elsewhere take advantage of the situation to benefit from the tax rate that simply cannot be compared to the tax rate here. They are fed up and they wonder why they are paying so much tax when others who are much wealthier pay far less in tax.
In closing, all these treaties should respect the commitments already made by the Conservative Party. The House should take part in the process and the government should also respect the jurisdiction of the provinces and Quebec.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-3 from several vantage points.
Bill S-3 is a fairly conventional taxation bill with regard to establishing international relations with the countries as described in this bill. In this case, the countries are Colombia, Greece and Turkey.
My party always has concerns over a bill that does not emanate originally from this House, as opposed to the other House. That is particularly true given the gross abuse of democracy we saw flowing from that other House last week, as it killed a bill that had substantial democratic support from this House, the elected House. We always have a concern when we see this, but I have to say that when we look at the purpose of this bill, as opposed to the one the other place voted down last week, it is so typical of that House that the bill would be coming through it, because this bill is really about establishing favourable tax arrangements to avoid double taxation. It is the type of elitism we see in that House that permeates the background of this bill.
We are saying to the government that its approach of using the other place the way it has, both to defeat bills that this House has passed and to initiate bills into this House, is a practice that really should stop. From a democracy standpoint, that House has no credibility. To use that House in the process of passing legislation and laws in this country is a fundamentally flawed approach to democracy.
The second concern we have with this bill will come as no surprise to this House or people who have followed our relationship with Colombia and the gross abuse of human rights that has occurred in that country and our opposition to the free trade agreement that has passed this House, which is giving it favourable arrangements with our country that it has no entitlement to, from the perspective of human rights as practised, or abused, in that country.
There is no possible way we can see extending a positive relationship between ourselves and Colombia until such time as it ceases those kinds of practices. The number of deaths, both in the aboriginal community and within organized labour and among workers generally in that country in the last few years, is so offensive to the values of this country, of Canada, that we should not be having any arrangements of this kind with it.
With regard to the other two countries, it is quite clear that the bill is doing what it has conventionally done, which is to try to avoid double taxation. We sort of have this image that the concept behind this bill and these conventions that we are entering into with these other countries is to avoid double taxation. This image is probably not the most common one that should be applied here, as members will see with some of the points I am going to make with regard to what is in the convention.
My colleague from Outremont used the example of the couple who are spending part of their working year in Canada and part in one of the other countries and making sure that they are not double taxed in both countries. This agreement obviously addresses itself to that.
It goes way beyond that, and I want to just go quickly through the areas it does address. It deals with the issue of residency. The type of revenue one is generating will define whether the taxation is going to occur here in Canada or in the other country. It deals with that fairly extensively at the beginning of the convention that we are now entering into if this bill goes forward, which it appears it will, given that it has support from the official opposition.
It then goes on to list the various types of incomes that one can have. It is important to note these because the approach as to how we will tax those incomes will vary by the nature of the income. I am not going to go into that detail because it just becomes too complex, but we deal separately with income from immovable property, from business profits and from the shipping and air transport sector of the economy. It then goes into a general category of associated enterprises.
It then goes on to other types of income with regard to dividends, interest from investments, royalties. It deals specifically with the capital gains area, which is always a problem between states as to how that will be taxed. It deals with general income from employment and for directors fees. It deals specifically with artists and sportspersons, which has become more of a problem in both those areas. It deals specifically as to how their incomes will be taxed. It finishes off with pension and annuities both in terms of how it will tax those and how they will be received, and there are some agreements in that regard.
It then goes on, under a separate category, to deal more specifically with the taxation of capital gains and capital loses, setting out criteria the countries we agree to follow.
It deals with one final area that is important to note because of some of the scandals we have had. I think members in the House agree we have taxation so the government generates revenue so it can provide for the needs of our society. Whether that is creating a military and supplying the resources it needs, to providing government pensions for those who are in retirement or disabled, assisting the provinces with health care, we can go down the list as to why we tax.
There is of some concern with this convention. Although it begins to address the abuse that we see regularly of corporations in particular, but wealthy people more generally, moving their assets offshore, both in terms of assets that continue to generate revenue but otherwise capital assets offshore to avoid taxation in the country, it does not address it very well. We have seen that any number of times.
We have seen it with some of the scandals that have flowed out of Switzerland, Liechtenstein and a couple of banks in Belgium that have facilitated this abuse. What it is really about is fair taxation, that everyone, individuals and corporations, pay their fair share so the needs of society are met. If one segment of society is intentionally and regularly avoiding its responsibilities by moving assets offshore, we should be doing whatever we can do to bring that in line and seeing that those assets are taxed appropriately and fairly to society as a whole.
We cannot do that without co-operation from the international community. It is just impossible to do it as a sovereign country by oneself. We need to have co-operation with the state to where the assets flow.
We have seen the kind of abuse particularly with Switzerland. Because of its banking system, it has been able to shield abusers over the last 100 or better years who have abused their responsibilities to pay a fair share of their taxes. We are beginning to break through that in many ways.
We saw horrendous abuse in that regard with protection that it gave to organized crime and to the Nazis and fascists both during and after the second world war. We are breaking this down in that country, but it is occurring elsewhere. The bill would not address that to any significant degree. The only point it goes to in that regard is it requires both countries at either end of this relationship to share information if that data is compellable in the country of origin.
Beyond that, the bill would do nothing to increase our ability to, in effect, enforce our tax laws in our country or to ensure that the tax laws in the country with which we have entered into this convention are enforced, oftentimes with assets that may have flowed from our country, whether it is income or capital assets.
It is obviously a flaw in these conventions. I come back to Colombia. Given the high level of corruption in that country, it is going to be a particular problem and it is not going to help us at all. Quite frankly, I seriously doubt the ability of the government of Colombia to enforce those parts of the agreement and to see that taxation is done fairly. If assets are being secreted in that country from Canada, I doubt it will share information with us so we can deal with it in an appropriate way. That is clearly a flaw in the agreement. I do not think we are in any position, as a party, to support that part of it.
With regard to Greece and Turkey, we would generally be supportive. Our relationship with both those countries is well established and well founded. They are countries that overall have a strong reputation of co-operation with Canada. It is appropriate that we enter into these types of arrangements them, whether it is with regard to how we deal with retirement pensions. We see pension moneys flowing between the two countries in some substantial amounts, so it is appropriate we deal with that. It is appropriate they are there to assist us if there is abuse of the taxation process in their countries, of assets flowing into Canada or out of Canada into Greece or Turkey. We have no problem supporting that, but we have very serious problems with regard to Colombia.
This is one of those bills, because of where it has come from, that we cannot support. Because of the arrangements with Colombia, we cannot support it. Support from our party would flow with regard to Greece and Turkey. It is a step in the right direction when we enter into conventions with those countries. They are countries we can deal with in a honest and trusting manner.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-3.
I took the time to read the debate from May 13 on this bill, at which time it was sent to the Standing Committee on Finance. I currently serve on the finance committee but did not when the bill was sent to the committee back then.
I had an opportunity to read the debate from May to see some of the substantive points and I was not surprised to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, who spoke to lead off this debate at third reading, made the same points that he raised at second reading. That is not surprising and it indicates to me that really nothing has changed since the last time we dealt with this legislation. In fact, I believe this particular bill was up even in the last session of Parliament.
For those who are following the debate, Bill S-3 was introduced in the Senate. It is a bill that would implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. It is fairly long.
The summary ostensibly repeats the title of the act, but there is some more information in the summary. It says:
|| The treaties implemented reflect [our] efforts to expand Canada’s tax treaty network. Those treaties are generally patterned on the Model Double Taxation Convention prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The summary repeats the two objectives: the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion.
The summary indicates that since a tax treaty contains tax rules different from the provisions in the Income Tax Act, it becomes effective only after being given precedence over domestic legislation by an act of Parliament such as this one. For each of those tax treaties to become effective, it must be ratified after the enactment of this bill.
Interestingly enough, the bill has a short title. There has been a lot of discussion about short titles in this place. People have given whole speeches about how short titles tend to represent that a bill does something that it in fact does not but it is pretty good politics to have the language out there.
As the short title, this bill may be cited as the Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010. It makes some sense, because we have these tax conventions with over 90 countries already and every one of them is identical in terms of their clauses.
The bill contains six clauses and the only thing different would be the name of the country. They are each included under parts to the bill. Part 1 is the Canada-Colombia convention, part 2 is Canada-Greece, and part 3 is the Canada-Turkey convention.
The bill is not long at all, and in fact, the first of the six clauses under each part is just to have another short title. For Colombia, for example, it states:
|| This Act may be cited as the Canada– Colombia Tax Convention Act, 2010.
Clause 2 says this act is a convention, etc.
Clause 3 says that the convention is approved and has the force of law in Canada during the period that the convention, by its terms, is in force.
Clause 4 basically says that, in terms of the provisions of this act or the convention and the provisions of any other law, the provisions of this act and the convention prevail to the extent of the inconsistency. It basically means that if there is an inconsistency between any legislation and this bill, the bill is in force to the extent that there is the inconsistency, and that is handled depending on the nature of it.
Clause 5 allows the Minister of National Revenue to make any regulations that he or she feels are necessary to carry out the convention and for giving effect to any of its provisions.
This gives me a chance to give my standard statement that when parliamentarians look at legislation, often they will find, in some of the clauses, “subject to” the regulations. I should indicate that as parliamentarians debate this at second reading, in committee, at report stage and at third reading, they still have not seen what the regulations are.
The regulations are supposed to be the details. For instance, it would say that, under the Income Tax Act, tools are deductible at a rate of 20% a year. In the regulations it would say that tools include hammers, saws, screwdrivers, et cetera. So the regulations are the details, and the provision in the bill for “tools” gives the generic.
During the debates, as I have said, we do not know what the details are. It is important to know details because we have a committee, a joint Commons-Senate committee called the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, which I chaired for a couple of years and served on for five or six years, whose whole purpose is to review the regulations that are ultimately made and then make sure that they are enabled in the legislation that was passed.
Sometimes, and quite frankly it happens far too often, governments try to put in the regulations things that are not contemplated in the bill itself and would in fact change it. It is called “back-door legislation”. It is where the purpose, scope or intent of the bill is changed without having it disclosed to parliamentarians.
I often say that when a bill is important enough, the House should ask the minister sponsoring the bill to present draft regulations to the committee responsible for reviewing the legislation, so that they can review it, not necessarily to change the regulations but simply to ensure that the regulations are properly enabled in the legislation and that the committee has an opportunity to make some comments with regard to whether there are any provisos that should be included in the regulations to make it better fit a specific case as opposed to simply the generic case.
If we have regulations that will apply to all three of these countries, there are some cases, as the previous speaker indicated, where a specific country, depending on its reputation or our circumstances with them, may require a more rigorous or more stringent approach to the regulations guiding legislation for that particular country. I wanted to raise that.
The final clause is that:
|| The Minister...shall cause a notice of the day on which the Convention enters into force
It just basically says that even if we pass this bill, even if it gets royal assent, et cetera, it is not actually going to become law until there is an order in council and a promulgation of the bill. Nobody knows when this is going to become law, if it will ever become law, but that is where that is.
Those same six clauses are in the bill three times, once for each of the three countries. As the parliamentary secretary noted in leading off this debate, there are four particular points that we should take into account.
First, with regard to reducing withholding taxes, I think there has been enough description about the fact that when people do business and earn income outside Canada, there is a withholding. For people who are not Canadians but are working in Canada, there may be withholding when it is paid to them outside.
Tax will follow people. If there is no treaty, one thing we could find is that people may be charged income taxes on the money by their country of residence and also by the country in which they did the work. This applies to people who have residency in one country and are doing work in another country. Both countries would claim that they needed to collect taxes or that there would be a liability for taxes. So the second point is the double taxation.
The reason we want to address the withholding tax is because we are not going to know whether there is double taxation until somebody files a tax return. But if the withholding tax rates are too high, all of a sudden an awful lot of taxes will be collected by two different government from people's earnings and they will not be able to reconcile them until some period later when they have figured out what income is attributed to which jurisdiction, what the tax rates are and how much they actually owe, and to claim refunds from one or the other or both jurisdictions.
So it is pretty important to deal with double taxation, and certainly one reason is that it is a barrier to trade.
If we do not have a tax treaty with another country with which Canada does business, or Canadians do a lot business there or that country does business in Canada, if they were going to be subject to taxation in both jurisdictions, obviously the value of the work done would have to be grossed up to take into account the fact that we cannot do work for nothing, if it is all going to be taxed back by the total taxes in two jurisdictions.
This issue of double taxation is very important. It would be a barrier to trade or to doing business or doing work between two countries, simply because there may be taxes collected in both jurisdictions that would leave a net income much lower than they could get by doing business in another country. There are some countries, obviously, that would be desirable for us to be able to do business in, and some maybe not, and we have heard a bit about that this morning.
The last point has to do with tax evasion and tax avoidance.
Interestingly enough, this morning the parliamentary secretary spent quite a bit of time talking about the fact that we need to deal with this whole issue of tax evasion and tax avoidance. There is a statement, if I could remember it, being a chartered accountant, that went something like this: tax evasion is illegal; tax avoidance is necessary.
The difference is that tax evasion is contrary to the laws and obviously illegal; but tax avoidance means that if the taxing authorities and the regulations of various countries let things slip through even if we have bilaterals, people may decide that they can do the same business, but if they do it through a particular country, with the amount of income they could earn or the reduction of taxes as a consequence of streaming business through a subsidiary in another country or something like that, they might be better off to do that. Of course, the consequence may be that the tax revenue to Canada would be reduced simply by the shaping of the characteristics of a business organization or corporate structure.
So dealing with the issue of tax avoidance is also an objective, even though tax avoidance is not in fact illegal.
That said, one of the speakers mentioned the recent stories about tax havens. That is a matter of tax avoidance, some would say, but actually it is tax evasion. I think the examples of Switzerland, Belgium, Liechtenstein, et cetera, have shown that there are circumstances out there where in fact countries with which we now have bilateral tax agreements happen to be tax havens and happen to be places where Canadians have been able to take advantage of the situation.
That list would get a lot worse if all of a sudden we started to do business with, I believe, Panama, Uruguay, Costa Rica, or Liberia, the whole list of countries that some people have thought we could be better off having business with and tax treaties.
However, it raises the question about whether one needs to look at the character or the country, its reputation and its track record. We want to do trade but trade at what cost? What does it mean if we have trade with 90 different countries and it is supposed to help deal with double taxation and tax avoidance? What good is that legislation if it has no results and no benefits have been achieved?
This concerns me because this morning, when the parliamentary secretary spoke to the House and there were questions and comments following his speech, I asked him a question. I said that we had tax conventions with 90 countries and I wanted to know what benefits we had achieve. I also asked him what loopholes we were able to close. I wanted to know what we had learned from this. If something is learned from one jurisdiction, it may be applicable to others.
In conjunction with these conventions we enter into, the member said that we also enter into information-sharing agreements. We have this exchange of information but what has that achieved? We need to ask whether we are just passing legislation for the sake of legislation or whether the legislation has some benefits to it, other than being pretty sure that if we lower the withholding tax more people will find it more attractive to do business with those countries. Bilateral trade is always a good thing. It is a good thing for this country because we are in an economic depression of sorts. Canada has much to offer and we want to do trade but if we get it in the front door but are losing it out the back door, what is the purpose?
I asked the parliamentary secretary to give us some examples. When he spoke to this on May 13 and again today, both of his speeches were much the same but there was not one iota of evidence that there was any benefit whatsoever to Canada. There was not one case where a tax evasion scheme was identified. There was not one case where all of a sudden there were avoidance mechanisms that we could deal with.
Legislation needs to have a purpose that is seamless in terms of all the impacts, all the pluses and minuses. No legislation will be perfect but we cannot come here and argue that we need this because it will improve trade. I hope that, as almost side deals with information agreements, we will somehow be able to share information and all of a sudden have some benefits coming out of that. It has never been reported to this place.
I challenge the government today to look at what has happened over the history of these tax conventions with 90 countries and tell us whether there has been anything substantive come out of them, whether we have learned anything that we can apply to other countries and whether there are filters we can put on in terms of the agreements that we will enter into with other countries like Greece, Turkey, Panama and whatever other countries.
I will support the bill because this is a boiler plate approach to doing things. My question is whether it is satisfactory simply to keep doing what we have always been doing if there are no discernable benefits to those deals.
Ms. Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill S-3, an act to implement tax treaties between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey. The objectives of this bill are twofold: first, the avoidance of double taxation; and second, the prevention of tax evasion.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, has long been an advocate of these treaties to ensure equitable treatment of taxpayers who work and invest in countries outside their own.
Canadian businesses have a long tradition of trading internationally. As well, we have many Canadian workers who work for longer periods abroad, for example, engineers in the oil industry, et cetera. The implementation of these treaties will ensure that those doing business and accepting employment in those countries covered will not face the prospect of having their income taxed unfairly by both their country of residence and the country in which they are working. This double taxation is be very unfair to the people.
The stated goals for entering into a treaty are often included in the reduction of double taxation, eliminating tax evasion and encouraging cross-border trade efficiency. It is generally accepted that tax treaties improve certainty for taxpayers and tax authorities in their international dealings.
As we continue to sign tax treaties such as these with other countries, Canadians will see a benefit through increased tax revenues generated from some individuals who probably try to hide their foreign income and investments.
Taxpayers may have relocated themselves and their assets in the past to avoid paying taxes, so some of the treaties that we are signing thus require each treaty country to assist the other in the collection of taxes and in other enforcement of their tax rules. These treaties include a requirement that the countries exchange information needed to foster enforcement. The requirements in these treaties would ensure that the information on individual and corporate taxpayers would only be shared by the competent legal entities in either country.
While I support the government in continuing to sign treaties such as these, which have been an ongoing process for the past few decades, I cannot and do not support some of the policies of the government in regard to taxes. For example, the Conservatives' plan to cut $6 billion in corporate taxes to the wealthiest corporations will do nothing to help small businesses.
The Liberal Party wants to do things differently. Our policies will help small businesses, create jobs, enhance competitiveness and build cutting edge industries.
As I have been canvassing small and medium sized enterprises, they are asking these questions. What is wrong with the Conservative government? Why does it not have its priorities in place? Why does it not understand that the corporate tax cuts given to large corporations will not create jobs? It is the small and medium sized enterprises that are the engines of growth and it is the small and medium sized enterprises that need the investment.
It is all about choice, choice for Canadians; the Liberals' choice or track record of fiscal responsibility, a plan to make strategic investment in lasting economic legacies versus the borrow and spend Conservatives who spent Canada into deficit even before the recession began, the Conservatives who are wasting billions more on prisons, untendered stealth fighters and tax breaks for large corporations.
The Liberal plan is to invest in people. It is important to invest in people. It is important to use taxpayer dollars wisely. The Liberals have had a track record. They eliminated the deficit and the debt that the Mulroney Conservatives created.
The Conservatives made a mess of the economy. There was record unemployment, mortgages were at 21% and people were losing their jobs. I remember because I was working in receivership. I had the unfortunate task of taking over people's businesses or homes. People were in a bad state. They were losing their shirts, so to speak. The IMF called Canada the basket case of the developed world.
When the Liberals took over, they reined in expenses, brought fiscal prudence and, after the hard efforts of the Liberal government with the help of the Canadian people, Canada was back in business. It was the envy of the G8, thanks to the efforts of Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. The Liberal government invested in people, gave Canadians the biggest tax break to the tune of $100 billion and invested in cities and health care. Canada has been the beneficiary of Liberal fiscal competence.
Now that we have a Conservative government, what does it do? It takes the $13 billion surplus and savings, which was meant to help Canada face economic hardship, and it blew it away even before the recession came.
What do the Conservatives have to show for that fiscal incompetence? They have a $56 billion deficit and climbing, cuts to programs, cuts to funding for organizations that serve people, and cuts to organizations that do not meet its ideology. It is going down the same slippery slope as the Mulroney government.
The current finance minister has been called the “architect of deficit” for good reason. It is because of his previous stint in Ontario. That is the same finance minister who wanted to imitate the subprime mortgage initiatives, and we know what would have happened.
On the current economic front, the Conservatives have been a poor fiscal managers and it is not surprising as it has never balanced a budget. The last time that happened was when the Titanic sank, and that is telling.
The Liberals believe that Canadians must live within their means, so too must the government. The questions Canadians are asking are: How can the government, which has a record deficit of $56 billion and counting, borrow money, $6 billion for example, to give cuts to large corporations, many whose head offices are not here? How can they justify this? Why are they not instead investing in Canadian SMBs which are the engines of growth?
Canadians are also asking why the government is borrowing an additional $10 billion to create super jails for unreported crimes when the money should be invested in literacy, mental health, educational institutions, social housing, et cetera, which are the determinants of crime. Why is the government so foolish in its choices?
Would a family be foolish enough to borrow money for unnecessary toys when given a choice between food on the table or frivolous expenses? No family would have the luxury to do such foolish things. Therefore, Canadians want their government to ensure it is not spending their hard-earned tax dollars foolishly.
While speaking of tax treaties with other nations, it must be noted that those treaties do not address the problems of unscrupulous individuals who hide earned income in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying Canadians taxes. The government has been very slow off the mark in pursuing the potential billions of dollars hidden in Swiss and other bank accounts.
To have an efficient tax system, it is desirable to have an efficient government that collects and spends tax revenues in a logical, fair and transparent manner. As I mentioned, unfortunately the government fails on all three of these requirements. For example, spending $16 billion on an untendered contract for stealth fighter jets at a time when many Canadians are unemployed and in danger of losing their homes is not logical.
Spending millions of dollars in the industry minister's riding on such things as sidewalk replacement miles away from the meeting site and pretending it to be related to the G8 is not fair. Spending $6 billion on unneeded tax breaks to big business while threatening to increase EI premiums is showing how transparent the government's disregard for the average Canadian worker really is.
Canada's federal government now faces a $56 billion deficit, and its expenditures are simply not under control as examples of waste continue to add up.
Even before the recession, the government has spent more than any other in the history of Canada, increasing government spending at three times the rate of inflation in its first three years.
Now the government is pushing the accelerator pedal with plans that will cost $10 billion more for new prisons when crime rates are falling and $16 billion more on a sole-source stealth fighter contract when Canada's military requirements have yet to be defined. This is after it has already spent $1.3 billion on a 72-hour G8 and G20 summit when South Korea is expected to do the same for less than $25 million.
People are worried about their jobs and their ability to pay down a level of household debt that has soared. Middle class families in Canada are being squeezed like never before, more severely in fact than anywhere else in the western world.
The average Canadian family is about $96,000 in debt. We owe almost $1.50 for every single $1 of disposable income and our cost of living keeps rising. Credit card balances are high, mortgages have been borrowed against and lines of credit are full.
Canadian families face serious economic challenges as they confront rising household debt, which is mounting. Educational costs are mounting. The challenge of saving for retirement and the cost of caring for sick or aging family members is mounting.
As I was canvassing, seniors came up to me and asked, “How can the government justify spending $1.2 billion on the G8-G20 for a 72-hour photo op and not invest in seniors? Seniors who have worked hard, who have invested in their country, who have put in whatever they have, now risk losing their house and their income because the government refuses to reform pensions”.