Hon. Clément Gignac moved third reading of Bill C-8, An Act to implement certain provisions of the economic and fiscal update tabled in Parliament on December 14, 2021 and other measures.
He said: Honourable senators, I rise today as the sponsor of Bill C-8, An Act to implement certain provisions of the economic and fiscal update tabled in Parliament on December 14, 2021 and other measures.
Last December, while Canada was being hammered by the arrival of the new Omicron variant, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance saw fit to propose a range of new measures to help Canadians deal with the ongoing challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure the recovery of our economy. Those measures included financial aid to support small businesses, farmers, teachers, northern residents, seasonal workers and, of course, the provinces and territories.
Honourable senators, for the sake of efficiency, and since I already had the opportunity to do so when I rose in this chamber at second reading, I will spare you the detailed description of each of these measures.[English]
However, you should know that the Senate National Finance Committee held several meetings to study Bill C-8 in detail and received more than 30 witnesses. Moreover, allow me to recognize the work accomplished by my fellow members of this committee under the leadership of our chair, Senator Mockler. I want to especially thank Senator Marshall as the critic of this bill for her insightful comments during our deliberations.[Translation]
Honourable senators, most of the measures set out in the bill were unanimously supported by the committee members, but two measures were adopted on division: the new 1% tax on underused residential property owned by non-resident non‑Canadians, which is set out in Part 2, and a measure regarding the procurement of rapid tests to meet the needs of the provinces and territories, which is set out in Part 6.
With regard to the funding of rapid tests, it is true that the procedure that was used by the government caused confusion, but I feel reassured by the Treasury Board Secretariat’s assurances regarding the meticulous management of the allocated funds. As a result, my remarks will focus solely on Part 2 of the bill.
Part 2 of Bill C-8 enacts the underused housing tax act, which imposes a new annual tax of 1% on non-resident non-Canadian real estate owners. The government’s objective is to try to curb real estate speculation, and I support that objective.
This measure is intended to ensure that non-resident foreign owners who use our housing stock to passively store their wealth pay their fair share of taxes in this country. However, while I can’t claim to be a legal expert, I too am concerned about the constitutionality of this tax on residential property, given that the field of property taxation is traditionally under the purview of municipal governments.
Honourable senators, I asked the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, directly about this very issue when she appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance on May 31. Here is her answer, and I quote:
I agree with you that it is very important to be careful about jurisdiction, and I want to assure you that our government has no intention of using this as a basis to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. That is why the tax only targets certain types of markets and properties that are of greatest concern to Canada’s financial stability and to the affordability of housing, which is a very important economic issue for the entire country.
Honourable senators, at this point, I am taking the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance at her word, and I was reassured by her comments.[English]
However, as a former municipal councillor and senator from Quebec — just like my honourable colleague Senator Forest who is the former president of the Union des municipalités du Québec — I intend to keep an eye on things to ensure that the federal government does not enter a field of taxation that has been reserved for municipalities.
Before concluding, I would like to address a concern raised earlier this week by my colleague Senator Duncan about the timing of tax returns being held up because the Canada Revenue Agency, or CRA, is awaiting the passage of this bill. Following my own inquiry, the Department of Finance told me that the CRA is ready to release the funds quickly following the Royal Assent of Bill C-8.
Having said that, Senator Duncan, I could not presume or speculate about the timing of the result or the vote to be held in this chamber.[Translation]
In closing, let me once again thank all of my colleagues on the National Finance Committee for their thorough analysis and constructive criticism. I also thank Senator Gold’s team for their support throughout this process. When the time comes, I urge you to support Bill C-8. Thank you. Meegwetch.