Bill C-63 Budget Implementation Act

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to give a speech on Bill C-63, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures. This is an omnibus budget bill.

In speaking to this, I wanted to also start with the big picture. Most of the speeches in this place since we began the debate at second reading of Bill C-63 have not delved very much into Bill C-63 itself. I plan to go into it in some detail. Most of the speeches have dealt with the general question of how much we, depending on which side of the House we are on, like or dislike the budget itself. There are some big picture comments I also want to make.

In debates in this place, the Conservative official opposition members berate the government for spending too much and adding to the debt. It is as though we have forgotten how to distinguish between the deficit, which is rising, and debt. Debt is a more permanent condition, and unfortunately, it is very hard to eliminate debt once it has been added on. We have not reduced any of the $150-billion addition to the national debt accrued under former prime minister Stephen Harper. The debt increased quite a lot in that period, although in the final term, we saw a balanced budget. Deficit is an issue of concern, but not nearly as much as debt.

In looking at the deficit and deficit spending, this current Liberal government was elected promising to run a deficit, although a much smaller one than the one we now see.

Here is what concerns me on the subject of government spending and increasing deficits. We are actually in a situation in this country where we need more, not less, government spending. The strictures on spending the current government appears to feel constrained by on things that need to be addressed come from an unwillingness to spend more than the large spending announcements that have already been made, which were for needed spending.

We need spending on infrastructure across Canada. In a sense, we have been like a homeowner who has deferred maintenance on the home in order to afford the other things we need in our household budget. However, deferred maintenance adds up. When the deferred maintenance is on water works and sewage systems, bridges and roads, and social infrastructure, such as affordable housing, and those things come home to roost, we need to spend more.

At the same time, there is a deep aversion to raising taxes. There have been a lot of claims that the opposite side has raised taxes a great deal. The reality, which I support, and it was in the Green Party platform to reduce the tax on small business to 9%, is certainly applauded. However, we in the Green Party are urging the government to look at the need to raise taxes on large, profitable multinationals.

The tax on large business was, in the year 2000, 28%. It is now down to 14%. It certainly should be raised, because if we look at the percentage of our total government revenues that come from corporations versus individual citizens, the portion on individual citizens has gone up while the portion on large corporations has shrunk dramatically.

As the economy is recovering, and that is good, there certainly is no reason or excuse to not go after, as my hon. friend from South Okanagan—West Kootenay just pointed out, the big fish. The big fish are in offshore tax havens. The big fish are in large, profitable multinationals. Going after people who are seeking to avoid, or worse, criminally evade, taxes should be a top priority.

I note, and it is a personal story, but I think it is quite bizarre, that my daughter, who is a university student, reported to me that the CRA is wasting tax dollars asking for proof of various items on her income tax return. She is a student. She is not making enough money to pay much in taxes or anything in taxes, I think. However, she is being asked to provide proof of the cost of books. I said that it was bizarre, and she said that another friend of hers is doing the same thing.

I would suggest that CRA could adjust its sights on millionaires and billionaires as opposed to students. I think that would be something most Canadians would support.

Turning to Bill C-63, I have to say that I read it with a growing sense of happiness. No doubt it will surprise people that anyone on the opposition benches would. However, when I pick up an omnibus budget bill I still have a sense of, I guess, PTSD from having read the omnibus budget bills in the 41st Parliament, particularly Bill C-38, which destroyed our environmental assessment regime and wrecked the Fisheries Act; and Bill C-45, which devastated the Navigable Waters Protection Act, removed the inspector general for CSIS, and various other measures that had nothing to do with each other.

Reading Bill C-63 confirms in my mind the strong need to simplify our tax code. When we talk to tax accountants, they generally agree that it would be wonderful if the Minister of Finance went in for root-and-branch tax reform to simplify the tax code to remove so many boutique exemptions. I commend the Minister of Finance for removing a number of boutique exemptions, but the tax code, and therefore the omnibus bill we have before us, is very complex on very specific items, such as straddling tax years and figuring out how to deal with different derivatives and the use of various tax mechanisms, such as going through trusts or going through additional corporations and how we end up taxing.

For the most part, I actually find myself wondering if I am going to vote for this particular budget bill if we can make some amendments. I want to point out the areas I like in this bill and the areas I think would benefit from amendments.

As it is an omnibus budget bill, I am pleased to see that there has finally been a tepid move, although it could go much further, to eliminate some of the fossil fuel subsidies. This was a large-ticket commitment in the Liberal campaign platform. Most of the large fossil fuel subsidies remain in place, despite a pledge in the Liberal platform to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

This would be a parallel and needed measure that would go along with eliminating the market distortions that are created by both subsidizing fossil fuels and failing to put a price on dumping waste into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to having a municipal waste dump where there is no tipping fee. People are not encouraged to avoid dumping if it is free. That is why a carbon price makes sense, but we need to move to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

The move that is happening here is in relation to changes to the Canadian exploration expense. This happens to be in part 1 of Bill C-63. It would change the tax treatment of Canadian exploration expenses to reduce the tax deductions that are available now from 100% to about 30%. By the way, the way this is structured has created an incentive for accelerated drilling prior to this kicking in in 2019. This could be an unintended but environmentally damaging period. I am holding in my hands advice from Bennett Jones to that corporate sector suggesting that if any oil and gas companies can hurry up and start exploration activities and get commitments in writing before 2019, they can continue to take advantage of the 100% deduction on capital expenses.

I also welcome the changes to the donation of ecologically sensitive lands. I worked on this, back in the day, on the now defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, repealed in the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38. We worked to persuade the minister of finance of the day, the Right Hon. Paul Martin, to create special tax treatment for the donation of ecologically sensitive land. The revisions in Bill C-63 continue along that road to clarify and improve that system.

I am not at all unhappy to see the follow-through on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This is part of Canada’s development portfolio. We still lag far behind the commitments made by previous governments, including every government back to Lester B. Pearson, Jean Chrétien, and the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, who all committed that Canada’s development assistance should equal 0.7% of our GDP. We are nowhere near that, but certainly the provisions around the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are welcome.

There are a number of other provisions I was pleased to see, particularly those in the Canada Labour Code that would provide more flexible work arrangements and give Canadians prescribed statutory time off work to recover after experiencing family violence. I would like to see those sections amended. I would like to see that time off work as paid leave. I would like to see a single woman without children receive some assistance if she has been the victim of violence. There could be some tweaking of provisions in there.

I am very happy to see the new tax treatment for geothermal energy and an Energy Efficiency Act.

There are many provisions in a bill of 275 pages, but I will stop there and say that I am generally pleased with the contents of this bill.

Judy A. Sgro – Humber River-Black Creek

Mr. Speaker, it is fascinating to listen to the areas the member so ably commented on, many of which she has been talking about for some time. I am pleased to see that she is tentatively a supporter of the bill. She knows how important it is to be able to pass this kind of legislation.

I would be interested to hear more about the tweaking of flex leave and the areas where we can better help families throughout Canada.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is always tempting as a member of the opposition, particularly the leader of another party, to spend most of one’s time in Parliament talking about what is missing. I could fill up 10 minutes with what is missing and what I would like to see in a budget.

Under the family flextime arrangements with employers, there will be a maximum of three days of family responsibility leave and leave of up to 10 days for people who have been the victim of family violence. There has already been commentary on this, and we will undoubtedly hear good suggestions at committee. For example, I support what the United Steelworkers have said, which is why not have paid leave for people who are the victims of violence, including family violence? I say this because it is traumatizing. Obviously, anyone who has been the victim of violence within the family, including if one’s child has been the victim of violence, cannot go to work the next day. These are very compassionate and important changes to the Canada Labour Code, but we might want to go further and consider paid leave. I certainly would.

Kerry Diotte – Edmonton Griesbach

Mr. Speaker, does the member have any comments about what the previous speaker talked about, the $25 billion that is soon to be recovered by the government from tax cheats and whether she thought that perhaps some of this might be related to any of the people named in the paradise papers, including the Liberal Party’s fundraising chair?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, globally we have had a real epidemic of the super-rich deciding to be super irresponsible. The super-rich, the 1% globally, hide wealth in offshore accounts in ways that ensure they are not taxed. That is so irresponsible. We have been in the grip of neoliberal theories of the trickle-down economy, which argue that when the rich do really well, we will all do well. Gus Speth, the former head of the United Nations Development Programme, has said that in the context of the trickle-down economy, a rising tide “lifts only yachts.” I think that is the case with that particular economic theory.

We seen those who are doing super well not paying their fair share. In the post-Depression era in the U.S., when there was huge economic growth under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the top tax bracket was 80%, yet they had stunning economic growth figures. I will not comment on anyone personally, although the hon. member for Edmonton Griesbach has invited me to do so. What I will say is that anyone who is a tax cheat should have their assets discovered and pay their fair share regardless of whom they know or where their friends in high places may be.

Pierre Nantel – Longueuil – Saint-Hubert

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Leader of the Green Party for her speech. Given her vision, which is the most unifying possible, I would like to ask her a question.

Is she comfortable with the idea that, with respect to the items that were not included in the initial budget or the supplementary documents, it would be a good idea to afford the Speaker the possibility of dividing the vote on these items? I think that is of interest to my colleague as well.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. He is right as always.

In the House of Commons, we now have the new Standing Order 69.1, which allows the Speaker to divide the elements. The elements that were already in the budget can be voted on in an omnibus bill. However, with respect to the measures and elements not mentioned in the budget, I believe it is a good idea that the Speaker allow separate votes for the distinct elements that were not included in the actual budget.