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View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to welcome the witnesses and thank them for being with us today.
Before I get to my questions, I want to recognize the important work that senior officials and all employees at the Department of Finance have done during the pandemic. This committee met often, and we regularly heard from department officials. They have done incredible work to save the economy. I want to commend them and thank them again for all their hard work.
My questions are for Mr. McGowan.
After yesterday's news release and Ms. Bendayan's earlier comments, everything was clear in my mind, but the answers, details and clarifications you gave Ms. Dzerowicz confused me. Therefore, I'm going to ask you the same question.
Since Bill C‑208 received royal assent in June, the provisions in Bill C‑208 have applied in the case of parents who sell their farm or family business to their son or daughter. Is that correct?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you.
Julie Bissonnette of the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec wanted us to ask you that question. Both my fellow member Ms. Dzerowicz and I have asked it now. You gave a clear answer, which I appreciate.
Nevertheless, something you said in response to my fellow member's question worried me, and you said it again when you answered my question. You said that it has been that way since yesterday's news release. This morning, however, the law clerk for the House of Commons and former members of the House told the committee that it has actually been that way since the bill received royal assent, regardless of what the news release said. Yesterday's news release reiterated that fact. However, since Bill C‑208 received royal assent, it has been possible to sell a business for the purposes of an intergenerational transfer of a family farm with the usual rights and benefits. Is that correct?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Very good. Thank you.
Now I'm going to move on to another topic; it has to do with the amendments. As you said, in yesterday's news release, the government announced its intentions to make changes to the amendments set out in Bill C‑208. It is our understanding that a new bill will be introduced to amend the changes contained in Bill C‑208, without altering the bill's intent.
Something about this whole process surprises me. As we heard this morning, the first reading of the bill took place on February 19, 2020. That means the period between when the bill was given first reading and when it received royal assent was 527 days. As Mr. Dufresne, the law clerk, pointed out this morning, at almost every stage of the legislative process, the government could have brought forward the amendments it is now saying it will introduce in a future bill.
I gather from the answers you gave Mr. Fast that, when Bill C‑208 was at committee stage, the government had not asked the Department of Finance to draft amendments to the bill that would close the potential tax loopholes. Is that correct?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Pardon me, Mr. McGowan. I don't think I made myself clear. I meant that it was up to members of the government, not public servants or senior officials, to bring forward amendments that would have addressed the concerns you raised with the government regarding this bill.
My question is this. Did the government ask you to draft amendments to rectify the potential problems resulting from Bill C‑208, amendments that could have been proposed when the bill was being studied by the committee? Did the government ask you to draft such amendments?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to start with a few comments.
In yesterday's news release, the government recognized that Bill C‑208 has been law since it received royal assent. As I said this morning, I have no doubt that yesterday's news release had to do with the fact that the committee was recalled for a special meeting today. Again, hats off to us.
My concerns stem from the questions I asked Mr. McGowan last time. In yesterday's news release, the government stated that Bill C‑208 had become law and that the law was the law, but the government also indicated that it would bring forward new legislation to amend the bill. Since the bill was studied for 527 days, I'm wondering why the government did not propose the amendments during the usual examination process. Five hundred and twenty-seven days is a long time.
What's more, as has been mentioned, this isn't the first time Parliament has considered a bill like this. A few years ago, Liberal member Emmanuel Dubourg proposed similar legislation, as did the NDP's Guy Caron, not to mention my fellow Bloc Québécois member Xavier Barsalou‑Duval. Mr. Maguire's version was the one that finally took and got passed by Parliament.
Although the bill received royal assent, the government did not recognize it as law, just as the government did not recognize the authority of the House of Commons. Threats were made, and the Standing Committee on Finance decided to hold an emergency meeting. That was when the government finally acknowledged the application date of the bill, while indicating that it would bring forward amendments. Why were those amendments not brought forward during the legislative process, which lasted 527 days?
I asked the witnesses who were called before the committee whether the government had instructed them to draft amendments. I recall quite clearly that Mr. McGowan, among others, told the committee members that it was rather complicated, that numerous loopholes existed and that they needed to be closed. I then asked whether the Department of Finance had prepared, at the government's behest, amendments that could have been brought forward, voted on and adopted during that 527‑day period.
Now, Mr. McGowan, Mr. Jovanovic and Ms. Aitken are saying that it is a matter of cabinet confidence and that they can't answer the question. My guess is that, if the amendments aren't ready yet, they will be soon, since the government announced that a bill containing the amendments was on the way.
The government could be accused of being asleep at the wheel, because it dragged its feet and did not do what it should have—instruct the department to draft the amendments and bring them forward. On the committee and in the House, we were all able to work together harmoniously. I have no doubt that, had we studied the amendments, the level of co‑operation would have been high and the process would have been fruitful, but that was not the case. That makes me wonder what happened. Here's my theory.
I think that, back in the spring, the government was considering calling an election, not caring too much about Bill C‑208—figuring it would die on the Order Paper. An election was coming, anyhow. When the third wave of the pandemic hit, the Liberals realized that they couldn't do as they had planned; they would lose face if they called an election in the spring. Subsequently, the bill received royal assent, which was seen as collateral damage in the government's little game of cards. The Liberals weren't expecting it.
Now that the bill has received royal assent, they are saying 527 days was not enough time. They want to recognize the changes, but announced that they were going to bring forward new legislation to do what they should have done when the time was right. The level of ineptitude is astounding, and I have a real problem with that.
Those are my comments. I have no questions.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, is this a hypothetical question? We are asking officials to speak on behalf of what the government intention is with respect to the press release of yesterday indicating that we would introduce safeguard measures and amendments to the legislation.
I clarified this morning that it is not the government's intention to bring any legislation retroactively. I'm not sure why we're asking officials for something that they do not control.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Actually, I will pick up on the point you just raised with Mr. McGowan. Certainly, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, I've been working very closely with entrepreneurs over the last two years now.
It is my impression, Mr. McGowan, and I hope yours as well, that our entrepreneurs here in Canada are extremely hard-working. They are working double time in order to keep their heads above water. They are intent on growing their business and also intent on following the rules. I appreciate, though, as a lawyer, that our tax legislation needs to be reviewed every once in a while to ensure that we have the necessary safeguard measures in place so that very experienced tax lawyers are not finding loopholes. There are very few bad actors, and I hope you will agree with me, among our small business community. I thought it would be important for me to clarify once again that not only would the small business community be consulted, as you were discussing earlier, Mr. McGowan, but also the government would not be applying any changes to tax legislation retroactively.
You mentioned a number of times the date of November 1 as being the earliest date on which changes might be introduced. I would also like you to clarify that it's not actually between now and the end of October, as you mentioned. Really, November 1 is the earliest possible date, but as the press release states, it could also be up until the date of publication of the final draft legislation, which could in fact be later. Is that your understanding?
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Of course, as you mentioned, but it bears repeating, that would be subject to parliamentary approval. We would have to pass this legislation in the House of Commons, which is dependent, again, on parliamentary supremacy.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Again, it may seem obvious but I would like to confirm: Our small business community won't be taken by surprise by anything the government may introduce, because they will be intimately involved in this consultation process that you mentioned a few moments ago.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. McGowan.
Not to further belabour the point that Mr. Fragiskatos very eloquently stated earlier, the issue, I think, has been clarified. We now understand that these amendments to tax legislation for intergenerational transfers came into force on June 30. However, I thought I heard you say earlier in your testimony that some tax changes often come into effect in a new tax year. Obviously, that is not the case—to be perfectly clear—with the changes we're discussing here in committee today, but could you elaborate a bit on how the CRA perhaps needs to work in the background in order to prepare for these modifications to tax legislation, and on why it is that in some cases, although not this one, the application date would be in a new fiscal year?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would ask you to indulge me, since some of my questions may seem redundant. It's important, however, that they be put to the department officials in French. That means I will be asking some of the same questions that have already been asked.
I want to begin with a reminder.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you.
We are not gathered today because of a news release that came out yesterday. We are actually here because of a June 30, 2021 news release that said, and I quote, “Bill C‑208 makes amendments to the Income Tax Act but does not include an application date.” You found that shocking as well, Mr. Chair. According to that same news release, “The government proposes to introduce legislation to clarify that these amendments would apply at the beginning of the next taxation year, starting on January 1, 2022.” It is on account of that news release that the committee was recalled and we are here today.
Yesterday, the government realized that the committee was going to meet today and that, as a result, the government was probably going to look bad. It opted to put out another news release to retract what it said in the June 30 news release. Unfortunately, the government can't undo a news release. The one put out on June 30 still exists. You and I saw it, as did a whole lot of people in the small business sector and farming world. They were shocked and upset to learn that the government had no desire to implement a bill that had received royal assent and been passed by both Houses. Unfortunately, on June 30, the government apparently decided not to implement the bill because it had come from a Conservative member this time around. The government saw the bill as dangerous and wanted to avoid giving the opposition parties any credit. Too bad for the government that the bill was passed. That is a fact.
The good news is we found out yesterday that the changes in the bill did apply in law. Nevertheless, we need to know what happened on June 30 and why we are meeting today, in the middle of the summer, during the construction holidays, to discuss the government's decision to hurt family farms and small businesses.
My question is for Mr. McGowan, and it has been put to him a number of times.
Earlier, you said that the minister made her decision. Can you tell us the name of the minister who made the decision you were referring to?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Jovanovic, will you confirm that Mr. McGowan said this earlier:
“The minister made her decision.”
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Chair, the question is clear.
Earlier, Mr. McGowan said this:
“The minister made her decision.”
Mr. Jovanovic, will you confirm that your colleague made that statement?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Why can't you tell us the name of the minister?
Tell me the name of the act that prevents you from revealing the name of the minister who approved the news release, or at least tell me why you can't. Your colleague mentioned her name a while ago.
I used to be a chief of staff, so I know major press releases like that don't go out without the prior approval of the most senior ministerial staff. What is stopping you from telling us the name? Why are you so reluctant to confirm that the Minister of Finance approved the news release that went out on June 30?
That is why we are here today.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Jovanovic, I understand—
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to my colleague for giving me the time.
I am outraged. I know that people who know me know that I hide my outrage quite well, but Mr. Fast feigned to speak on behalf of small business owners and entrepreneurs here in Canada, indicating or claiming that our government is accusing them of X, Y or Z. In fact, I believe entrepreneurs know and understand that our government has always believed in them, continues to believe in them, and has been supporting them, really, from day one of this pandemic but also well before and well into the future.
I believe that Mr. Dan Kelly from CFIB does represent small businesses. He tweeted his thanks earlier today to Minister Freeland. I have the tweet in front of me, in which he says that both the minister and her officials are to be thanked for the “clear message that this new law will be respected” by the Department of Finance and CRA. He says he shared with the Deputy Prime Minister that “CFIB will work closely with [the government] to protect the integrity of the tax system by closing any gaps that may be identified”. Even Mr. Kelly is looking forward to working with our government in order to implement safeguard measures and work with us to close any loopholes.
Mr. McGowan, I think you indicated earlier that you are also looking forward to working with such stakeholders as Mr. Kelly at CFIB and others. Is that correct?
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I must say that I'm very pleased to see Mr. Maguire here. He certainly deserves the credit for bringing forward Bill C-208. As other members have also said, though, Monsieur Emmanuel Dubourg from the Liberal caucus also brought forward something very similar, as have the Bloc and the NDP over the course of the last many years.
Mr. Maguire, you also mentioned that this issue has been discussed and debated for the last 20 years. For 10 of them, there was a Conservative majority, during which time the Conservative government of the day could have brought forward these measures.
I have a few questions for Mr. McGowan.
Since this morning, people have been bringing up Quebec and the integrity measures in place there. I was wondering whether you were inspired by anything in particular. Also, could any of Quebec's rules be implemented countrywide?
Talk about that, if you would, Mr. McGowan.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. McGowan.
As a proud Quebecker, I am always pleased when Quebec leads the way for the rest of the country. You mentioned the integrity measures, of course, but Quebec's child care system is another example.
If I may, Mr. Chair, I'd like to give the rest of my time to Ms. Dzerowicz.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
My regards to Mr. Bédard and Mr. Dufresne.
My regards also go to my colleagues and all the members of the team that makes it possible for the committee to run. It's really nice to see them in person, although it's during the first week of the construction holidays.
That said, a committee's gotta do what a committee's gotta do.
Let me start with a brief comment. Yesterday, I was delighted to see the news release from the Department of Finance, which reversed its position and its decision. I think the announcement of the emergency meeting of this committee may have prompted the department to say that the law is the law, as was reported in The Globe and Mail this morning. So I take my hat off to all the members of the committee, and in particular to the chair. I think we have succeeded in changing things here.
Mr. Dufresne, we are talking about the rights, powers and authority of the House. In the first news release, how were those not respected? How do you think that was corrected in the second news release?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you. That is very clear.
At the beginning of your opening remarks, you reminded us that you advise Parliament, the House, its committees and elected officials, and you said that this is more or less what the Department of Justice does for the government.
Let me add an editorial comment. I would be very surprised if the Department of Justice officials thought that not including a date in the bill meant that the government could put it into effect whenever it wanted.
I think the government, the Prime Minister and his team, thought that this bill was not quite working for them and that they would try something. I am sure that the Department of Justice would never have misled the government in that way, which is why the emergency meeting of the committee today was so important and why I think an updated news release was issued.
Larry Maguire, who is here with us, can correct me if I am wrong. In a CBC article yesterday, we are reminded that the first reading of Bill C‑208 took place on February 19, 2020. It's now 2021. Yesterday, the journalist reminded us that 527 days passed between the first reading of the bill and its implementation following royal assent.
Mr. Dufresne, can you remind the members of the committee and those listening of the normal stages that a bill must go through? Also, at each of these stages and during those 527 days, when could the government officials have suggested amendments or proposals to make the bill consistent with what they wanted to do, as they said they wanted to do through a future bill?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, that is very clear.
So there are several stages in the House and in the Senate where the government officials could have said that the bill was not perfect and that they would have preferred to make amendments to it. That was the reason the government gave us in the first news release for choosing not to implement it now.
But there was a 527‑day delay, and at each stage, the government could have made amendments. We have a minority government. We can work together, and we saw that was really the case at the Standing Committee on Finance. That is the beauty of a minority government where all members of Parliament work together. But as far as I know, the government officials did not submit any amendments. I would say that they “were asleep at the wheel” because they had 527 days to bring forward the amendments they wanted.
I would also point out that similar legislation exists in Quebec and that safeguards have been put in place with respect to our concerns about the whole issue of tax evasion. The Quebec Minister of Finance actually reminded me that it was working well. The federal government officials have therefore had all the time they need to draw inspiration from it, to propose that such guidelines be put in place, to ask what others think of them, to discuss them and to invite experts and other witnesses to the committee.
As far as I know, the Liberals did not call any witnesses or submit any amendments to the committee. So they were really “asleep at the wheel” and missed an opportunity. I'm very pleased that there was an about‑face in the news release yesterday.
That's the end of my questions to Mr. Dufresne and Mr. Bédard. Their answers shed light on the situation. My thanks to them for being here.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Let me proceed very quickly, because I have several short questions for Mr. Dufresne.
Earlier, you mentioned that, the day after a piece of legislation was enacted, you had never seen a department say that it would delay its coming into force because it contains no date.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Dufresne, you said earlier that a government can amend tax measures, apply them and implement them before a bill is passed. However, if I am not mistaken, the bill must have been introduced in Parliament beforehand.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
In your view, would Parliament be breaking the law if it announced now that it intended to make amendments to Bill C‑208 and put the new measures in place immediately?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
What would happen if the government actually decided not to implement Bill C‑208 today and did not get parliamentary approval later?
Who would be held accountable, given that there could be a change of government or an election? What would happen to all the victims, farms and small businesses that could not make the transfer according to the details of Bill C‑208?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
So the current government could announce what it wants, such as making tax changes. Afterwards, aggrieved people would have to go to court.
That possibility creates a lot of uncertainty for all small business owners who want to transfer their business now. The news release creates even more ambiguity because we don't have the details of a possible bill and what the government intends to do.
I have one final question for you.
The news release issued yesterday mentions that the measures are in effect now. But there was another one on June 30. In your opinion, will the people who would have benefited from the good news that Bill C‑208 was enacted between those two dates be adversely affected?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I will wait until Mr. Gerretsen is listening.
After what I just heard, let me remind you of the basic factors. We are here because something very serious happened. Parliament passed Bill C‑208, which is extremely important. When I first ran for office, it was the first issue people talked to me about. Farmers were saying that they had to choose between their retirement and their children, who wanted to take over the farm. The farmers would lose their pensions if they sold it to them, so they were wondering what to do.
Members from every political party brought this bill forward to the House. As I said earlier, after 527 days, it was passed and it came into force. The government issued a news release saying that it would come into force later. The Liberals are therefore saying that they will not honour the will of the House, which is very serious. That is why members from each party have asked for this emergency committee meeting today, to emphasize the seriousness of what is happening.
Much reference is being made to the news release issued yesterday afternoon, just prior to the committee meeting. I am sure that this correction made through the news release is directly related to the fact that the Standing Committee on Finance did its job and announced an emergency meeting. It is very important to remember that what is voted on in Parliament must be respected and that the government cannot act like a tinpot dictator by not implementing what it does not like. We live in a democracy, and that is not how it works.
Let me come back to you, Mr. Dufresne.
Yesterday, in the press release, the government announced its intention to make amendments in keeping with the spirit of the bill. The Liberals gave us their word. As they have said and as you have reiterated, this must be done through a whole new legislative process. In short, Parliament will have to pass a new piece of legislation.
Is that the case?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Actually—
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Okay. Thank you.
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Let me begin by thanking you as well, both as chair and as a member of our government's caucus, for your leadership on all things related to finance, and in that vein, also for calling this meeting of the finance committee at the end of July, when the House isn't sitting, in order to clarify matters in relation to the coming into force of Bill C-208. As others have said, I believe you are a giant in the House of Commons, sir, and a mentor to so many of us. I would like to thank you.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Ms. Rachel Bendayan: This was mentioned earlier this morning, further to questions from different members. I would really like to unequivocally confirm on behalf of the government that any amendments to safeguard our tax policy or to avoid artificial tax planning in connection with Bill C-208 would not be retroactive. As stated in the press release of yesterday, new proposals would apply as of the later of either November 1, 2021, or the date of publication of the final draft legislation. I hope that clarifies matters for my friends and colleagues.
I also want to add my voice to those of the previous speakers and stress the importance of parliamentary supremacy.
So my first question is for the representatives of two organizations that are here to represent our dear farmers.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, I am particularly interested in the issue of intergenerational transfers.
As we all know, most farms are SMEs. The 2016 census showed that more than half of all farms are sole proprietorships, and nearly a quarter of those report as family businesses.
I feel that our government has demonstrated that we are here to support our SMEs in all sectors, including the agricultural sector, which I believe has 200,000 businesses in this country. If we look at our government's record during the pandemic, we see that it has provided $1.4 billion to the agricultural sector through our wage subsidy and $50 million, in the agricultural sector alone, for rent assistance.
There is also $5 billion in additional funding for Farm Credit Canada, $125 million for AgriRecovery to help producers with the additional costs of COVID‑19, $50 million for redistribution of unsold products, and more.
My question is about the Act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of a small business or family farm or fishing corporation). Now that we have clarified that this act has actually been in effect since June 30, what are the biggest issues you are facing today, from a tax perspective?
Ms. Bissonnette, you have noted that the transfers are quite complex. Could you start?
Do you have any suggestions or concerns from a tax perspective that you want to mention to the government today?
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That's great. I heard you loud and clear. Thank you, Ms. Bissonnette.
Perhaps we could go to Ms. Robinson.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning to all the witnesses.
Thank you for your very interesting presentations.
I will begin with a comment for Ms. Bissonnette.
Thank you for your presentation. You had a question. It could even go to the senior officials this afternoon. I was delighted to hear that we already had the answer from Ms. Bendayan, who was speaking on behalf of the government. She assured the companies that will be doing family transfers that the next bill amending Bill C‑208 will not be retroactive.
I commend and thank the government for sharing this commitment with us.
Before I turn to questions, I have a comment in response to the discussions we have heard at this meeting.
Senior officials in the Department of Finance may have had concerns about the implementation of a bill, but I don't think that's at all an excuse. In the previous hour, Mr. Dufresne, the Law Clerk of the House, appeared and told us that. He knows full well, as does everyone here, that, when a bill has no implementation date, it comes into force on the day it receives royal assent.
Mr. Dufresne reminded us that the government, the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and everyone else in government, relies on the Department of Justice to advise them on this matter. There is no better resource than the Department of Justice for advice on how legislation works. Everyone in the government knows full well that when royal assent is received, the legislation is in force, that is how it works. Even if the government did not know that, the senior officials have no excuse and cannot say that they did not know either. The minister and the government are responsible. If they didn't know, they are like boy scouts in short pants and that's inexcusable. It is completely unacceptable.
I have one other comment. According to yesterday's Radio‑Canada article, between the first reading of Bill C‑208 and royal assent, there were 527 days, or a year and a half. At each stage, at first reading, second reading, third reading, report stage, committee and Senate, the government could have proposed amendments. If it had done its job as a government in any serious manner and if it had said that it had concerns about tax evasion, which are perfectly valid, why did it let this go on for 527 days? Then it decides to have a new bill, and we gather that it will likely be after the election. They are creating uncertainty by saying that they are going to propose their amendments. Yet they had 527 days to do so. Once again, it smacks of boy scouts in short pants. It is really sad.
My last comment before my questions is this. Yesterday, we received the news release that corrected the situation and the Parliamentary Secretary, Rachel Bendayan, spoke on behalf of the government. Phew! We saved the bill, it's in effect and it will be implemented. I am very pleased about that.
I want to commend the work of all the members of the committee. I think the fact that the committee called an emergency meeting enabled the government to make this correction. I particularly want to raise my hat off to the chair of the committee.
Thank you for this meeting, Mr. Chair. It has changed everything.
Let me proceed with the questions.
I'll start with Ms. Bissonnette.
Your presentation was excellent. You mentioned that 70% of Quebec farmers want family succession. You have a dairy farm. How much is an average dairy farm worth when you include the fields for grain and everything else? On average, what is it worth in Quebec?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
You are saying it's millions of dollars.
How much did it cost parents to sell their farms to their children rather than to strangers, before the legislation was passed?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
So, deciding to sell your farm to your children meant giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars and the passage of the Act to amend the Income Tax Act (transfer of a small business or family farm or fishing corporation) corrects this injustice.
You said that you have been pushing this issue for 15 years. In 2015, when I ran for office, this was the first issue I heard about. Farmers are well mobilized, and so are the small and medium‑sized businesses. It's really very important.
Don't stop, keep going. Let's hope that, in the end, we will get there.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First, perhaps because I am not a regular member of the committee, I do not share the enthusiasm of my colleague from the Bloc Québécois about the comments of the parliamentary secretary and yesterday's news release.
I would remind you that Bill C‑208 was voted on by Parliament, but all members of cabinet voted against it. The Department of Finance issued a news release noting that the bill would not be implemented until January 1, 2022.
As a former chief of staff, I can tell you that a news release of this nature is not issued by the Department of Finance without at least someone in the minister's office having seen and approved it. It's a very important item and a major change in terms of finance. More importantly, it is a major change in terms of the implementation of legislation that has been passed by Parliament. A news release of this nature could not be issued without the approval of the office of the Minister of Finance.
My question is for Ms. Bissonnette, whom I know well because I have met her on several occasions.
Without being afraid, would you be able to recommend, today, that a family proceed with the transfer of its farm, knowing that the government has already announced that there will be amendments to Bill C‑208?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Do you think the government should be clearer and more specific in writing? Should it give you specific information rather than just words in a news release?
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake for the transferors and for those who want to buy the farms. A lack of clarity has created uncertainty and vagueness that may cause some farm families to wait and to have no trust at all.
I remember that the government has often said in the past that it would not touch supply management. We were often told that there would be compensation. But basically, we still don't have a clue about the compensation resulting from the Canada‑United States‑Mexico Agreement.
Don't you think this adds a layer of uncertainty for all producers that is really not necessary?
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Ms. Bissonnette.
I'm going to turn my time over to—
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'd certainly defer to you on the rules regarding relevance, but I believe that this meeting was called to discuss the coming into force of Bill C-208.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, can we have some time to study the motion, since it's the first time the committee is seeing it? Can we have 10 minutes?
View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
Obviously, we in the NDP were also disturbed when we learned from media reports that almost the entire Liberal caucus had given a portion of its parliamentary funding to a company called Data Sciences, which is in part responsible for running the Liberalist database. Another company, NGP VAN, is also paid by the Liberal Party of Canada to run the database.
The lines have been blurred; this is a grey area. People are rightly asking questions. Is the Liberal Party of Canada spending parliamentary funds on a database that it uses for partisan purposes? It is entirely appropriate for us to ask that question, especially since Data Sciences is owned by Thomas Pitfield, a personal friend of the Prime Minister. It feels as though the record got stuck at the same spot and history is repeating itself: the Liberals are helping friends of the Liberal Party and making no bones about reportedly using taxpayer money to do so.
Questions have to be asked. The facts have to come out. No stone should be left unturned in getting to the truth.
We agree that Mr. Pitfield should appear as a witness. We need to hear from him. We have questions for him. However, we don't want this to turn into a free-for-all or some flagrantly partisan spectacle. In light of the unanswered questions before us, we think two hours with Mr. Pitfield would probably be long enough to ask the necessary questions, and obtain the clarity and information to either reassure Canadians or worry them even more.
We are amenable to the motion that was put forward by the member and is currently before the committee, but we would like it to specify that the committee will hold only one meeting on the subject. With only one witness, two hours should be plenty of time for the committee to examine the issue. We are not interested in spending all summer on this. It would be a misuse of taxpayer money to drag this out doggedly if the issue could be dealt with in two hours.
We are in favour of holding one meeting with Mr. Pitfield as the witness.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Usually, it's quite nice to see everyone in person, but to be honest, I don't sense much enthusiasm in the room today, and I wonder why. In the past, we have seen Mr. Barrett muster up a lot more passion for other issues. Perhaps the reason is that there is nothing to this issue, so it can hardly arouse any passion.
I do, however, want to take this opportunity to answer a basic question. What does Data Sciences do? Allow me to explain.
I, for one, know that the firm provides my office with technical support. Mr. Gourde, Ms. Gaudreau and Mr. Boulerice will probably understand when I say that finding IT support in French is really tough, especially for English-based software. Data Sciences provides that service. It is a Canadian company that hires bilingual employees with the skills to provide us with the service we need.
I went over the monthly invoices, and they look like any other invoices for technical support: $200 here, $149 there. The company provides a valuable service for my French-speaking constituents and staff. That is what the company does. An American company can't provide services in French. As for the company's anglophone services, the fact that it's Canadian makes it that much better.
Those of us on this side are wondering what the point of all this is, but at the end of the day, we know full well why we are here. We know exactly why the members across the way don't want to let the summer go by without summoning us to Ottawa. Suddenly, it's no longer time to talk election, even though they have repeatedly voted against the government. In their minds, it's time for the fake scandal of the summer, as I like to call it, and they are doing their darndest to stir one up.
I feel really sorry for everyone out there who hung around Mr. Trudeau in the schoolyard when they were children. I imagine that, right now, someone is compiling a list of all the Prime Minister's friends from school. “Found one; let's investigate. Here's one who owns a business; let's check it out.”
We've seen it all before on this committee, haven't we? Luckily, we were meeting virtually then, not in person. People with the slightest hint of a connection to anyone in the Liberal Party were called as witnesses. They were hauled before the committee so members could pick holes in their story. They were regular folks. I'm sure everyone recalls the appearance of Martin Perelmuter, one of the owners of Speakers' Spotlight. I found it uncomfortable to listen to the questions asked of him and others. He was simply doing his job—hiring people to give talks—but he had the misfortune of doing business with someone connected to the Prime Minister. That was all it took to unleash the name-calling. It was all over social media.
Mr. Chair, I'm still waiting for certain members of the committee to apologize, for that matter. Luckily, the chair apologized at the time, but I'm still waiting for their apologies.
I won't get into all that, though, because I would have a whole lot more to say on the subject.
I was glad, however, to see the media report on political parties' collection and use of data. That is already an important issue here, in Parliament, but it does not fall within this committee's purview. Matters pertaining to the activities of political parties are normally dealt with by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs or the Board of Internal Economy.
This committee deals instead with public office holders, in other words, those who hold the position of minister or top public servants. It is not the committee's job to investigate what goes on in this person's or that person's office. I'm looking at you, Mr. Gourde, but it could just as easily be my, your or Ms. Lattanzio's office. That is not the committee's job.
In a moment, I'm going to ask the clerk to recap the committee's mandate for us. It's been a long time since we've all reviewed it together. I know that you, Mr. Boulerice, have experience and know exactly what I mean. Every committee has a specific mandate and purpose. This committee examines matters pertaining to four commissioners, the Ethics Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and I forget the fourth one. Can anyone help me out?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That's it, the Information Commissioner. In fact, we had plans to study access to information issues. We wanted to do more work in that area.
That said, the news articles before us mention more than just the Liberal members and poor Mr. Pitfield, who has the misfortune of being Justin Trudeau's friend. The Conservatives are also mentioned. According to the reports, the Conservatives have their own system. If I understand correctly, it isn't paid for by the House, but the purpose is to reach out to citizens who are not necessarily donors or voters. It's combined. I'd like to know more about the system; I think it's very interesting.
I'll tell you something, Mr. Barrett. Ten years ago, I donated $50 to the Conservative Party. That was in Jim Flaherty's day.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That's the truth. Jim Flaherty was working on financial literacy. Do you know that I still receive emails from certain members sent from their Assistant 1 accounts? I made a donation to the party, but I receive emails from constituency offices. Interesting, isn't it? Perhaps we should look into that. I think it's very important.
Let's get back to the information before us relating to the Liberal Party. We've had contracts with these two companies for years. The company with the odd name—what is it again? Here it is. It's called NGP VAN. That company provides the software. It's a long-standing contract. It's the same company we deal with for the Liberalist database, but there's what they call a firewall between the two systems. All the big IT companies have that because of all their different clients. If another party ever wanted to do business with the company, it could have the opportunity.
Nevertheless, we've seen all the attempts by the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes—what a lovely name for a riding, by the way. He and his party are going out of their way to find the name of every single business person who is a Liberal. It's actually not a crime to be a Liberal. We all have our political allegiances in life. We want people to engage in civic life. We want people to be politically active. That's what democracy is all about. According to Mr. Barrett, however, it is unacceptable to own a business and do business with our party. Clearly, this is yet another witch hunt. They have found nothing. Isn't that right? The Ethics Commissioner released his report, but the findings probably weren't what the opposition members were hoping for.
As I said earlier, I'd really appreciate having the clerk talk about the mandate of this committee and that of the Board of Internal Economy. It may not cover everything, but I have a snippet here.
This is what the Standing Orders say about this committee's mandate:
(h) Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics shall include, among other matters:(i) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Information Commissioner;(ii) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Privacy Commissioner;(iii) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner;(iv) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Commissioner of Lobbying;(v) the review of and report on reports of the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with respect to his or her responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act relating to public office holders and on reports tabled pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, which shall be severally deemed permanently referred to the committee immediately after they are laid upon the table;
That brings me to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vi):
(vi) in cooperation with other committees, the review of and report on any federal legislation, regulation or standing order which impacts upon the access to information or privacy of Canadians or the ethical standards of public office holders;(vii) the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders;and any other matter which the House shall from time to time refer to the standing committee.
It's clear, then, that the committee's mandate relates only to the work of those four commissioners or a special project, such as the one on the security of personal information or the one on new technologies, which we tried to undertake and hope to have a chance to complete. Nevertheless, the parliamentary institution that deals with issues of a more political and partisan nature, and matters relating to the expenditures of members is the Board of Internal Economy.
We have all seen cases where members misused their funding and had to go before the Board of Internal Economy to defend themselves. They faced fines or restrictions as a result of their actions.
As we all know, the Board of Internal Economy is made up of members from every recognized party. That is one of the principles of Parliament: members are to settle issues related to the activities of other members.
Here we all are, meeting today. I'm not sure what things are like in your neck of the woods, but we are probably all trying to enjoy a bit of downtime with our families. In my province, things are good and we are able to go out. I've even participated in a few activities put on by not-for-profit organizations. Businesses have been able to hire students. Things are good, and we are able to serve our constituents. That is the whole point of using any software to manage constituency work. For instance, these systems help us identify where farmers who need to be consulted are. Right now, I'm consulting with stakeholders and organizations that work with people with disabilities. It's really important to have access to systems like these, which help us do our job. I hope no one here is going to dismiss the importance of having access to service in French as well. I hope everyone understands just how important it is to have this type of technical support available in both official languages.
It's hard to stop once you get going, but I will leave it there. Now I'll switch to English to explain what I'd like to do.
I will now move the following amendment:
Whereas section 52.6 of the Parliament of Canada Act states that, in relation to the BOIE, “the Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1)”, I move that the motion be amended by adding, after the word “That”, the following:
the issue of contracts related to Data Sciences be referred to the BOIE. That the issue of the CIMS system which facilitates partisan election related actions to be taken from constituency offices and parliament hill offices to determine if they are in compliance with the rules set out by the Board also be referred to the BOIE.
I have it in English only. Can I send it to you?
View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
NDP (QC)
I do, indeed, have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
The Liberals' amendment is in English only. Is there a French version? If not, it is out of order, in my view.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Usually, we have it translated, but this time, I have only the English version. My apologies.
If you give us a bit of time, we can have the amendment in French. I should say that it's largely based on the wording from our package.
Should we work on it, and...?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'm sorry, but my amendment would remove everything afterwards. It is a request that it be moved that—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, could you just read the amendment, then, and the motion as it would be amended?
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I understand what my colleague just said, but in terms of the interventions that have been made here this morning, the original motion of my colleague speaks to “in light of recent media reports”. Well, media reports, if we base ourselves on the various articles of The Globe and Mail, have discussed not just the ones that are pertinent to what my colleague is putting into his motion. We've spoken about the CIMS and Populus and about other data that have been used by all of the various parties. I think on that point, the amendment of my colleague Ms. Shanahan is very much on point.
Mr. Barrett, you make reference to “in light of recent media reports” on this issue. The issue, if I'm understanding you correctly, is with regard to using constituency data for political purposes. The participants this morning have referred to these media reports. I think that's why you came up with this motion.
In all fairness, Mr. Chair, I think the amendment is very pertinent.
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