Parliament Video: Jenny in the House: Tax Fairness in Budget 2018

On February 8, 2018, Jenny rose to speak about this:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to support the motion introduced by my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

Eleven months ago, government members voted in support of an NDP motion that recognized that the federal government was losing tens of billions of dollars annually to tax loopholes, deductions, and exemptions that mostly benefited the ultra-rich, and that the use of offshore tax havens was costing the government more than $7 billion annually. Government members voted in support of the NDP's call to close those loopholes.

Almost a year later, where are we on the promise to act? Sadly, we are still losing more than $7 billion annually due to offshore tax havens and nearly $1 billion annually to the stock option deduction loophole. By continuing to refuse to tackle tax havens and tax loopholes, the Liberal government is showing us what its priorities really are. Those priorities are not everyday Canadians, or even our national heroes.

Breaking an election promise, the Liberals have refused to reinstate lifelong disability pensions for veterans. The Prime Minister even had the audacity to tell a wounded veteran in Edmonton last Monday that the government cannot afford to take care of the people who have sacrificed their health, their limbs, and their lives for our country. Worse still, in Vancouver, there are some 100 veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Housing is a basic human right that should be afforded to every single Canadian, especially those who have fought to protect our rights and freedoms.

On the topic of basic human rights, in B.C. right now there are 19 drinking water advisories in effect in 17 first nation communities. Three of them are do-not-consume advisories. That means that for those first nation communities, the water is not safe to use even after boiling. I would ask members of the House to imagine what that is like and ask themselves this question: do they find this acceptable, when Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, or do they think that Canada can do better? Should we not use the billions of dollars of lost tax revenues from CEO stock options and tax havens to pay for these critical services?

This week, The Hill Times, as part of a series on constituency offices, profiled my staff and office in Vancouver East. Vancouver East is an incredibly diverse riding, with over 70 different languages spoken and an incredibly vocal group of activists who always keep me on my toes.

In the heart of my riding, in the Downtown Eastside, a person dies almost every other day from an overdose. It was estimated in December 2017 that the number of opioid-related deaths in Canada could exceed 4,000 for 2017, yet the federal government still refuses to acknowledge this crisis as a national health emergency. How is that possible?

The Downtown Eastside is the epicentre of Canada's opioid crisis. Front-line workers and first responders in my riding are struggling to keep up. Over the holiday season, I visited all the fire halls in my riding. Firefighters told me about the trauma they were experiencing in witnessing not just one person overdose during a shift but multiple overdoses. The impact of responding to these tragedies takes a toll, and our first responders deserve to be taken care of too. The former Minister of Health promised to provide resources for first responders, yet to date, there is nothing.

For the chronically addicted, no action has been taken to ensure that there is a full range of treatment options available to them. If the government had the courage to act, redirecting just a small portion of the lost revenues from offshore tax havens to programs to address the opioid crisis, it would save lives.

Similarly, it would mean that seniors and veterans struggling to pay for prescription medications and dental care would have the care they deserve. An aboriginal mother in my riding who has, over the years, donated hundreds of artworks and cedar weavings to local schools is skipping her cancer medications because she cannot afford them.

For the life of me I do not understand why the Liberals voted with every one of the Conservative members to reject the motion of the member for Vancouver Kingsway to begin negotiations for a universal pharmacare program. I do not believe that is what Canadians want from a government that promised real change. I believe Canadians think that we can do better.

If loopholes for offshore tax havens were closed, many of the government's departments could use a boost in funding. Why? Processing delays continue to plague every government department. Let us look at immigration. People have to wait years to get a hearing with the IRB because there is a backlog of over 40,000 cases. Government phone lines, whether they are for IRCC, Service Canada or the CRA, are underfunded and understaffed. My constituents complain every day that they cannot get through to anyone on these phone lines. Last week a constituent called my office in tears because she could not get through to Service Canada to report her father's death and requested that our office call instead and relay this information on her behalf. The fact is that when the government chooses not to properly fund programs and services, people suffer, the real people in our communities, not the people who can go on vacation to a private island or who forget that they have a French villa.

It is not that our government does not have the tools for collecting money. The issue is who it wants to go after. My constituents tell me every day that our government is very good at collecting money. I have a constituent who makes an income of about $4,000 a year from the sale of her art whose taxes have been sent to collection. The government has the tools in place to go after those individuals. I know another single mother whose child tax benefit is being held back because she cannot produce receipts to demonstrate that she has child care. She does not have child care because she cannot afford child care, yet her child tax benefits are being held back because of that. How does that make sense when we have these kinds of situations going on?

When we look at what the government is doing, it promised almost a year ago that it would go after the ultra rich, the top 1% of the income earners, to close these loopholes. Almost a year later not only has it not closed those loopholes, but it has signed more treaties with tax havens to allow for more advances on this front. Then we have the government members saying it was the only way they could establish a path to close those loopholes and go after those tax evaders. That is simply not true. If they had read the agreement, they would know that those new agreements indicate that it is entirely a path to ensure that they do not have to pay any Canadian taxes at all. It further legitimizes these kinds of tax-evasive manoeuvres. Frankly, it legalizes them and authorizes them to go forward.

When we are talking about tens of billions of dollars, imagine what that money could do in every single riding represented in this entire chamber. Imagine what that would mean for a family who could not afford to put food on the table, for people who are living from paycheque to paycheque, for people who suffer mental health challenges and all of a sudden find themselves on the street. Imagine what our Canada would look like if we made this change.

The government has said that it cannot do it, that it is doing so much already, and that the NDP is always demanding more. Of course we are demanding more. Who are we demanding this for? Why are we sitting in this place? I am sitting in this place because my constituents need their voices heard. They want Parliament to work for them, not for those who the government has said are the middle class and those working hard to try to get there, because the government is not really working for them. It is working for the fat cats. It is working for the people who have already made it.

That is not what this motion is about. This motion is about making change. Will the government have the courage to do that? If it does, it should show it in budget 2018."

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