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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?
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