Income Tax Act
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to get up after my friend, the long-serving MP for Malpeque, who never lets the facts interrupt his rhetorical flights in this place.
I enjoyed the fact that he said, mere days after the revenue department confirmed a $1 billion surplus for November, that he still thinks that is fiction, even though the Parliamentary Budget Officer has confirmed that the previous government certainly left a surplus. It was so good in a tight global economy that despite the Liberals’ best efforts, they are still accruing the surpluses in their first few months of government. The facts state that quite clearly.
I am very pleased to rise here today in relation to Bill C-2, an act to amend the Income Tax Act.
It is Bill C-2 for a reason. Probably the majority of members of the House are new members of Parliament. They may now know that the first bill, “an act respecting the administration of oaths of office”, is a formulaic standard bill that starts off a session. Therefore, Bill C-2 represents the top priority of a new government coming to office.
Bill C-2 would codify what the Liberals brought Parliament together for six days after they won the election in October of last year, which was to raise taxes on Canadians. Nothing suggests the priority of the current government better than Bill C-2, which is why I thought I would rise in the House.
What I find most ironic about Bill C-2, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, or an act to raise taxes, is that it confirms the age-old nickname for the Liberal Party in this place. A nickname is a term of endearment. I respect anyone who comes to Canada’s Parliament, doing their best for the country, but Conservatives for generations, long before my colleagues or I have been here, have accused the Liberal Party of being the tax-and-spend party. What has happened is that the Liberals’ early record in their first few months of government confirms that.
My friend from Malpeque confirmed that. He tried to suggest that it was fiction that the last government, the Conservative government, left Canada in a surplus position, but that is exactly what the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed last fall. In fact, the Finance Department confirmed the numbers from November of another surplus month. Therefore, the country was left with a modestly growing economy and a surplus.
The two things the government did in the short period of time it governed in 2015 were to make massive commitments for deficits, well above what the Liberals spoke to Canadians about during the election, and they raised taxes. This is one of those occasions for the pundits who often ask why the Conservatives call the Liberal Party the tax-and-spend party. It is because in the first three months of government, the Liberals are raising taxes and spending out of control. That is just the record that we are debating here today with their first bill coming to the House of Commons.
Why I think this is important is that it is setting a tone. This is not a bill that debates assistance or investments in a resource sector that needs some help, as well as the families affected by the downturn in resources prices. They desperately need help, and see mortgage payments on the horizon that scare them. It is not a bill about that.
The bill is about taking more from Canadians in the form of creating a new tax bracket in an already fairly complex tax code by taxing Canadians in the highest bracket more for income over $200,000. It is also a procedure to lower the amount that Canadians can shield from tax through the tax-free savings account by reducing the amount that people can contribute to that very popular device brought in by our previous government and my friend, the late Jim Flaherty, who was finance minister. This vehicle not only allows families of all income levels to save free of tax, but it is also very helpful for people approaching retirement. I heard that and still hear that daily. These are the two measures that are before us in Bill C-2.
Nothing concerns me more, not just as a Conservative but as a member of Parliament who came out of the business community before I was elected to office, than the new government’s apparent lack of direction for our economy, even in its first few months.
Many of the members who were elected in October did not get a chance to see their Prime Minister when he was a third party leader. About a year ago, he refused to ever commit to running deficits. In fact, he took a position that was somewhat similar to what the government had adopted, because Conservatives worked hard over the course of many years, following the global recession, to balance Canada’s books. Doing that requires decisions by government. Government is not intended to just say yes to everything, increase every budget line, and hire more people in every department. It has to set priorities, make decisions on spending, and look at the tax base to determine if Canadians can afford higher taxes in order to pay for more people in a certain department. These are the decisions of government.
A year ago the Prime Minister, then the third party leader, was committed to running a balanced budget, as was, of course, the Conservative government at the time, and it was not until an election campaign that it changed. For a few years, the fundamental economic position of the Liberal Party was one of fiscal prudence. In the middle of an election, there was a change in direction, a considerable change, perhaps for election advantage, perhaps because of a philosophical change, but it changed to running a $10 billion deficit. That was the commitment that the party talked about with Canadians. It was a temporary deficit of only $10 billion so that the government could fulfill some commitments and add some additional infrastructure money on top of the already substantial building Canada plan that the previous government had put in place.
Within the first few weeks of government, before the House was even called back in session and before you had the honour of occupying that chair, Mr. Speaker, that $10 billion commitment was already $20 billion. If we read the papers, as many members of the House did, a week or so ago, we now see the finance minister hedging perhaps two years of $25 billion deficits. Did Canadians vote for that? Did Canadians vote for the first two moves of the new government to go from a probably improper $20 billion deficit commitment to a $50 billion deficit commitment?
The new government’s first act in this place was to raise taxes on Canadians, a tax increase that Liberals told Canadians would be revenue neutral. That is yet another promise that appeased people during the election campaign but was not met and has already been abandoned. Ironically, it was the C.D. Howe Institute, a think tank that the finance minister once chaired, that said that these tax increases would not be revenue neutral for a variety of reasons. From a public policy standpoint, those in the higher tax brackets are more mobile, so there could be a risk of driving more people out of Canada, out of our system of taxation.
I was reading just this morning in The Globe and Mail the great column by Konrad Yakabuski, who identified this tax increase as a risk to a lot of the tech entrepreneurs and growing sectors, as well as the fact they are going to treat stock options as income, which is another thing. Compounded with the fact that our dollar is going down, the government seems to be set on driving talent out of this country at a time when a lot of people are looking for an economic plan that is far more than a Keynesian tax-and-spend approach, with no strategic direction and at a time when it is actually hampering the increased revenues that are possible if we could get our resources to tidewater with energy east. There was a debate in the House last week when the Prime Minister seemed to be putting in place a system and series of consultations and reviews that would essentially mean that capital leaves Canada because of the uncertainty of our business climate.
It is with sadness that I rise today to say that Bill C-2 confirms the nickname of the Liberals as the tax-and-spenders of Canada. I certainly hope that subsequent bills start showing some real direction for the Canada of the future.