Whereas on October 21, 1880, the Government of Canada entered into a contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway Syndicate for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway;
Whereas, by clause 16 of the 1880 Canadian Pacific Railway contract, the federal government agreed to give a tax exemption to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company;
Whereas, in 1905, the Parliament of Canada passed the Saskatchewan Act, which created the Province of Saskatchewan;
Whereas section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act refers to clause 16 of the 1880 Canadian Pacific Railway Contract;
Whereas the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed on November 6, 1885, with the Last Spike at Craigellachie, and has been operating as a going concern for 136 years;
Whereas, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan since the Province was established in 1905;
Whereas it would be unfair to the residents of Saskatchewan if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, casting that tax burden onto the residents of Saskatchewan;
Whereas it would be unfair to other businesses operating in Saskatchewan, including small businesses, if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, giving that corporation a significant competitive advantage over those other businesses, to the detriment of farmers, consumers and producers in the Province;
Whereas it would not be consistent with Saskatchewan's position as an equal partner in Confederation if there were restrictions on its taxing powers that do not apply to other provinces;
Whereas on August 29, 1966, the then President of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Ian D. Sinclair, advised the then federal Minister of Transport, Jack Pickersgill, that the Board of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had no objection to constitutional amendments to eliminate the tax exemption;
Whereas section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies;
Whereas the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, on November 29, 2021, adopted a resolution authorizing an amendment to the Constitution of Canada;
Now, therefore, the House of Commons resolves that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada be authorized to be made by proclamation issued by Her Excellency the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada in accordance with the annexed schedule.
AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF CANADA
1. Section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act is repealed.
2. The repeal of section 24 is deemed to have been made on August 29, 1966, and is retroactive to that date.
3. This Amendment may be cited as the Constitution Amendment, [year of proclamation] (Saskatchewan Act).
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand to present the motion today and lead off the debate.
I will be splitting my time with the member for . I am happy to hear her comments put on the record as well. We will have a lot of Saskatchewan content in the chamber today. I feel that more common sense from Saskatchewan is always a good thing.
I want to talk to the members in the chamber today about why this motion is important. There are two defining reasons why we should be passing this unanimously. One is for tax fairness. I believe the taxpayers of Saskatchewan should not be forced to pay an additional dollars to a profitable corporation. Second, it is about respecting provincial jurisdiction. I believe all colleagues can appreciate that. I think we have a duty in this chamber to respect what has been done in provincial legislatures across the country. We know that this passed unanimously in the Saskatchewan legislature last fall.
I brought forward a unanimous consent motion, but I appreciate that the member for and the wanted to have debate on the floor of the House of Commons about why this motion is important and why it should be passed. It is with respect to their wishes that we brought forward this motion today so we would have that conversation, have that debate and have comments put on the record as to why this is a necessary motion. Hopefully, after today there will be a vote on this motion and we can move it to the Senate. Then this could be passed in respect to the wishes of the people of Saskatchewan.
I have some thanks to give. My thanks to the minister of justice in Saskatchewan, Gordon Wyant, who put this motion forward in that legislative chamber. I have also talked with some of the NDP MLAs in Saskatchewan, my home province. I was a member of the legislative assembly there, and Trent Wotherspoon has said he has communicated with the NDP in the House of Commons. I believe they will be on board with this motion as well because they should respect what their provincial colleagues have done.
I hope this will be a good and thorough debate about why we, as legislators, should respect the provincial jurisdiction of what is going on. I want to put on the record that I think it is very important that we have the proper tone. Decorum in this House has left a little bit to be desired.
The motion today was put forward by the opposition so that we can all get together and have a good conversation to show the people of Canada that we can work together. We have done it in the past. We can work together and get things done more quickly and not see some of the holdups we have seen in the past with some of the bills put forward because of partisan politics.
These are the conversations we have been having over the last couple months. I put forward a unanimous consent motion that was denied, so hopefully that will not happen again with this motion before I back home to Saskatchewan.
Talking about the people of Saskatchewan, this is important to them because they think it is time that Ottawa listens to some of their concerns around tax fairness. Obviously, we have seen that the price of everything has been going up and inflation is increasing everywhere. They want to know that we are listening. My number one job when I stand in the House of Commons representing the people of Regina—Lewvan is to put forward their interests and make sure that I am a voice for them. This is something that I feel is very important. They feel, like I said previously, that they should not have to pay an extra dollar for a profitable corporation.
We went through the motion. For a little more background, this is a constitutional amendment. That is not unheard of, as B.C. has done this, as well as Alberta, and through this very process. We are not breaking new ground. We know this has been done before, amending provincial constitutions through motions and agreement with parties in the chamber and in the Senate. I believe this is something that can be done again.
We really want to make sure that people realize that this is an outdated exemption. It dates back to 1880. It was something where the government at the time made a deal with CP Rail. It is something where they were exempt from paying taxes. Going back to 1880 makes it 116 years old. CP and the Saskatchewan government have been engaged in a battle over this for the last 13 years.
For CP, that is something that will be ongoing. This will affect that going forward. That court case will be settled in the courts. It will not be settled here today, but we will make sure that we get this exemption done and off the books so that something like this does not come up again.
On November 29, the justice minister introduced the motion to repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act in the legislature. Like I said, it has been a few months. I believe my colleagues across the way on the government side have had an opportunity to look at it and are in agreement with this motion going forward. The resolution will be passed by the government and the Senate.
I want to put on the record today a comment made by the minister of justice in Saskatchewan. He said, “We're going to vigorously defend the claim that's been brought by the railway to defend the interests of the people of Saskatchewan”. When it comes down to it, today we are trying to defend the interests of the people of Saskatchewan on the floor of the House of Commons. That is what I will always do.
When I talk to the people of Regina—Lewvan, I tell them that I will always be on Saskatchewan's side. This motion shows both that commitment to the people who have sent us to the legislature and that we have the ability to get things done. Sometimes I am asked in my hometown of Regina if I can move the yardstick being in opposition, if I can get things done. This is an example of how, working with all parties, we can get something done for the people of Saskatchewan and make sure they do not pay a cent in tax that should be paid by profitable corporations.
In a few conversations with people back home over Christmas, they were really interested in what the problem with this could be. I am hoping that, if the other parties, the Liberals, NDP or Bloc, do have concerns, they put them on floor of the House of Commons today. We can then answer those concerns, and we can work together to ensure this will be moved forward. It is very important that we make sure outdated legislation is changed.
I believe it was an oversight because in 1966, as it says in the motion, there was a handshake agreement between CP Rail and the government of the day to get this exemption off the books. Sometimes there are small oversights, so we are going to fix a past mistake that was overlooked and ensure that everyone knows what the rules are going forward. Canadians are really looking for some certainty and making sure we are doing what we can to make legislation clear. Passing this motion so that oversight is fixed and that exemption is taken off the books of CP Rail is what today is about.
This is about tax fairness for the people of my province, and I am looking forward to hearing the debates of my other colleagues from Saskatchewan. It is about respecting provincial jurisdiction. I think a lot of members in the chamber agree with this and will make sure we work together to get this motion passed. I believe everyone in this House thinks provincial jurisdiction should be respected, and when it comes to tax fairness, I think everyone in the House would agree that people in our home provinces should not be paying for profitable corporations. When I go home, I will be happy to have conversations with the people of Regina—Lewvan and tell them this is one thing we did together.
When they watch the news, sometimes all they see is the combativeness among opposition parties. They watch question period and think all we do is argue and not get answers from our colleagues across the way. Through this motion and the debates today, I want to show there is co-operation at times.
I am hoping my government and opposition colleagues will help us to make sure this is fair for Saskatchewan. I am proud to say that I will always be on Saskatchewan's side, and that is what this motion is about.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for , for his excellent and informative speech on this important and historic opposition day motion calling on the House to amend the Constitution of Canada.
The passage of the Saskatchewan Act, which created the Province of Saskatchewan in 1905, became part of the Canadian Constitution and came into force on September 1 of that year. Through a unique mechanism created as part of our Confederation, provinces have the ability to amend the Constitution when a matter deals exclusively with their internal governance.
For those who enjoy the history of Canada and learning about the twists and turns of the past, the events that have brought us to this point are really quite fascinating. As already mentioned by my colleague and as outlined in the motion itself, prior to the creation of the Province of Saskatchewan, our nation's forefathers were undertaking an immense nation-building exercise: the completion of a trans-continental railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
In order to help the fledgling railway company complete this mammoth task, the Government of Canada agreed to provide it with a tax exemption. When the Saskatchewan Act was passed in 1905, the tax exemptions applicable to the Canadian Pacific Railway were referenced in section 24. Since the creation of the Province of Saskatchewan, the company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan. Section 24, or the Provision as to C.P.R. Company, states the following: “The powers hereby granted to the said province shall be exercised subject to the provisions of section 16 of the contract set forth in the schedule to chapter 1 of the statutes of 1881, being an Act respecting the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.”
Let us fast-forward 61 years to August 29, 1966, when the president and board of directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway company confirmed to the federal minister of transport at the time that the board had no objection to constitutional amendments to eliminate the tax exemption. The elimination of the tax exemption contained in clause 24 was based on an agreement between the company and the federal government that the Government of Canada would make certain regulatory changes.
It is important to note that the Government of Canada upheld its part of the agreement and made the regulatory changes. However, clause 24 of the Saskatchewan Act was never eliminated. Recently the company undertook a challenge to this tax exemption, which is why we are seeking to address this change.
While I am pleased to speak today on this motion, it is unfortunate that I have to do so. Last year my colleague, the member for , presented a unanimous consent motion in the House dealing with this very issue. I was both disappointed and more than a little troubled that consent was not granted by members of the government at that time.
This is not a partisan issue. The motion we are discussing today was unanimously passed by the Saskatchewan legislative assembly on November 29 of last year. In fact, two members of the Saskatchewan NDP caucus, Trent Wotherspoon, the official opposition critic for finance, and Nicole Sarauer, the official opposition critic for justice, wrote a letter to the federal ministers of justice and finance, the government representative in the Senate, the leader of the official opposition in the Senate, and the finance and justice critics for the Conservative Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party, expressing their support for the motion and calling on the Parliament of Canada to act.
This letter was cc'd to all 14 Saskatchewan members of Parliament.
For the record, I would like to quote from the letter, which states:
You are likely aware of the resolution adopted by the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan on November 29, 2021, to repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act. We ask you to work with your colleagues in the House of Commons and the Senate to ensure that the parallel resolutions required under section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to finalize this amendment can be passed without delay.
The letter goes on to say:
We stand united as a legislature on this front, and we trust that you appreciate the importance of the quick and enthusiastic support of the Parliament of Canada in this endeavour.
This collaborative, non-partisan approach by Saskatchewan's members of the Legislative Assembly reflects the spirit in which this matter should be dealt with. Additionally, the letter emphasizes the speed and urgency needed in dealing with this matter.
Unfortunately, I am concerned that the government may not make this a priority or treat it with the urgency that it requires. The motion passed in the Legislative Assembly is comprehensive and clearly outlines the issues for the Province of Saskatchewan and its people. It is my sincere hope that the government will support this motion and pass it, as the potential cost to the people of Saskatchewan is significant.
Exempting a major corporation from certain provincial taxes would cast a significant tax burden on the residents of my province. Citizens pay their taxes. Families, single parents, seniors and young people who are new to the workforce all pay their fair share. It would also be unfair to other businesses, including small businesses, as it would give significant advantage to the CPR over those businesses and would be detrimental to our farmers, producers and consumers.
The Hon. Gordon Wyant, Saskatchewan's justice minister, put it very well when in the Saskatchewan legislature when he stated:
Simply put, it would not be fair for one of Canada's largest business corporations to have a substantial tax exemption in our province, but be required to pay taxes in other provinces simply based on the date Saskatchewan became a province.
I have to admit that after the rejection of the unanimous consent motion, I was skeptical about whether or not the government would do what is clearly the right thing for Saskatchewan. However, given the clear arguments laid out in the motion put forward by Minister Wyant and Mr. Wotherspoon in the Saskatchewan legislature and the context provided during the debate, as well as the unanimous support of the Legislative Assembly, I would submit to this place that now is the time for the federal government to ensure that Saskatchewan is treated equally and fairly within our federation. I do hope that the government and in fact all parliamentarians will unite and support the people of Saskatchewan by supporting this motion. As I said earlier, this is about fairness and equity for Saskatchewan.
I want to quote one last time from the letter by Mr. Wotherspoon and Ms. Sarauer. It says:
Currently, section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act purports to limit Saskatchewan's powers of taxation in a way that does not apply to other provinces in Canada. The amendment to the Saskatchewan Act proposed by the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan removes this inequality and will ensure fairness in taxation and jurisdiction for all Saskatchewan people.
The Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan has demonstrated that this is not a partisan matter, and I hope that all parliamentarians would look at this issue as one that they could support. As the Hon. Gord Wyant stated at the time of his intervention that section 24 is a relic of an earlier time and that repealing this section will cement Saskatchewan's place as a truly equal partner in our federation.
I hope that our colleague, the federal , has had sufficient time to consult with his officials, Saskatchewan's justice minister and his colleagues across the way so that they will support this motion's speedy passage, both in this place and in the Senate of Canada.
I appreciate the opportunity to make this intervention and I will try to address any questions that my colleagues might have.
Madam Speaker, at the outset, let me acknowledge that I am speaking to you from the traditional lands of the Algonquin people. I also want to acknowledge the lands from which our colleagues are joining us today.
It is a solemn honour and pleasure for me to rise in this debate to speak on the proposed constitutional amendment in relation to Saskatchewan. It is not every day a motion for a resolution to amend the Constitution of Canada comes before the House. I want to thank the member for for bringing this forward.
Indeed, a resolution authorizing the proposed amendment has already been adopted by the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. The amendment, if also authorized by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament, would repeal a provision of the Saskatchewan Act that was enacted by Parliament in 1905 but is now an entrenched part of the Constitution of Canada.
Hon. members are aware that 40 years ago the Constitution of Canada was patriated by the enactment of the Canada Act 1982. No longer would the Parliament of the United Kingdom legislate for Canada, including making amendments to its Constitution. The Canada Act 1982 completed Canada's journey from a colony to an autonomous dominion to a full independent state, while preserving our institutions and traditions of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.
Our government is proud to support the province and the people of Saskatchewan in supporting this important constitutional amendment to ensure the tax system in Saskatchewan is fair and that all corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
The Constitution Act, 1982, which is scheduled to the Canada Act 1982, not only constitutionally entrenches the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples of Canada and sets out the commitments of governments to promote equal opportunities for all Canadians. It also establishes the procedures for constitutional amendments.
There are five amending procedures. Two of them we have often heard about: the general rule or 7/50 procedure; and the unanimous consent procedure.
The general procedure requires the approval of at least seven of the 10 legislative assemblies of the provinces representing 50% of the provincial population, and the two federal Houses. Only one constitutional amendment has been made under the general procedure. It was made in 1983 to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The unanimous consent procedure, which applies to a limited number of subjects, requires the approval of both the Senate and the House, as well as 10 provincial assemblies. For both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords to succeed, they would have had to meet this stringent standard.
As well as the two multilateral procedures, there are two unilateral procedures of limited scope. The Parliament of Canada can amend the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government or the Senate and the House of Commons, subject to the protections of the fundamental characteristics of these institutions by the multilateral amending procedures. That is how, in 1985 and 2011, Parliament amended section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, concerning representation in the House. As well, each provincial legislature may amend the constitution of the province as long as it does not infringe on fundamental provisions, such as section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and section 23 of the Manitoba Act, 1870, which protect language rights.
We now come to the bilateral constitutional amendment procedure. It is this procedure that the legislative assembly has invoked, which is set out in section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982. An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to a provision that applies to one or more but not all provinces may be made by a proclamation issued by the Governor General when authorized by a resolution of the Senate and the House, and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies. That is the case here. The provision that would be amended, section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act, only applies to Saskatchewan. The legislative assembly of the province to which the amendment applies, the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, has authorized this amendment. It is now for the two federal Houses to determine whether to adopt resolutions authorizing the same amendment: the repeal of section 24.
The bilateral procedure can be viewed as a middle ground between the multilateral procedures requiring unanimous consent of the federal and provincial Houses at one end and the unilateral procedures allowing for an amendment by an ordinary act to the legislature on the other. The bilateral procedure is found in part V of the Constitution Act, 1982, which the Supreme Court of Canada has said “provides the blueprint for how to amend the Constitution of Canada”.
The court called section 43, the bilateral formula, the “special arrangements procedure”, which applies in relation to provisions of the Constitution that apply to some but not all provinces. The court noted that it would “overshoot the mark” to make the adoption of the amendment dependent on the consent of provinces to which the provisions do not apply. Section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982, also serves to ensure that a special provision cannot be amended without the consent of the province to which the amendment applies.
The bilateral constitutional amendment procedure has produced no fewer than seven constitutional amendments. Four of them concern Newfoundland and Labrador: one changing the name of the province to include “Labrador” in 2001, and three changing the denominational schools provisions of the terms of union in 1987, 1997 and 1998. One was made at the request of Quebec and also concerned denominational schools provisions to remove their application as to favour the organization of school boards along linguistic lines, and that was done in 1997. One was made at the request of New Brunswick in 1993, adding section 16.1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and thus recognized in the Constitution the equality of the English and French linguistic communities in the province. Finally, one was made at the behest of Prince Edward Island in 1993 to remove the requirement in the terms of union for Canada to maintain a ferry service, thereby facilitating the substitution of the construction of the Confederation Bridge to the mainland.
These amendments all have the same things in common: each amended provisions of the Constitution of Canada that applied to fewer than all provinces; each amendment applied only to one province; each amendment was initiated by the provincial assembly of the province in question before being considered by the federal Houses; and each amendment modernized certain aspects of the Constitution and demonstrated federal-provincial co-operation.
The amendment proposed by the Saskatchewan legislature is similar to the seven others that have been adopted under the bilateral process since 1982. It seeks to amend a provision of the Constitution that does not apply to all the provinces. The amendment itself would apply to only one province. The initiative to make the amendment came from the legislative assembly of the province before it ended up before us.
The amendment would modernize certain aspects of the Constitution, in this case by removing a limit on the exercise of the province's power that does not apply to most of the provinces and no longer has its place.
Repealing section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act at the request of the province would be, by the way, a fine example of federal-provincial collaboration.
The Governor General is being authorized to proclaim a constitutional amendment, so it should go without saying that the wording of the constitutional amendment must be identical in each of the federal and provincial resolutions and in each official language version of the text.
To come to the proposed amendment at hand, on November 29, 2021, the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan unanimously adopted a resolution to amend the Constitution of Canada to repeal, retroactive to August 1966, section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act, the enactment that created the Province of Saskatchewan.
This section of the act purports to subject Saskatchewan's constitutional powers to clause 16 of an agreement dating back to 1880 between the Government of Canada and the founders of the Canadian Pacific Railway company, which is now commonly referred to as the CPR. This clause exempted CPR from certain federal, provincial and municipal taxes forever. Despite its tax exemption, in 1966 CPR agreed to pay applicable taxes. More recently, CPR brought claims against all governments involved to reassert its historical tax exemption.
The amendment proposed by the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan is similar to the seven others that have already been made to the bilateral procedure since 1982. It aims to amend a provision of the Constitution that does not apply to all provinces. The amendment itself would only apply to one province. The amendment was initiated by the legislative assembly of the province before coming before us, and the amendment would effectively modernize certain aspects of the Constitution, in this case by removing a limit on the exercise of powers of the province that does not apply to most of the other provinces and which is no longer appropriate. Moreover, repealing section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act would be a nice example of federal-provincial co-operation.
Saskatchewan's concerns regarding section 24 are threefold. First, Saskatchewan is of the view that it would be inconsistent with the province's position as an equal partner in Confederation. The provision restricted Saskatchewan's taxation powers relative to those of the other provinces in Canada. Second, Saskatchewan believes it would be unfair for other businesses operating in the province, including small businesses, if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, providing the corporation a significant competitive advantage over those other businesses to the detriment of farmers, consumers and producers of the province. Third, Saskatchewan asserts it would be unfair to the residents of Saskatchewan if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, casting an additional tax burden onto the people of Saskatchewan.
Back in 1880, this exemption for a single large corporation may very well have been appropriate, as it was intended to recognize and encourage CPR's investment in the construction of the trans-Canadian rail network in the late 19th century. As such, it was just one of the incentives that Canada offered CPR to build Canada's first cross-country railway in fulfillment of a promise made to British Columbia for joining Confederation.
While there may have been valid reasons to grant CPR's founders a tax exemption as part of a series of measures to support the construction of Canada's transcontinental railway, those reasons no longer stand now that the construction is completed and Canada's transportation legislation has been modernized. In broader terms, section 24 of Saskatchewan's founding statute and CPR's historical tax exemption have not kept pace with how Canada's tax and fiscal policies have evolved to support an effective and efficient transportation system and a healthy growing economy.
Under the division of powers in our Constitution, the provinces are granted a general power to impose direct taxes. Section 24 seeks to constrain Saskatchewan's ability to do so with respect to the CPR, yet not all provinces are subject to such constraints, resulting in an asymmetry within the federation. Our government believes Saskatchewan should have the freedom to levy taxes within the province's boundaries, as it deems appropriate.
We agree with our Saskatchewan counterpart that other taxpayers in the province should not bear a heavier tax burden as a result of a single large corporation benefiting from an exceptional exemption from provincial taxation. We also agree there should be a level playing field between all businesses operating in Saskatchewan's transportation industry.
As we all know, the completion of this railway was fundamental to the birth of our nation and the subsequent rapid growth and development of our economy. The last spike, uniting east and west, is an iconic representation for our national heritage and unity.
If proclaimed, a constitutional amendment would have the effect of removing CPR's tax exemption from the Saskatchewan Act, retroactive to August 29, 1966, the date on which CPR entered into an agreement with the federal government to forgo this perpetual exemption from some taxes. The Constitution was not amended to reflect this agreement at the time because it had not yet been patriated.
It is important that we not only focus on the substance, but also ensure that the form and procedure of the constitutional amendment are executed faithfully.
It is true that the Constitution is, as the Supreme Court tells us, the expression of the sovereignty of the people of Canada and it lies within the power of the people of Canada, acting through their governments duly elected and recognized under the Constitution, to effect whatever constitutional arrangements are desired within Canadian territory.
I submit that this is a very important constitutional amendment, one that is rooted in fairness. It would ensure that all Canadian corporations, including in Saskatchewan, pay their fair share of taxes. I look forward to ensuring the passage of this motion today, as well as questions and comments from our colleagues.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for , commonly known as the Jean-René Dufort of the Bloc Québécois.
I asked myself this morning how I would deal with this fascinating issue. Something struck me when reading the motion, specifically the following:
Whereas the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed on November 6, 1885, with the Last Spike at Craigellachie....
As I am fascinated by this subject, I consulted the member for , the dean of our party, who was there, and he told me that the last spike was actually driven into the track on November 4.
All joking aside, it is a fascinating subject, but I will comment on two aspects. First, I asked myself why my Conservative colleagues decided to devote an opposition day to this issue. In my view, a political party generally uses an opposition day to poke at the government with actions that more or less reflect their own political orientation. Sometimes, the intent is to shed light on urgent issues or to put forward the party's policies or agenda, which are unique to each party.
Why would the Conservatives choose to use an opposition day to talk about the railway in Saskatchewan, especially in the middle of a pandemic? Numerous opposition days have been dedicated to this urgent situation, on such topics as vaccination and the “Justinflation” that my Conservative friends keep bringing up. The Conservatives are positively giddy about inflation.
I have to wonder why they did not devote an opposition day to inflation or health care funding. It seems as if power within the Conservative Party is shifting west. Who knows. I do not know. I would not want my Quebec colleagues to feel abandoned, but this is nevertheless rather interesting.
Earlier this morning I pointed out to a Conservative member that if we were to adopt this motion it would set a precedent for allowing an opposition member to move a motion to amend the Constitution. My colleague said that this had been done before, but by the government. This would therefore be the first time the Constitution would be amended through an opposition motion. I am not going to lie; this precedent is pretty appealing to a sovereignist.
We know that no one wants to debate the Canadian Constitution or hear about it. Let us remember that the rhetoric of the federalist governments in Quebec City was that the fruit was not ripe enough so we could not talk about the Constitution.
Need I remind members that in 1982, Quebec was the only province that did not sign the Constitution? We still have not signed it to this day. Perhaps we could resolve this issue through a motion.
Need I remind members of the two unsuccessful rounds of constitutional negotiations, Meech and Charlottetown? Quebec kept whittling its demands down further and further, but despite this reduction to Quebec's five traditional demands, there was no agreement from all the provinces to amend the Constitution and offer Quebec special status. My colleagues will therefore understand why this idea of being able to amend the Constitution based on an opposition motion would excite a typical sovereignist. I am highly intrigued by the idea.
The Constitution is our principle of political association; it is a fundamental principle. We are one of the only countries whose principle of political association was based on building a railway. That is true. If we look at the United States, their principle of political association was based on a quest for emancipation. It is ironic that we are talking about this issue today, given that the starting point for us was that a group of business people wanted to build a railway from one coast to the other, and in order to do that, there had to be a political form that emerged from the various colonies at the time. That is how the British North America Act came to be.
I find it kind of ironic that we are revisiting the subject in the present context. However, what most interests me is the possibility of amending the Constitution via an opposition party motion.
Many political thinkers have already pondered this question, including James Tully, who has written about diversity. In his book, Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity, James Tully tells us that one of Canada's biggest problems is our restrictive constitutional framework. He says it is virtually impossible to amend the Constitution, which makes it that much more difficult to recognize ethnic minorities. James Tully talks about that in this wonderful book, and his conclusion is that our constitutional rules should be more flexible. In other words, we should have the means to easily amend our Constitution.
That is very interesting from a theoretical standpoint, but why have we not done it? Why has there never been much appetite in Canada for the kind of flexible framework that would enable us to amend the Constitution?
I will say it. It is quite simple. The reason is, if we open this Pandora's box, it will be easier for indigenous groups to get what they have long been asking for, namely greater political autonomy.
It is important to make a distinction. When James Tully says that minorities must be constitutionally recognized, he is referring to ethnocultural minorities. However, there are also national minorities, and in the Canadian context, we have two main groups: the minorities of the indigenous nations, which are too numerous to name, and the Quebec national minority.
What are these national minorities asking for? They want political autonomy.
As my father used to say, opportunity makes the thief. If we had a system that facilitated more flexible constitutional amendments, we would definitely be the first in line to try to use such measures, perhaps to assert Quebec's traditional demands, specifically, veto power and recognition of distinct status. I am sure that indigenous nations could do the same.
Unfortunately, the federal government and the federalist parties will never allow the flexibility needed for constitutional changes to be made. If a precedent is being set today, I am curious to see how this will develop in the future.
A constitutional amendment was made in the past, without any fuss or fanfare. In Quebec, Pauline Marois wanted to change the school boards from being divided along religious lines to linguistic ones. A constitutional amendment was needed for that to happen. It was done without too much fuss or too many political problems.
However, we do not have a tool that would allow us, as legislators, to potentially enter into dialogue with our colleagues on the Constitution. I welcome the Conservative Party motion today, because it might be just what we need to be able to open this Pandora's box and actually have a conversation about the Constitution.
If we do go down that road, perhaps the Quebec nation and indigenous nations could be recognized in some way. That is why I am confident that my party will enthusiastically support my colleague's motion.
Madam Speaker, I feel like I am dealing in antiques today. The motion we are debating would amend a Constitution that was ill-conceived and that has aged poorly. The Constitution has so many holes, it looks like moths got at it. The holes in this Constitution are costing the provinces, Quebec and taxpayers a lot of money and preventing the provinces from properly and independently funding their public services.
What we are talking about today is a 136-year-old, billion-dollar company that cleared $2.8 billion in net profit last year and is exempt from paying taxes. As an economist specializing in taxation, my first instinct is to say this is an injustice and a relic of post-colonial cronyism.
This tax revenue is owed to Saskatchewan, and we think that the provincial government should get this money back. I want to inform my colleagues straightaway that I will be pleased to support this motion.
However, since we are speaking of holes in the Constitution that are costly for the provinces, I think it is difficult to ask the opposition, and especially members of the Bloc Québécois, to disregard other fundamental problems that this Constitution has created.
As I said, the Constitution has not aged well. The Constitution was drafted in 1867, and the majority of its provisions are still in force today, but the country that drafted this Constitution was not a modern country. Health care essentially referred to field hospitals run by religious communities. Assistance for the poor was essentially charity, again run by religious communities. Education consisted of a few one-room schoolhouses and some private schools supported by charity. These responsibilities were assigned to the provinces. The Catholics were in Quebec, and they were essentially given peanuts. The Constitution was obviously drafted to ensure that Ottawa would get more and more revenue over time.
When Canada was founded, there was no personal income tax, no corporate tax, and no sales tax. I just listed basically all of the federal government's revenue sources. Since then, all the responsibilities have remained with Quebec and the provinces, but half of the revenue has gone to Ottawa.
That is the problem, because we have a dusty old Constitution, the spirit of which the party in power deigns to respect. The provinces have responsibilities, and they must have management autonomy and must be able to legislate in their areas of jurisdiction. What remains is the power to spend. The problem is simple, and I have explained it many times to students: Ottawa has too much cash. That would make a great headline.
Ottawa loves to meddle in provincial affairs, loves to spend money and make legislation in areas of provincial jurisdiction, but the Constitution does not allow this. However, there is a loophole: the federal government can tell the provinces that if they do not do what it wants, it will withhold the promised money instead of giving it to them. Unfortunately, the Constitution has evolved, but not for the better. That is the problem.
Today, we have a government that provides Canada health transfers that cover only 22% of the system's costs. When this government is asked to respect the Constitution, it spits in Quebec's face. The line that all the Liberals across the way keep repeating like trained parrots is that Quebec will not be given a blank cheque, that money is not given out without accountability.
We tell them that it is none of their business and that health is not a federal jurisdiction. Their response, which I have been given here in the House, is that this is false and that it is a shared jurisdiction. They say that we have only to look at the Canada Health Act to see the way it is institutionalized. This act is the embodiment of the federal spending power. It is an almost unethical way of confirming that Ottawa has too much cash.
The blank cheque is Canada's Constitution, and that is not what Quebec is asking for. The Liberals have slashed funding for health care. People need to understand that. The Constitution is full of holes. It has evolved, but not for the better. That is also true for other sectors.
Mental health is an important matter. The pandemic has shown how difficult things can be and how great the provinces' needs are in terms of mental health. That is also the case for health care and hospital capacity.
What was the government's response? It decided to appoint a . Instead of appointing a minister of mental health, it should have sent money to Quebec. The issue is not that we are begging for money, but that the Constitution is full of holes as though eaten by moths. It should have been printed on cedar.
The same goes for housing. There is currently a housing crisis. We know the Liberals well. They talk a lot and think that the problems will solve themselves. Quebec wants respect. Negotiations on housing have been ongoing for two and a half years. We are at that point because Quebec ensures that its jurisdictions are respected and stands up for itself. That is nothing new.
In 1951, the then premier of Quebec, Maurice Duplessis, was already turning down federal subsidies for universities, because Ottawa had already started acting predatory by then. What did Quebeckers do when Ottawa refused to give in? They forfeited their own money, just as they are doing now, just as they have done for housing, health and mental health. Ottawa wants us to give in to its conditions because it has too much cash. That is the case for social policy, for the Canada health transfer and for the Canada social transfer. Ottawa says that if we do not accept its conditions, it will not give us the money.
I did not say I was against a universal public health care system and so on. What I said was that it is none of their business. The reason they are not minding their own business is that the Constitution has aged poorly. None of it has aged any better than the section that applies to the CPR. It is important to understand that this is not an exception. It is a major problem.
Now I would like to share a bit about myself.
I remember the moment when something just clicked and I decided to become an economist. I believe it was in 2001. I had read the Conference Board of Canada's report on the fiscal prospects for Quebec and the provinces. In early 2000, I was attending CEGEP. I still have the document, which has a blue binding. It showed the changing demographics and the provinces' responsibilities and how everything was going to fall apart. I should note the Conference Board is not a group of sovereignists.
People have been saying this for a long time. The Tremblay commission in Quebec said it, and so did the Séguin commission. This was based on forecasts that proved to be accurate. What happened on the other side? Nothing.
Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, who was negotiating with former prime minister Jean Chrétien, had no choice but to call him a predator because of his behaviour. The Constitution has not aged well and was not well written.
I sympathize with our friends in Saskatchewan. A mistake can be corrected. In fact, correcting one's mistakes is a sign of intelligence. I think that we will show some intelligence today on this file.
Following this debate and after all is said and done, I sincerely hope that the CPR will be able to sing “Saskatchewan, you took my tax”.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to the opposition motion brought forward by our friends in the Conservative Party down the way. I am even more pleased to be sharing my time with the excellent member for .
This motion proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Canada that would repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act and deem the change retroactive to August 29, 1966. Notably, this would remove a provision dating back to 1880, prior to Saskatchewan's becoming a province in 1905, which exempted Canadian Pacific Railway from paying provincial taxes in Saskatchewan.
This has been an interesting issue to learn about over the past 48 hours. I understand that this motion here before us today complements a similar motion the Saskatchewan legislative assembly unanimously passed in November of last year.
I might seem to my colleagues a bit of an unlikely speaker to this issue, being a B.C. boy and all, but I am honoured to serve as the NDP transport critic. Of course, trains transport things, and Canadian Pacific owns trains. Hence, for the next 10 minutes, Madam Speaker, I am your guy. More important, I am a proud Canadian, and I believe in the principles of fairness and responsibility, which I believe lie at the heart of this issue.
For folks following along back home, and I will not hazard to guess how many of those there might be, I believe these are the basic relevant facts in this matter. Canadian Pacific Railway obtained access to a huge swath of our country, much of it unceded indigenous land, to build its railway. While the corporation made a significant investment, it also received substantive incentives from the federal government of the day. Among those incentives, the federal government agreed, in its contract with Canadian Pacific Railway, to exempt the railroad from paying taxes in perpetuity.
It is surprising, I know, that a Conservative government would agree to such immense corporate welfare, but there we have it. Despite this, and for reasons that are not exactly clear, CP has been voluntarily paying taxes to the Province of Saskatchewan for a century. It is also surprising to see such voluntary corporate benevolence.
Today, Canadian Pacific wants the taxes it has paid to the province since 2002 to be returned in the sum of $341 million on the basis that it should not have paid those taxes in the first place. I am not a lawyer, and I will not be making legal arguments today. The battery of lawyers who are engaged in the court case that is ongoing will have that aspect well in hand. Rather, the argument I will make in support of this motion is a simple moral one.
Today, Canadian Pacific benefits greatly from the Province of Saskatchewan and from the infrastructure and services its residents have funded through their taxes. CP employees drive to work on roads paid for by the people of Saskatchewan. They utilize hospitals paid for by the people of Saskatchewan. Their kids go to schools paid for by the people of Saskatchewan.
Ignoring, for a moment, the historic paperwork negotiated under who knows what kinds of circumstances, I doubt many in this place would dispute that Canadian Pacific has a responsibility as a corporation to contribute its fair share to the province's coffers. This is hardly a company that needs either a hand up or a handout. Last year, CP made $3 billion in profits.
It is not as though being exempt from taxes would level the playing field on which CP operates; it is quite the opposite. After all, Canadian Pacific's main competitor in Canada, CN Railway, pays its taxes. I imagine CP's other competitors in the United States also pay applicable state and federal taxes.
This is about fair treatment for Saskatchewan in this confederation. Saskatchewan deserves to be treated equally, with the same control over its internal affairs and taxes that every other province enjoys. The jurisdictional inequity raised in this motion unfairly denies it that. The people of Saskatchewan have made their will clear, and the unanimous passage of the same motion in the provincial legislature illustrates that there is cross-party support for this change. It is time for the House to act.
By nullifying the historic tax exemption, this motion essentially codifies into law the practice that CP has already been following for an entire century. It seems to be the right and proper thing for us to do.
Besides a questionable historic contract, how could CP possibly argue it should not pay its fair share to the Province of Saskatchewan? People in Saskatchewan want their taxes to go to the public services they rely on, things like health care and education. They do not want them to have to pad the profits of a multi-billion dollar corporation. The money that CP Rail is demanding could be much better spent. I think everyone in the House will agree that it would be much better spent helping the people of Saskatchewan.
The railroads, and I speak of railroads in the plural sense, had a pivotal role in the development of our country. It is one of the central narratives we are taught in elementary school, yet in many ways, it was a Faustian bargain because today we are left with corporations that wield power far out of proportion to their place in our society. Railway companies have their own private police forces that investigate their actions when things go wrong, as we saw in British Columba after the disaster that killed three men in 2019 near Field: Dylan Paradis, Andrew Dockrel and Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer. Their families are still fighting for justice.
Railways own vast tracks of land, much of it adjacent to communities, and this too often constrains community development and restricts public access. Railway companies design their own safety plans, which are opaque to citizens and communities and, as the auditor general found in her follow-up audit last year, are inadequately monitored for effectiveness by Transport Canada.
Railway companies also own the tracks themselves, precluding the federal government from operating a dependable passenger rail service in much of the country during a time of climate crisis when our national bus service has been shut down for good.
Now I certainly recognize the positive role that railways play as well. They are certainly important employers in our communities. In the community I live, in the community of Smithers, the town is named after the former president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, Sir Alfred Smithers. Notwithstanding those things, when I talk to community leaders about their relationship with the railroads, sadly, mostly what I hear are stories of frustration.
In light of this dynamic, which is admittedly difficult to reshape given all that has happened, I would submit that the least we should expect is that these highly profitable companies pay their taxes. Let us put an end to this historic injustice. I hope all parties in the House will come together and ensure that Saskatchewan is treated as an equal partner in our Confederation. It sounds like they will.
Learning about this issue made me think of my mom's family, who settled in Regina in the 1800s. My great-great-grandfather, George Broder, settled in Regina in 1882, right around the same time that CP was building the railroad. His son-in-law, my great-grandfather, Neil Taylor, was a lawyer, businessman, veteran, athlete and someone who loved his own province deeply. Incidentally, he ran for the federal Conservative Party in 1945. I checked the electoral record, and I was simultaneously delighted and dismayed to see that he was trounced by someone representing a little party called the CCF.
Now, Neil, my great-grandfather, was also known as “Piffles”, a nickname he was given in reference to a turn of phrase that was popular during that time. If someone said or did some thing that was, shall we say, extremely lacking in merit, one would say it was “piffle”. It was nonsense, rubbish, balderdash and all the other words I am not allowed to say in this place, either directly or indirectly.
I asked my uncle Sam in Vancouver about this. He is our family's historian. I wanted to know what he thought my great-grandfather would have said about this issue if he were alive today, what he would say about a wealthy railroad company trying to get out of its responsibilities to the people of Saskatchewan. He said he would probably say that it was a bunch of piffle.
Madam Speaker, I thought I might start off in today's debate by making a couple of disclosures.
First, my paternal grandfather comes from Saskatchewan: Biggar, to be exact. He ended up in Transcona, which is also a rail town, because at that time, in order to serve an apprenticeship with CN, one had to do time in Biggar and then in Transcona. That is how my father's family found its way to Transcona: by working on the railway for CN, of course, not CP. CN continues to be a very important company in Transcona. It does not employ anywhere near as many people as it used to, but it still employs a lot of people, and its training centre is in Transcona just about a stone's throw away from my home, where I am speaking from today.
We deal with a lot of challenging issues in Parliament. One of the things we can take from the tenor of today's debate and the confluence of arguments is that this is a pretty straightforward question. It does not make sense to exempt a large and profitable corporation from paying the taxes its competitors pay by virtue of something that happens to be in the Constitution from a very long time ago.
As people have remarked, it is legitimate to wonder what changed. Why, all of a sudden, has CP adopted a very different posture, and why does it want over $300 million in taxes it paid to Saskatchewan back from the province? It had been paying its taxes without issue for about 100 years, despite having access to this exemption under the Constitution. It is clear that CP operates in a competitive market, and its competitors do not get this kind of exemption. Therefore, if we want to have a fair and competitive industry, players have to be playing by the same rules at the very least. That is why I am very happy to support this change and to protect folks in Saskatchewan from having to reimburse taxes that I think were rightly paid by CP.
What is interesting about this feature of the Constitution that we are trying to change today is that it hearkens back to a time when government was a lot more open and honest about the extent to which it was willing to patronize large companies. However, that kind of thing is happening today. I would argue that we should be just as concerned about the kind of flagrant disregard that governments in Ottawa, whether Liberal or Conservative, have had for big companies paying their fair share. We should be just as concerned with the examples of that today as we are regarding historical examples, because they certainly persist.
Here we have something that at least is clear-cut. It is in the Constitution, so it is easy to see. What is a lot harder to see are the details of the transactions that go on, under various agreements, that establish tax havens so that wealthy corporations and individuals are able to move their money out of Canada without paying taxes. That is a lot harder to have an informed debate about. We do have folks who have done a lot of work on this, but it takes a lot of digging. It is not spelled out in the Constitution, and we do not have a company going to court to celebrate what it thinks is its right to get out of paying its fair share.
Instead, we have a lot of shady dealings. They are under legal agreements, to be sure, but they are shady nonetheless. We do not have appropriate access to information about how much money is leaving the country and the extent to which large, profitable corporations are getting away without paying their fair share.
As far as I am concerned, what is happening with CP is just one small, stark example, on the scale of what is going on, of what is happening every day in the Canadian economy. Based on the best information available, and it is not a very transparent process, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that Canadians are losing out on $25 billion every year through the use of tax havens by Canada's wealthiest individuals and corporations.
We are talking about a tax bill that has accrued over the last 20 years or so that is on the order of about $300 million.
For those who are getting up today to highlight the unfairness of CP demanding back $300 million from Saskatchewan taxpayers, which it rightly paid and should not get back, I would hope that we can take our outrage and our shock at that and transform it into some meaningful action on something that might actually make a dent in the finances of the nation. There is certainly a need to be able to pay for things that are going to support people through the remainder of this pandemic, but also that will help make investments as we try to face the climate challenge.
Of course, there are people who say that the government should not spending any money on encouraging renewable energy or other things like this, because the government has no place in deciding these things, but CP is an interesting case study with regard to that.
Despite all the wrongs that were part of building that railway, whether it was the treatment of indigenous people and running roughshod over their land, or the Chinese people who were brought here to work on the railway and who were killed and treated horribly, there is no question that building the railway was a central component of making Canada the country it is today. There is a lot that we could talk about regarding what was wrong with it. That is a legacy we can talk about and debate another time.
However, it did not happen solely through the ingenuity of private entrepreneurship. In fact, there was a fair bit of government investment. We are dealing with the legacy of that government involvement today. I think it shows the extent to which the big things do not happen without public involvement. They do not happen without the involvement of government. We can look at Alberta and the government of Peter Lougheed, and the amount that government invested in developing the technology that would ultimately produce the oil sands technology that has been part of driving Alberta's economy for decades now. There was massive public investment in that.
There is certainly a lesson to learn from this, and that is that public investment is required for the big things that help move our country forward. Canadians should not expect that some few people get to benefit from that investment and make off with the money. That is too often the case, as CP is reminding us by insisting on what it takes to be its right to not pay its fair share, even though there were all sorts of different kinds of public subsidies, whether preferential tax treatment or direct investment.
That is not the way these things should work. If we want to build Canada, and if we want to confront the big challenges of our time, that has only ever happened with massive public investment.
The question should not be whether the public investment happens or not. The question should be who is benefiting from that investment and how do we, as legislators and governments elected by Canadians, ensure that Canadians are the ones ultimately benefiting from that.
While there are people who make some money along the way, we have to make sure that does not get out of hand. In a country where 1% of the population now owns 25% of the wealth, we are in a position where that is getting out of hand again. This is an interesting reminder from the 19th century, which was a case study in just how bad things are when a very small number of people controls all of the wealth and resources. It is something we should be mindful of.
We should turn ourselves to the task of combatting the big infrastructure challenge of our time, which is climate change, with our eyes wide open, appreciating that in the past, when there have been big infrastructure challenges, government has had an important role to play. We should learn a lesson from this, which is that we need vigilance not to keep the public sector out of developing the future of the country, but to ensure that a few people along the way do not make mad money while others suffer in order to create that progress.
Let us deal with this today but learn the larger lesson and ensure the wealthy are paying their fair share, and ensure Canadians are benefiting to the extent that they should from investments and infrastructure that we have to make.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for .
There is a lot of Canadian history going on in today's debate. There is so much that I had to dig up my old university notes when preparing my speech. On that note, at this time I would like to thank my economics history 206 professor at the University of Regina, Dr. Richard Kleer, for his fascinating class way back when. If Dr. Kleer is watching, I have to say that I believe my speech today is worth at least a few bonus marks in his class.
Before I get to the Canadian Pacific Railway, I would like to talk a bit about another historic Canadian company, the Hudson's Bay Company. In the year 1670, King Charles II granted the newly formed Hudson's Bay Company a monopoly on trading posts in all lands in North America whose rivers empty into Hudson Bay, an area including parts of present-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut, and all of present-day Manitoba. Once King Charles II wrote up his royal charter and handed that piece of paper over to the Hudson's Bay Company, it became illegal for anyone else to operate a trading post in the land in North America that soon became known as Rupert's Land.
This was great for business for the Hudson's Bay Company trading posts. If any other entrepreneur opened up a competing trading post, Hudson's Bay Company could simply arrest them and throw them in jail. This situation continued for 200 years, until the Hudson's Bay Company voluntarily surrendered its trading post monopoly in exchange for compensation from the government. However, the company still exists today in the form of Hudson's Bay department stores in malls all across the country.
Imagine for a minute if the board of directors of Hudson's Bay department stores woke up tomorrow morning and decided that they wanted their old monopoly back. Imagine if they went to court and tried to shut down Canadian Tire or Shoppers Drug Mart. After all, Canadian Tire and Shoppers Drug Mart are violating the royal charter that granted the trading post monopoly to the Hudson's Bay Company way back in the year 1670.
I hope everyone in this chamber can agree that this would be completely and totally ridiculous. Even if Hudson's Bay Company lawyers dusted off the original copy of the 1670 Royal Charter or the original copy of the 1870 Deed of Surrender and found one of the i's was not dotted or one of the t's was not crossed, it would still be completely and totally ridiculous to shut down every Canadian Tire and Shoppers Drug Mart. One way or another, we as lawmakers would not allow that to happen.
We have almost as ridiculous a situation developing today in my home province of Saskatchewan with the Canadian Pacific Railway, which is another Canadian company that is almost as historic as the Hudson's Bay Company. The construction of a transcontinental railway was a condition of the Province of British Columbia joining Confederation in 1871. A few years later, Parliament passed the Canadian Pacific Railway Act as a way to contract out the construction and operation of the new transcontinental railway. The terms were very generous: $25 million; 25 million acres of Crown land in western Canada, including the mineral rights; a ban on new competing railways south of the main line; and certain tax exemptions for the Canadian Pacific Railway that were to last forever.
A few years later, in 1905, when Parliament decided to pass the Saskatchewan Act to create the province of Saskatchewan, the tax exemptions granted to the Canadian Pacific Railway were included in section 24 of the act and transferred to the newly created provincial government. These terms were very generous, and rightfully so. The whole idea of building a transcontinental railway in the 1800s must have been on the same scale as NASA going to the moon in the 1900s or the prospect of sending astronauts to Mars in this century. The railway played a vital role in bringing British Columbia into Confederation and the settlement of western Canada. For its contribution, the Canadian Pacific Railway was well paid.
However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and for CP Rail, these tax exemptions did come to an end in the year 1966. That year, federal politicians, provincial politicians from Saskatchewan and executives from CP Rail sat down and came to an agreement. At that time, all parties agreed that the tax exemptions included in section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act would be discontinued in exchange for certain railway regulatory changes, and CP Rail has been paying its fair share of taxes ever since, just like everyone else.
This is where the story should have ended. After CP Rail started paying its taxes in 1966, historians should have been able to turn the page on this chapter of our history, just like historians have long since turned the page on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trading post monopoly. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Recently, these tax exemptions, which are technically still on the books, have become the subject of a lawsuit in my home province of Saskatchewan.
CP Rail has decided that it wants to go back to the good old days when it did not have to pay taxes. It wants the tax exemptions specified in section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act of 1905 to be reactivated and brought back to life so that the company no longer has to pay taxes moving forward. CP Rail is also claiming that it is entitled to $341 million in taxes that it has been paying over the years, when it apparently did not have to.
This lawsuit is almost as ridiculous as the Hudson’s Bay Company trying to shut down Canadian Tire and Shoppers Drug Mart for violating the trading post monopoly granted to them by King Charles II in the year 1670. The only difference in this case is that technically section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act of 1905 is still on the books, so we have not quite turned the final page on this chapter of our history.
The time has come to turn the page. While I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the contributions the Canadian Pacific Railway has made to our collective history, the time has come to treat it like any other company, and that means paying its fair share of taxes. It is finally time to repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act of 1905. I will be voting in favour of the motion brought forth by my friend and colleague, the hon. member for , and I encourage all members to do the same.
Madam Speaker, the word “unprecedented” can be overused for emphasis in this place, but I do believe that this is how we can describe the challenges we are facing as a nation at this time.
For some context, 60% of Canadians report that they are not confident in their ability to feed their families. Inflation has hit a 30-year high, with no end in sight and no resolve from the federal government to help lower it. Housing prices have skyrocketed, with a yearly housing inflation rate of 26% and a staggering 85% rise since the took power. Families rang in the New Year with an increase in their CPP tax, leaving them $700 poorer this year at a time when they need it the most.
Now is the time to address the affordability crisis. A concrete measure that the House can take right now would be to ensure that all Canadians are treated fairly in the taxes that they pay. That is why I am very proud today to stand alongside my Saskatchewan colleague and others to debate this issue of tax fairness.
Conservatives are asking the House to adopt a simple motion to enact the decision made by all members of Saskatchewan's legislature last November. It would amend the Saskatchewan Act to ensure that CP Rail is obligated to honour its tax burden, just like every other large corporation and small business operating in the province of Saskatchewan. This sounds simple and like something that our tax-and-spend would certainly be in favour of, so why is there the need today for this debate? It is because even with all the economic pain Canadians are facing, the government is continuing to divide Canadians by the region in which they live.
Our motion was brought forward late last year but was denied by the Liberals. The hard-working, innovative and resilient people of Saskatchewan are tuned in to this debate and are expecting a change of heart in the government benches to allow us to pass our motion for the benefit of the whole province.
Just last month, the member for brought forward a straightforward motion to repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act, a clause dating from 1905 that exempted CP Rail from income, sales, fuel and capital taxes associated with this historic main line. Saskatchewan believes that a mutual agreement between its government and CP Rail in 1966 put an end to this tax agreement in exchange for favourable federal legislation that improved the rail line. CP Rail disagrees and is now suing the Government of Saskatchewan in order to recover taxes it claims were levied unconstitutionally.
The decision of all elected MLAs in Saskatchewan, taken in November, was clear. On November 29 of last year, the legislature unanimously passed a motion in favour of repealing section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act. By extension, it fell on our federal Parliament to do the same. That is why the member for put forward his motion just before the Christmas recess. Sadly, the Liberals rejected our motion, refusing to let it pass at that time.
Provinces have the right to amend respective sections of the Constitution when rights and freedoms or the welfare of their people are in play. When Alberta sought to enshrine rights and land titles to its Métis communities, that province took action to amend its constitution in 1990. In 1996, in order to codify internal procedures of its legislature, B.C. adopted the B.C. Constitution Act. Between 1876 and 1968, Quebec, Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces all abolished their legislative upper houses, requiring the blessing of our national Parliament. In multiple times in the past, Alberta and B.C. have established and then abolished multi-member electoral districts by amending their constitutions.
In all these instances, the federal House and the Senate recognized the right of these provinces to amend their constitutions and acted accordingly. On this side of the House, Conservatives will always respect the jurisdiction of the provinces, including the ability of an individual province to unilaterally amend the section of the Constitution concerning its internal governance.
In this case, it would be unfair to other businesses operating in Saskatchewan, including small businesses, if a major corporation were exempt from certain provincial taxes, giving that corporation a significant competitive advantage over those other businesses to the detriment of farmers, consumers and producers in our province. It is vital that every participant in our economy be able to compete and contribute on a level playing field.
I am honoured to represent the people of Yorkton—Melville, where gems of sustainable and innovative ideas are present in the DNA of how we mine our resources, grow food for Canadians and the world, and manufacture products that are shipped worldwide.
One example is Failure Prevention Services, whose plants and offices are in Watson, Saskatchewan. Their advanced filtration technology systems are second to none, and they have developed filters for the oil and gas industry that can be cleaned rather than thrown away. Now they are developing similar technology for train locomotives.
I also want to mention Evraz, a wonderful top-of-the-line pipeline builder of the very best pipeline in the world. They manufacture 75% of their pipeline from recycled steel. Saskatchewan has so much to be proud of, and we are contributing to the economy of this whole nation in ways that are sustainable and that we are very proud of.
My Saskatchewan colleagues and I are so proud of the work ethic and determination to succeed in small and medium-sized businesses, charitable organizations, corporate industries and the mosaic of people who live, work and play in our province.
No one in this place is attempting to diminish the vital work of CP Rail to serve our remote and rural communities and get Canada’s goods to market. We know how crucial those rail lines are to moving our wheat and the other products that we grow or manufacture in our province. Conservatives will continue to promote and protect our national railways as one of the only common threads that link our country together.
I agree with my colleague from , who asked the question about pipelines, that there should be more, but the rail line is a system that has served us well through thick and thin since the earliest days of Confederation, and we need to sustain it. We need to do more than that. I would love to see it done properly, with another railway across our nation. We need to work to develop more ways of bringing our products across the country to our shorelines and then to the world.
When it comes to fairness and affordability for everyday Canadians, this House needs to know just how uncompromising Conservatives are, and I thank my and our party for this opportunity to be here today to focus on Saskatchewan and support the action that the legislature of Saskatchewan has taken for tax fairness for its citizens.
That is all that we are asking for. There is no reason that a Canadian company should enjoy a permanent exemption from certain provincial taxes and cast that tax burden onto the residents of my province of Saskatchewan. I do not understand the silence, the quietness of the sitting federal government in this regard. It talks about being here for all Canadians and having an all-of-Canada approach, and today it has an opportunity to stand up with the people of Saskatchewan, with the government and all of the players in the Government of Saskatchewan to support this motion in the House of Commons. I certainly expect that we are going to see full support across the benches in the House today.
We are simply asking for this House to honour Saskatchewan's attempts to ensure all businesses and residents are treated fairly by this corporation. I know that the people of Saskatchewan are watching today and are certainly expecting that we will do our due diligence and responsibility and pass this motion today in our House.
Madam Speaker, I want to first address the challenge put forward to me by the member for . She wanted me to show how I can identify with the province of Saskatchewan.
I am a Prairie boy. I spent a number of years living in Saskatchewan, albeit I am a Bombers fan over a Roughriders fan. Unfortunately, I have family members who are Roughriders fans over the Bombers, which I suspect goes back to the time I spent growing up in Saskatchewan with my siblings and others.
Saskatchewan is a beautiful province. Much like with all regions of this country, I would say to my family and friends that Ottawa does care when things are happening in Saskatchewan. Whether they are constitutionally related, employment related, regarding the environment or even something such as charges on pollution, all of these things matter and they are issues we take very seriously.
The government has always been open not only to what people are saying but also to listening to what other parliamentarians have been saying. I thought that is where I would start today.
There has been reference made to this unanimous motion request put forward back in December, and I was one of the individuals who said, no, I did not think we should allow, through unanimous consent of the House of Commons, something to pass through related to a constitutional amendment.
I looked at what happened in the Saskatchewan legislature, where the issue was debated. There were comments put on the record with regard to it, and I want to share some of those comments with members today. I know some people were upset when I indicated that passing a constitutional amendment through unanimous consent without any debate whatsoever in the House of Commons was not an appropriate thing to do. That is the reason I said no back in December.
As I indicated in my remarks, I will be supporting the motion that was brought forward. Since the unanimous consent was requested back in December, I have had the opportunity to become better informed. I understand there has been outreach from MLAs in the Province of Saskatchewan to ensure and provide a sense of comfort to members on all sides of the House regarding why they put in the request.
I want to go right to the floor of the Saskatchewan legislature, where we saw a minister highlight why we are in this situation. Mr. Wyant said, “As members of this House [the Saskatchewan legislature] are likely aware, CPR is suing the Government of Saskatchewan for $341 million, claiming a broad tax exemption under section 24.” He went on to say, “As a matter of tax policy and business competitiveness, there must be a level playing field for all businesses.”
He goes on to highlight what I believe is a very important point, and this is one of the reasons I am very surprised a lawsuit would have even been launched. I do not want to get into the legal proceedings that much. The courts will do whatever the courts will ultimately do on the issue. However, Mr. Wyant continues to say:
...it’s our view that the Canadian Pacific Railway company agreed in 1966 that it would forgo the tax exemption in exchange for regulatory changes made by the federal government. The federal government upheld its end of the agreement by making those regulatory changes which provided significant benefits to the CPR. It’s now time to ensure that our Constitution reflects that reality.
He makes it very clear that during the mid-sixties there was a discussion that took place where CP, the province and the federal government, either directly or indirectly, engaged in a discussion about the constitution of Saskatchewan and the impact of the clause that we are debating today. The consensus and agreement going out of that meeting saw the residents of Saskatchewan and, in fact, all Canadians, ensure that CP would maintain payments or pay their fair share of taxes back then.
For those people who might be following the debate, I do believe it is important to recognize that, since that agreement between CP, Saskatchewan and the federal government, there has been a payment of taxes. That agreement was entered into in good faith. Earlier in the comments, I read that there is a lawsuit for $341 million, which is a significant amount of money coming from a corporation. That makes me question what caused the launch of the lawsuit.
Some may question why, in 2022, we are debating this today. Members will get a better sense of that if they look at the November 29 Hansard from the Saskatchewan legislature, where there was a resolution that was unanimously passed. I just want to pick out two things from it because it is a fairly lengthy resolution. The first of the two aspects of the resolution that I want to highlight for members is that it states:
Whereas the Canadian Pacific Railway company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan since the province was established in 1905....
I do not know all the taxes that CP has been paying. Hopefully there will be a response from CP or someone else as to why it is that the court action has been taken, but it is important that we recognize, as this resolution states, that since 1905 the railway company has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan.
The other thing I want to highlight is where it states:
Whereas on August 29th, 1966, the then president of the Canadian Pacific Railway company, Ian D. Sinclair, advised the then federal minister of Transport, Jack Pickersgill, that the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway company had no objection to the constitutional amendments to eliminate the tax exemption....
That is why I make reference to the fact of this agreement. CP was not looking to receive benefits from the tax exemption. In fact, it goes on:
The repeal of section 24 is deemed to have been made on August 29th, 1966, and is retroactive to that date.
That is, therefore, the resolution coming from the Saskatchewan legislature. Appreciating the fact that it passed unanimously, Mr. Wotherspoon from the New Democratic Party makes reference to the Saskatchewan Act and makes it very clear in his explanation stating:
This is why as the official opposition Saskatchewan New Democrats, we’ve called for the repeal of section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act, 1905 and why we are proud to stand united as a legislature to send this motion for approval to Ottawa, the House of Commons, and the Senate.
If members are interested in the details and content of the resolution, it can be found in the Hansard of the Saskatchewan legislature of November 29. Suffice to say, it passed unanimously.
When I look at the Constitution of Canada and the constitutional debates, I do not believe we should, through unanimous consent motions, pass a constitutional amendment. I do not say that lightly because, while I like to think I am still relatively young, I have had some experience with constitutional amendments. First it was as someone sitting in front of the TV back in 1982 watching our then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sign off, along with Her Majesty the Queen, on the Constitution of Canada and bring in the Charter of Rights, which was instilled in me as a very proud moment at that relatively young age but also did a lot to bring Canadians together and instill a sense of pride. Not much longer after I had witnessed that, I was inspired to get engaged in politics in a more tangible way and had the good fortune of getting elected in 1988.
Those who are familiar with constitutional change and amendments and attempts would know that in 1988 we had the Meech Lake accord. I was a member of the Manitoba legislature when it was the only province to not sign on to the accord. Back then, because of the holdup in the Manitoba legislature, I believe the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador withdrew its original support of the Constitution. I remember the significant protests that took place both inside and outside of the legislature, and why indigenous people in particular felt empowered to a certain degree through Elijah Harper to ensure that the national and provincial governments of all political stripes understood why there was an issue with the Meech Lake accord.
If we fast-forward from that experience to the 1990s and the Charlottetown accord, I had the good fortune, or bad fortune depending on how one wants to look at it, of being around for that debate. I remember having a debate in the north end of Winnipeg with a member of Parliament who was speaking against what I was proposing. It was Bill Blaikie, the former member of Parliament for Elmwood—Transcona and the father of the current member.
In that debate I said I disagreed with Mr. Blaikie and that, in fact, the national government had a role to play in housing in Canada, because the Charlottetown accord, among other things, tried to give the direction that housing was an entirely provincial responsibility. There were a number of us, including me, who felt the federal government had a role to play with respect to national housing. I find it ironic today to hear the comments from the members of the opposition saying that we need to do something on the housing file, when the has clearly demonstrated a strong cabinet commitment to national housing through the national housing strategy, with hundreds of millions of dollars coming from Ottawa to support housing.
For example, even Bill , legislation that we were debating, has a direct impact on housing. This is why I say that constitutional issues are important to all of us.
However, sometimes constitutional changes can be all-encompassing. They can consume a great deal of time and effort and they are very difficult to achieve, which is why, when I look at governments from the past since the Charlottetown Accord, I do not believe that the mood of Canadians is to see constitutional change at this time. I do not believe that Canadians want us to be focusing on constitutional changes at this time.
That said, as has been pointed out, there are different ways in which a constitution can be changed, and the type of change we are talking about today is very different from what we have talked about in the past. Members of the Liberal caucus understand and appreciate that the Saskatchewan legislature has passed a unanimous resolution. We understand why the timing of it is so critically important today, even though it was enacted over 100 years ago in an agreement that I will provide some comment on shortly. However, the point is that as things take place in Saskatchewan, we understand the need for the federal government to respond, and today is a good example.
Someone mentioned earlier today that this is an opposition motion. Well, just because it is an opposition member's motion does not necessarily mean that it does not merit passage in the House of Commons or support from the government. That is why the parliamentary secretary who spoke prior to me indicated that the government would in fact be supporting the motion. We recognize that in the last election, as in the previous election, Canadians said they want Parliament and parliamentarians to work together, and where we can, we do. We do work together when there is that higher sense of co-operation, and we are seeing that with respect to this motion.
On other issues related to this motion, there is the issue of tax fairness. This issue was brought up consistently by my New Democratic friends in particular, to try to give the false impression that members of the Liberal government do not support tax fairness. That is so wrong. One of our very first actions in government was the 's commitment to tax fairness. He brought in legislation to put a tax on Canada's 1% wealthiest. Ironically, my New Democratic friends voted against it. We have had not one but two budgets in which hundreds of millions of dollars were allocated to try to ensure that those who are avoiding paying taxes, including big business, are held to account. We are investing more in Revenue Canada. I do not need to be told that my constituents want and demand tax fairness. We as a government, through our cabinet and with the support of the Liberal members of caucus, and I suspect even at times the support of opposition members, have brought in initiatives to ensure that there is a higher sense of tax fairness in Canada today.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
It has been kind of a history lesson here today. We have heard about the Hudson's Bay Company, the Meech Lake accord and the Charlottetown accord. It has been refreshing to go back over 100 years today as we talk about the Saskatchewan Act.
I give credit to the member for for bringing this very important motion to the House today. I chair the Saskatchewan caucus and, for the second consecutive election, we returned 14 out of 14 Conservative MPs to the House.
It is very important that we open the dialogue today to have a wholesome discussion on the Saskatchewan Act and what it means to my province, which has a population of 1.2 million. When we see CP Rail's profit of $341 million, I do not have to say that $341 million to a population of 1.2 million is a very substantial amount.
We can start way back on October 21, 1880. I am going to give some history, as there has been many history lessons in the House this morning and this afternoon. It was the Government of Canada that entered into the contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which we all know back then was trail-blazing. It opened this country up from east to west, part of that was Saskatchewan.
In clause 16 of that 1880 Canadian Pacific Railway contract, the federal government agreed to give a tax exemption to the Canadian Pacific Railway company, and that is what we are talking about here today. In 1905, as everyone knows, the Parliament of Canada passed the Saskatchewan Act, which created my home province of Saskatchewan. Canadian Pacific Railway has paid applicable taxes to the Government of Saskatchewan since the province was established. That has been a topic of conversation today, but I want it on the record that it has paid taxes to the Saskatchewan government.
CP is currently attempting, though, to use a clause in the Saskatchewan Act as justification to avoid paying any provincial taxes on its main line. This represents, as I said, an enormous revenue loss for the provincial government and the people of Saskatchewan, which only 1.2 million strong. It is only fair that CP, as a corporate giant, pays its share, on which I think we all agree in the House.
In 1966, Ian Sinclair, then the CP Rail president, agreed to a constitutional amendment to eliminate this tax exemption. The constitutional change is the quick and efficient way to make this happen, and it should happen without delay. The Province of Saskatchewan has adopted the motion to amend the Saskatchewan Act and the Constitution of Canada during the fall sitting.
In December, the Saskatchewan Conservative regional caucus urged the federal government to support the Saskatchewan government's approved motion to repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act. Section 24 of the act contains a contentious exemption for Canadian Pacific Railway from various Saskatchewan provincial taxes. In order for this section to be removed, though, a similar motion must now be passed at the federal level, here in the House and also in the Senate. That is why Canada's Conservatives are calling on the federal government to listen to the Saskatchewan government and support the motion that we have put forward today in the House to repeal section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act.
The tax loss to Saskatchewan would hurt provincial services if the Liberal government refuses to stand up for tax fairness and ensure that CP Rail pays its fair share to the people of Saskatchewan. CP Rail, as I mentioned, is a corporate giant. There is no reason it should enjoy an exemption from provincial taxes. There is also no reason the government should delay responding to the provincial government's request.
Canada's Conservatives are always on Saskatchewan's side. Those tax dollars need to stay right at home in my province of Saskatchewan.
CP Rail and the Saskatchewan government have been engaged now for about 13 years in a legal battle with the railway seeking roughly $341 million. It is coming out now because the provincial legislature in Saskatchewan passed a motion unanimously on November 29, 2021.
In Saskatchewan legislature, just to fill us in, there are only two parties. The Saskatchewan Party is the official government and the official opposition is the NDP. Here we have the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP agreeing on one thing, that the Saskatchewan Act has to come to the House of Commons and later to the Senate.
I have spoken to the Saskatchewan justice minister, Gordon Wyant, a couple of times, dealing with the Saskatchewan Act. The Saskatchewan justice minister was quoted as saying, and I quote, “We are going to vigorously defend the claim that has been brought by the railway to defend the interests of the people of Saskatchewan”. This resolution needs to be approved by the federal government, passed through the House of Commons right here in front of 338 members, and then on to the Senate.
Minister Wyant has had conversations, I know, with the federal on the issue of the Saskatchewan Act. We are hoping today that the motion will move forward. It is my understanding that several MLAs in my province have even reached out to Saskatchewan senators to start the dialogue. If we can pass the motion through here, it goes to the Senate. The conversations have started not only here today in the House of Commons, but also, more importantly, in the Senate where they will have to deal with this.
As members of the House are likely aware, CP Rail is suing the Government of Saskatchewan for the $341 million. They claim a broad tax exemption under section 24. This matter is currently before the courts, so most of us really do not want to talk about that, because it is before the court.
Therefore, the Government of Saskatchewan believes that today it is time to repeal section 24 regardless of whether it is in force or not. If the tax exemption remains in force, I do not have to tell the members of the House, it creates a substantial inequity within our own province. $341 million would be eliminated from the taxes of only 1.2 million in our province. As a matter of the tax policy and business competitiveness, there must be a level playing field for all businesses in our province of Saskatchewan.
We all agree that all businesses should pay their fair share of taxes, and by supporting this motion, it would send a strong signal to my province of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewanians desperately want the motion today regarding the Saskatchewan Act passed. It would show federal support from that side of the house and the opposition parties. It would show that we do care about the province of Saskatchewan.
This is an important motion put forward today by the hon. member for . He was a member of the Saskatchewan legislature before he became a member of Parliament. He knows very well the pressures on the provincial government in Saskatchewan. He was in their caucus for a number of years and he knows first-hand that Saskatchewan, being a small province, does not have a lot of corporate businesses. CP Rail is one of the biggest, and as has been mentioned today, it makes a lot of profit. Profit is good, but at the same time, CP Rail must pay its fair share of taxes.
On behalf of residents of Saskatoon—Grasswood, it has been a pleasure to speak to the motion moved by the member for on the Saskatchewan Act.
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for , for his excellent history lesson and for representing the city of Saskatoon and the great aspects of that. I will try to speak a little more to rural aspects of the impact of this.
It is my honour to rise in the House to speak on today's opposition motion regarding the amendment to the Saskatchewan Act in our Constitution, to repeal Section 24. While it has been some time since I have been able to physically be here in the House of Commons chamber, I feel very fortunate to be present today and am happy to see everyone's faces in person rather than through a screen. I know that, just like me, many Canadians are also looking forward to a return of some normalcy after the tumultuous last two years.
As this is my first speech in the House in this 44th Parliament, I would like to thank the great constituents of Souris—Moose Mountain for re-electing me for the third time. Like all Canadians, they are experiencing and living with the frustrations and inconsistencies of the government, as well as with the many inconsistencies that have existed in our national legislation.
Today's motion is just another example of that, and how it treats Saskatchewan differently from other provinces. Today's motion is extremely important for a number of reasons, and I am grateful to have a chance to speak on it in support of my provincial counterparts in the Saskatchewan legislature. I would like to thank all of the MLAs, their staff, the experts and the leaders at the provincial level who worked diligently to ensure that this issue was brought to Ottawa so that it could be addressed at the federal level.
I know that I and my colleagues in the Conservative Saskatchewan caucus will do everything in our power to compel the government to act swiftly and decisively on the matter, and to end the unfair tax exemption given to the Canadian Pacific Railway, CPR.
I would just like to point out that this is a great example of political unity, as the motion to repeal section 24 was unanimously supported by all members of the Saskatchewan legislature. They were able to put their differences aside and see the benefits that this motion had for the entirety of our province, regardless of political affiliation. This is the kind of thing that Canadians want to see here in this Parliament, yet the federal level blocked the original version of this motion, prolonging the process even further.
The stalling on this matter only serves to deepen the divide that the has already created with western Canadians. Canadians expect their government to work together: to come up with ideas, to discuss, to debate and to resolve issues. I hear from many of my constituents that they expect to see a little give-and-take in a minority government, not the “my way or the highway” approach that the and the Liberal government have shown. We could just look out at Wellington Street to see how well that attitude is working.
What this issue really comes down to is fairness. Every corporation in this country is required to pay taxes, so it is simply not fair to require all other businesses to pay while the CPR receives an exemption. This situation is in Saskatchewan alone, thanks to section 24. The CPR is a large profitable corporation, and in this day and age it should not have a competitive advantage over other transportation companies because of a 140-year-old contract. All Saskatchewan businesses, small and large, deserve a level playing field.
Speaking of fairness, exempting the CPR from paying taxes means that everyone else has to make up the difference and pay more than their fair share. As I previously stated, this puts all other transportation companies at a competitive disadvantage, something that is rarely a benefit to the regional or national economy. Competitiveness is an integral part of the fabric of Canada's economy, and we need to foster and encourage it in every logical sense.
Ultimately, every Saskatchewan small business, every Saskatchewan professional, every Saskatchewan employee, union or non-union, every farmer, every rancher, every trucker, every Saskatchewanian will have to pay out of their pocket if this is allowed to linger.
One of the phrases I often use in my speeches here in the House is the trickle-down effect, and it is certainly relevant in discussing this tax exemption. If the CPR is tax exempt, that means everyone else pays extra. While on the surface it may look like this only affects other large transportation companies, the trickle-down effect means that each and every resident of Saskatchewan would have to help foot the costs through increased taxes of their own. When one adds the continuous raising of taxes such as CPP, EI and the Liberal carbon tax, life quickly becomes unaffordable. This is not to mention the increased costs to local communities, RMs, towns and villages due to the RCMP pay increases that are being downloaded to them.
In my riding, an increase to already high living expenses is the very last thing that residents need, but it is unfortunately what they have come to expect under the Liberal government. Many communities have already suffered due to things such as the Liberal phase-out of coal-fired power, and the government's unfulfilled promises to those affected by it. People are experiencing fear and uncertainty for their futures, and the threat of higher taxes only makes that worse.
The Just Transition Task Force gives money for groups to study the transition, but little for the future. Putting some money up to fix roads may help, but when all the young people move away to find jobs elsewhere in the country, who will pay the taxes to keep these businesses and roads in good condition?
There is also the matter of how keeping section 24 could hurt small businesses across the province, including those in communities that are already grappling with how to make ends meet. I cannot stress enough the importance of small businesses in my riding. In rural areas such as Souris—Moose Mountain, they do not just serve as places to buy necessities. They are also informal gathering places for the community, and many small business owners generously give back to that community when they are able to.
We need to do everything in our power to ensure that our businesses stay viable, especially following the hard two years because of the pandemic. I know that we Conservatives are intent on ensuring that not one cent of tax revenue owed by a profitable corporation is picked up by the Saskatchewan people, and I hope the Liberals are as well.
The respect for, and support of, jurisdictional authority is fundamental to the successful operation of this country. In matters such as this, it only makes sense to allow any individual province to unilaterally amend the section of the Constitution that deals exclusively with its own internal governance, and we Conservatives support this measure.
Furthermore, Saskatchewan is the only province in the country that is having to rectify an issue such as this one, which should provide even more incentive for the federal government to do whatever is possible to level the playing field.
As MLA Wyant stated in his remarks to the Saskatchewan Legislature on November 29, 2021:
Section 24 is a relic of an earlier time when Saskatchewan was not treated as an equal partner in Confederation.
My province and its residents should not be penalized simply because Saskatchewan entered Confederation in 1905 rather than in 1880, when this contract with the CPR was signed. Unfortunately, many people of Saskatchewan have lost faith in the federal government's ability to treat them equally or to act in their best interests.
The says a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, but I can tell you that my constituents do not remotely feel that. They are not even equally treated by the Liberals. That is evident from the fact that the candidate they had in the last two elections never showed up during the debate, or at any time in the riding, and received less than 4% of the vote.
The continues to talk the talk, but fails to walk the walk and the divide between western Canadians and the rest of Canada keeps getting wider. One only needs to walk outside to see how badly the Liberals have failed to foster any sense of national unity. They sit on their hands and make empty promises. It is no wonder that western Canadians are feeling disillusioned by a government that continually ignores them.
It is also on the current government to make progress on reducing outdated and ineffective red tape, so that other jurisdictions will not have to deal with issues like this in the future. This is a win-win-win situation: The federal government gets to remove some red tape. The province has clarity on the matter going forward. The people of Saskatchewan will not have to pay increased taxes because of the exemption to a profitable company. I can see no reason why the Liberals would block this motion, unless it is to punish the people of Saskatchewan for not giving them a single seat in the last two elections. They may say otherwise, but based on their past disregard for the west, it is not difficult to read between the lines.
To briefly quote MLA Wotherspoon from the Saskatchewan legislature, “The elimination of this jurisdictional inequity is important”. We agree with that. Saskatchewan deserves the same recognition from the federal government as all other provinces and territories, and until this motion is passed the province will remain at a disadvantage.
In conclusion, it is truly in the best interests of all parties to take the lead set by members of the Saskatchewan legislature and vote unanimously in favour of today's motion. It will only have positive implications and increased fairness for Saskatchewan's businesses and individuals. I call on the Liberals to do the right thing and vote in favour of repealing section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act.
Madam Speaker, it is great to be here with all my colleagues, both physically here in the House and virtually. I am honoured to take part in this debate, as a westerner by birth and someone who lives in Ontario now. It is always great to support my colleagues in the beautiful province of Saskatchewan.
Today we are considering a request from Saskatchewan to amend a part of the Canadian Constitution. It is a small part, it is true, but such a request deserves our immediate attention because it is long overdue. Parliamentarians who wish to do so should have a say. We are having this debate because on November 29 of last year, the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan unanimously passed a resolution to repeal a section of the Saskatchewan Act.
History buffs, and I know there are many in the House, will know this act received royal assent in 1905. It is best known for having created the Province of Saskatchewan, and it was adopted at the same time as the Alberta Act, creating the Province of Alberta. Both were created from parts of the Northwest Territories. Alberta and Saskatchewan became the eight and ninth provinces of Canada on September 1, 1905. Both acts were enshrined in the Canadian Constitution in 1982, and this why the change requested by Saskatchewan requires an amendment to the Canadian Constitution.
The resolution passed by the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan specifically calls for the repeal of section 24 of the Saskatchewan Act. This section relates to the clause of a contract signed in 1880 between the Government of Canada and the founders of the Canadian Pacific Railway company.
I want to note that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
At the time, Saskatchewan was not yet a province and Sir John A. Macdonald was the Prime Minister. In a nutshell, the clause exempted the CPR from certain federal, provincial and municipal taxes.
As noted in Saskatchewan's resolution, a large corporation should not be exempt from paying provincial taxes. I agree with this assessment. Our government has been very clear that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, and that certainly includes corporations.
We are focused on strengthening the middle class and building an economy that works for everyone. To do that, Canadians need a tax system that is fair and equitable. It is why we cut taxes for the middle class and asked the wealthiest 1% to pay a little more. It is also why we want to make sure companies, including large digital corporations, pay their fair share of tax in Canada.
Corporations need to pay a fair share of tax in the jurisdiction where their users and customers are located. Whatever the historical context, there is no reason in this day and age the CPR should get the benefit of a tax exemption that no on else receives. It is not consistent with Canada's current tax policies, nor with its fiscal policies.
If the Government of Saskatchewan wants to make the tax system fair, it will wholeheartedly find support on this side of the House. It is great to see collaboration among the parties. It is what Canadians sent us here for: to work for their interests and make this country a better place.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the importance of delivering services to Canadians in a timely and efficient manner. Our economic response plan has helped Canadians and businesses weather the storm, including the wonderful and kind people of Saskatchewan. Let me share some of the specifics with the House.
Thus far, the federal government has allocated more than three million doses of COVID vaccines to Saskatchewan. Several million rapid tests have also been shipped to the province. All of that was free of charge.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy has protected more than 100,000 jobs in Saskatchewan. About 30,000 loans totalling $1.6 billion have been made to Saskatchewan businesses through the Canada emergency business account. More than 240,000 Saskatchewan residents received support through the Canada emergency response benefit at some point. Out of a population of 1.1 million, that is more than one in five people, or over 20%. In addition to this, in 2021-22, Saskatchewan is receiving $1.3 billion through the Canada health transfer and an additional $478 million through the Canada social transfer.
Canada works best when governments work collaboratively in the interest of Canadians. In this regard, I would like to point out that the “land of living skies” is one of the jurisdictions with which the federal government has entered into an agreement to build a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.