Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my speech on the opposition motion concerning a single tax return for all Quebeckers, who are the only ones to not have the option to file just one tax return per year.
I would like to come back to something that happened during question period. During question period, in an answer that the Prime Minister gave to one of my colleagues, we heard him say the following:
It is interesting that the Conservatives will not ask that same question in English that was just asked in French about giving to Quebec a single tax filing.
Then I had the opportunity to ask the a question. My colleague and national revenue critic asked the question in English and then I asked the question in French. I asked the government party whether it was possible to do the same thing that it was asking us to do, which was to answer in both languages so that all Canadians could understand it. It was that simple. If I offended the Minister of National Revenue, I apologize, as that was not my intention. I know that she has been working very hard to learn English. I think it is to the credit of all members of the House to want to learn both official languages. This is very important, and in fact I support several of my colleagues who are trying to learn French. I know that she is working very hard on this.
Since it is the Minister of Revenue’s birthday, I apologize if she was offended. That was not my intention. However, I would like the to avoid using the same kind of rhetoric and asking for questions in English or French to try to make us out to be the kind of people who say one thing in English and another in French, when that is completely false.
The Minister of National Revenue may well be celebrating her birthday today, but she is nevertheless completely out of touch with what Quebeckers want, with what the Premier of Quebec wants, with what the National Assembly wants, with what Conservative Party members want and with what the majority of Quebeckers want. They want people to fill out one single tax return every year.
Emotions are running high because an election campaign is just around the corner. I would like everyone opposite to take two minutes to think about this possibility. Do they think we can make Quebeckers' lives easier, yes or no? That is a very simple question. It would not be hard to do. Are they interested in starting talks with the Government of Quebec to find a solution and make a single tax return a reality for Quebeckers, yes or no?
Unfortunately, listening to the various answers and to the Prime Minister, it will not be possible. They have closed the door without any discussion. However, that was not always the case. Remember that, the first time the National Assembly discussed this through a unanimous motion, the first reaction from the Prime Minister was to mock the National Assembly, breaking into laughter after saying that the National Assembly had passed a unanimous motion.
It is still the Quebec National Assembly and they are still elected members. Another assembly must be respected. If the wants to speak with members of the National Assembly, he can get elected to it too. No problem. However, given his attitude since the debate, his attitude toward Quebec, his attitude on the issue of the supply ship Obelix, his attitude on electoral reform and his attitude about deficits that continue to accumulate and grow, I am not convinced that residents of any riding in Quebec would want such a Prime Minister.
The question is simple. If we set aside the debates and partisan statements and put a stop to this government's fearmongering about the thousands of jobs at Revenue Canada in Quebec, would it be possible to have a discussion at a more functional level that would encourage parliamentarians to work together to make it possible to create a single income tax return?
I would like to repeat one thing to all the people working at Revenue Canada in Quebec: no jobs will be lost. Those are just scare tactics used by the Liberals. They are fearmongering, although they are the ones who keep saying that the Conservatives are running fear campaigns. That is strange, but in this case I think that the attacks are coming mostly from the opposite side. No jobs will be lost if we do things right and if we do them in the best interests of Quebeckers, to make their lives easier.
Let's use the resources we have and rely on everyone’s experience and expertise to make this project possible. It seems to me that this is a good project, that it could be achieved together, with Quebec, to show once and for all that Ottawa is not afraid of Quebec and that, to the contrary, it wants to work with Quebeckers.
Mr. Speaker, I will speak for about 20 minutes to talk about the motion moved by the Conservative Party that is being defended by colleagues from Quebec. As a Quebecker, that surprises me.
I want to thank the member for for his remarks during question period. He apologized for his remarks concerning my colleague, the . Frankly, I thank him because, in fact, I think that we all agree in the House that we can use the language of our choice, whether it be English or French. I thank him because he did the right thing, and I have great respect for him as a member.
Today, we will be emotional because we are standing up for 5,500 families. That is the issue today. The issue today is not politics. There are 5,500 families that depend on federal jobs. I often say on this side of the House that we have ambitions for our regions. I do not understand how there are still members on the other side of the House who are against protecting jobs in the regions.
I would say that anyone rising in the House today to jeopardize those jobs is irresponsible.
Yes, we are in favour of harmonization. Yes, we are in favour of making things simpler. Yes, we are in favour of modernizing income tax returns for Quebeckers, but we are also in favour of quality jobs in the regions. Yes, we want to preserve those jobs in Shawinigan and in Jonquière.
I have met with families and people with exceptional expertise. They work day after day, as public servants at the Canada Revenue Agency, and they do exceptional work. We should be congratulating them instead of jeopardizing their jobs.
I heard the member for talk about respecting the National Assembly. I am happy that citizens have also had the opportunity to hear him and see him on television. Clearly, we have great respect for the National Assembly and its elected members. When the member tells Canadians watching us right now that no jobs will be lost, I do not think he is honouring the institution. If he believes that much in the words of the National Assembly, he should listen to the Premier of Quebec, who admitted himself that this would result in job losses in Quebec.
I rise today to be the voice of those who cannot be in the House. I rise for those who get up each and every day to serve Canadians, especially the workers in Shawinigan, whom we visited yesterday. We had fantastic news for the people of the Mauricie yesterday. We announced that we would not only upgrade the existing building, but also build a new one.
My colleague the said it very clearly. For over 10 years, the Conservatives have questioned those families' jobs. We want to put an end to that. Yesterday, we announced a new building to accommodate workers at the Canada Revenue Agency, commonly known in our area as the Shawinigan tax centre.
We will give these workers a green, modern, state-of-the-art building that we can all be proud of. Yes, the people of these regions are proud. Yes, the people of Shawinigan are proud. Yes, people in Jonquière are proud to work for the CRA. Today, we are the voice of these people we visited yesterday.
I heard Conservative members saying that there will not be any job losses. I suggest that they go and speak to the union president. They should go speak to Mr. Pelletier, Ms. Lafond and the director of the tax centre. They will see things in a completely different light. Shawinigan is home to a unique expertise. The Shawinigan tax centre is the largest bilingual verification and collections centre in Canada, and it is located in Quebec.
We should be rising in the House to show how proud we are to be Quebeckers and to have federal jobs in the regions. We should be proud to stand up for those workers who expect MPs to be their voice in the House. I think it is shameful that members are here today playing politics when we are talking about keeping good jobs in the regions.
In 2019, we can harmonize and simplify the tax return process for Quebeckers. We can coordinate efforts between the Canada Revenue Agency and Revenu Québec, but we will not do so at the expense of jobs in the regions. We know that our regions are important economic drivers.
The socio-economic fabric of my region relies on the Shawinigan National Verification and Collections Centre, which represents roughly $50 million in annual salaries. Probably nearly $1 billion has been paid in salaries in the region since the centre opened. It is a major economic driver. Yesterday, we could see these people in the gallery watching us here in the House with big smiles on their faces, applauding and thanking us for ending the uncertainty created over the past 10 years. They thanked us for being here to confirm that the work they do is valuable, for believing in their abilities, still believing in Quebec, and believing that the contribution made by these employees can make a difference. We decided yesterday to give them a new building that is worthy of their ambitions.
I see my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois, who are proud Quebeckers. I would like to hear them stand up for Shawinigan, stand up for Jonquière. I would like to see people like me, who come from Quebec, who come from the regions, stand in the House and say that our Conservative colleagues are playing politics at the expense of Quebec families, because that is exactly what they are doing.
I hope that my Bloc Québécois and NDP colleagues will continue to stand up and condemn what is happening. Yes, we can be proud to be Quebeckers. Yes, we have the right to have jobs in our regions. Yes, we can modernize the system and keep jobs in Jonquière and Shawinigan. I invite my Bloc Québécois colleagues to speak out loud and clear on behalf of Quebeckers, because 1,600 families from back home are probably watching today. There are 1,600 families in Shawinigan and 5,500 Quebeckers who expect my colleagues to stand up for them in the House.
If my Bloc Québécois and NDP colleagues do not, we will stand up for them because we, the 40 Liberal members, have a strong voice in this place. The seven ministers will be there and the Prime Minister will be there.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. François-Philippe Champagne: Some of my colleagues may laugh, but I can say that, if they had been in the chamber yesterday, they would have seen the 1,600 workers laugh at them, because they understood that the truth is that what we need is people who will fight to keep jobs in the regions. I cannot imagine that in 2019 we cannot accommodate jobs in Quebec and modernize at the same time. We are able to do both. That is what we tell Quebeckers: we will obviously work with them, but we will also give ourselves the means to succeed in the regions. We have the right to stand up for our families in the regions, who work hard for the Canada Revenue Agency.
I am emotional because, although those people do not have a seat in the House, they expect the members to defend Quebec in this place. I would invite my Conservative colleagues to talk to their leader and their colleagues to tell them that jobs in Quebec are important.
I cannot understand how an elected member from Quebec would not rise today to stand up for Quebec. In fact, that is the issue; it is a matter of occupying the territory, of defending the expertise that has been developed in the regions and of defending employees who get up each morning to serve Canadians.
The Shawinigan National Verification and Collections Centre is the most bilingual centre in the country. It serves all Canadians all the way from Shawinigan. It is something to be proud of. I was in the chamber yesterday; 1,600 people rose and applauded for about a minute, thanking us for trusting them and believing in them.
We will certainly continue to stand up for them, because we believe that we are able to make things better. What we will be giving to Shawinigan is not just a larger building, but also a greener building that reflects just what Quebecers want. When we invest, we do so in a smart way, and that is why we have invested in a new building.
We made that commitment several years ago. In 2015, I was in the park just in front of the Shawinigan Tax Centre, along with former prime minister Chrétien. We stood up and we said that we would do everything we could to preserve the sustainability of the Shawinigan Tax Centre. In 2016, the committed to transforming the Shawinigan Tax Centre into a National Verification and Collections Centre, and we made that happen yesterday by saying that we would provide them with office space and a 21st century building.
We want the Shawinigan Tax Centre to be there for future generations. I think that we will show everyone in the Mauricie region, Quebec and Canada that it is a jewel and that those jobs in the region make an enormous difference.
I hope that my colleagues, including my colleague from , will stand tall and proud to defend Quebec. It is not about politics. It is about families. We will certainly not play politics at the expense of families. We are here to stand up for them. The people of Quebec sent us to Ottawa so we could stand up for them, along with our Bloc Québécois colleagues.
We must protect these jobs in Quebec. We are able to harmonize and modernize things and work with Quebec, while respecting the families who depend on these jobs in the regions. On this side of the House, we will always find a member or minister who is proud to speak about their region and also to stand up for the workers in Jonquière.
Yesterday, we were proud to reaffirm our plan to remain an employer of choice in the Mauricie by announcing a major investment in the region. As I said yesterday, the heroes of the story are the 1,600 workers who are there. Thanks to their hard work and expertise, together we have ensured the continued viability of the Shawinigan tax centre. I told them that I wanted to applaud them and to thank them, because it is because of them that we have come this far and can invest in the future with them.
I really hope that both sides of the House will come to the conclusion that our commitment to harmonization and modernization is the right choice, but that we must also preserve Quebec’s assets. I do not understand the members who are not proud to represent a riding where there are federal jobs and to defend our regions. I see some of them in the House.
It is in Quebec that this is happening. There are 5,500 good jobs in Quebec. Members of the Conservative Party, like the member for , say that there will be no job losses. I do not know how many taxation centres he has managed in his lifetime, but the directors of the taxation centres, the union and the Premier of Quebec all tell us that this could result in job losses. It is 2019 and we can do better. We can harmonize things and simplify life for Quebeckers, but we can also keep jobs at home.
We are talking about Quebec. It goes without saying that Quebec members stand up for Quebec. We can do it. Let us look to the future together and make life easier for Quebeckers. With today’s technology, anything is possible. However, this should certainly not be done at the expense of families. I appeal to the common sense of my colleagues, because I know that they are good people.
I know we are talking about numbers today but yesterday, when I was in the House, I saw 1,600 faces. They are people I meet at IGA, at Jean Coutu or at Shell. They thank me for standing up for them and for their jobs, and for saying that we can make good use of the excellent work they do in their region. That is what they expect of Quebec MPs. They expect them to be proud leaders carrying the torch, not people who will sacrifice jobs to win an election.
I encourage my colleague to meet union officials and to talk to tax centre employees. They will tell her what is going to happen.
We must all rally on this issue. Common sense must prevail in the House of Commons. We have to understand that we can do better together. I cannot see why some prefer confrontation instead of looking for solutions when the issue is jobs and families. We are not talking about only 5,500 people, but 5,500 families. That is a lot of people.
I encourage Conservative members to visit my riding and see what kind of reception they get. Let them tell the families they meet that there is no cause for concern. These families have been living in fear for 10 years. They are the reason why we spoke loud and clear yesterday. They are the reason why the spoke today. We stand up for Quebeckers and we have great ambitions for regions.
At least, our colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and the NDP have the courage of their convictions. They stood up and spoke for regions. They are convinced that we can do better. I salute these members because, after a moment of hesitation, they came to their senses. I know that our other colleagues will also come to theirs, because nobody wants to put jobs at risk. No member in this House was elected to put jobs at risk.
I do not think anyone watching at home would have thought that their vote would help send someone to the House of Commons to put their job at risk. I am standing up for these 1,600 families in Mauricie who rely on their jobs at the tax centre. What I saw yesterday was pride. I will continue to repeat this, since it is important to talk about them.
On one side of the House they speak in conceptual terms, but I prefer to speak in real terms. These are human beings, and when we are talking about human beings, we have to tell their stories. We have to talk about the 40 years of knowledge that has been developed in Mauricie. That is why we need to take the time to talk about it.
I think the Conservatives are on the wrong track, but Quebeckers know this. Quebeckers will remember. They have a long memory. When people put their jobs at risk, they know how to respond. They will remember, and we will make sure to remind them. Who voted to put their jobs at risk? Who voted against tax cuts? Who opposed modernizing our country's tax framework?
I believe that, today, we must ask ourselves one question: can we do better? When we ask this question, the answer readily appears. Yes, we can do better. What I would like is for the men and women in this place, in the House, to find a solution around harmonization rather than job losses.
Let us stop playing politics at the expense of Quebec regions. Let us continue to believe that we can do a good job and set aside politics when it is in the best interest of families and the people we represent. I know that each one of us can do that.
I will close by saying that there are moments in history when people are judged for their actions and their words and for everything they decide to do for Quebec. I believe that this is one of those moments and people will remember this for a long time. Let us not jeopardize valuable jobs in our regions. Let us instead use the expertise that has been developed and continue to have ambitions for our regions.