Mr. Speaker, as the NDP finance critic, I am pleased to rise at third reading stage of this bill, which has been debated at length in the House.
From the outset, I want to point out that during the debate and discussions in committee we reached out to the government to ensure that the tax cut promised in this bill was truly for the middle class.
As I said in my question, the middle class is not very well defined. The Department of Finance refuses to define it. We have varying definitions depending on the groups. On the other hand, we can agree that when half the people earn more than us and half the people earn less than us, we are in the middle class. I think that makes a lot of sense.
Those people, who earn roughly $31,000 or $32,000 a year, are not getting one cent from the so-called middle-class tax cut promised in this bill. I find that extremely problematic. I mentioned this in my question, but it bears repeating. As parliamentarians, parliamentary secretaries, or even the chief government whip, we are going to benefit the most from this tax cut. We are absolutely not part of the middle class, but we will get a maximum reduction of nearly $700 because of this promised tax cut.
Someone who earns $30,000, $35,000, $40,000, or even $45,000 a year will not get one red cent from the tax cuts in this bill. Therefore, when the government says that this bill will help the middle class as promised during the election campaign, that is not entirely accurate. Yes, that was in their election platform, but we all know that people rarely consult election platforms online when deciding how to vote. They tend to rely on what is said in the media, on television, in the news, and sometimes in the newspaper. What people kept hearing from the member for Papineau, who was the leader of the Liberal Party, was not that he would lower taxes for people earning over $45,000 a year, but rather that he would lower taxes for the middle class.
Those who earn less than $45,000 a year and consider themselves part of the middle class feel cheated, and rightly so. I am convinced that during the Canada-wide consultations held by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Finance, they probably heard comments about that from people who are not eligible for the tax cut. People have been able to tell from the beginning of this year, since the tax cut took effect on January 1 and can therefore be seen on people's pay stubs.
Since the bill does not really apply to most middle-class Canadians, what could be done? That is where we reached out to the Liberal government at committee. We proposed a measure that would cost roughly the same, but would help a lot more Canadians. Instead of changing the tax bracket beginning at $45,000, which is more representative of the upper middle class, we suggested lowering the first tax bracket, the lowest level at which everyone starts paying taxes.
Accordingly, instead of lowering the rate from 22% to 20.5% for the second tax bracket, we are proposing to lower the rate from 15% to 14% for the first tax bracket. That will have a significant impact because the same person who sees half the population earning more than they do and the other half earning less, will receive a $200 tax reduction, whereas they are receiving nothing now. Thus, someone who earns $210,000 a year and now gets $200 of the proposed reduction, would instead pay $70 more.
We have to be careful with slogans. There is no doubt in my mind that, after all the debate, the desire to help the middle class that is constantly being trumpeted by the government is more of a slogan than something real.
If the government really wanted to help the middle class, it would have accepted the proposal, the olive branch that we were extending to the Liberals, in order to ensure that everyone could benefit.
I am sorry to say that this proposal was rejected by the Standing Committee on Finance. It is regrettable because I believe that it could have been debated and probably would have been agreed to. What the government promised during the election campaign, or the spirit of the promise, would have been kept. The whole of the middle class would have received a tax cut. That is not the case at present. It is unfortunate that the government is still trying to make us believe the opposite.
As a parliamentarian, I have to admit that I do not need a tax cut. I want to pay my fair share. I consider myself to be privileged. Why are they insisting that my colleagues and I receive the largest possible reduction? That is a very problematic aspect of the bill, which only has 10 clauses.
We are not fundamentally opposed to the measure to introduce a new tax rate of 33% for income in excess of $200,000 or to the measure to lower the TFSA contribution limit from $10,000 to $5,500. We have supported these measures from the beginning, even before the Liberal Party decided to include them in its election platform. I remember some debates that were held here, in the House, against increasing the limit to $10,000, and those arguments still hold true today.
The parliamentary budget officer conducted a very important and specific study on this topic. Once again, my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent did not fully answer the question, because he tried to imply that the TFSA is just a money-saving tool. TFSAs are indeed used for this purpose. After people pay their taxes, they deposit money in a TFSA, which then grows with tax-free interest. However, with the limit increased to $10,000, the TFSA would become a significant tax-avoidance tool for people who have the means to contribute the $10,000 maximum, as proposed by the Conservatives.
What is the result? The result is that not just money will be deposited into these vehicles. People can also put stocks, bonds, and other financial tools that would often be subject to capital gains tax into those accounts. That money can grow tax-free in these vehicles. We have here a situation where we started out with a savings vehicle and ended up with a significant tool for tax avoidance, which allows the wealthiest members of our society to shelter their money from taxes. That is why the parliamentary budget officer described this measure as potentially dangerous for the public purse.
He estimated that in 20, 30, or 40 years, the money that would no longer be paid to the Canadian government in taxes as a result of this measure could be equivalent to 0.7% of the GDP. The government feels that 0.7% of the GDP is too much to allocate to international aid. However, it does not seem to be too much to give away primarily to the wealthiest members of society, who would use the TFSA to shelter their investments.
That is why we think that the limit of $5,500 is entirely appropriate. In fact, only 17% of those who contribute to a TFSA and 7% of the entire Canadian population reach that limit. We agree with that measure.
We are not opposed to the creation of another tax bracket, which explains why we voted in favour of the ways and means motion that could not be debated or amended. It has a major financial impact.
However, there is now another important factor to consider and that is the tax cut for the so-called middle class. We are in a situation where that could be changed.
That is the path we chose. We voted in favour of Bill C-2 at second reading specifically because we wanted to try working in committee to get a clearer picture of what this measure as a whole means for the middle class.
Evidence from Standing Committee on Finance meetings shows that, systematically, almost every time I asked a question, it was about this issue. Most of the answers I got were pretty vague with respect to the impact. Some said that, basically, we were right: we would reach many more citizens and taxpayers and help many more people.
The government argues that this is part of a suite of measures that must be taken as a whole. This bill is not a suite of measures. It contains three distinct measures, one of which is very problematic.
If we look at the government's proposed measures as a whole, including the child tax benefit in the budget implementation bill, we see that many members of the middle class will not get a tax cut or any help from this government.
Single people with no children earning $40,000 a year, which is a fairly large portion of our society, I would say, will get nothing, either from this income tax cut or from other measures proposed by the federal government. An elderly couple earning $30,000 to $35,000 in pension income will get nothing, either from this income tax cut or from measures proposed by the government in the budget implementation bill.
A large part of the Canadian population will get nothing, but those people can clearly and accurately define themselves as being part of the middle class. I do not understand that, and the Liberal Party has not provided any explanation, apart from the fact that people elected them because of that, for refusing our offer to work together to help as many Canadians as possible, to help the entire middle class and not just those who are earning up to $217,000 a year. Those who are earning between $45,000 and $217,000 a year will benefit from the bill.
When I go to my constituency, how can I meet with the head of a banking institution, who may be earning $215,000 a year, and with someone earning $30,000 a year and explain to them that the former will benefit from it and the latter will not?
I do not know how the Liberal members feel when this question comes up. I suspect they will not be in a hurry to answer it. They are well aware of what kind of reaction they will get from those citizens.
We are in a Parliament that we hoped would be collaborative. I will not rehash yesterday’s events, but while the government says that it is willing to listen to our amendments and that it wants to gain our co-operation by working with us, we really feel that it just wants to push its ideas through as quickly as possible, without necessarily paying much attention to the positive effects that an opposition proposal might have.
I would like to have seen Liberal members ask more questions on this issue in the Standing Committee on Finance. However, their questions seem mostly to have been designed to elicit witnesses’ agreement with the government’s position. The Standing Committee on Finance plays a special role in this Parliament, as do all committees, in fact, which is quite different from the role of the House of Commons.
It is different because, here, we have a somewhat adversarial system, with the government on one side and the opposition on the other. However, committee is the only place where we can call each other by our proper names. We are not members for certain ridings, but rather members, period. Our role, whether on the government side or opposition side, is to make sure that the government is held to account and that the government's proposals are studied, scrutinized, and analyzed in order to ensure that they really contribute to the common good of the country.
We are talking about the current government, but I am not saying that the previous government did not do the same thing. Government members act like cheerleaders to applaud their government's proposals, rather than paying close attention to the detailed consideration of what is before them. Not only does the committee's work suffer, but so does Parliament as a whole, and so does Canadian democracy. This situation does not appear to be getting any better as time goes by, despite this government's commitment to do things differently and ensure that Parliament works more collaboratively.
There are measures that we support, including lowering the TFSA ceiling, which will still be indexed to $5,500. Combined with the other savings tools, this measure seems good to us. There is also the creation of a tax bracket for higher incomes. Despite the fact that it applies to incomes over $200,000, it will not be enough to ensure that people who earn $210,000, for example, pay more taxes, because they will pay less.
We feel that this other measure in Bill C-2 is problematic and fundamentally unfair. Contrary to what the government would have us believe, this measure does not meet a need of the middle class and does not apply to all those who belong to the middle class.
The member for Louis-Saint-Laurent makes a valid argument, even though we did not present it: when people voted for a tax cut for the middle class, they did not necessarily know where the middle class began according to the government's definition, and the government did not dwell on that either. However, if there is anything that was mentioned more often than the $45,000 threshold from which the cut would apply, it is the fact that this measure would not cost anything.
When the Liberals say that Canadians voted for this measure, we must realize that Canadians voted for their perception of this measure. That perception quite often was created by the Leader of the Liberal Party, who extolled the virtues of a tax cut for the middle class. Unfortunately, this measure excludes a lot of the middle class.
I can assure the House, that I hear my constituents talk about this and that every one of my colleagues has talked to me about it. This has been discussed by committees and also by our caucus.
Although we support the two measures, we fundamentally disagree with the third one, which we tried to amend. The government chose to ignore us. We debated this issue because it is important and it is being talked about in our ridings. We would have liked the government to listen more and co-operate with us. It did not. This morning, we were not expecting to debate Bill C-2 in the House this afternoon. However, we are discussing it again and we will have the opportunity to meet as a caucus to bring this discussion to a close.
Unfortunately, I do not think that was a very good thing for the government to do. People have rather strong opinions in this regard, even though there is still opportunity for discussion. I think that the debate at third reading will be the government's last chance to consider our demands and those of our constituents.
If the government members have suggestions or if they want to make amendments to initiatives other than this bill, which cannot be amended, our door is always open. With regard to this measure, unfortunately, we are being forced to seriously consider voting against the bill at third reading because the government has failed to listen to or show an interest in a large portion of the middle class.