Welcome, members of the committee.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 7, 2006, , we have some witnesses here today.
Gentlemen, welcome to the committee. We're going to start with my colleague Mr. Fitzpatrick. We'll allocate a brief time, five minutes, for a presentation or an overview and then get right into some discussion and some questioning on the issue.
Whenever you're ready, Brian, take it away. I'll give you five minutes to give us an overview on your proposal.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the members for giving us the opportunity to advance our case.
I practised law in a community in Saskatchewan for 25 years. It's two and a half hours from Saskatoon and three and a half hours from Regina, and those are our two major communities, so it's a remote community. It has 5,000 people.
I'm a lawyer, and every fall I was called out to a meeting at a local financial institution where 15 people in the community would sign personal guarantees to finance the local junior A hockey team. The team in the fall doesn't have any money. It has to get a line of credit. At the end of the spring season everybody in the non-profit organization knows there's not going to be a profit, but they certainly hope the books will balance. About 30% or 40% of the team's revenue is derived from gate receipts. The other funding is from businesses that sponsor that team and from volunteers who sell raffle tickets and hold bingos and so on to try to finance the team's operation.
Almost all of the players come from long distances. These communities are not big, they're remote, so you get people from Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan, southern Saskatchewan, and even players from rural Alberta. The cost per player for room and board is about, I would venture to guess, $4,000 in a given year. The players are housed with good families. The parents who send their kids to these teams expect them to be in good homes, so they're housed in good homes in the community. They're paid $300 to $350 a month for room and board to offset the cost of housing these young men in their communities.
In 2001 the Canadian Revenue Agency came into that league, assessed the teams, and decided the room and board costs were a taxable benefit. The result of making them a taxable benefit is that Canada Pension, employment insurance, and income tax are applied on this $4,000-per-player allotment.
It doesn't take much of an imagination to realize that suddenly the teams had a new expense item on their books of $6,000 or $7,000 a year. You can't pick up that money on gate receipts. The market is small, it's saturated. There's no more money from gate receipts. It's pretty hard to get any more money out of bingos. I guess you could try to get a volunteer group to go out and start another campaign to try to raise $6,000 or $7,000 a year to pay the Canadian Revenue Agency.
The effect of this ruling has been very, very hard on that league. There are 11 teams in the league, and they all run on a shoestring budget. This decision has been a major hardship on that league. It's a non-profit league; they're not in it to run it as a business. The parents who send their kids there send the kids basically to promote their education and to advance their hockey skills. A lot of the parents are hoping they will receive an athletic scholarship to a division 1 or 2 American college, which happens quite frequently in the league.
At one time we had five coaches in the NHL who cut their teeth in the league, including Dave King, who has the Order of Canada and was the coach of the Olympic program and is, I think, a very well-known person in the league. There are lots of other coaches who cut their teeth in that league and moved on: Dave Tippett with the Dallas Stars, James Patrick, who's a prominent assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres. It's been a very good league and obviously a very important part of Saskatchewan life in rural Canada. It's a part of our heritage. It's Gordie Howe country.
I think governments should be finding ways of promoting athletic activity and amateur athletics in the country, rather than finding ways of taxing it and punishing it. The purpose of this bill is to provide, I think, some tax relief to these teams so they can sustain their operations and survive.
I have two gentlemen with me today: Laury Ryan, who is the president of Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League; and Vernon Doyle, who is the president of the Maritime Junior Hockey League. The leagues are very similar. They operate under the same sort of model. Both of these individuals can certainly attest to the difficulty that this Canadian Revenue Agency decision has had on the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Thank you. Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Welcome to you both, gentlemen, and thank you for the work you're doing.
Also, welcome to our Department of Finance officials who are here to assist us today. We appreciate your being here.
We'll move right to questions and allow participation as you would see fit, committee members.
We'll begin with Mr. McKay, six minutes.
Let me understand this bill, Mr. Fitzpatrick. I understand the politics of the bill, but when you're trying to formulate public policy, you're trying to also deal with the law of unintended consequences.
Let me address my first question to the officials with respect, if you will, to how they see the law of unintended consequences working here. Is Mr. Fitzpatrick's proposal effectively a creation of a second layer of tax exemption? All Canadian filers get somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 basic personal exemption. Effectively, in his proposal, does that essentially move it up to a $12,000 exemption for kids who are elite hockey players? Is that, in effect, the result of his bill? If that is true, where would be the next pressure to move up that exemption?
If I could get a quick response on that, I'll know where I'm going with my questions.
What about within the athletic community?
I play hockey. I've played hockey all my life. I still play hockey. I'm not very good. I thought I'd admit it before anybody else pointed it out. I appreciate that hockey is very important, not only to city life but to rural life, and I understand the cultural issues, etc.
I'm hard pressed to know why we should preference, say, hockey players above swimmers, who don't necessarily have a career path to follow once their swimming days are over, either in a club or in a university, or other areas of athletic endeavour such as gymnastics, or whatever.
Help me here, Mr. Short, and I'll ask Mr. Fitzpatrick to answer after you answer. Tell me how there's going to be any ability on the part of any government of any stripe to resist the pressures of other athletic or community organizations to get the same sort of tax relief that Mr. Fitzpatrick is asking for.
An issue that is very important to understand is that CPP and EI start at the first dollar. Income tax, with the exemption, kicks in at only a certain level. It's the Canada Pension and EI that really create the hardship on this position. Most of these players don't make anywhere close to the personal exemption amount.
The bill is designed to encourage amateur athletics, whether it's gymnastics or swimming or hockey. We have diabetes and we have obesity problems among young people. It's good that government is encouraging our culture and participation by young people.
Where I come from, the kids idolize the junior hockey players. They're out on the rink playing peewee hockey rather than sitting around watching TV or playing computer games. I think this is a good attribute.
The exemptions under sections 7 and 8 already provide a lot of exemptions for arts groups, religious groups, and other organizations. You strain to find any real meaningful exemption for encouraging young people to get active and involved with things.
At the end of the day in rural Saskatchewan, junior hockey—I mean, this isn't Toronto, these are places like Nipawin, Melford, and Estevan—is the thing that brings all aspects of the community together. That's part of their culture and their heritage. This is Gordie Howe country. That's a big part of our country.
We don't think the cost will be very high because few organizations will benefit under this act.
Pardon me, but I have to change languages.
There are a small number of organizations that would qualify under this bill, so we don't expect it would be very high cost. I think, as Mr. Fitzpatrick has suggested, they may be small amounts in general, but for the teams they may be viewed as material. But from the perspective of the government, it's not expensive.
Mr. Fitzpatrick, I'm sure there are a lot of folks in Saskatchewan who are watching intently to see how the bill carries through, and you are certainly to be complimented for coming forward and doing this on behalf of your community.
One of the things I noted within the description in the background is that you talk about this to a maximum value of $350 per month. I thought you might want to comment on the timeframe. Hockey season isn't generally 12 months out of the year. Perhaps you could just comment on that.
On the determination of whether or not there is an employee-employer relationship, employee-employer relationship is a question of jurisprudence. It's reasonably well settled, but the facts are always different in every case. So every case requires a separate analysis.
Generally speaking, you would not expect a player who is in a relationship, say, with a team or a coach to be in an employer-employee relationship. They are in a player-coach relationship. That said, once the team begins to pay non-accountable cash allowances, even if it is for something like room and board, there is really nothing more basic in terms of remuneration than that, and that is very suggestive that there is in fact an employer-employee relationship. So this is one of the factors that would have been looked at by the Canada Revenue Agency.
I am also aware, or at least I have been told, that there was a case several years ago of a junior hockey player who ceased to play for the team—I don't remember what the reasons were—who sought employment insurance benefits, and as a result of a review by the Canada Revenue Agency, it was decided that the former player was entitled to those benefits as a result of that employer-employee relationship.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
Thank you to for introducing this bill, which, as he knows, we have given general support to in the House. We haven't changed our mind at all, except that I want to register our usual concern, which is that while tax changes and tax credits help some people and do make a difference to some extent, I think we keep missing the boat in terms of finding a way to arrive at what is a proper investment in the area of sport and recreation and fitness by the federal government. It's an area that often gets dismissed as either a provincial or a local responsibility. We know from the budget that in fact the federal government's investment in this area is a pittance. It's about one-tenth of 1%. That's one-tenth of 1% of the total GDP for the federal investments in sport in this country. So I think that in fact is an issue that has to be dealt with.
We've just had the fitness tax credit, which will help some families, but it's not going to put gyms or recreation centres in place in those communities that have nothing. It's not going to help people in my community, which is a fairly low-income older neighbourhood in the north of Winnipeg that saw the Y close there 15 years ago and nothing put in its place. We're struggling with that right now. There was a little bit of support through the western diversification fund for helping us get started.
So these kids who are from lower-income families, who aren't going to benefit from tax credits of any size, shape, or form, are turning to gangs. They're looking for other ways to fill their lives. There's no recreation. There's no place to go and work out, no weight machines, no wrestling groups. It's a real dearth, a real vacuum, that is at the root of many of our problems with juvenile delinquency and youth gangs.
While I applaud your effort to recognize the need to do something—and I think this does something in that, as you said, especially in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it would be the same around helping amateur hockey teams and helping account for the expenses—it's just a drop in the bucket. So I just want to register that concern and ask you or Finance officials whether there are any plans to address this matter and what we might expect to see in the future.
Those are excellent points.
I think we have a real problem with young people in our society running astray, and we have problems with type 2 diabetes. There are lots of young people who are going to be 40 years of age and they're going to have a body of a person 75 years of age. We should be encouraging participation in things.
We support the elite programs, the Olympic programs, but that's the tail end. The grassroots is what produces that. The last Olympic team that won a gold medal for Canada had two players on the team who were graduates of our league. In the coaching system, our North American system, we've cut a lot of coaches through that league who have done very well and have contributed to hockey. So it seems to me you have to encourage the grassroots if you want things to happen. This is an attempt to get at that.
Mr. Ryan is a graduate of Notre Dame college in Saskatchewan, Père Murray's college. Père Murray--I knew him very well--brought in a lot of troubled kids from gangs and so on, took them to that little college on the prairie and turned them into leaders through good sports programs and athletics. I think it's a terrific model. It's something that may be disappearing in our society, but he got results.
I think government should be stepping up to the plate to encourage as much as they can getting our young people into good programs where there's real leadership and direction and so on. I think this is a small step in that direction, but I think it's an important one.
Yes, I'm sitting here and I'm very new to this process, so I'd just like to give a definition that has not been heard in this room about junior A hockey. I am also the president of the Canadian Junior 'A' Hockey League, which represents 140 teams across our nation, and 10 leagues. I also have support from Hockey Canada in trying to promote the concept that we are trying to take care of our athletes.
There was a lot of talk here about employer-employee relationships, pro hockey. We're not really talking about that when we're talking about paying billet amounts for athletes in our care. In Saskatchewan, in 95% of the cases in junior A hockey, these are not-for-profit organizations. They are there solely to provide opportunities for kids and provide outlets for the community. They are an entertainment factor in that community.
Again, I get frustrated by the term “employee-employer relationship”. The money that is passed to these kids simply pays their expenses, whether it be for skates or for minimal living expenses. These are not players who are gaining a wage, and that should be very clear.
It was such a skewed definition, when I heard our Finance people talk about the relationship. This was not junior A hockey that he was talking about.
Well, major junior hockey has a whole different paradigm from the junior A teams. The western major and the Ontario major hockey leagues really are in essence business operations, probably quite profitable. The owners have deep pockets. Junior A hockey in this country is a long way away from that.
As a point on that too, Mr. Pallister, the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States--a lot of our players get athletic scholarships--has the toughest rules in existence on who's an amateur. For example, there's a player with Ohio State in the big bowl game this year, and his parents are dead. He brought his six-year-old brother to Ohio State with him, and he couldn't accept any contribution from anyone for the care of that little six-year-old boy or he'd lose his eligibility as an athlete down there.
The national athletic association in the United States has looked at junior A hockey in Canada and has said, “This is amateur hockey. The players from those programs are eligible for our scholarships.” Anybody who plays a game in major junior hockey loses his eligibility. They have a common sense approach to what is amateur here, and this is an amateur grassroots organization; it's not a business operation.
This also applies to junior B teams in the country and midget hockey as well--triple A midget hockey. I'm concerned about the application of these kinds of rules. The parents entrust their kids to these teams to put them in homes and take care of them.
Does this bill protect the allowance from not being considered part of CPP and the EI? CPP may have a $3,500 deductible, but it's still going to have a $700 difference if somebody gets to $4,200. Does the $3,500 exemption kick in after the $4,200, or does it kick in from dollar one, including the allowance?
Thank you very much, Mr. Pacetti.
Thank you very much to our panel. We appreciate your time very much, and the time you gave to come here to be with us today.
We'll proceed now. Committee members, I'll explain how we structured the meeting today, and of course I'm open to the will of the committee. We've allowed 40 minutes for each of the bills and then 40 minutes to deal with clause-by-clause on the bills. If it's the will of the committee to continue the discussion, then we won't have time for clause-by-clause, and we'll have to move to another meeting to deal with the clause-by-clause.
I should emphasize to the committee that we have the Bank Act to review. We have until the third week of April to do that. We also have a maximum of about seven weeks to deal with that, plus all the other work of the committee.
It's the will of the committee that I'm here to serve, so if the committee wants to continue the discussion.... No? Okay.
We're going to move to the next bill now, and I'll invite the panellists to come forward.
Mr. McTeague, you're welcome to come forward now.
Thank you, again, gentlemen.
As committee members will know, we received thick documents from the finance department, none of which were at all useful, all of which were already in the public domain, and half of them, I believe, were post-announcement submissions that obviously had nothing to do with the fact that's leading to the minister's decision, which was the request. I think this is a mockery of the committee and the principles of accountability.
Mr. Chair, I'm suggesting two options. If the committee were unanimous, we could simply request one document from the finance department--this blacked-out document that I referred to--within, say, 48 hours. They have it? It's already there, but blacked out?
If there's not unanimity on that, then I'll have to bring in a motion for the next meeting.
We don't have unanimous consent. Order, please.
Mr. McTeague, I've invited you to begin your presentation. Five minutes.
On a point of order, Mr. Pacetti.
Mr. Chair, thank you very much for having me here. Colleagues, I'm glad to be here on such short notice. I want to thank the committee for taking the time to consider this bill.
I am joined by Mr. Peter Lewis, who is the chair of the government relations section of the RESP Dealers Association of Canada. He will also be making some comments here and perhaps provide opportunity. I am joined also by my colleague Mr. Glen Bradbury, my legislative assistant and no stranger to the Hill.
The purpose of the bill, as you know, is to amend the Income Tax Act to allow contributions to registered education savings plans to be tax deductible. This bill provides regulatory regimes similar to those for RRSPs, and it also has built-in penalties and guidelines to prevent the RESP from being used as a tax shelter, instead of having as its sole purpose the generating of funds to be used to pay educational costs.
I think all of us in this room would agree that nothing is more important to the future prosperity of our country than having a highly educated workforce, but the reality driven home to us yesterday by many students who were here is that soaring tuition costs at universities and colleges are creating concern that post-secondary education may soon be within the reach of only the wealthy. I believe many of you here will agree that such a situation would be unacceptable and would place Canada at a considerable economic disadvantage both domestically and in the international marketplace.
We know that a highly skilled workforce is paramount to Canada's future economic growth and prosperity. This bill will assist efforts to obtain more appropriate funds to address soaring education costs and enable more Canadians to attend institutions of higher learning. In addition, providing more self-generated funds from RESPs will no doubt lessen student debt upon graduation.
I must tell you that only 32% of Canadian families have RESPs to help pay for their children's education. One of the major reasons for this relatively low percentage is the financial burden it places on families to maintain an RESP. Regardless of the long-term benefit, contributing to an RESP requires after-tax monthly income, and as we well know, some families within our constituencies are simply unable to afford the minimum monthly contribution, usually $100.
Making contributions tax deductible offers families incentives and financial assistance to create and manage an RESP. In addition, making contributions tax deductible not only provides a means to help address education costs, but will also lessen post-graduation debt, which is often a debilitating financial drain, as we were witnessing yesterday. According to StatsCan, in Canada's labour market today two out of three jobs require more than a high school education. Post-secondary graduates have a higher employment rate, are less vulnerable in economic downturns, and receive higher incomes.
As I mentioned to you, a number of measures similar to those for the RSP are built into the bill to prevent the use of this as a tax shelter. We can discuss those later. I'd certainly be willing to talk about them, but there is specifically section 204.94 in part X.5 of the Income Tax Act, when it is withdrawn.
The safeguard in this bill, Mr. Chairman, is that the Income Tax Act says that under the conditions for registering the RESP, the promoter can pay if the student is enrolled as a full-time or part-time student in a qualifying educational program at a post-secondary educational institution, or the student cannot reasonably be expected to be enrolled as a full-time student due to serious medical incapacity, or the student unfortunately is deceased.
I will give you very briefly the outline, Mr. Chair. I hope there will be plenty of discussion in the next few hours or the next few minutes. I'm most concerned that we are not meeting the target and that we can do a much better job. With the coming demographic crunch of one in five Canadians being in retirement, we need to ensure that students have an opportunity to gain the skills to earn more, so that we can sustain our valuable programs and continue Canada's prosperity. That is the global reality that requires and necessitates this bold step forward.
I thank you, Mr. Chair. I look forward to your questions.
I'd first like to congratulate my colleague on his fine work on this subject, which is so critical not only to students but also to Canada's competitive position. I believe it's especially important since the Conservatives cancelled all those measures we had in our election platform, measures that would really have improved access, and replaced them with rather pathetic half measures like textbook deductions. I think your bill is particularly timely, given the inaction on this file on the part of the government.
My first question is to the officials or to you, Mr. McTeague. I'd like to know the annual cost of the measures you are proposing.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for that, Mr. McCallum. I agree with you that more can and should be done, and I believe this is an issue that should not be confined to a question of where parties stand ideologically. We all have a reality. We all have students. We all have parents who want to make sure—more than even their retirements, their RRSPs—that their children have an opportunity to gain the advantage of a decent job. That can happen only as a result of higher education.
Our institutions are badly strained. Tuition fees have risen, of necessity. The only way to meet them is to provide an instrument that currently exists within the administration of the RRSP and RESP to make a better—
I'd like to clarify another thing. Let's take the bill. In principle, we think this is an interesting measure which is based somewhat on the idea of a retirement savings plan.
It concerns "unused deduction room". In the case of a registered education savings plan, there is a contract that you sign with a company. Consequently, how can you say that there is unused deduction room? For example, if I sign a contract with the company XYZ and I undertake to pay $2,000 a year, that amount will represent my contribution. I know that I can pay $4,000, but I have chosen to limit myself to $2,000. How can you say there is "unused deduction room"?
Mr. Del Mastro, it's perception. I can look at the glass as one-third full or two-thirds empty. I prefer to call it two-thirds empty. I think we've come some way, but I'm going to let Mr. Lewis tell you about the challenges we face with people who can't even make the $100 contribution.
If only one-third, or less than one-third, are making the gain and then only with an incentive, which is a revenue commitment by governments of $575 million a year, versus the potential of only $565 million, we're not talking about the contribution ending, but I suspect that what we're seeing here is a policy that could do much better by using the instruments that are there.
If you ask most Canadians who are anticipating to contribute, many of them are not aware of the fact that it's after-income moneys, and so many middle-class-income, hardworking families, the kinds of families that you represent and I represent, can't make up the amount. So it's not so much the failure of the families to be able to save. God knows, they work hard enough. It is the fact that so many recognize that if their children are not successful, the economy will suffer down the road, certainly with the demographics that are there.
It strikes me that when we have so many students who can't make it because of the lack of programs or because there is not the ability to save in advance...you know, it's hard to get engineers in Canada to serve some of the large industries. Our industry committee has just come out with a wonderful report on manufacturing. If you can get 30 engineers in an area, you're pretty lucky. China can get 3,000, just like that. They are beating us at the education game, and that's where the pressures of globalization dictate that we have highly advanced skilled labour. I know you know that because of the work you've done with Sir Sandford Fleming College and with Trent University, and I compliment you for that.
But I think Mr. Lewis may have something to add to that to that, Mr. Del Mastro.
Okay. I'd just like to move on to a second question, if I could, or just follow up to that and agree.
First of all, I agree with you on the need to support post-secondary education. I'm just talking about this particular vehicle.
As to one of the big criticisms of this, I did speak to Bonnie Patterson, who's the president of Trent University, and she indicated to me that about 53% of students graduating from Trent have no debt whatsoever, indicating that those students are being funded either by their parents or through savings.
I'm concerned that what we have right now may well be an access problem for lower-income families, and I don't see how they could take advantage of this type of program. We know and we've heard talk of the potential financial hit to the federal reserves overall. That would seem to me to potentially weaken the amount of support that government could lend to lower-income families, to allow for access for low-income families.
How would you respond to this potential distortion that this could create, whereby it would really benefit middle- and high-income families and really move to further limit access for low-income families?
Mr. Del Mastro, we are looking at the fact that 68% or more of students are not able to take advantage of the current regime. That includes middle-income and poor students, students who are not well off.
Let me read something: “According to Statistics Canada, bachelor graduates in 2000 with student loans owed, on average, 76% more than their 1990's counterparts after adjusting for inflation. A similar increase in student debt over the same period was found for college graduates.” Also, from the Library of Parliament: “For some observers, rising student debt has become an access issue, especially in terms of students from low-income families.”
I'm not suggesting that this bill is going to cover 100%, but I can sure tell you that we will do a lot better than 32%.
Brian, Mr. Lewis is in that business and he can tell you what the shortcomings are. In my view, though, 32% after several years isn't good enough. I think we would all agree that there's a need for something to catch more, to create an opportunity for students to get access to higher education through existing means.
There are a lot of Canadians, middle-income families, in all of our ridings who are paying taxes and who would love an opportunity. We understand the rationale, but in terms of costing this, where could we go from 32%? I suspect you would get the 32% and perhaps even double that number and get a lot closer to the 90% to 100% that we need, including complementary programs for poor or lower-income students.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify our costs.
I just want to point out that the costs we provide would be in addition to the current costs of the program. We would assume those current costs would remain in place, the $600 million. The total costs would be closer to just over $1.1 billion in total.
In the current program the majority of costs are associated with the CESG contribution, and the bill does not contemplate eliminating those contributions.
So it is a significant cost item, and in that context I think we have to look at it seriously, as finance committee members.
The question I always ask is whether this gives us the best bang for our buck, given the situation facing students today. I think we heard from the students outdoors yesterday--the many who clamoured here--that this is not the appropriate way to go. They are concerned about the fact that they are paying tuition that keeps going up in many province; it's not fixed, as it has been in Manitoba. This benefit gives a tax write-off to parents as long as 17 years before tuition is due. While it may benefit some families to some extent, it is by no means an excuse or a substitute for student assistance.
So I think we have to be clear, if we support this at all, that it is not a substantive alternative to the dire needs of students today. In fact, we know that some of the major students groups would have said outdoors yesterday, if they'd been able to bear the cold.... La Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec has said that the federal government must completely review the national registered education savings plan and the Canada education savings grant, which amount to $225 million and almost $500 million respectively.
Similarly, the Canadian Federation of Students has said, “We therefore recommend that the federal government transfer the money now spent on the RESP program and other tax credits to the low-income grant. We estimate this transfer alone, a revenue-neutral transfer, would reduce student debt by 41%.”
While I don't want to just be negative about your proposal, Dan McTeague, I do think that as parliamentarians we have to be very responsible and look at what we're trying to accomplish and where we could be most effective. It seems to me that there's no point in putting a band-aid on a band-aid. In fact, while this might benefit a few more families, get beyond the reach of the bulk of families who now access it because they earn more than $80,000 a year, and go down a bit further into some middle-income families, it's not going to do much for low-income families that don't have the money to begin with. It's not going to do much for those students who are trying to figure out a way to scrape together the money to go to school and cover all their costs.
I have one other concern. It has been reported at many of our meetings in the past that the Ontario Securities Commission has been critical of this plan and others like it because of sometimes dodgy sales practices, early-redemption penalties, and loose portrayal of investment returns. In this climate, when we are dealing with so many contentious issues on that front, I think we have to be pretty vigilant, as parliamentarians, about what we agree to.
I'm not suggesting, Peter Lewis, that you're dodgy, by any stretch of the imagination. I'm simply making the generalization that the Ontario Securities Commission has made. I know that if we have a choice, when push comes to shove it would make much more sense to take the $1.6 billion that's going into this program and put it directly into student aid. A lot more students would be able to access the education that says is so necessary for the future of this country.
Thank you very much, Madam Wasylycia-Leis. Speaking of “push comes to shove”, we'll have to push on now.
There really wasn't a question there, Dan, so we're going to continue.
I want to allow a bit more time for questions to accommodate the people who are on the list here. So with the committee's approval, we'll give just another three questions at three minutes each.
We'll start with Mr. Pacetti.
Now let's go to subclause 2(4), which amends section 146.1 of the Act by adding subsection (2.01). Here we're talking about the lesser of the amounts described in paragraphs (a) and (b). In the case of the amount described in paragraph (b), it may be understood that, in many cases, it may reach $18,000. In paragraph (a), in the French at least, where it refers to "l'excédent éventuel du total des montants", does that represent the surplus amount contributed to the plan? If so, that would then be zero in most cases, and there would never be any possible deduction.
There's a contradiction in the text, at least in French. The bill reads:
||(2.01) Un contribuable peut déduire dans le calcul de son revenu pour une année d'imposition le montant qu'il demande, à concurrence du moins élevé des montants suivants:
I understand from this that you can't exceed the amount in question. The first of the amounts, which raises a problem, is what's described as "l'excédent éventuel du total des montants représentant chacun une cotisation...".
That implies that, if he has never exceeded the limit, the taxpayer is not entitled to deduct anything whatever. That makes no sense.
Committee members, I'm going to need a little guidance here, as is the custom.
We have a couple of bills before us. We have a shorter deadline on Mr. Fitzpatrick's. I'm going to propose that we deal with Mr. Fitzpatrick's on clause-by-clause. I do not know and I cannot predict how long that will take. We have only 25 minutes remaining. I don't wish to keep Mr. McTeague unnecessarily. Would it be all right with the committee if we deferred clause-by-clause on Mr. McTeague's until the next available opportunity to allow him and his staff to go about their business?
Thank you, Mr. McTeague. Then we'll do that. I see your Liberal colleagues would like your attendance to be mandatory and to continue, but I'll dismiss you now. We'll take 30 seconds, the cameras will be off, and we'll deal then with clause-by-clause on Mr. Fitzpatrick's bill right now.
Before Finance officials leave, I understand we may need some answers to some questions during clause-by-clause. I'd encourage you to stay for a few minutes, anyway. I would appreciate it if Finance officials would hang around just for 20 minutes, just in case there are some questions pertinent to the issue.
All right, we're into clause-by-clause consideration now of Bill .
(On clause 1)
The Chair: You have in front of you an amendment. I would emphasize to committee members, for the maximum effective use of time, that the cameras are off.
It's Diane's amendment, isn't it? Would you like to speak to that?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill as amended carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill as amended to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: I'm sorry, I have one final question. Shall the committee order a reprint of the bill as amended for the use of the House at report stage?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Thank you, and congratulations to you, Mr. Fitzpatrick, on behalf of all junior hockey programs.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a notice of motion from Mr. St-Cyr. The motion's been distributed, has it?
Monsieur St-Cyr, I'll invite you to speak to the motion, which is now being distributed.
A week ago, you received a motion requesting that our committee examine tax measures granted, among others, to oil companies, more particularly regarding the oil sands. We propose to determine whether it would be appropriate to reduce those incentives in order to transform them into renewal energy incentives. So we're talking about holding two meetings with witnesses and one meeting to prepare recommendations for the minister for the next budget.
I had made a similar recommendation in the context of the prebudget consultations, and it was rejected. I'm aware of that. However, I believe that the environment is once again a current issue. All the parties in the House attach an importance to it and to the measures that may be taken.
The purpose is to examine the question. We can then make recommendations to the minister, in one way or another. I think it's necessary to take a stand on this issue in order to show Canadians and Quebeckers that we're doing our job as they've asked us to do.
Then there'd be one meeting left before March 2 to study and prepare the recommendations.
The process has to have a timetable. I agree that we should set the detailed agenda in the steering committee. I don't want the 12 of us to discuss it, but I'd like us to agree on the fact that we have to have finished before the budget, before the budget debate starts again.
If all we have to do is delete "two sessions before February 23", I agree.
So we will be removing “2 sessions before February 23”.
No it's March 2 in English.
This shows the two solitudes. There's nothing new in that.
So we want them both to say "March 2"? All right.
All right. So we have Mr. St-Cyr's agreement that the references to two sessions before February 23 be removed from this, and now we are dealing with the notice of motion by Mr. St-Cyr in respect of this.
Mr. McCallum, I believe you had a chance to make your comments, so I'll move to Mr. Del Mastro now.
Mr. Chair, I don't see the point in this whatsoever. We've gone through this. We visited Fort McMurray. We listened to several people bring forward evidence to this effect. We've all had an opportunity in pre-budget consultations.
This may well be something worthwhile doing, but not while we have to get to the Bank Act. We have to get some of the work done that's before this committee, so that we can actually achieve that which we've been charged with achieving. This is not part of our agenda. You have had an opportunity to present a minority report to the Minister of Finance, which I assume he will be duly considering.
I don't see the urgency in this, and I really encourage Liberal members across to be responsible and let us get to the Bank Act, as we are supposed to. This is only going to take us away from getting the work done that we have to get done, and I really object to it.
Thank you, Mr. Del Mastro.
Now. I have several other people. Monsieur St-Cyr, I'll let you round up the discussion after other members have a chance to venture in.
No, monsieur, I have five other people who wish to speak first. Thierry, you'll have the chance to wind up discussion. I will not entertain other discussion now.
Mr. Chairman, I would just like to point out to the committee, with respect to the Bank Act, that we do not have until April to do this work. April is when royal assent has to be given to changes that we recommend to the Bank Act, which the House votes on. So we have to report back to the House with our recommendations on Bill well before that. In fact, we have to do it by February 22.
With all of the extra time that has been spent on the happy game of Conservative-bashing on income trusts, we have lost a great deal of time. So we have to get that Bank Act review out. A lot of financial institutions have been waiting quite a while for this, and we simply can't hold it up again. It was already held up six months. I think it would be extremely irresponsible. So whatever we do, let's do our job for the country, and then we can play some political games after that, if we have time.
I'll be very quick, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I agree with my colleagues on the Bank Act. I've had lots of people come to see me about our moving on that and getting on with that. But my other point is—whether my Bloc friends would ever take it or not—that there is a special committee of Parliament looking at the Clean Air Act and environmental issues. The financing of some of those items will be dealt with, I'm assuming, at that committee. So my suggestion is that if you're really interested in this topic, it be referred to that committee so they can get Finance people to come and talk about incentives there, and not here, and that we get on with Bank Act.
I'd like to make three points, if you'll permit me.
The first is that, unlike the Conservatives, I do think this is a very urgent issue that needs our attention, and I think it needs as many committees as possible dealing with it.
The second point I would make is that we do, however, have a standing order for the House of Commons that says very clearly that legislation from the House of Commons takes precedence over any other matter. We've already seen that principle violated. The practice of the House has been turned upside down with the move by both the Liberals and the Bloc on income trusts. We're now going to see another day taken away from the time we need to be dealing with bills, so I hope that is clearly stated when we deal with this at a steering committee meeting and that we as a committee come to some agreement about commitment to the Standing Orders.
My third point is that while I might be able to support this to some extent, I also want to point out the hypocrisy of the Bloc in bringing this forward along with the support of the Liberals, and I point these members to the fact that motions were presented during the pre-budget consultation hearings. Three of them that I moved received no support from anyone. Those three motions--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: Mr. Chairman, I got no support on three motions. They were that the government should eliminate the current accelerated capital cost allowance for oil sands. That's one. The second one called for the removal--
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: Let me finish, please. It was for the removal of subsidies for non-renewable and nuclear energy industries. Finally, Mr. Chair, and most interestingly, there was no support from the Bloc or the Liberals or the Conservatives for just a simple recommendation that we call for a study on the effectiveness of tax incentives and subsidies for non-renewable and nuclear industries.
I find it passing strange. Just to keep on top of the moving target of the Bloc and the Liberals--I don't oppose this, but I find it very strange to see the kind of politics they are playing.