Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I cannot really say I am pleased to rise today to speak to yet another omnibus budget bill, C-31.

This is yet another omnibus bill that contains numerous measures from other bills. However, given House procedure, we will not be able to study it adequately.

This is following up on the February 11, 2014 budget. We really need to get used to using the new term for it. It is the “annual thick brochure”. It does not actually contain a budget any more, and I think Canadians ought to know that.

It is labelled “the economic action plan 2014, No. 1”, which means that we can expect another budget omnibus bill. It does not deal with the fact that Canada’s debt under this administration has increased by $123 billion. It does not deal with the fact that part of the reason that debt has increased and that cuts are being made to the services that we care about is that we now have the lowest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, approximately half that of the United States.

I want to turn to a myth that is so often repeated in this place, that all of the other parties always did omnibus budget bills. That is not just a myth; it is not true. The previous all-time high omnibus budget bill was in 2005 under the administration of former Prime Minister Paul Martin. In 2005, it topped 120 pages.

The howls from the opposition, now in government, were so loud that that bill had sections stripped out, and another provision that was to amend the Environmental Protection Act to allow regulation of greenhouse gases was removed altogether. That was due to the protest about 120 pages being too much in an omnibus budget bill.

The current administration is the all-time record holder, and not just that, as the Bruce Cockburn song said, “…the trouble with normal is it always gets worse”.

Now we are supposed to expect that we are going to get two omnibus budget bills every year: the first one, 400 pages; the second one, 400 pages. So the cumulative total, the bulk of all the legislation that goes through this place, is in the form of omnibus budget bills, which are so anti-democratic and an abuse of parliamentary process that it must be raised at every turn.

This particular omnibus budget bill, at 362 pages, Bill C-31, has a lot of good things in it. There is no question that removing the GST from parking fees at hospitals and improving the tax treatment of adoptive families are good things. There are quite a few things in here that I would vote for, such as division 5, increasing the number of judges for Alberta and Quebec. These are all good things.

However, what of the things that deserve more study than they are going to get? That list is a very long one indeed. I turn our attention to 40 pages of this brick, pages 91 to 131, changes to the Hazardous Products Act and consequential amendments to other acts. These may all be, as described on the Health Canada website, good ideas, but they deserve study on their own. There are a lot of details we do not know.

This will bring into place the globally harmonized system to deal with workplace hazardous materials. It is very important that we study this properly. Certain sectors of our economy are currently exempt from the WHMIS provisions, including pesticides, consumer products, food, and drugs. A global system will bring these in, but we do not quite know how Canada will treat this and will not find out from the quick study we are allowed of an omnibus budget bill. There is 40 pages of this.

Another 30-plus pages is an entirely new act, the administrative tribunals support service of Canada act. It occurs in division 29 of Bill C-31, and it brings in a single administrator, appointed politically, to take control of a huge number of administrative tribunals: the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Canada Industrial Relations Board, Competition Tribunal, Canadian International Trade Tribunal, Social Security Tribunal, and Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal. In the time I have, I cannot read out the names of all the tribunals that are suddenly whipped together under one act with one chief administrator. Far too few details are being provided about the purpose of this change. There is no purposes section under this new act; it is left to our imagination. I have to say, given the track record of this administration, given its attitude toward tribunals and officers of Parliament, the things that come to mind are not happy conclusions. This act’s division 29 deserves separate treatment and adequate study.

On the changes to trademark, here we had an opportunity to do something to improve Canada’s global competitive position by improving intellectual property rights to protect Canadian corporations abroad. The proposed changes to trademark are largely non-controversial, but why are they stuck in an omnibus budget bill? They have nothing to do with the budget.

Pages 207 to 259, over 50 pages of this monster bill, are all about trademark and coming into compliance with agreements from the Singapore and Madrid protocols. Why not have this as a proper study? Why not take the time to assess whether it is a good idea to reduce trademark protection from 15 years to 10 years?

I have been trying to reserve most of my time in this brief opportunity for the most egregious section of Bill C-31, which is forcing through, with a limitation on debate that applies to all of Bill C-31, some potentially devastating changes to Canadians’ rights found under something called the FATCA. This Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is thrown into Bill C-31, and I want to refer to the opinions of legal experts.

Some time ago, concerned about the FATCA, I did an access to information request and turned up a letter to Finance Canada from Canada’s leading constitutional law expert, Professor Peter Hogg. He wrote to Finance Canada when the department it was in the early stages of working on this, and said that treating Canadians who might have some connection to the United States—not just those who might be born there, such as me, but who is no longer a U.S. citizen, or people who had parents born in the U.S., or once worked or studied there—differently than Canadians with no connection to the U.S. violates section 3 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in which we are entitled to equal treatment under the law as Canadian citizens.

However, it gets worse than that. Here I want to quote extensively from advice to Finance Canada from two very knowledgeable tax policy law experts: Professor Allison Christians, the H. Heward Stikeman Chair in the Law of Taxation at McGill University; and Professor Arthur Cockfield from Queens University.

Both professors conclude that right now it appears that the only reason the current Conservative administration feels it has accomplished anything with FATCA is that it has staved off punitive measures against our commercial banks by the United States. That is the Conservatives’ sole rationale for a non-reciprocal agreement that will violate the privacy, and potentially the charter rights, of as many as one million Canadians. They have done it to avoid the U.S. bringing sanctions against them.

These knowledgeable experts say that this implementation act would unduly harm the privacy rights and interests of all Canadians, unduly raise compliance costs for all Canadian financial institutions and Canadian taxpayers, and unduly raise legal exposure for Canadian financial institutions due to the ongoing potential liability for mistakenly transferred personal financial information.

Bear in mind that this FATCA that we are being pressed to pass so quickly would require our banking institutions to decide for themselves whether someone appears to have some connection to the United States, and then they will turn over the personal banking information of that person without their knowledge to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. It would also provide potentially sensitive commercial information held by Canadian firms to the United States, which if improperly revealed could harm a firm’s competitiveness. It would interfere with the cross-border mobility of Canadian workers to the United States. It would impede Canada’s efforts to enforce its own tax laws. It would violate the spirit and potentially the letter of a number of Canadian laws.

The advice from these knowledgeable tax experts is clear and compelling. Since we have as a nation have now signed this IGA with the U.S., we have protected the commercial banking sector from these penalties, and so we have time to get it right. Here is their advice.

We recommend that the government explicitly address what gains have been achieved by Canada in accepting the IGA, if any exist other than the relief of economic sanctions. If relief of economic sanctions is the only impetus for Canada’s acquiescence to U.S. demands, we recommend that the Canadian Government challenge the legality of such economic sanctions….

In other words, the U.S. has no right to impose sanctions on Canadian banks. It says it does. We should challenge it in international court. These experts say that we should stop the introduction of FATCA, ensure that it does not violate our charter rights, protect the privacy rights of Canadians, and not rush into this. I urge the House to pull FATCA out of Bill C-31.