Madam Speaker, if there is one group of Canadians that has been hard hit during the pandemic, it is small business owners, men and women who risked everything to build a dream, maybe a small boutique grocery store on main street, a specialty bakery featuring grandma's secret apple pie recipe, the butcher who was taught by his father how to make sausage like they did in the old country or a unique restaurant featuring a mix of Italian pasta and Lebanese kebabs. They all have one thing in common: They have all been holding on by a thread, trying to keep the business afloat long enough to make it to the other side of these restrictions.
Moms and dads work tirelessly besides sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, all leaning on each other to keep that dream alive. Even before COVID, these hard-working entrepreneurs laid it all on the line, hustling endless hours, with no sick leave, vacation pay, maternity benefits or RRSPs. They put every penny they made back into the business, investing in the future, building a legacy, something that made their community a better, more dynamic place to live.
A huge majority of these brave job creators and risk-takers work side by side with their families, guiding son or daughter in the art of providing services within their community. These are fathers showing sons how to grind the pork, beef and spices just so to create the perfect kielbasa coil; or a mother demonstrating the art of making fluffy pastry crusts for the next day's batch of fresh fruit apple pies, recipes and skills handed down by word of mouth, with a keen determination to pass on skills to the next generation, quietly passing on knowledge that would otherwise be lost. Shoulder to shoulder, the generations tend to customers and suppliers, making deals and creating jobs in their local neighbourhoods.
It is in this organic-style school of business that big government just cannot help but cause havoc by way of unfair taxes, taxes that disadvantage a father when selling the family farm to his son or a mother selling the French bakery to her daughter. After years of giving everything they had to build their dream, late nights washing dishes, early mornings mucking stalls, long hot summers sitting in the combine or cold hard winters packing tomatoes into crates, they finally are ready to lay down their tools and pass the business on to the next generation.
What do these owners find when they go to sell their firm? That the government considers them a tax cheat simply for wanting to sell to their children rather than a third party stranger. It has to be said that passing a business on from one generation to the next is no easy feat at the best of times. Many family businesses have had a hard time surviving the challenge, so the very last thing the government should be doing is making this more difficult by disadvantaging the transaction.
There are 1.1 million small businesses and farms across Canada looking, hopefully, to the passage of this bill, which would ensure they have a level playing field when it comes to transition of ownership between parents and children. In our own family, I know the many years of hard work that went into the planning for transition, and yes, we incorporated early on. That did not make us terrible, awful people.
First, owners need to ensure their bankers are confident that their children will be able to succeed going forward. They need to earn the trust of their customers and suppliers that the generation will be able to skilfully man the helm when they one step away. They need to negotiate the rough waters of family dynamics that play a huge role in family business succession. Quite honestly, passing a business on to our kids is far more difficult than just selling to a third party.
Selling to a stranger does not disrupt the harmony of family Christmas dinners. It will not damage people's ability to see their grandkids when bitterness creeps in between their kids. It will not cause rifts between fathers or brothers like a family business succession can do, yet government treats those who are willing to walk that hard road like uber-wealthy tax evaders who are only in it for the quick buck. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Family business succession is not for the faint of heart and takes years to accomplish, so why do we keep punishing families for wanting to pass on a legacy? Not only that, but the current system is totally disrespectful to the hard-working Canadians whose entire retirement savings are wrapped up in their small business. Currently, these savings are seriously impacted if they choose to try to keep the business in the family.
This bill appears to be very timely from the perspective of a COVID recovery plan, since we know our small businesses will be paramount in helping us get our economy back on track when we finally reopen.
We all know that family businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities. Honestly, I cannot wrap my mind around why the government would punish parents and children for being willing to put their blood, sweat and tears into a small enterprise only to be considered tax cheats for the simple desire to pass it on to the next generation.
Consider the story of a couple who owns a business in a small town, wants to retire and relies on the sale as their retirement fund. This sort of thing happens all the time. Now imagine the couple was hoping to retire and sell the business to one of their daughters who has been working with them for years. She is excited to take over from her parents and continue building on their legacy.
In the meantime, they are approached by a much larger, non-related company that has no local ties. This larger corporation would want to produce the goods in the bigger urban centre where it is based, possibly even overseas. Ultimately, this would mean completely shifting jobs and economic activity out of the local community.
As happens often, when they did the math with their accountant, they discovered it would cost up to 67% more in taxes for their daughter to buy their business than for a stranger, simply because she was their daughter. It makes no sense that we do not have a level playing field here, especially considering how much communities gain from family farms and businesses run by successive generations. It is clear that a robust COVID-19 recovery will need healthy small businesses that are owned and operated by passionate local entrepreneurs, and that this bill would make a huge difference for local family-run businesses that want to keep their work in the family.
Because this bill is critical for small, family-owned businesses, how many people have actually opposed the bill? As we can imagine, it has overwhelming support across the country including from the Chicken Farmers of Canada, Grain Growers of Canada, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and chambers of commerce, just to name a few, not to mention every Canadian small business owner who seeks to keep their business in the family.
For too long this situation has continued unabated, but why is that? Looking at similar bills that have come before Parliament in recent years, it seems that a significant reason they have never made it through Parliament is the advice that tax analysts give to the government of the day. The complexity of the Tax Act, which creates these disadvantages for family-owned businesses, was meant as an anti-avoidance measure.
I understand the need to safeguard against tax avoidance. That is why there are safeguarding measures built into the bill. However, the way the laws are currently set up, all business owners who seek to keep their businesses in the family are being punished because of the few who might try to game the system and avoid paying taxes. In typical fashion, we are punishing the wrong people. There will always be a chance that someone is trying to cheat, but contrary to the Prime Minister 's belief, most small business owners are not tax cheats. Most small businesses are not simply shell companies created for wealthy Canadians to avoid taxes. Only the wealthy elite who have never had to sweep the floor in their father's grocery store or sling bales on their uncle's farm would believe something like that.
Over 50% of Canadian small business owners wish to pass their businesses on to family members. Nobody in their right mind thinks that 50% of small business owners are looking to cheat on their taxes. I think we all agree that they deserve a level playing field. They do not deserve to be forced to choose between being hammered with extra taxes, which put their retirement in jeopardy, and selling their farms outside of the family and outside of the community.
Whoever is suggesting that we oppose this bill needs to remember that it is our job to serve the public, not the other way around. It is important for the government to remember it is time to show some political leadership and say, “Look, Canadians are being treated unfairly and we are going to fix it.”
If the government will refuse to show leadership on this, thankfully I am confident that Parliament will. We are, after all, the voice of the people. We need the bill to pass to ensure that our most valuable asset, the job creators and risk takers who make our communities strong and resilient even in the face of a devastating pandemic, are able to thrive. I call on all my colleagues to support this bill and bring fairness back for the little guy.