|| That, given accusations by experts that the Minister of Finance’s family business, Morneau Shepell, stands to benefit from the proposed changes outlined in "Tax Planning Using Private Corporations" and assurances by the Minister that he has abided by his Public Declaration of Agreed Compliance Measures with respect to his family business, the House request that the Minister table all documents he submitted to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner between November 4, 2015, and July 18, 2017.
He said: Mr. Speaker, the has awesome powers to help or hinder individual businesses, particularly those businesses that deal in products like pensions. A minister of finance knows beforehand about government decisions that move markets and push individual companies up or down, and his decisions can impact the direct bottom line of companies in which everyday Canadians invest and for which they work. No one in government has more power over taxation, regulations, tariffs, subsidies, or government bond auctions, all of which have direct impact on the fortunes of individual businesses.
He who has the most control over the nation's finances should have the most transparency over his interests. From those to whom much is given, much is asked. We give ministers the power to impact the lives of everyday people. We expect that they prove they are exercising those decisions in the public interest and not the private interest. This is especially true of the, for whom these powers are so vast.
We are not dealing with an ordinary . His father built a billion-dollar financial services firm. According to last available insider trader reports, the current finance minister held over $30-million worth of shares in that fine family business as of 2015. Since he became minister, he stopped disclosing his holdings, which is greatly ironic: we knew more about his interests before he was finance minister than we do now.
Public filings with the insider trading reports ensured that he, as a corporate executive, was accountable to his shareholders. He now has no similar accountability to the 35 million shareholders we call Canadian citizens. This company is of direct interest to the minister's department.
I will read from the Morneau Shepell website:
|| Morneau Shepell is the largest provider of pension administration technology and services in Canada. We offer a full range of solutions from software to full outsourcing of pension administration.
Who regulates pensions in Canada? It is the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. To whom does that office report? Why, it is the , and that office regulates “...1,200 pension plans”.
Interestingly, if we go to the Morneau Shepell website, it makes direct reference to that office, saying that the office appoints Morneau Shepell to wind down the pension plans of bankrupt companies. If a company pension plan is going under, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions needs someone to oversee the pension. In the meantime, it picks from a variety of providers. Of course, there is a financial benefit to whoever is selected, and Morneau Shepell brags on its website that it offers its own services to this office that reports directly to the .
There are broad and sweeping regulations at a national level to federally regulated pension plans. Of course, Morneau Shepell offers those pension plans. Pension plans also purchase government bonds. The sells government bonds.
Every year we have new issuances of government bonds as the government runs deficits and needs to borrow money and past bonds come to maturity and need to be renewed. They are sold to institutional investors, such as pension funds, of which Morneau Shepell is one. The family business buys government bonds and the finance minister sells government bonds.
Then there is the issue of taxation. The , of course, is responsible for setting tax policy for the whole country. That is important for everyone, but especially for companies whose interests and activities are so dramatically impacted by tax levels and tax rules. Allow me to provide one example.
The minister proposed in his July 18 consultation paper to double tax the investment income private businesses earn within their companies. The result is that many of them would be forced to take their retirement savings out of their private companies and put them into individual pension plans, a unique and not well-understood product. A few Canadians hold them, and far fewer companies offer them. One of those companies is Morneau Shepell. The minister might say that he did not take that into consideration when he made his public policy proposal, but we do not know that, because we are not familiar with what holdings he continues to possess.
Furthermore, the minister has defended Canada's 40-year-long tax treaty with Barbados. That treaty allows Canadian companies and wealthy individuals to pay only 2.5% tax in Barbados and to then ship the rest of their profits back to Canada tax free. The minister's family business has registered a subsidiary in Barbados to take advantage of exactly those favourable tax conditions, so the is responsible for reviewing a tax treaty with a tax haven where his family business has a subsidiary.
Here is what we know about the . His father built a billion-dollar family business. As of 2015, the finance minister was receiving employment income from that family business, and as of that same year, he had $30 million in shares in that company. Since he has become minister, we no longer know if he holds on to those shares, and it is not because the minister has not been asked. He has been asked on probably a dozen occasions, and he simply refuses to answer. For the longest time, most people thought he could not answer. It is in a blind trust, so he would not know.
On Twitter late last week, I had an exchange with the Liberal member for downtown Toronto, who came leaping to the defence by saying that the money is obviously in an arm's-length blind trust, so how could the minister possibly know where his money is, as it is all blinded to him. I do not blame that Liberal member for saying that, because most of the press gallery thought exactly the same thing. Everyone just assumed that if a has shares in a financial company, they would have to go into a blind trust.
Through two weeks of intrepid investigative journalism, The Globe and Mail finally was able to extract the fact that the minister does not have a blind trust, so he knows what he holds. He knows his assets. He knows what they are. Why will he not tell everyone else? Some might suggest that this is an intimate, private detail that we could not possibly ask someone to volunteer to strangers. That is an odd response, given that he was, as a corporate executive, forced to reveal exactly the same facts. Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that a corporate executive had a higher standard of public transparency than the ?
An hon. member: You are not alone.
Hon. Pierre Poilievre: I am not alone, Mr. Speaker.
I think most Canadians would think that the man who directs our taxation regulations, subsidies, tariffs, and financial regulation policy in this country, and is responsible for $300 billion of public spending, would have a higher degree of public disclosure than a corporate executive. However, those who would expect that would be wrong, at least under the present government.
I found this particularly surprising, because when I was a parliamentary secretary, I opened a very meagre stock portfolio. I will not say exactly how much, but it was well shy of $30 million. I know the members of the House are shocked to hear that. I am the son of two teachers. The reality is that I did not have $30 million. I went to the Ethics Commissioner, and she said, “Yes, I am afraid that is going into a blind trust.” At the end of the day, I put that in a blind trust for as long as I held it and maintained that blind trust separate and out of my control.
We think a parliamentary secretary should not be able to know what he or she owns in the stock market. Why on God's green earth would we expect it to be appropriate for the to own tens of millions of dollars of interest without either putting it into a blind trust, divesting it altogether, or at the very least, telling the public what he holds?
During the Paul Martin era, he owned Canada Steamship Lines. I thought it was particularly egregious the way that arranged his affairs, reflagging his ships to avoid paying the same taxes he imposed on other Canadians. At least we could debate those facts in the Martin era, because we knew them. He, at least, to his credit, made clear to Canadians that he had this massive shipping empire under his command, and then subsequently under the command of his children while he was pulling the financial strings of the country.
Today we are expected to just trust the and assume he wants us to have blind trust in him, even though he does not have a blind trust himself. This is the same minister who already broke the requirements of the ethics act by covering up his offshore corporation in France, which owns his villa there, a villa that may produce rental income. That, of course, would not be taxed in Canada, because it would be held in that shell corporation offshore. Meanwhile, the minister wants to impose higher taxes on private corporations here in Canada, the mom and pop grocery stores that cannot afford the lawyers and consultants to set them up with offshore companies in France. They will pay higher taxes on their passive income while his policy allows him to continue to accumulate riches abroad, out of the reach of the same tax system he would impose on everyone else.
Going back to the parliamentary secretary, when that member from downtown Toronto told us over Twitter that his minister had a blind trust, someone asked him why. He responded that it is the “laaaaaaaaaw”, with nine letter a's to emphasize the importance of the law. I honestly believe that the member thought the minister would have to have a blind trust to function in any kind of ethical environment and avoid conflicts of interest.
We should all turn our thoughts to the junior staffers in ministers' offices who make modest middle-class incomes and have to put their $5,000 RRSPs in blind trusts. What must they think of a minister on the front bench who not only cannot be bothered to respect the same principle but who thinks he is entitled to hide his interests and potential conflicts from the Canadian people who pay his salary? That is emblematic of the kind of entitlement the millionaire and the millionaire have come to possess.
I understand why they would be out of touch. They do not appreciate that everyday Canadians do not have multi-million dollar trust funds handed down to them from their grandparents and their parents. The has been very blessed with what he likes to boast of as his family fortune. His grandfather ran an oil and gas empire, and the Prime Minister today is still living off the fruits of his grandfather's hard work and labour. The has been very blessed to come from a family that built a billion-dollar family business. Both of them are very well taken care of by these family trusts they enjoy and the inheritances that have been passed down to them. I do not begrudge their families their success, but I ask that they hold themselves to the same standard as everyone else.
Average Canadians pay higher taxes under the government. We saw how the and the meticulously designed a tax increase, targeted at local businesses and family farmers, that would protect their family fortunes. The billion-dollar family business of the finance minister, Morneau Shepell, is publicly traded, so it faced no new taxes under this latest attack on small businesses. The went out and boasted to the media that his family fortune would not be affected by any of the tax increases. Meanwhile, the hard-working entrepreneurs who started with nothing and built their way from the ground up were expected to pay taxes as high as 71%.
It is as though the and the were at the top of a castle wall looking down at the peasants and pulling up the ladder so that nobody could climb and join the court. This is the imagery the government creates when it protects the aristocratic wealth of the and the and prevents everyone else from having an opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves the same way the finance minister's father and the Prime Minister's grandfather were able to build for their families.
This comes back to the essential debate we are having in this country. On the other side, we see a desire for a government-run economy. Do not get me wrong. People are able to get rich; it is how they get rich. In a free market economy, people get rich by having the best product. In a government-run economy, people get rich by having the best lobbyists. A free market economy allows people to get ahead on merit. In a government-run economy, people get ahead on connections. In a free market economy, people can only be better off if they sell things that are worth more to them than what they paid for them. In a government-run economy, people get ahead by using political power to transform itself into financial power.
A free market system has allowed literally billions of people around the world to escape grinding poverty and achieve a better future for all. It is the greatest poverty-fighting machine ever invented. It is the best system we know. We understand that the government across the way does not believe in it. It believes in a government-directed economy, where insiders get ahead using their political power, where the power of force is used to extract money from the pockets of people who have earned it and to put it into the hands of those who have not.
Ours is a struggle for the hard-working middle-class people who put in a hard day's work for a better life. We ask that the and the prove that they share that same goal by revealing to all Canadians the vested interests they possess so that all of us can ensure that they are acting in the public interest and not in their narrow private interests.
Mr. Speaker, the official opposition's motion today is clearly of interest to Canadians. I do not know if “regret” is the right word, but it is lamentable, I suppose, that we need to spend a day in Parliament asking for something that should have been clear and obvious when the took on the most important job in the cabinet, outside of the 's job. There has been a pattern with the finance minister.
Maybe I am naive, but I think many Canadians believed the two years ago when he suggested that he would put his wealth into a blind trust. I believed him, because that was the obvious thing for a finance minister to do. Paul Martin did that, as well as a succession of finance ministers, because if they are wealthy and have assets that could be impacted by the decisions they make as finance ministers, the only way to shield themselves from ethical violations, either perceived or real, in which they would benefit from their ministerial decisions is to put all their assets into a blind trust, as the did. I believe the health minister and other ministers in the current cabinet did, like previous cabinets did.
Today the Conservatives are requesting access to what the Ethics Commissioner was told. I believe those conversations, by their nature, need to have some element of privacy so that people can divulge information to the commissioner, and because MPs have to share a lot of personal information with her. If one has held a senior position in a private company like Morneau Shepell, one would have to divulge a great deal of personal information about one's shares and when those shares get sold. There is also legal counsel within a company to advise about the sale of shares. With Equifax recently, we saw senior management of a company that was in a lot of trouble suddenly start selling shares.
However, on the political side, is there perhaps a gap in the way that our ethics and conflict of interest legislation is designed that something like this could happen, whereby, in a private meeting with an Ethics Commissioner, finance ministers could simply choose not to put things into a blind trust and choose, in that way, to expose themselves to a conflict of interest?
I concern myself with the larger conversation in this country, which is our economy, how things are managed, and how a finance minister could continue to do his job when he is shrouded in this much personal controversy of his own making. Do we need to strengthen the way that disclosures happen so that the obvious and ethical thing happens each and every single time, not just by that person's particular choice?
Mr. Speaker, I would remind hon. members that the has been working with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to ensure that he is abiding by all her recommendations and every conflict of interest law and that every appropriate measure is in place.
The commissioner conducted a thorough review before issuing her recommendations, which the minister followed. The has full confidence in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and in her recommendations. He is prepared to take any measure deemed necessary by the commissioner in order to avoid any conflict or any perceived conflict.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has the full confidence of Parliament with regard to her ability to do her work with impartiality, integrity and independence. On this side of the House, we respect the commissioner's independence. This is the opposition's attempt to distract from what our government is doing for small businesses and the middle class.
Let us talk about that. I am pleased to rise in the House to go over what our government is doing to improve tax fairness, reduce inequality, and foster inclusive growth. Earlier this month, the government concluded its consultations on its proposals for resolving the issue of tax planning using private corporations. Throughout these consultations, we listened to Canadians from across the country. It is fair to say that the federal government's consultations made it possible for a record number of Canadians to be heard. The received more than 21,000 submissions and met Canadians from St. John's to Vancouver at roundtables and town halls as well as online forums. I also know that many members of all parties, especially Liberals, did the same thing.
As the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, I personally met with many Canadians, including small business owners, farmers, and industry representatives to discuss these proposals. On behalf of the , I would like to thank the many people who participated in the discussion. I especially want to thank them for their frank and extensive dialogue, which will help the government strike the right balance in carrying out its promise to improve tax fairness in order to help the middle class and to achieve inclusive growth.
Yesterday, the announced the steps the government plans to take to further support Canada's small businesses. I will talk about this announcement in a moment, but first I would like to remind my hon. colleagues how we got to where we are today.
First and foremost, I would like to assure all members that the government is committed to guaranteeing a healthy, business-friendly economic climate, as well as protecting the ability of Canadian businesses to invest, grow, innovate, and create jobs. In the two years since we came into office, more than 400,000 jobs have been created, most of them full-time. These results are due in part to strong economic growth and the sound investments our government has made in our economy and our society.
Our fiscal position is better than forecast in March. In fact, for the fiscal year that ended on March 31, we had a budget deficit of $17.8 billion, which is $11.6 billion less than was forecast in 2015. Ours is currently the fastest-growing economy by far in the G7.
The results for the second quarter this year showed that the economy grew by an impressive 4.5%. Over the past four quarters, our economy has grown at the fastest rate since the beginning of 2006. The policies we have put in place since we came into office, which include investing in infrastructure, giving more money back to the middle class, and implementing the Canada child benefit, have been praised worldwide for stimulating the economy and giving middle-class Canadians greater flexibility.
This strong economic growth is proof that the plan we put in place two years ago is working. We began laying the foundation for this economic growth the moment we took office. The first thing we did when we started our mandate two years ago, as people may know, was to raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% so we could cut them for nine million Canadians. This middle-class tax cut has been benefiting nine million Canadians, and we are proud of that. Single individuals who benefit from this tax cut are saving an average of $330 each year, and couples an average of $540 each year.
Our government has also made child benefits more generous and better targeted to those who need them the most. With the new Canada child benefit, we have lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. Since July 2016, nine out of 10 Canadian families with children are receiving more in child benefits than they did under the previous system.
We also expanded the Canada pension plan to ensure Canadians would be better off financially in their retirement. The strengthened CPP will provide more money to Canadians when they retire. so they can worry less about their savings and focus more on enjoying time with their families.
Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member had listened to my introduction, he would know that I mentioned that the worked with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and that he will continue to do so in order to be fully compliant with all her recommendations at all times, as he has done from the start by working transparently.
As I said in the introduction, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner did a thorough review of the minister's file before he took office, and the minister followed her recommendations. We believe that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner always acts in a perfectly honest and independent manner, and we respect her independence.
I would like to speak more specifically to the good work that the does for Canadians.
Strengthening the CPP will increase the maximum benefit by about 50% over time, giving retired Canadians a more dignified retirement.
Now we are moving on to the next step in our plan to grow the economy and achieve better tax fairness for middle-class Canadians and those working hard to achieve the middle class.
We will be the first to point to small business as being one of the reasons the economy is growing the fastest in the G7.
Our government is committed to ensuring that businesses can prosper in Canada. In keeping with that commitment, I am pleased to inform the hon. members in the Chamber that the announced the government's intention to lower the small business tax rate in 2019, while presenting proposals intended to fix a tax system that is inherently unfair for the middle class.
The government intends to lower the small business tax rate to 10% as of January 1, 2018, and then to 9% as of January 1, 2019. These tax cuts are in recognition of the importance of small businesses to the lives of Canadians and of their contribution to the Canadian economy. Small businesses are a key driver of the Canadian economy. They represent 98% of all businesses and are responsible for over 70% of all private sector jobs.
Low corporate tax rates are meant to promote capital investment in business and growth in Canada. These investments, whether they are for the acquisition of more efficient equipment or technology or for the hiring of additional personnel, make companies more productive and competitive.
These investments also stimulate economic growth and help create jobs and raise wages. However, as the government lowers taxes for small businesses, it must ensure that Canada's low corporate tax rates support businesses rather than give unfair and objectionable advantages to a small number of wealthier and higher-income individuals, who use private corporations as a tax planning tool. That was not the intent of the measure.
Our current tax system encourages the wealthy to incorporate so that they obtain a tax advantage. This means that, in some cases, a person who earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year may benefit from a lower tax rate than a middle-class worker who earns much less. That is not fair, and our government intends to remedy that situation.
This week, the government is introducing the approach it intends to take to better target tax strategies used by a relatively small number of high-income individuals, who benefit the most from existing tax rules. To do so, we are relying on the feedback Canadians provided during our recent consultations on tax planning using private corporations. We have heard from Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We are a government that believes that consulting with Canadians and members of Parliament is a good thing and that it helps us to strike the right balance.
In the coming weeks and months, our government will announce the next steps in its plan to resolve the issue of tax planning using private corporations, a plan that reflects the comments we heard during our consultation period.
With every one of the changes the government makes, it will do the following: support small businesses and their contributions to Canada's communities and our economy; keep taxes low for small businesses and support owners to actively invest in their growth, create jobs, strengthen entrepreneurship, and grow our economy; avoid creating unnecessary red tape for small business owners, who work hard, as we know; recognize the importance of maintaining family farms and work with Canadians to ensure we do not affect the transfer of a family farm to the next generation; conduct a gender-based analysis on finalized proposals to ensure that any changes to our tax system promote gender equity.
As the Prime Minister confirmed at his announcement yesterday, the government is introducing a new proposal designed to limit the ability of a small number of owners of high-income private corporations to reduce the personal tax they have to pay by sprinkling their income to family members. However, the government intends to simplify its proposal on income sprinkling to guarantee that the changes we are proposing do not add any unnecessary red tape. We must emphasize that the vast majority of private corporations will not be impacted by the proposed income-sprinkling measures. In fact, we estimate that only 50,000 family-owned private businesses are sprinkling their income. This is a small fraction, around 3%, of Canadian-controlled private corporations.
We are making changes in order to eliminate the tax advantages that only wealthier individuals with access to the services of accountants can enjoy. We have listened to small business owners, professionals, farmers and fishers, and we are going to act on what we have heard in order to avoid unexpected or undesirable consequences.
This simplified proposal addresses the concerns we heard during the consultations. We heard that our initial proposal was too complicated and caused uncertainty among family members.
We also heard the concerns of family businesses, especially those involved in agriculture or the fishery, about our proposals to limit the lifetime capital gains exemption. In light of the feedback we received from Canadians, we will not for the moment implement any measures that would limit eligibility for this lifetime exemption. We will also continue to carefully examine all the comments that the government has received.
In addition to the middle-class tax cut and the Canada child benefit I mentioned earlier, I would like to highlight some of the government's other key achievements to help support middle-class Canadians.
For example, over the last two years the government prioritized the movement of people and goods by making historic investments in our infrastructure. The government made long-term investments in our infrastructure because it believes it to be crucial to the future of our country and our economy. That is why, in our first budget, we committed $11.9 billion over five years to support public transit, green infrastructure, and social infrastructure.
Also, in the 2016 fall economic statement, we announced a further $81.2 billion that will go towards critical infrastructure over a period of 11 years. These funds will support public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, transportation that supports trade, Canada’s rural and northern communities, and its smart cities. These are investments that improve the way Canadians live, commute and work.
These public transit investments will help Canadians benefit from a faster commute, reduced air pollution, more access to well-paid jobs, and stronger economic growth. These investments reflect Canadians' commitment to one another and to future generations.
We will have even more work to do going forward. Part of the work will involve making changes to create a fairer tax system for the benefit of all Canadians, one where hard-working small business owners are rewarded for their efforts, and big businesses are able to grow, create jobs, and contribute to our country's growth.
Our announcement yesterday means greater support for small and medium-sized businesses. In these times of economic growth, Canadians need to share the fruit of that growth, and they deserve it.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from , which I think is an excellent idea.
It is with some interest, and I suppose with some regret almost, that I read the opposition day motion that came from the Conservatives today. The regret is only in the sense that we have to spend a day of Parliament asking for something that should be open and obvious to everybody, and that we have to go before Parliament, have a vote in Parliament, to ask one of the highest office holders in the land to be open and transparent with Canadians about a perceived and, I would argue, real potential conflict of interest within his portfolio.
I would be surprised if, by the end of the day, the minister does not just walk into Parliament and place the documents in front of all Canadians. Clearly, that would solve a whole series of problems that we have with the current situation, which is highly unusual. I am not sure I have ever seen an opposition day motion like this. I am not sure I have ever seen a finance minister in this particular mess, which is a mess entirely of his own making and circumstance.
I go back to the 's own proclamation, his dedication to Canadians, which said:
||...transparent government is good government. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.
It seems self-evident to me that, if the government is saying to trust it, then the government must also trust Canadians. What we would ask the to trust Canadians with is that, if he is acting ethically, if he is acting in a way that does not personally benefit and enrich him and his family, then he should be able to tell us.
Now, we have a couple of concerns with the way the has conducted himself, but I want to walk through this.
If we go back almost a full two years to October 28, 2015, to an interview with The Globe and Mail talking about the coming in, the article reads that under the conflict act the Finance Minister “would be expected to either sell off his assets or place them in a blind trust”.
The , prior to public life, in private life, ran a company called Morneau Shepell very successfully. He owned some $43 million in shares, give or take, we think, but we do not know. He has been asked 14 or 15 times now if he is still in possession of those shares, if he still owns assets, and if he is involved in the company. However, each and every time, he has refused to answer.
Yesterday, at a press conference with the , there was this very uncomfortable moment when the press were asking the Finance Minister a direct question that only the could answer. As he moved forward to the microphone to answer, to be accountable to Canadians, as the Prime Minister demanded in his orders to cabinet, the Prime Minister said that he would be answering the questions. The Finance Minister had to take a step back and could be heard to say, “He's the boss”. The question that then relates to this is whether the Finance Minister has the confidence of the Prime Minister.
He has certainly lost a great deal of confidence with Canadians, particularly in the small business sector, and particularly with Canadians who watch and realize that the owns a private villa in France, had sheltered it under a private company to avoid paying taxes if he were then to pass it on to his children, while promoting legislation that would have prevented the same ability for farmers to pass their farm on to their kids. The contradiction of this is incredible. The Finance Minister actually used the tax code in such a way as to shelter his private villa in Provence from taxes, while promoting policies that would not allow a farmer to sell his or her farm to his or her kids.
We would think of that as out of touch, clearly, but then we start to step into the ethics of the question. We raised the concern earlier today. Late last night, I wrote to the Ethics Commissioner asking her to launch a second investigation into the 's dealings. This is highly regrettable, because the Finance Minister, as of two years ago in an interview, said:
|| I suspect all my assets will go into a blind trust.
|| I've already communicated with the Ethics Commissioner in that regard.
I, like most Canadians, believed him. Why? Well, it was because of course this is what he would have to do. The conflicts of interest, particularly for a finance minister, are obvious. If a finance minister owns assets, millions of dollars of shares in a company that deals with financial matters, the minister simply could not maintain his or her interests and would either have to sell the shares or put them in a blind trust where he or she could no longer affect them, as every finance minister I have ever heard of has done in the past.
What makes this special? Special would be one word for it. This is unprecedented. I have not seen a finance minister put himself in not only such a perception but actual conflict of interest with his duties.
Let us take one example. It is not just the budget, not just regulating banks, not just trying to guide the economy and the effect that could have on his private holdings, but a specific example is a bill the finance minister promoted in Parliament. He sponsored it. It is Bill , which changes the way pensions work in Canada, leading to the option of targeted benefit plans, which is what they are called. It is a transition from one to another. New Brunswick put this through. Who was the lead consultant when New Brunswick went through changing its pension plan to one of these targeted benefit plans? It was Morneau Shepell. That is interesting. The finance minister, while he was head of Morneau Shepell, promoted targeted benefit plans, these specific types of insurance schemes. Because his company worked on that and made profit from it, he made money from it.
He then became finance minister, did not sell his shares in the company, kept his interests there, then promoted a piece of legislation that would help out that very same company that he is still involved with, from which he still benefits. It is jaw-dropping. If this is not the very definition of conflict of interest, I do not know what is. In future years, when Canadians studying politics look through the handbook of political terms, they will see “conflict of interest” and will see a picture of our finance minister there. I have never seen anything like this. There is no blind trust, no selling off the shares, but placing himself directly in the way of a conflict of interest accusation, so we have written to the finance minister.
Let me quote again. This was in a declaration made from the Prime Minister's Office two years ago:
|| Our plan for an open and accountable government will allow us to modernize how the Canadian government works, so that it better reflects the values and expectations of Canadians. At its heart is a simple idea: open government is good government. For Canadians to trust our government we must trust Canadians, and we will only be successful in implementing our agenda to the extent that we earn and keep this trust.
Here is the good part. It is from the 's Office, from his own lips.
|| To be worthy of Canadians’ trust, we must always act with integrity. This is not merely a matter of adopting the right rules, or of ensuring technical compliance with those rules. As Ministers, you and your staff must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny.
The last bit seems relevant to today, does it not? Has the finance minister sold his shares in Morneau Shepell? We have asked 14 times. He has refused to answer. Does he still have those shares? We do not know. Did he promote a bill that would in fact elevate the value of those shares? Yes, he did.
There is no particular joy taken in watching the credibility of government, the trust and faith that Canadians need to hold in their government, take another hit. Lord knows we have had enough of them, from the Senate scandals to personal scandals. I have not in my 14 years, as brief a time as that has been here in Parliament, seen anything close to this, where the appearance and obvious example of a conflict of interest has existed.
There is only one way to attempt to alleviate the cloud that sits over the right now, and that is if he comes forward with full disclosure, if he follows the documents he signed, the promises he made to Canadians when he came into cabinet, if he follows his own words, “I suspect all my assets will go into a blind trust” and that he had already communicated with the Ethics Commissioner in that regard, and if he follows the words of the : “If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians”.
I do not know how the finance minister will get himself out of this mess. It will be incredibly difficult. I do not know how he does his job right now. Distractions at work prevent us sometimes from being good at what we need to do. Canadians need him to be good at what he does. Canadians need him to be focused on the task at hand. Canadians need him to be honest and consistent and have the highest ethical standards and integrity. I am not sure those things are true today.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from for his tireless efforts and the excellent work that he does on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, often on short notice. He advocates for the issues that he cares about both inside and outside the House.
Once again, we have before us some major ethical issues involving this government. Over the past two years, we have talked about a number of scandals in the House and even outside the House with the media. The Liberals have shown that their government is anything but transparent. During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals announced that the wind of change was blowing, that things would be different, and that their government would be transparent. However, the reason we are debating this Conservative motion today is that something unethical has occurred and we are trying to shed some light on it.
We are discussing an issue that I wish we did not have to discuss, because that is not why I decided to stand for election in my wonderful constituency of Jonquière in 2014. We were elected to represent and to serve the interests of Canadians, not those in a particular privileged class. If it turns out that the 's family business stands to profit from the measures proposed in the document entitled Tax Planning Using Private Corporations, we must therefore conclude that we have before us a major problem of ethics and transparency.
How is it that this government, just like the previous government, is not capable of being transparent and ethical in its dealings with all Canadians? We often hear talk of a cynicism towards politicians and politics in general. In my election campaign, in 2015, I did not urge people to vote for me; rather, I simply urged them to vote, to have their say. In a number of countries, people are risking their lives when they go to vote, so it is regrettable that, here in a democracy, we have to urge people to go vote. As we see in Quebec at the moment, as municipal elections are being held, there are advertisements urging people to vote.
Why then are there members of the House of Commons who do nothing but increase public cynicism and the sense of dishonesty and a lack of transparency?
I want to go back to the reason I entered politics, because it really was not for my own personal enrichment. I enjoy saying that I am a former mail carrier. I delivered mail all week for 15 years. I was very happy doing what I was doing, because I was providing people with a service. When I decided to stand for office, it was so that I could keep providing a service. As members of Parliament, that is something we often forget. We talk a lot about figures and about changes, but we forget all the little miracles that each member of this House can do every day.
At times, desperate people come to see us, as was the case this summer. For more than two months, a man had been having trouble obtaining his employment insurance benefits. It was the first time this had happened to him, and he did not know where else to turn. He came to our office in Jonquière. We welcomed him and provided him with some services and explanations. We even looked for additional help for him through the wonderful community organizations in Jonquière. That is our ultimate goal as MPs. That is what all of us in the House should be doing. We are not here to accumulate wealth, but to serve all Canadians.
Since I was speaking about my election and my commitments, I want to add that I had a meeting at the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner as soon as I arrived in Ottawa. I was given a document to fill out, which contained explanations. I do not come from a wealthy family. My family's riches consist of my parent's love and all the family values they taught me. That is what I am going to pass on to my children, and I believe that they are our greatest riches.
I am also pleased to say that I have owned my own wonderful little home for 12 years now. It is my pride and joy. At first, I thought it was a bit strange when the commissioner asked me to list my few assets on paper.
However, it did not take me long to realize that I was in the big leagues now. The members of the House of Commons come from all different backgrounds. Some are wealthy, while others are less fortunate. Some own multiple properties or companies. That was when I realized the importance of declaring our assets and being ethically transparent. Even though I did not own much property, I understood that disclosing what I did own was important, for me, for all our constituents, and for all Canadians. It is not difficult for members to fill out forms and be transparent from the outset if they have nothing to hide.
That brings me to the current government. As we have seen, this is not the first time this government has sought to benefit companies like the 's family business, Morneau Shepell. As my colleague said earlier, Bill could benefit these companies and benefit the Minister of Finance directly.
Certain experts have also pointed out that the Minister of Finance's tax reform could have economic benefits for Morneau Shepell, as I said, because it will force doctors and other small business owners to purchase private pension plans. The tax reform and all the suspected conflicts of interest involving the finance minister since he was elected are another good example of the fact that the Liberal government is working more for its own interests and those of its friends. It is working only for itself.
The Liberals keep repeating that the middle class is important, but I have to wonder whether they even know what exactly the middle class is. Is middle class determined by one's bank account or one's fortune? I see the real middle class every day, and I consider the people around me to be part of it. I help a lot of people around me. We talk about it and we live it every day. As MPs, it is important that we stay connected to our reality. We do not get that impression from the current government. No one should ever remain an MP if they are going to put their own interests first.
I will wrap up because I am running out of time. I had a lot more to say. We talked about tax reform and we talked about helping our SMEs. We see that the government has done nothing to tackle tax havens head-on. A lot has been said lately about investments in the Bahamas. Why is the Liberal government reluctant to tackle tax havens head-on? It is going after the little fish, but not the big fish. Is it too complicated, too difficult? It is easier to go after ordinary workers, those who belong to the middle class.
When I ran for office it was to represent my constituents of the riding of Jonquière, to give them a voice and to help my community grow. It never occurred to me to run to further my own interests or as a way to get rich. I believe that should be the case for everyone here in the House. I firmly believe that it is possible to do politics in an ethical and transparent manner. I find it extremely unfortunate that the broke his word when he said that he was going to put his interests in a blind trust when in the end he did nothing of the sort. Worse yet, he introduced a bill to make himself richer. This kind of conduct is disappointing.
Again, I cannot believe that we are being forced to waste our time on settling ethics issues in the House, when we were elected to serve the public and not to serve the interests of the privileged few.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate today. It will give the government an opportunity to rebuild its image and credibility in public finance. We are simply asking the government to have the release the documents related to his personal possessions that may have a direct impact on the management of his department, the Department of Finance.
I will not be alone in saying this, since I will shortly be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for .
From the outset, I would like to say how much I respect and admire the as a person. I respect him because, when a man of this calibre becomes involved in politics, the entire political class wins. I am pleased to reiterate that we must have very high standards, especially the Minister of Finance, because his department is key to the Canadian economy.
However, when the Minister of Finance is the owner of a $1-billion publicly traded family business that is directly impacted by each of the decisions made by the Minister of Finance, of course he has to be purer than the driven snow.
Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, the opposite has been happening. I do not remember, but there must have been a former finance minister whose authority has been so scratched and bruised, even by the . I will come back to that later.
Three weeks ago, in this very House, the member for tabled a document showing that the 's company, Morneau Shepell, has a subsidiary located in Barbados, a known tax haven for investors. That, in itself, is a major problem, which is why we would like the Minister of Finance to shed some light on this.
To make matters worse, it would seem that the Minister of Finance has forgotten, for two years, to disclose the fact that his company owned another company that in turn owned a villa in Provence. Everybody owns property, and I perfectly understand that someone with pots of money may own lots of properties all over the place. However, to have forgotten about owning a villa in Provence is a little suspicious, to say the least.
I should say, though, that perhaps it was at his villa in Provence that the learned to speak such excellent French. I am not being sarcastic. I sincerely commend the minister on his proficiency in French.
In addition, we learned from CBC that it was only because it hounded the that he finally admitted that he had forgotten to mention his villa. We also learned from The Globe and Mail, and this goes to the heart of today's debate, that although the Minister of Finance is an owner and shareholder of a company worth tens of millions of dollars, his properties and assets have not been put in a blind trust.
This is unfortunate, because it would have set the record straight and, more importantly, allowed the minister to act with his hands untied. It is not a failure to succeed in business, nor is it a failure to make a father's inheritance grow, as the minister did. Above all, it is not a failure to want to get involved in politics after having succeeded in business, quite the contrary. Still, there are ethical rules that we must follow at all times—exceed, even.
That is what we are asking of the today through our motion. In fact, we are asking that he table all the documents so that we know the truth about this.
As I mentioned, three factors are tarnishing the moral authority of the : the matter of his business in Barbados, a tax shelter and haven; the fact that he forgot to disclose that he owns a villa in Provence; and finally, the fact that he did not put his assets into a blind trust, which would have been the simplest and most effective solution.
That is nothing compared to the direct attack that the Minister of Finance launched against small business owners in recent months. Let us remember that, on July 18, in the middle of the summer, when it was nice and warm and half of Canada was on vacation, he started a consultation, barely 75 days long, to review the small business tax rate.
When a consultation of that kind is launched in the middle of summer, it is either because the government's mind is made up, or because it has no desire to hear from Canadians. Fortunately, Canadians from across the country rose up to tell the Liberals that they were making no sense. Fortunately, here in the House of Commons, the official opposition has been asking the government every conceivable question, and some that are inconceivable, in order to tell it that it is making no sense.
Let us remember that more than 110 of the 120 questions that the official opposition was able to ask in the first week were on this issue. We have taken the matter seriously because the direct attack made no sense. The Liberals wanted to raise taxes for small businesses that want to sell to the next generation. That is complete nonsense. The current government wanted to raise taxes for entrepreneurs who are putting money aside. In the private sector, business owners put money aside to use in the bad years, to pay bonuses, to invest in equipment, and even to use as a pension fund. The government wanted to collect more taxes from them, and I am not even talking about income splitting.
We are talking three senseless direct attacks against our entrepreneurs. The minister did not have much time to answer questions yesterday because the did not want him to, but he did announce something that he seemed to think was the best thing since sliced bread. He was very proud to confirm that the government would be lowering taxes on entrepreneurs, on small businesses, to 9%. How wonderful.
Hang on. Does anyone here remember the Liberals making that promise and breaking it? Now they are following through. Why did they break that promise? In the 2015 budget, our government made a law stating that the tax rate, which was 11% at the time, would have to drop to 9%. What was the first thing the current government did in its 2016 budget with respect to small businesses? It scrapped that obligation to lower the rate to 9%, even though it promised to do so. That is terrible. The government made a promise, broke it, and then brought it back to the table as though it were reinventing the wheel. Canadians are not fools. They knew it made no sense.
Need I remind members of the sad fact that, when the government launched its full frontal attack on small businesses, the Prime Minister's two personal companies were miraculously unaffected by the changes the Liberal government wanted to impose? It is unbelievable. In addition, the made it so that small businesses would have to pay more tax, while conveniently avoiding any impact to his family business. This is totally unacceptable and is what creates cynicism in politics.
Need I also remind members that the current government was elected on a promise of running small deficits, deficits that are now 80% higher than what was promised. We were also promised a return to balance by 2019, but now, we do not even know when the government will balance the books, which is totally unacceptable. This spendthrift government has completely lost control of the public purse and has no idea how to manage it properly, and it needs to be called out.
In closing, it is important that the have the necessary authority to carry out his duties, as he is the architect of Canada's economic base and is the most important minister. I do not want to take anything away from anyone, but he is the most important minister in cabinet. That is why, under the leadership of the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, the then finance minister Jim Flaherty worked hand in hand with the Prime Minister. The same was true of the Honourable Joe Oliver.
The current publicly scorns his own Minister of Finance. As far as I can remember, I have never seen a Prime Minister so arrogant, smug and scornful of his Minister of Finance. Yesterday, in the middle of a question period with journalists in Ontario, the Prime Minister said the following:
Ask the question to the , you have the chance to have the Prime Minister in front of you, ask the question to the Prime Minister.
I have never heard that. Where is God?
It is absolutely incredible. At the risk of wading into partisan politics a bit here, even during the worst years of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his finance minister Paul Martin, two people who hated each other, never would Jean Chrétien have scorned his finance minister in that way. We are talking about the authority of the finance minister. We are in Canada. Canada is a strong and proud country that has to be led by a strong Prime Minister and a strong finance minister. When the Prime Minister undercuts the finance minister's authority, he undercuts the authority of Canada as a whole.
Mr. Speaker, it is a true honour to be in the House today to speak on this very important issue. I thank my colleague who just spoke for his tenacity in standing up for Canadians. It is a real honour to be part of the Conservative Party of Canada with its legacy of standing up for Canadian taxpayers.
Over the years, when Canadians have seen fit to elect a party with an entitlement mentality like the Liberal party, eventually it creates a huge mess. We see Canada heading in that direction again. We are ready and committed to clean up any Liberal mess left over.
I am particularly honoured to be able to share what I heard from my youth advisory board. I notified youth in my riding of Langley—Aldergrove that I would like to hold a monthly youth advisory board meeting with them to discuss issues that were important to them. We have held two meetings. The first was on the marijuana issue. These are youth in grade 12 up to and in university, some working on undergraduate degrees. They are very mature, wise, bright, and engaging young people, and it was interesting to get their perspective. It is a non-partisan youth advisory board, with people with all kinds of opinions. The consensus within the group on marijuana was that the government was moving way too fast, that it needed to provide education, to listen to police boards across the country, and to slow the process down. Many of them are okay with the legalization process for marijuana, but not the way the Liberal government is doing it. It is moving way too fast. It seems to have this artificial date of July 1 of next year that legalization must be in place by Canada Day, so that everyone can start smoking then. The group is very concerned about the government's approach to marijuana.
I asked them what topic they would like to talk about next, and they said the new tax the government is wanting to put on Canadian small business. I found that fascinating. We met last Saturday morning and had another really good meeting that lasted for about an hour or an hour and a half. Some of the youth went into the meeting thinking that maybe the government was right and that some Canadians are not paying their fair share of taxes. To prepare for the meeting, the materials they received were general materials that all Canadians have access to. Much of it was non-partisan, and some partisan.
Overwhelmingly, those who went into the meeting thinking that maybe the government was right changed their position 180 degrees and came out of the meeting saying that the government was wrong. Calling hard-working Canadians tax cheats is shameful, and they were really shocked at the government taking that approach. They also said that the government needed to slow the process down. The number one thing that every Liberal member of Parliament heard regarding their so-called consultations was to keep the consultations going. The Liberal Party held the consultations during the summertime, starting in the middle of July and continuing in August and September and ending at the beginning of October. In those two and a half months, people were on holidays, and the consultations were often held in the middle of the week at three o'clock in the afternoon when Canadians were at work. Those who were not on holidays were working, yet the Liberals still held these so-called consultations.
The Liberals heard over and over again that they should keep the consultations going so they could continue to hear from people because they were not happy. The answer from the Liberal members was that the people were confused, that Canadians are confused and business is confused, so they would end the consultations to avoid the confusion. They would provide legislation so there would be no more confusion.
The youth advisory board also said that this process needed to continue and that there needed to be additional consultations. I am very proud and happy to be able to pass on what I heard from them this last Saturday morning. It is a very wise group of young people.
Today, we are debating a motion by Her Majesty's official opposition. I have listened to the debate and the comments made so far, and I think back to Jim Flaherty, who was a finance minister in the Stephen Harper government. He was appointed and very quickly earned the reputation of being the greatest finance minister in the world.
What an honour it was to be part of that government. He did deserve that title. He was an extremely bright, ethical, funny man. He had a great sense of humour. People liked to be around Jim. There was great sorrow at his untimely death. He was known as the greatest finance minister Canada probably has ever had. At the time, he was greatest in the world.
Just yesterday when I was watching the news I heard the questions by the media as the government was trying to calm down people. There was a news conference where the government was saying that it is really looking out for what is good for Canadians, that it wants tax fairness and is launching its new programs around fairness and taxes.
Canadians do not believe this. The media does not believe it. There is this cloud hanging over the . As has been pointed out, the office of the finance minister is extremely important. The finance minister is probably the most powerful posting in government in Canada. That finance minister has to be squeaky clean.
I really do not want to attack that individual, because I do not know his intent. However, it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that everything is squeaky clean. That is what this promised, that he was going to be squeaky clean and all his ministers were going to be squeaky clean. Throughout the last two years, the first half of a one-term mandate, they were going to do things that were squeaky clean and transparent.
There is great suspicion that things are not squeaky clean. I am hearing a lot of angst among Canadians that the government is not keeping its promises time and time again. The small business tax was supposed to be reduced. That was in the platform of the previous Conservative government, and it would have happened immediately. Now we are two years into this government's mandate, and look at what has happened to that. The government is in trouble now. Canadians are very upset with what is happening.
The government has now announced that it will reduce the small business tax back down to the 9%. Well, actually, it will go down to 10%, and then just before the election it will be lowered to 9%. That is not what Canadians want. They have not been told the truth throughout the whole process.
This motion is about wanting information. What did the declare to the Ethics Commissioner from the time of his appointment to July of this year when the consultation period started? That would indicate whether there was any intended self-benefit, or whether there is a conflict of interest. What is the motive of the and the finance minister?
I have heard Canadians say that these two people have really not lived like hard-working Canadians. They live off a trust. They have multi-million dollar assets. They are not like you and me, Mr. Speaker. They are not like normal Canadians. They are very wealthy people. To whom much is given, much is required.
Accountability is a critical promise by the . We need accountability from him, and we have not had it. We need accountability from the , and to this point we have not had it.
It will be interesting as we go to a vote on this motion, probably later today, to see if the members of the Liberal Party keep the promises that were made in the Speech from the Throne at the start of this Parliament that they would be a transparent, accountable government. We are not seeing that from the leadership within the cabinet. Will the Liberal members demand that their and be transparent and provide the House with the details necessary for transparency?
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise here today to defend an individual of incredible integrity. We have heard a lot of attempts in this place to attack the integrity of the , but as we have heard, he has worked with the integrity commissioner, and to any questions, he has been more than forthright. Therefore, I am happy to rise here today to talk about the accomplishments of this minister and what he is doing, along with our government, to build a stronger middle class.
Building a stronger middle class does not come without changes. The issue of tax planning and using private corporations is one of those changes that is required to finally bring equity to our tax system, something the has been behind from the start. We have been working, from the moment we took office, to implement these changes that benefit the middle class and those working hard to join it. These changes that are forthcoming are just another step in setting things right for the middle class, again something the finance minister talked about as a candidate and has now as the Minister of Finance.
We took our first steps when Parliament resumed in December 2015, lowering taxes on the middle class, as promised, and raising them on the wealthiest 1%. Unfortunately, both the Conservatives and the New Democrats voted against that. This middle-class tax cut has been benefiting nine million Canadians, and we are extremely proud of that.
We brought in the new Canada child benefit, which has lifted thousands of children out of poverty, including 16,000 in my riding of St. Catharines. This is a significant accomplishment, and one of the architects of it was, of course, the . As a result of the Canada child benefit, nine out of 10 families are getting more in benefits than they did under the previous government. With the CCB, we have ensured that child benefits are more generous and are actually targeted to those who need them most.
Our government, under the leadership of the finance minister and working with the provinces, expanded the Canada pension plan to ensure that Canadians have financial security after a lifetime of hard work. The strengthened CPP will provide more money to Canadians when they retire, allowing them to focus more on what matters most: time with family.
As members can see, our actions and the actions of the could not be clearer. The guiding principle of fairness is essential, and indeed, is the defining piece of our plan to strengthen the middle class. It is abundantly clear that when we have an economy that works for the middle class, we have a country that works for everyone.
It is fitting that we are having this debate during Small Business Week, so let us talk about small businesses. We know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are a key driver of Canada's economy. I think everyone in this chamber would agree with that. Small businesses account for 98% of all businesses and more than 70% of all private sector jobs. In recognition of how critical small businesses are to Canada's growth, our government, and again, the , are taking action to help small businesses grow, invest, and create good, well-paying jobs.
Yesterday the finance minister announced, along with the and the , the government's intention to lower the small-business tax rate to 10% in 2018 and then to 9% in 2019. As a result, the combined federal-provincial-territorial average tax rate for small businesses will be lowered to 12.9% from 14.4%, ensuring that Canadians by far will continue to have the lowest small-business taxes in the G7 and the fourth-lowest among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. This lower rate will mean that small-business owners can retain more of their earnings to reinvest, to support the growth of their businesses, and for job creation.
The also announced the government's intention to move forward on proposals to fix a tax system that is inherently unfair to the middle class. We have heard a lot of criticism about the finance minister, but he is one of the leading voices in this country on this side of the House to fight for a system that benefits the middle class and against those policies that are unfair to the middle class.
We have a tax system currently that encourages wealthy individuals to incorporate just so they can get a tax advantage. This cannot continue. It leads to a solution where someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars can get a lower tax rate than a middle-class worker making much less. A person making $300,000 per year can save as much tax as an average Canadian can earn in a year. This is not acceptable, and our government and the are going to fix it.
In July, the launched consultations to hear from Canadians on how to fix things and how to then make—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your explanation. I thank my hon. colleague across the aisle for his intervention as well.
I have known the member of Parliament for , the Minister of Finance, for a few years now. When I think about the integrity and hard work that goes into our careers as politicians and as members of a community, I look to, and I am glad to say that I am friends with and on the same team as, the Minister of Finance. I know his integrity. I know the core values that he represents. I am glad to be on a team with the hon. minister.
Going back to my comments today with regard to tax planning using private corporations, we as government and myself as an individual, always co-operate with all government bodies, including any meetings with the Ethics Commissioner and so forth. I would like to throw that back.
Our economy is growing well. Our government has created 112,000 full-time jobs and this is because of the policies that we have put in place.
Wage growth in this country is actually coming back. In September we saw an acceleration in wage growth and this is great for Canadian workers and great for Canadian families. It is also great for the people I represent. This too is related to polices that we have put in place and consultations that we have had and are having with regards to tax fairness.
Our government laid the foundation for economic growth the moment we took office. The first thing we did was to cut taxes for nine million middle-class Canadians, providing over $20 billion of tax relief to Canadians. We also raised taxes on the wealthiest 1%, which was the right thing to do. Single individuals who benefit from this are saving an average of $330 per year and couples who benefit are saving an average of $540 each year.
Our government has also made child benefits more accessible to Canadians, a simpler program, a tax-free program, providing on average $2,300 extra per year, per family. That is remarkable and again relates to the actions and the policies put in place by our . I am proud to be a part of that. I am proud to be a part of a team that cares for children who currently live in poverty, a team that cares for families who currently need a bit of assistance. That is what our party is about, again speaking to the integrity of the finance minister.
The member of Parliament for came together with his colleagues at the provincial level and came to an agreement to enhance the Canada pension plan. Think about that. Think about the previous government. For 10 years it did nothing with respect to CPP. The finance minister worked in collaboration with the provinces and Canadians will get an enhanced Canada pension plan that will benefit millions of them going forward.
Yesterday, we announced the lowering of the small business tax rate. It has gone from 11% in 2015 to 10% in 2018 and will be 9% in 2019. This, part and parcel, involved listening to Canadians and small business owners, many of whom I represent.
I have had a lot of feedback in the last few weeks. I can say to my constituents and small and large businesses back home that they have a voice here in Ottawa, that this government understands their concerns. Each of us as members of Parliament have brought their constituents' concerns back to Ottawa. That is what we are obligated to do. That is our job.
This government is listening.
I am proud to say that we have cut taxes for small businesses and they will benefit up to $7,500. This will provide tax relief over a couple of years of approximately $3 billion. This action should be applauded by all sides of the House.
The made his intention clear yesterday during an announcement in Markham, and I certainly support it.
To support this change the government will take steps to ensure that Canadian-controlled private corporation status is not used to reduce personal income tax obligations for high-income earners rather than supporting small businesses. We have a tax system that encourages wealthy individuals to incorporate just so they can get a tax advantage. This leads to a situation where someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars can get a lower tax rate than a middle-class worker making much less per year. That is not fair, and our government is going to fix it.
On July 18, the launched a consultation process, otherwise known as tax planning using private corporations. We have heard lots of feedback.
I know I have spent numerous hours going over the proposal, looking at it. We need tax fairness and we need to get it right. We are consulting and listening to all Canadians. I spent many hours understanding this paper and ensuring there were no unintended consequences, that it was a proposed consultation paper. We absolutely are going to get it right.
We heard from business owners, professionals, experts, and our caucus on ways to improve our proposals to ensure we would not affect hard-working middle-class entrepreneurs, many who live in the city of Vaughan and many who I represent as the member of Parliament for Vaughan—Woodbridge, such as family businesses, farmers, and fishers. As someone who grew up on the north coast of British Columbia, I have many friends who are fishers. They still go out on their trawlers, seiners, gillnetters to try to make a living. I know how important it is that we protect and ensure they have a good livelihood. We have heard them and we are acting on what we have heard.
In the short term, the government intends to simplify the proposal to limit the ability of owners of private corporations to lower their personal income taxes by sprinkling their income to family members. The vast majority of private corporations will not be impacted by the proposed income sprinkling measures. An estimated 50,000 family owned private businesses are sprinkling income. This represents a small fraction, 3% of Canadian controlled private corporations. All we are doing is extending the rules that are already in place on income pertaining to dividends, which is the right thing to do. That is tax fairness, and I know Canadians agree with us.
Over the coming weeks and months,< we will announce the next steps in our plan to address tax planning using private corporations that take into account feedback received from Canadians during this consultation period.
In all cases, our changes will support small businesses and their contributions to our economy and, most important, our communities. I know first hand, having worked in the private sector for over 20 years in finance, that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. We will do everything we can to help them grow. This is seen in the numbers, in the formation rates of small businesses, in business earnings. Businesses and consumers are buoyant because we have a program in place that is working.
In this day and age, where there is so much misinformation, it is crucial that we set the record straight and stick to the facts. This is what I am doing here today. From the very beginning, we have been perfectly clear about our commitment to ensure that as our economy grows, the benefits go to the middle class and, yes, those working hard to join it, not just to those who are already successful.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke and on behalf of the hard-working people of the upper Ottawa Valley, I participate in today's debate regarding the lack of transparency in the government.
I congratulate my eastern Ontario colleague, the hon. member for , for the excellent job he is doing as shadow finance minister for our Conservative government in waiting. The hon. member for Carleton is responsible for today's motion that the House is now debating.
Today's debate is a familiar refrain in Ottawa since the last election. There is a lack of transparency or, as some would call it, a hidden agenda between what the government says and what it does, and who benefits. Is this example before Canadians today simply one politician gaming the system to his benefit, or are Canadians looking at systematic corrupt behaviour on a scale of the multi-billion dollar Ontario electricity scandal?
Is the non-disclosure of all his vast corporate wealth by the member for hiding the need for impartiality in decision-making that would be necessary had full disclosure taken place?
The allegation has been made that the changes put forth by the member for , apart from unfairly attacking small businesses or individuals who are incorporated, will enrich the personal wealth of the . The need for higher taxes in these changes being pushed through the House, without proper public consultation, have been brought about by the decision to run huge budget deficits.
When I am asked the question about why the government is in such a huge deficit, I respond very bluntly that it is bad spending. The question then becomes, what kind of bad spending is resulting in such high deficits? I use the example of bad spending by the federal government on what the , the member for Toronto Centre, spent on a slick cover for his deficit budget booklet. The cover is used one day. Duplicate this example of bad spending across government and one can start to understand why the finances of Canada are in such a mess.
In 2017, just a slick cover on the deficit budget cost taxpayers $212,000. That makes the $175,000 the Liberal member for spent on a slick cover for his budget in 2016 seem like a bargain.
Now to the member for , who has a private European villa, and, to quote a national magazine, a “tax-dodging shell company...set up..to manage it”, something he neglected to disclose to the Ethics Commissioner, $212,000 must seem like chump change. “What is all the fuss?” the asks.
Simply put, the fuss is that the finance minister promised Canadians that he would abstain from decisions and discussions that relate to Morneau Shepell. Instead, he has actively bragged that not only did he abstain but he actively engaged in the discussions and promotion of the policy that experts say benefits his family-owned company. Beyond that, the member for failed to disclose a private corporation to the Ethics Commissioner. Most Canadians would never forget, if they owned a villa in France. To top it all off, the member for Toronto Centre admitted he did not place more than $30 million in Morneau Shepell shares into a blind trust.
Few Canadians had the benefit of a trust fund from daddy growing up, or attended private schools or had a fat income waiting in a family business when they were done school. The family business in this case is showing other one percenters how to avoid their fair share of tax.
In 2016, the median income for females in my riding was just over $25,000 per year. In fact, the bulk of all wage earners in my riding earn between $20,000 and $29,000 per year. Just the price of the slick cover on the 2017 deficit budget document would have paid the incomes of eight average working females in Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. Those same individuals fall below the low income cutoff that normally qualifies a person for the supplement.
How ironic it is that one of the pieces of advice the member for dispensed to his wealthy clients was how to game the system to collect the guaranteed income supplement. The guaranteed income supplement is intended for seniors who have no other source of income, except the universal old age pension. The supplement is means-tested. It is not intended for one percenters who hide their money to avoid paying their fair share of tax.
To put into further perspective the amount spent by the member for on a cover for a booklet, I would point out that the Conservative government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent $600 for a stock photo for the cover of the 2015 balanced budget that was presented to Canadians. Yes, $600, and the federal budget was balanced. There is no respect for today's tax dollars in Ottawa.
The small business tax changes that have been presented by the member for are a doubled-edged sword. On the one hand, the Liberal tax changes will unfairly tax doctors, farmers, small businesses, and a host of other hard-working Canadians, while on the other hand not touch the personal fortunes of the member for Toronto Centre and the . The benefited as a trust fund kid, as did his father before him.
To be clear, the motion before us today requests that the member for table all documents he submitted to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner between November 4, 2015, and July 18, 2017. Canadians have a right to know if the decisions being made by the member for Toronto Centre will be of personal benefit to his family fortune and the fortunes of other Liberal Party members.
The test will be if Liberal Party members vote in favour of today's motion. If the member for has nothing to hide, the vote should be unanimous in favour of full disclosure. If, on the other hand, Liberal members speak against this motion or, worse, do not support it, Canadians can rightly ask what the member for Toronto Centre is hiding. By not providing full disclosure to Canadians, every financial decision made by the minister must be called into question. In its attack on small businesses, doctors, and others, the government asks who benefits. It is big business, of course, the big business types that attend pay-to-play fundraisers hosted in places like downtown Toronto. Big business and big government are mere images of one another. Big business, like the current government, overwhelmingly leans left.
Economists refer to the practice of giving handouts to big business as welfare capitalism, which is how much big business gets rich and most of it stays rich. Liberal-favoured big fundraisers make their fortunes exclusively through direct government subsidies and mandates. In Ontario, industrial wind turbines are the result of successful lobbying by the type of big business conglomerates favoured by the Liberal Party. Without government intervention, industrial wind turbines would represent a trivial part of the economy and not be a multi-million dollar drain on the pockets of electricity customers, who are forced into energy poverty by that bad spending. Unnecessary government intervention causes bad spending, starting with the government blowing over $200,000 on a cover of a budget and ending up with billions spent on social experiments that only hurt ordinary working Canadians.
Canadians have already been exposed to the five principles of the Liberal Party's tax policy. First, it attacks small business. Just ask the families who run campgrounds how effective that attack has been. Second, it continues to raise taxes on small business while publicly stating the opposite. Third, it continues to burden job creators with unnecessary regulations and red tape to stifle creativity. Fourth, it continues to bring in tax changes that make it harder and harder for the family farm to survive and continue within the family in the next generation. Fifth, it ensures that the tax system will continue to favour big business at the expense of entrepreneurs, particularly female entrepreneurs, whose success in small business is breaking the glass ceiling.
It has taken too long for Canadians to see just how out of touch the Liberal Party is with the needs and aspirations of ordinary Canadians. The member for needs to get out of his Toronto glass bubble and actually listen to people, not to the one percenters he likes to associate with. The time has come for the government to listen to Canadians who respect the law, work hard, and play by the rules.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of today's motion that calls upon the to table all documents he submitted to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner between November 4, 2015, and July 18, 2017. July 18 was the day of the now infamous discussion paper, which came complete with draft legislation that would completely transform the taxation of Canadian-controlled private corporations if fully enacted by, among other things, severely discouraging small business owners from investing in their companies to support themselves in retirement.
The reaction to these tax proposals was immediate. They were universally panned by tax preparation professionals. In fact, I am not aware of a single professional private sector accountant who supports them.
Today's motion is about conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict of interest. As thousands of professionals, entrepreneurs, shop owners, construction contractors, fishers, and farmers nervously contacted their lawyers and accountants to find out how they would be affected by these changes, some of them, including those who would perhaps face an increase in taxes of up to 71%, were told that it might be in their best interest to start an individual private pension. They were shocked and appalled to learn that this is a specialized financial service and that the leading supplier of this product is none other than the 's family business, Morneau Shepell.
The appearance of a conflict of interest in this matter has drawn people's attention to the 's private business affairs more generally. Canadians, including members of the Liberal caucus, had assumed that the finance minister's shares in Morneau Shepell had either been sold or placed in a blind trust. His family business is a pension management and advice company, and the minister is in a position to influence consumer behaviour via its products.
The Liberals ran on an idealistic platform that included many promises. Many Canadians believed these promises to be sincere and elected the Liberals. As we know, they promised only a modest budget deficit of $10 billion to pay for infrastructure and to then return to a balance. We now have a structural deficit that far exceeds this so-called modest maximum, without any plan to return to a balanced budget. They claimed they would reduce taxes on middle-class Canadians, but then stripped away all the credits that most middle-class families use, leaving the average Canadian family paying over $800 in additional income tax under the current government. That was before they contemplated the draconian small business tax changes, and before their most recent disaster, the announcement about taxing the discounts of retail employees. They made a few other promises, like changing the voting system within 18 months, which was perhaps an unwise promise. Nevertheless, it was completely abandoned.
However, for purposes of today's motion, the promise that we need to talk about is their promise to be the most open and transparent government in the history of Canada. One of the first things the government did was to publish the mandate letters of the to each member of his cabinet. It is worth looking at these mandate letters.
In the mandate letter to the , the stated:
||...Canadians need to have faith in their government’s honesty and willingness to listen. I expect that our work will be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians.
The letter continues:
|| It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them. Canadians do not expect us to be perfect—they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest.
Indeed, they do. In fact, they expect the government to put the public interest ahead of the personal interests of members of cabinet.
The letter goes on to state:
|| This will include: close collaboration with your colleagues; meaningful engagement with Opposition Members...Parliamentary Committees and the public service; constructive dialogue with Canadians, civil society, and stakeholders, including business...identifying ways to find solutions and avoid escalating conflicts unnecessarily. As well, members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, indeed all journalists in Canada and abroad, are professionals who, by asking necessary questions, contribute in an important way to the democratic process. Your professionalism and engagement with them are essential.
At yesterday's bizarre press conference in Stouffville, we can hardly blame the . The journalists who were there, who were just beginning to understand the potential depth of the finance minister's compliance issues, wanted to question him. The more or less held the podium, and at first tried to prevent the finance minister from answering. He said that they had a chance to ask the Prime Minister a question, rather than let his finance minister answer.
The mandate letter concludes by saying:
|| As Minister, you must ensure that you are aware of and fully compliant with the Conflict of Interest Act and Treasury Board policies and guidelines. You will be provided with a copy of Open and Accountable Government to assist you as you undertake your responsibilities. I ask that you carefully read it and ensure that your staff does...as well. I draw your attention in particular to the Ethical Guidelines set out in Annex A of that document...As noted in the Guidelines, you must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the [letter of the] law.
The statement on “Open and Accountable Government”, which the referred to, said something that has been repeated many times in this House but is important. It states, “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.”
Now we know a few things. We know that the Liberal government has broken a litany of election promises such as electoral reform, deficit targets, reducing the tax burden on middle-class Canadians, and access to information reform. We know that the government has repeatedly made a mockery of the Prime Minister's statement on open and accountable government on everything from cash for access fundraising to the Prime Minister's visit to billionaire island, as well as attempts to appoint Liberal loyalists as key office holders to Parliament and failure to find replacements for officers with expiring terms, including the Ethics Commissioner.
We know that the government has proposed a draconian tax hike on small businesses, which everybody knows is nothing more than a tax grab induced by an insatiable appetite for tax revenue to plug an out-of-control deficit of the government's own making. We know that the reaction to this so-called tax reform is expert recommendation to some people to obtain retirement and investment services like those provided by Morneau Shepell. We know that the minister has failed to comply with the Conflict of Interest Act by failing to disclose an interest in a private French corporation apparently used to manage his French villa. We know that the minister's substantial family fortune is not held in a blind trust, as one would expect. We do not know whether he still holds the $30-plus million in shares that he owned in 2015.
Given the foregoing, one must conclude that either the is so completely out of touch with the reality of small business that he has allowed these tax proposals to go ahead and come out on July 15 without any forethought to the consequences, or the Minister of Finance actually thinks that small business owners really are under-taxed at best or a bunch of cheaters at worst. Canadians are considering a third possibility, and that is that he decided to put the interests of his family's business ahead of the interests of Canadian citizens.
I do not want to have to believe the latter. I do not want Canadians to be in the position that they even have to consider the possibility of the latter. With our motion, the is being invited to clear at least some of the air and end speculation around what is obviously, at a minimum, the appearance of conflict of interest.
Will the , who has already demonstrated a failure to accurately disclose his affairs by failing to disclose the French corporation that owns his villa, set the record straight and table all documents submitted to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner? That way, he can let Canadians judge whether he stood to gain from his proposed changes outlined in the paper entitled “Tax Planning Using Private Corporations”.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is a pleasure for me to speak to the House about the government's plan to help the middle class and all those working hard to join it. We were elected by promising Canadians real change in what we do and how we do it. Canadians sent a clear message in the last election, and the constituents of Ottawa—Vanier gave me a clear mandate and a clear message last April.
They expect us to keep the promises we make to them. Our actions to date demonstrate that that is exactly what we are doing. We promised to make investments in order to stimulate economic growth, strengthen the middle class, and help those working hard to join it. We promised to provide more direct assistance to people in need by scaling back assistance to those less in need.
Let us look at what we have accomplished so far. From the beginning, one of the government's top priorities has been to level the playing field so that all Canadians would have the opportunity to succeed. That is why our government's first action was to raise taxes for the wealthiest 1% and cut taxes for the middle class. We also introduced the Canada child benefit. Compared to the previous child benefit system, the new benefit is more generous and better targeted to those who need it.
We enhanced the Canada pension plan to give Canadians a more dignified retirement after working their entire lives and making such vital contributions to society. We also made historic investments in infrastructure and invested in a major training and skills acquisition plan. It is increasingly clear that our plan to ensure economic growth is working. We have the fastest growing economy in the G7, by far.
In the second quarter of this year, our economy grew by an impressive 4.5%. In the past four quarters, our economy has enjoyed the fastest growth since 2006. Our economy is currently growing at an impressive rate of 4.5%, which is, I repeat, the highest rate since 2006.
Some 400,000 jobs have been created since we took office. These are significant results that are having a direct impact on the quality of life of Canadians, the middle class, and those working hard to join it. Through major public investments, we will continue to invest in Canadians themselves, their talents, their commitment, and their determination.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to continue my remarks. As I mentioned earlier, a number of initiatives have been put in place since we were elected, since our government came to power. There is still a lot of work to do and we are in the process of getting it done. To that end, yesterday, the , accompanied by the , announced the government's intention to lower the small business tax rate to 10% in 2018 and to 9% in 2019, while moving forward on proposals to fix a tax system that is inherently unfair to the middle class. We want to ensure that the 9% tax rate for small businesses and the low tax rate for other corporations will be used for investments, growth, and job creation in the business community.
Our tax system encourages wealthy individuals to incorporate just so they can get a tax advantage. As a result, someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year can get a lower tax rate than a middle-class worker making much less.
In July, the Minister of Finance launched consultations to hear what Canadians had to say about what adjustments could be made so the tax system works for the middle class. We heard the opinions of business owners, professionals, experts and members of our caucus on how to improve our proposals so that they do not affect hard-working, middle-class entrepreneurs like family businesses, farmers and fishers. We listened to their comments and we are following up on what we heard. The minister is following up on what he heard. That is his role as finance minister.
In the short run, the government intends to streamline the proposal that would limit the ability of private corporation owners to pay less personal income tax by sprinkling their income to family members. Over the next few weeks and months, the government will unveil the next stages in its plan, which the Minister of Finance is mandated to promote, to address tax planning using private corporations. The measures we take will reflect the feedback that we have reviewed to date, and we will continue to carefully review the remaining feedback.
The government will continue to support small businesses and their contribution to our communities and economy. We will keep a low tax rate for small businesses and support their owners so that they can actively invest in the growth of their businesses, create jobs, boost entrepreneurship, and stimulate the growth of our economy.
We recognize the importance of maintaining family farms, and we will work with Canadians to ensure that the upcoming measures do not keep family businesses from being passed on to the next generation.
We will perform a gender-based analysis on the final proposals to make sure any changes made to the tax regime promote equality between men and women.
I want to reassure all Canadians and all members that every measure we take will support women's ongoing success. The Minister of Finance will do his utmost to make sure that Canadians can have confidence in these measures.
Mr. Speaker, the motion before us essentially casts aspersions on the character of our . It talks about accusations. It talks about the minister standing to benefit. It is a simple motion.
Before I get in to the motion, I have a confession to make. I have been involved in tax avoidance.
An. hon. member: No.
Mr. Frank Baylis: Yes, I have done it for multiple years.
Mr. Peter Fonseca: I don't know if I want to know about that.
Mr. Frank Baylis: Mr. Speaker, I have been buying RRSPs. I am deferring my taxes as well, but I am avoiding taxes and I am doing it legally. I plan to continue to do it.
My point is that tax planning is legitimate. The government puts in a number of rules to encourage us to plan in certain ways. RRSPs are designed to help people save for their retirement. It is a tax planning measure that allows people to avoid taxes, encouraging them to put aside money for when they retire.
There is a difference between that and tax evasion. Tax evasion is doing something illegal to not pay taxes. There are no rules. People are evading taxes.
Our government has not criticized any of our citizens for tax evasion. There is nothing wrong with tax planning. What happens at times is that certain structures that are designed to encourage certain behaviour also encourage other behaviours that the government may or may not want. When that happens, the situation is looked at and addressed. That is what the government has been doing in this case. It has been looking at whether certain rules are being used in certain ways that were unforeseen. This happens all the time. It happens when any law is introduced. It is the law of unintended consequences. That is what our is trying to deal with today.
The motion purports that the is looking to help a company with which he used to be involved. That is not the case at all. The case is looking at a tax planning strategy that is used in the ways we want it to be used, but also in ways we do not want it to be used.
The key point is that anybody involved in tax avoidance through proper planning is not a tax cheat, is not doing anything illegal, is using the rules to his or her benefit. There is nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong when people are involved in tax evasion, but we are not seeing that tax evasion. This has happened but why does it happen? Because tax rules are complex.
Taxing involves putting something in place and expect a certain outcome, but at times other things happen. The rules are looked at after a while and we see certain behaviours we want to encourage, but we also see a few other behaviours we do not want to encourage. When that happens, we look to make certain changes.
The is working on exactly that. He is not looking to attack anybody. He is not looking to denigrate any part of our society. He is not looking to attack farmers or physicians. He is not looking to attack anybody.
He is simply looking at tax strategies that are working in ways that we do not want to encourage in certain key instances. That is all of it.
This government's commitment is to the middle class and, it should be underlined, those working hard to join it, absolutely. Most of our 1.8 million Canadian-controlled private corporations are very small businesses and they are the middle class. Our government is committed to not do anything to hurt those businesses, and we are working diligently in that direction. This paper does not talk about any of those issues. It does not bring up one measure that has been proposed by the with which it is in disagreement. This brings up character assassination.
It is the job of the opposition to critique the laws that are being proposed. It is the job of the opposition to say that something proposed in the government's tax changes is not correct. However, we are not seeing that. We are not seeing the opposition doing its job. We are seeing the opposition members engaging in character assassination instead of saying they see a problem with the way farms are being targeted. Fair enough; let us hear it, but we do not have it here—
Mr. Speaker, I am going to be splitting my time with my colleague from .
It is going to be hard to follow the comedy show that we just witnessed from our friend from . I know it is a difficult day for the Liberals on the other side. This is a tough one for them to explain to their constituents about the ethical lapses of the . Let us just get back to the basics. All we are asking for today is for the finance minister to be completely transparent here and that he follow through with the request of the motion that the House will hopefully adopt later today, to table all the documents that he submitted to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner between November 4, 2015, and July 18, 2017.
A lot of people will ask why that is important. We are talking about the second most powerful person in the cabinet of the Government of Canada. This the individual who has all the control over the financial levers of our country. This is the individual who has to have the most trust of Canadians, of investors, and of our financial markets. This is the individual who has to make sure he is working in the best interests of Canadians and not of himself. What we have witnessed so far is that this minister hates transparency, hates accountability, and really has a lapse in judgment in trying to circumvent the rules that have been laid out by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
As a former parliamentary secretary, when I was sworn in, I had to immediately comply with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. There is a complete act called the Conflict of Interest Act for ministers and parliamentary secretaries as well as the book that the himself has updated on the accountable government, a guide for ministers and parliamentary secretaries. We have to look at all the rules that are in there, on which the himself has refused to follow through. That in itself is something where the minister is really letting down not only his own caucus, but I really feel sorry for all my friends on the other side who have to sit through this miserable situation, listening to the Minister of Finance try to weasel out of this situation and actually have the Prime Minister step in and handle all the questions at a press conference because the minister was not able to do it himself. The Prime Minister was definitely disappointed in his finance minister. I can say that based upon what happened.
In the guidelines, there is a section in chapter IV, part 1, called “Ministerial Conduct”. The 's own book says:
|| Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
Looking at the definition of integrity and as it relates to ethics, we see it says in Wikipedia, “In ethics, integrity is regarded by many as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions.” We are not getting that when we look at the and how he has completely dodged the issue of being transparent, of making sure that he has done things to the letter of the law, that all the is are dotted and the ts are crossed. I do not know whether he was trying to find loopholes in the Ethics Commissioner's guidelines or in the Conflict of Interest Act, because he definitely has broken the law in the way it is defined in the Conflict of Interest Act as it applies to ministers.
I am sure the members of the cabinet have all read the documents and they are all well aware of what needs to be done here, but the thing that struck me the most is that, once they become a public office holder, they have to provide all disclosure to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. In subsection 22(1), the act says:
|| A reporting public office holder shall, within 60 days after the day on which he or she is appointed as a public office holder, provide a confidential report to the Commissioner.
That is two months, not two years but two months. Let us do the math over there. That never happened, because the French villa was not on that original list. Once they do report it, there is a public declaration, in subsection 25(2), which states, on “certain assets”:
|| A reporting public office holder shall, within 120 days after the day on which he or she is appointed as a public office holder, make a public declaration of all of his or her assets that are neither controlled assets nor exempt assets.
That is two months beyond the two months that the minister already had, so four months. Let us do the math—it is four months in total—for our Liberal friends.
We heard about the French villa that was reported in July of this year, two full years after the was sworn in to cabinet. Here is an individual who completely missed the mark, and he is calling it an administrative oversight, which is just unheard of.
It further states, section 26:
|| (2) The summary statement must contain the following:
||(a) for each controlled asset of the reporting public officer holder, and for each asset of the reporting public office holder that the Commissioner has ordered divested under section 30, a description of the asset and the method used to divest it;...
All of his assets would have received direction from the Ethics Commissioner.
It goes on to state that he has to:
||(b)...recuse himself or herself under section 30, a description of the matter and information regarding the process to be put in place by the reporting public office holder and others to effect the recusal; and
||(c) for any other matter in respect of which the Commissioner has issued an order to the reporting public office holder...
Everyone sitting over there who is a parliamentary secretary or a minister of the crown has had to follow these rules. That is everybody except the . That is why it is so important that we get the documents from the Ethics Commissioner herself, so that we, as parliamentarians, and Canadians can see whether the integrity of the finance minister is in question. If he said he received direction from the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and somebody in that office said no, he did not need to put his assets in a blind trust or he did not need to disclose that he has a beautiful villa, owned by a private corporation, in France, possibly earning income from rentals to tourists or people who love the Mediterranean, that we need to find out. The only way to do that is if the Minister of Finance is honest and up front, and provides those documents to all of us in Parliament.
The other part of this is the requirement for divestment of assets through that appointment. Through the divestment, a minister has to either sell them, so that they do not influence the person's behaviour as a minister of the crown, or put them into a blind trust. When I was sworn in as parliamentary secretary in the previous government, I had to put my little farm into a blind trust. My wife had to be the manager and I was allowed to work on the farm, but not allowed to provide any input into the day-to-day operations of the farm. I was not allowed to talk to any of our clients, some of whom were my buddies. We could process cattle together, move them from pasture to pasture or vaccinate them, anything like that, as long as we were working, but I could not talk about any of the contracts that existed between them, as clients, and myself, as one of the owners of the blind trust.
Therefore, there are rules to follow. We know for a fact that the did not put his considerable assets in Morneau Shepell into a blind trust. He was sitting on millions of shares worth over $32 million. As I said, the finance minister is the most important person in cabinet. He handles the finances of this country. He is really the flag-bearer for the most ethical behaviour, and we are not seeing that since he did not put his French villa into a blind trust.
To add insult to injury, we also now find out that Morneau Shepell has a private corporation called Morneau Shepell Bahamas, registered in Barbados, where it gets preferential tax treatment at an income tax rate of 2.5%. Through a tax treaty that Finance Canada negotiated with Barbados, it can repatriate that money back into Morneau Shepell Canada at no Canadian tax level at all. It pays its 2.5% income tax in Barbados, brings the money back here, and redistributes it through dividends to its shareholders, the being one of the biggest shareholders of the company.
Let us also look at the overall issue of how this has completely hurt the 's credibility. All we are asking is that he finally be honest, show some integrity, and provide parliamentarians and Canadians with the respect we deserve, the respect that the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner deserves, the respect that everyone involved in this issue deserves by being honest and up front, and disclosing all of the information he has relating to his relationship with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.