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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. I will be splitting my time with my colleague for .
Let me be perfectly clear that this will be a political speech. I make no excuses for that. I am a politician first and foremost. I am the only female Conservative member from Quebec, and I care deeply about my region and all regions.
I find it deplorable that the Liberal Party is launching a fearmongering campaign aimed not at politicians, but at workers. Liberals need not worry. Our leader will go talk to the workers. He has a message for them. In 2006, here in this House, we voted unanimously for Prime Minister Harper to recognize the Quebec nation. There were 266 votes for the motion and 15 votes against, all from Liberal members. That was peculiar. I do not understand. Where were the Liberals when the time came to vote for the Quebec nation?
Here is the resolution from Quebec's National Assembly, which was also passed unanimously:
THAT the National Assembly ask the Government of Québec and the Federal Government to implement a single tax report for Québec taxpayers, to be filed with Revenu Québec, while preserving Québec's fiscal autonomy.
Once we have read that, it is time for action. We care about the people of Quebec, and I will never stand idly by while a Quebec MP from any party, especially the Liberal Party, ostentatiously claims we are not standing up for Quebec. We have always stood up for Quebec. There are 12 Conservative MPs from Quebec, and all of our voices can be heard in that province. The same cannot be said of the Liberals right now. We can hear the ministers, but the MPs from Quebec are practically silent.
When Quebec needed help, we were there almost every time. It is important to understand that we have room to manoeuvre in this day and age. We are entering a new era. It is 2019, and we will act accordingly. It is important that the House show profound respect for provincial jurisdiction and great confidence in provincial institutions. However, there is a paternalistic party on the other side that encroaches on provincial jurisdiction at will. On our side, we allow provinces to have more freedom, since we recognize that each one is different and has its own way of seeing things. It is important to say so. In Quebec, we want to cut the red tape. We have to file two tax returns, while people in all the other provinces only have to file one.
Quebec has long been asking to be allowed to do things its own way. Over the years, each federal party in power gave us a little more leeway. Today, we are asking for the same thing. Quebeckers are asking us for it, and the National Assembly is unanimously asking us for it. In our respective ridings, there are a lot of people paying attention to this issue.
There has been some fearmongering over job losses, but that is not going to come true. Jobs can be created in different ways. For some time now, there has been a lot of talk about tax evasion. Now may be the time to get these people working to fight tax evasion. This may be the perfect time to focus on it and come up with alternatives so that all these fine people get to keep working for years to come.
Over the past few months, my colleagues, our leader and I have gone out to meet Quebeckers and hear about their thoughts and ideas. We have criss-crossed Quebec many times over. We have all been listening to Quebeckers. Every time we met Quebeckers, we talked with them. We sat down to listen to them, to take notes and to talk. That is what a frank discussion is all about.
What we are asking all parties to do is to keep an open mind, listen to what Quebec wants, and then sit down with Quebeckers to figure out exactly how the single tax return will work. That is what Quebec is asking us to do. The Liberal Party of Quebec supported the idea before, and the CAQ supports it today. The Quebec parties unanimously agree. All this politicking is needless. They did not all get this idea out of a Cracker Jack box. Everyone agrees with it.
The Liberals are raising the spectre of job losses, but they need to stop. That kind of scare tactic should not be used in 2019, because jobs are needed everywhere. There will not be any job losses. At this point in time, we can look at what can be improved and how it can be improved in order to make sure all these fine people are aware of the change. There will be changes, because there will be a single tax return.
I will always stand up for Quebec. I will always be proud to be a Quebecker. I will always be proud of my home. I will always be proud to say “present” whenever Quebec needs something.
Mr. Speaker, what an emotional day this has been. It is a day when Quebec is in the spotlight, and that comes with a lot of emotion.
I would like to calm things down a bit and get back to the facts. We are here today debating a motion moved by my colleague from . This motion was not drafted just for fun. It was tabled following some very real events for us.
First, as my colleague from said, we remember Stephen Harper. My colleagues opposite love to try to destroy what he did, but he did one important thing for Quebeckers in 2006, which was to get the House of Commons to recognize Quebec as a nation.
Over the past year and a half, we have been wondering what Quebeckers now expect from a motion like that one. My 10 Conservative colleagues from Quebec and I have toured Quebec. We went everywhere, all the way to northern Abitibi and to the North Shore. We went to listen to Quebeckers. We told them that we recognized Quebec as a nation in 2006 and that we wanted to know what that meant for them now. The tax return issue was one of the major points that kept coming up.
Again, this is not about emotion, but about administration. It is about paperwork. There is nothing emotional about that. The emotion that we are feeling is only anger at having to fill out tax returns.
When we came back from our tour, we thought that it was clear. We did not invent anything. We just listened to Quebeckers. Around the same time, the Quebec National Assembly decided to turn it into a unanimous resolution, adopted by all members of the National Assembly, regardless of party. Members on the left and right all said that they wanted this. Again, this is rational. Let us take a deep breath.
By listening to Quebeckers, our leader, who is very interested in learning what Quebec really wants, said that as prime minister, he would ensure that the Conservative government negotiates with Quebec and finds a way to do it. It is still a matter of administration.
The motion moved by my colleague today seeks to create a relationship of trust with the provinces, to listen to our provinces so that we can work well with them. We are prepared to say that we will work effectively with the Government of Quebec on establishing guidelines for administering a single tax return.
What is so emotional about all of this?
It is simple. We are being asked about jobs. Of course there are challenges any time a measure is introduced. Any measure or any important political decision will always involve considerations related to jobs, expenditures and revenues, depending on what is being done. That is to be expected.
The basic principle that is driving us today, the purpose of our motion, is the fact that there are 8 million Quebeckers. That is a lot of people, one-quarter of Canada's population, who have to fill out two tax returns. We merely want to simplify things. We will manage the impact that this will have on jobs. We will figure out how to handle it. The leader of the Conservative Party has already said that we would manage the situation appropriately. Some federal employees may be assigned to different tasks or have to deal with restructuring. That is for sure. Such a big decision is bound to have consequences. However, we are all aware of that and we want those people to keep their jobs.
How will it work? That remains to be seen.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pierre Paul-Hus: I can hear the New Democrats shouting, but does anyone really believe that, deep down, we would want to make a decision like that to eliminate jobs? Come on. That is why today's debate has become so emotionally charged. That is why members are trying to attack us, to the turn the debate around and make it political. I cannot count on the NDP because it has changed its mind two or three times. Can I count on the Liberal government and the Prime Minister who refuse every time Quebec asks for something?
We all remember Premier Couillard. Quebec drafted a document to reopen certain constitutional issues. It was very complex work. Mr. Couillard very calmly and dispassionately said he would just like to talk about the issues. The looked at reporters and said he had no intention of talking. That is how this government operates: emotionally. Reactions like that from the Prime Minister and his government drive me up the wall. I cannot stand seeing 40 Liberal MPs from Quebec not give a damn about what Quebeckers think. As I Quebecker, I just do not get it. If they want me to get mad, I will get mad. Every time a Quebec issue comes up, the government reacts negatively.
I am just asking members of the House to be open to discussion. There are steps that need to be taken, of course, and there are ways to do that if we behave like grown men and women, but that is not at all what I have seen today.
Let us look at the answers given by Quebec premiers. Obviously, Mr. Couillard supported the motion. The National Assembly motion was passed by the provincial Liberals of the day. Now the CAQ and Premier Legault are in power, and it is the same thing, of course. Our motion builds on the work already begun in response to Quebec's demands. The Government of Quebec and the National Assembly know Quebeckers better than anyone. We went out to listen to Quebeckers first-hand, and so we are in a position to confirm Quebec's wishes.
It is also important to point out that all members of the Conservative Party support this initiative. It is not only the 11 members from Quebec who are rising to speak to this matter. The entire Conservative caucus supports this initiative to help Quebeckers. At the Conservative Party convention in Halifax last August, the 3,000 delegates in attendance voted over 99% in favour of the motion for a single tax return in Quebec.
Let us stop being emotional and let us be rational. Jobs are important, but we can manage the situation and, basically, there are eight million Quebeckers who are expecting not to have to fill out two tax returns any more, just like all other Canadians, who only file one.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to inform you that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for . She is very familiar with this issue and is very involved in finding practical solutions for the people of her region, for workers, but also for all Quebec taxpayers.
We are having a very interesting discussion today, because we are seeing some rather extreme and sweeping positions. It smacks of improvisation, while in the NDP, we have a clear position, but it is nuanced because it is well thought out and because we have worked on the issue. We did not just toss a balloon into the air to see whether it would fly.
Let me recap. The last federal NDP convention in Montreal was attended by 3,000 delegates from across the country. Part of the discussions and resolutions considered during the convention dealt with the single tax return. This resolution, which came from Quebec, of course, had two parts. The first was to recognize that it is somewhat incongruous for Quebeckers to be the only taxpayers in the country who have to file two tax returns, while all the others in the federation file only one. Is having a single tax return for Quebec a good idea? A vast majority of the delegates supported the resolution and its principle. It certainly would make people’s lives easier.
There is a second part to this resolution, which is that we must avoid shooting ourselves in the foot as we attempt to help each other out. We want to make this change, but we do not want to hurt people by doing so. More than 5,000 people in Quebec work for the Canada Revenue Agency. They process the tax returns not just of Quebeckers, but also of people from other provinces. They also perform other tasks related to the tax activities of taxpayers across the country.
The NDP's resolution is very clear. The NDP supports the idea of a single tax return, but that approach would need to be implemented in a way that respects workers and ensures that they keep their jobs. We are talking about good jobs and people who are working in the regions, mainly in Mauricie. My colleague from is obviously very aware of that. Some of those workers are also located in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area.
We adopted the resolution and then we got to work. We went and met with the representatives of the employees who work in this field day after day and year after year. We asked them if it would be possible to come up with a plan to reassign people to different tasks, to additional or different activities. When one starts looking at the details, it is more complicated than it seems for various reasons.
There is a lot of seasonal work and student jobs. There are people who process tax returns for a living but who could not necessarily be reassigned to technical or specialized tasks related to the fight against tax havens or tax evasion. The NDP supports the fight against tax evasion. We are not against it, quite the contrary. That was our pet cause in the Quebec caucus throughout 2017. However, it is not true that someone who does a certain job can be transferred to a completely different one the next day. That is rather unrealistic.
The leader of the Conservative Party is saying that it is simple and that those who are working on tax returns today can be transferred to work on tax evasion tomorrow. This is proof that the Conservatives did not do their homework, that they did not talk to people on the ground, that they did not look into what is actually possible.
An hon. member: They are amateurs.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice: It is indeed amateur hour, Mr. Speaker. I mentioned improvisation earlier but this is completely amateurish. I was really shocked to hear the Conservative member for this morning. Following his speech, he was asked how he would ensure that there would be no job losses and what exactly these people would do for work. The member replied that these were details. We are talking about the lives of 5,000 people and decent incomes for these families and for the regions.
With those jobs comes a great deal of economic development, not to mention increased purchasing power in regions with many SMEs, including restaurants and other businesses.
We need to take a serious approach. We have to approach the task as professionally as possible, and that is exactly what the NDP has done, by holding several meetings. We have done things reasonably and diligently, as we must when we respect people. We respect workers. From the outset, we said that this was what we wanted to do.
The principle is good, attractive even, and easy to understand. However, there are significant regional and socio-economic impacts for families. We are being told that the NDP members are not listening to the people of Quebec. However, the 5,500 workers are 5,500 Quebeckers we sat with and listened to. I will claim loudly and proudly that my Quebec definitely includes the FTQ, which represents 600,000 people. It is the largest civil society organization in Quebec right now. These are people with whom we have a relationship and with whom we can sit down to see what practical solutions we can come up with. That is what we have done and what, unfortunately, other political parties, such as the Conservatives, have not.
They are so unwilling to truly commit themselves that I want to remind everyone about what happened this morning. The member for said that the Conservative motion as drafted contained certain potentially interesting elements, but that it was missing one big thing. That big thing is the second component of the resolution adopted at the NDP convention, namely a guarantee that these people will not suffer or lose their jobs in the regions.
The member for Sherbrooke therefore presented a very simple amendment saying that the implementation of the single tax return must not result in a loss of employment within the public service. Shockingly, this amendment was rejected. The Conservative Party turned it down, even though the Conservative members said over and over, in all of their speeches and questions today in the House, that no jobs would be lost. When the time came to put it in writing, however, they said no. They said that it was a mere detail and that they would think about how to do this.
We cannot trust a party that spent 10 years slashing public services and cutting social programs when they were in government under Stephen Harper. We cannot trust them or tell them that the details will be taken care of later. That is not how things work.
We might one day be open to a plan for a single tax return if it did not involve job losses and if services were being provided to the public and were perhaps improved. That is what we are saying. It is not complicated.
We can find ways to make life easier for people. In many countries, tax returns are filled out in advance. People must check to make sure that their income and deductions match, since tax returns are relatively simple for a large number of people who have a set salary. A number of OECD countries operate like this, and we could consider this solution or possibility as a way to make things easier for Quebeckers and Canadians.
However, that is not on the table for right now. I think it is unfortunate that political parties are so quick to get carried away with rhetoric and theatrics. This is easy to do when members are not out there themselves, looking into these things.
It would be a good idea to put more effort and energy into fighting tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. However, the Liberal government must first take this seriously and invest the necessary resources. Since coming to power, the Liberals have not convicted any millionaires for hiding millions in the Cayman Islands or Barbados. The Liberals have no credibility. They have signed new agreements with tax havens.
If they want to tackle tax evasion, we will support them. However, they have not yet done so. Neither did the Conservatives for 10 years. Neither of these parties have any credibility in this file.
Mr. Speaker, there has been a tax centre in my riding of Jonquière since 1983. More than 1,000 people currently work at this centre. There are full-time and temporary workers. We must remember that the majority of these people are the breadwinners in their families.
I would like to thank all my colleagues from the Quebec NDP caucus. We worked together and did excellent research to support the resolution adopted at our last convention. Our objective was to determine, following discussions with unions and workers, whether a single tax return could be introduced without causing job losses. The idea itself may be commendable, because people in other provinces file a single tax return.
The most difficult task was determining what would happen to the 5,500 people working in Jonquière, Shawinigan or the tax services office in Chicoutimi if a single tax return were implemented. That is a considerable number of jobs. The NDP was the first party to consider the future of the workers. It is an important issue that affects many people.
It is all well and good to throw out ideas and proposals. We are people with strong opinions, which is commendable, but we need to do the research and meet with the people who will be affected so that we can understand the importance of their work and what they do. In this specific case, we would have to visit the Jonquière Tax Centre, which I have visited three times, or the tax services office in Chicoutimi, which I have also been to several times. That is why the NDP reconsidered this idea. When we put the workers first, we hit a wall. What will happen to their jobs?
I will come back to Jonquière, which is home to 1,000 employees. These are men and women with families to support. Furthermore, these people keep our economy going. The jobs in Jonquière, including all salary levels, represent a total payroll of $40 million for the Saguenay region. That is quite a lot of money.
In my region, we always want to foster development, offer good working conditions and create high-quality jobs. There are problems with housing. People are having trouble finding a place to live. The solution to this problem involves providing good jobs, like the jobs at the Jonquière Tax Centre and the Shawinigan National Verification and Collections Centre. These jobs help improve families' quality of life.
This proposal is creating concern among the workers. I have had a chance to follow the debates today, especially the comments made by Conservative members. They do not appear to be very concerned about these hard-working people. It is true that no one likes paying taxes. However, when we see the quality of the service provided, especially in Quebec, we understand that the successful growth of our beautiful country and, if I may say so myself, my beautiful province depends on this common good and our collective strength. At no point today did I hear the Conservatives show any regard for the workers' concerns. I want to emphasize that, because the Conservatives have been calling us every name in the book all day long.
I met a father of four on Sunday. He told me he is the main breadwinner and that he is worried and very anxious. With the election approaching, people are wondering if politicians will care about them. That is what he told me. He has worked at the Jonquière tax centre for 15 years, and he is wondering if he will still have work next year or two years from now. What is going to happen to him?
Today's motion is not making people feel optimistic. There is no real plan, no proposal for working together, and that worries people.
As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to care about people. We have had many debates in the House of Commons. Earlier, a member talked about GM workers in Oshawa who have good jobs. The same holds true for workers in Quebec.
I am especially concerned for working families in my riding, Jonquière. I just mentioned the father I met with. He is worried. Hundreds of people are worried too. I hope everyone will listen to reason, and I hope the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois will eventually do the same work we did.
It is easy to say that no jobs will be lost and to repeat it 10, 15 or 20 times. It does not bode well if we cannot even put it in writing that workers have to be protected and that no loss of employment within the federal public service should occur, as my colleague for asked for in his amendment this morning.
At some point, we have to walk the talk. Action must be taken. It is important. I will not hesitate to sign a document if I am truly and deeply convinced that it is the right thing to do.
The rejection of the amendment moved earlier today by my colleague for to ensure that there would be no loss of employment for workers in Quebec, including in the tax centre in Jonquière, was a good example of that. Clearly, it does not make any sense.
Again, as parliamentarians, we have a responsibility. I believe we should review our tax system and improve the way we do things. There is a lot to do for SMEs. There is a lot of room for improvement. We still have a whole world to build. We have our entire future ahead of us.
It would be nice if Conservatives understood the importance of caring about workers. Words are not enough. We need action. We need a plan. As I was saying, the important thing is to work together and try to move in the direction Quebec wants, to communicate with the province and see where things can be improved. Opportunities do exist. One thing I can say for sure is that, as the member for Jonquière, I will always stand up for workers and defend their interests in the House and in my riding. Most importantly, I will make sure their jobs are protected.
I hope that the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and everyone in the House will listen to reason. We must make sure that no job is lost and that we are able to look for solutions. Partisanship is not the way to go. We cannot go into an election campaign making promises that we know we will not be able to keep. In particular, we must not try to balance the budget by cutting 5,500 jobs in Quebec. Even though that is a lot of jobs, it will not be enough for the Conservatives to balance the budget, and I do not want that to be done on the backs of workers.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise at the end of this debate to conclude what was quite an eventful day. We were able to get to the bottom of the issue and determine who are the fearmongers in this House.
The question before us is, will Quebeckers keep filing two tax returns? The official opposition believes that it is not a good idea and that Quebeckers should file a single tax return. That is simple common sense. It is all about making life easier for Quebeckers, making sure that they are no longer the only Canadians filing two tax returns, and implementing that change without any loss of employment.
Similar agreements already exist. Since 2011, there has been an excellent agreement in place that is based on the same principle, namely that the Government of Quebec collects the GST and delivers it directly to the federal government with not a single penny missing.
That is what is being proposed here, to allow Quebeckers to file a single tax return like all other Canadians, along the lines of what is already being done with the GST, without sacrificing any jobs.
Why are Quebeckers the only people in this country who have to submit two income tax returns?
Back on February 24, 1954, in what was then known as the legislative assembly, Premier Maurice Duplessis passed a bill to create an income tax return for the province of Quebec.
Some may wonder why he did that.
War being what it is, urgent measures were needed, and the Canadian government appropriated certain taxation powers. After the war, things should have gone back to the way they had been, but that did not happen. The Right Honourable Louis Saint-Laurent—although I do not know the man, I say his name every day as the MP for the riding that bears it—recognized that Quebec had the right and the power to create its own income tax return.
Historians agree that, in the 1960s, Quebec's taxation power made it possible for the Hon. Jean Lesage's government to introduce all its new measures during a period later known to many as the Quiet Revolution.
Over the years, the issue has surfaced a few times at the provincial and federal levels. We wondered if it might be a good idea for Quebeckers to be able to file a single tax return, just like every other Canadian. The issue came up occasionally at the federal level, and the least we can say is that there was not much interest in the proposal. The issue was brought up in Quebec on a few occasions, if I recall correctly, by a federalist party. A party that wanted Quebec to remain in Canada proposed a single tax return in 1988. That was Action démocratique du Québec, a party that I obviously know very well.
This idea surfaced year in and year out, but not in a very concrete or well-formed way, and it was not very realistic or doable. With all due respect to those involved, it takes two to tango. There had to be a proponent in Quebec and a proponent in Ottawa. As there was not much enthusiasm for this initiative in Ottawa, there was not a lot of dancing going on.
Things just stumbled along. Just over a year later, we Conservatives floated the idea again during a meeting that we had with our leader, the hon. member for and leader of the official opposition. Like many Canadians, he knew that Quebeckers were the only ones to file two tax returns. He wondered if there was a way to change that. That is when we the Conservative members from Quebec did our homework to see whether there was any interest in this and whether it could be actually done.
We started the process. We debated the idea within the party. There were consultations across Quebec. There were results after the first phase, because this does not happen overnight. The first phase was done on May 12, 2018, when our party adopted the resolution during our provincial convention. All federal Conservative Party members were gathered in Saint-Hyacinthe. Nearly 500 people were there. No one will remember that the former leader of the Bloc Québécois decided to rejoin our party. No one will remember that the current mayor of Trois-Rivières decided to join our party. Many will remember that the convention was a resounding success.
It was at that time—without wanting to dwell too much on local party matters—that Charles Plamondon, the Conservative Party riding association president for Louis-Saint-Laurent, took the microphone and we put this matter to a vote. It passed with a very clear majority of over 90% by our provincial authorities.
I would like to salute Charles Plamondon, who was our riding association president for two years. I also want to salute all the volunteers for all political parties who contribute to the democratic process in a positive and constructive way, without any pay, simply for the pleasure of standing up for their convictions. There are no wrong convictions, just people who are driven by political passions and their convictions. We can only congratulate them and thank them through Charles Plamondon, whom I salute and thank.
On May 12, the provincial wing of the Conservative Party voted in favour of a single tax return. A few days later, and the timeline is important here, the Quebec National Assembly adopted its motion. Throughout the debate today, we have heard that we support the National Assembly when it suits us and that we are following the lead of provincial parties. This is not the case. As the chronology shows, we made this decision on our own. This will have a significant political impact in Quebec, since we will be governing Canada in nine months, if that is what Canadians choose. I think we represent a serious challenge and that this is a real possibility. We want Canadians to support our party, but the decision will be theirs on October 21.
A major national party took a concrete position that is good for Quebeckers, and the National Assembly could not ignore that. All members of the National Assembly supported this motion, including members from the far left, such as members of Québec Solidaire, entrenched sovereignists, like members of the Parti Québécois, people who were, at the time, members of the second opposition party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, and even well-known federalists, like the provincial Liberals. Everyone agreed. I will come back to this later, because as I said, some mind-boggling things have been said here today. I look forward to expanding on this.
To summarize, the leader initiated the discussion within our party, the provincial wing of the Conservative Party adopted the motion, and all of the political parties in the Quebec National Assembly agreed with it. Then, a few weeks later, the day after Quebec's national holiday, in the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, the Conservative leader announced that a government led by the member for would ensure that Quebeckers only had to fill out a single tax return like all other Canadians.
There was support for this stance. It is important to point that out because people have been talking a lot of rubbish today. Even during question period, the said that it was strange that we were not asking any questions in English about the single tax form, which is not true. Last week, our colleague from Calgary asked a question in English in this regard. The cameras do not show the members who are not speaking, but Canadians should have seen how shocked the Liberal ministers were to hear a question in English on this subject. I do not know how they do things in the Liberal Party, but we conservatives always say the same thing in both official languages, whether in eastern Canada, western Canada, Quebec, Ontario or northern Canada.
The Conservative Party agrees. The vote held at a convention of over 3,000 people was almost unanimous. We debated this issue amongst ourselves, and we worked hard on this realistic and responsible proposal for Quebeckers.
In short, what is our objective? Of course, our priority is the taxpayer. Our main objective is to help 8 million Quebeckers who have been forced for too long to file two tax returns—even if they do not all file a return of course—while other Canadians file only one. We want to make their life easier. Let us not forget that this would not cost taxpayers a dime and that it can be done through an administrative agreement like so many others between the federal government and all provinces.
It is important to mention that, according to some, we are again trying to pander to Quebec. That is not true. Only Quebec has this problem. Only Quebeckers must file two income tax returns. We are not doing it to please Quebeckers, but to make life easier for them. That is the important thing. When I say "Quebeckers", I mean all workers in Quebec, including those who work in the federal public service and for the Canada Revenue Agency.
Therefore, it would be an administrative agreement like many others. The sovereignty of the Parliament of Canada would not be affected in any way and Parliament would continue to duly vote on all legislation and all budgetary and fiscal measures. For all regulations, laws, measures, paragraphs and forms that the government wants to pass or complete, the authority sits entirely with the elected members of the House of Commons. The Government of Quebec has nothing to do with federal taxation, and Ottawa has nothing to do with provincial taxation. That is what respecting jurisdictions is all about, and that is what we have always tried to do and have always done as Conservatives. All laws and regulations are passed in Ottawa.
People may have legitimate concerns and might think the province would be given taxation powers. That is not what would happen. Taxation power remains fully within the purview of the House of Commons and the federal government. However, it would be administered by the provincial government. That has been the case for the GST since 2011. That is important. We are talking billions of dollars transferred from the Government of Quebec to the federal government every month. The Government of Quebec collects the GST on behalf of the federal government and sends it straight here to Ottawa. It works, and it works well. It is much more efficient for businesses. It makes people's work easier, and that is a good thing. We know it is working because nobody realizes it or talks about it. That is the best evidence that it is working.
I would note that the agreement was signed in 2011 under former Canadian prime minister, the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who is well known and well liked here in the House of Commons because of his outstanding service during the good years from 1984 to 1998. Mr. Charest and Mr. Harper worked together to make the GST arrangement happen.
Since then, there was a federalist Liberal government under Jean Charest and everything worked out. Then there was a minority sovereignist government under Pauline Marois and everything worked out. After that, there was another federalist Liberal government under Philippe Couillard and everything worked out. We now have a federalist Coalition Avenir Québec government under François Legault and everything is working out.
My point is that this is not a political issue. It is about an administrative agreement like any other between the federal government and the provinces. We want to apply the same model to the single tax return. I simply want to reiterate that, under Pauline Marois' minority yet still firmly sovereignist government, that GST agreement worked perfectly well. Horror stories about a Quebec government that got angry at some point are simply rubbish. Everything works fine with the GST. It could work just as well for the single tax return.
I now turn to the most cardinal and fundamental aspect. I was saving it for last, because it is very much at the heart of this debate and of certain things that we have heard throughout the day, things I have no words for. No jobs will be jeopardized. They will be preserved.
On January 22, in Montreal, when the official opposition announced, among other things, tax measures to allow people to return to work without being penalized, and other measures that directly address the dumping of raw sewage in our waterways and rivers—over 60,000 such dumps occur every year in Quebec, which is outrageous—our government unveiled the first elements of our environmental policy. There are still eight months left in the electoral campaign and a lot of good things to come.
The leader of the opposition was asked a question about the single tax return. He said that “no public service jobs will be eliminated. [Public servants will deal with tax evasion, which will be better for taxpayers.] We need public servants to ensure that our federal laws are upheld. We can also make more effective use of the people who work for the federal government”. He made himself clear. There would be no job losses.
Throughout the day we heard people fearmongering, saying that this makes no sense, that the Conservatives are jeopardizing jobs, that they should talk to the families and so on and so forth, that the world is coming to an end, that their heart was not in the right place and that they had consulted no one. That is not true. Those are lies.
The reality is that we are not going to eliminate jobs. Is that clear? There will be no job losses. I assure the people who work for the CRA in Jonquière, Shawinigan, or anywhere else that they will not lose their jobs. Those who say the opposite are lying. Okay, that is clear. Now, let us hope that is what gets reported.
I am saddened to see that my distinguished colleague, the hon. member from the Shawinigan region forgot one small detail in his 10-minute-plus diatribe, namely that the leader had taken a position and said there would be no job losses. That is too bad.
One of the other things I heard today that completely threw me for a loop was the remark from the member for drawing a link between filing a single tax return and the separatist threat. Those were his exact words. Not to mention that the l