Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity as the small business critic to meet with many of the co-operative organizations across the country that want to be more engaged by the government. They want to be active participants. They are active participants in the economy, but they are not perceived or seen by the Conservative government as contributors.
When we talk about proposals for small businesses, such as the youth hiring tax credit, the elimination and reduction of a lot of the merchant fees, ensuring that people can transfer their businesses from family member to family member without having to go through all of the taxes that come with that, the government refuses to listen. We are proposing ideas that will help save small businesses and co-operatives money now and keep the money in their pockets. By doing that, they will reinvest in their businesses and co-operatives and bring more people in together.
I think of Eat Local, which is a great food co-operative in Sudbury. It is getting more and more members now who continue to invest in the business. As they invest in the business, more and more small businesses go into the small business. What happens? We create jobs and we grow the economy.
I am not sure there was a question in there, but the member for Sudbury has the opportunity to comment.
It does, Mr. Speaker.
New Democrats are not alone in expressing our concerns about this impact. As I said, it is worrisome that there is no mention of the word “environment”. It is also reprehensible. New Democrats will specifically seek to address this in an amendment during the committee stage of the bill's proceedings.
We have some validators on this. Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, has underscored the importance of ensuring the proper enforcement of health and safety regulations, stating that “Regulations, and their proper enforcement, can literally save lives. But sometimes only a horrific mishap will make the point”. Unfortunately, we recently had a very stark reminder of what can happen when deregulation runs amok with the tragic incident at Lac-Mégantic last summer.
The labour movement is not alone in underscoring the importance of regulations that protect the health, safety, and environment of Canadians within the context of the bill. In the lead-up to the introduction of Bill C-21, Laura Jones, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, who has been quoted numerous times by the other side, stated that rules that are necessary to protect health, promote safety, and protect the environment are important and should not be classified under the definition of red tape.
What is most concerning about this sloganistic approach to easing the paper burden on small business is that the Conservative and Liberal track records from the past when it comes to safeguarding regulations and standards that protect the health and safety of Canadians have been abysmal.
As I mentioned earlier, the tragedy in Quebec has put rail safety in Canada back in the spotlight after decades of deregulation by the Liberals and then Conservatives. Largely, this descent into deregulation can be traced back to 1999 when the Liberals further deregulated rail safety by continuing to implement the safety management systems approach adopted by Mulroney's Conservative government. This approach has allowed rail companies to self-regulate rather than requiring them to adhere to operational safety standards jointly established by government and the industry. Unfortunately, we have seen a shocking example of how unchecked deregulation can cut short the lives of dozens of individuals and reek havoc on an entire town in what seemed like the blink of an eye but was really the result of a slow march toward a dangerous self-regulatory approach.
Further, with its October 2014 budget implementation act, Bill C-4, the Conservatives introduced changes to the labour code that will significantly restrict the powers of health and safety officers in federal workplaces. This is yet again an attack on Canadian workers that could have serious consequences for individuals in the workplace.
Let me speak briefly as to why the issue of health and safety regulations is so important and why New Democrats believe they should be exempted from the mandate of Bill C-21. In Canada, over 1,000 people fall victim to workplace accidents every year, while a growing number of Canadians are losing their lives or suffering from work-related illnesses. Regrettably, this number has been going up for the past 15 years.
I think we can all agree in the House that any injury, any death in the workplace, is one too many. Unfortunately, all too often families are left to pick up the pieces when loved ones are suddenly taken away while on the job. No one should ever have to leave their home in the morning wondering whether today is the day they die at work. In our country, three people are killed on the job every working day. Left behind are families and friends devastated by the loss of their loved ones.
Given the sad reality of how tenuous health and safety conditions continue to be for many of Canada's workers, it begs the question: If the Conservatives are really serious about the health and safety of Canadians, why not explicitly exclude regulations that protect health, safety, and the environment from the application of the bill?
New Democrats need more than the government's word or the preamble of a bill, which is subject to interpretation. We want assurances that the one-for-one rule would not apply to regulations that impact the health, safety, and environment of Canadians.
Canada's entrepreneurs are resourceful and innovative by nature. They are well positioned to succeed in the 21st century economy. However, to help them create the jobs we need in Canada, we need to make sure government is providing new entrepreneurs with the services and the supports they need to succeed. For instance, there are a variety of government services to assist businesses, but as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has pointed out, they are offered by many different governments, different agencies, and different departments. Finding and applying for the right service can also be time consuming, and many small business owners are forced to hire expensive consultants to navigate that bureaucracy. That needs to change. However, Bill C-21 does nothing to address this growing concern.
One aspect of this issue, which often gets lost in the conversation around the need to reduce the paper burden, is that dramatic cuts to the public service represent an additional layer of red tape for small business owners as they are forced to wait longer for the answers they need to maintain and grow their businesses.
New Democrats were staunch opponents to the cuts made by the Conservative government, cuts that have had a major impact not just on our most vulnerable citizens but also on business owners who are placed on hold in what can seem like a never-ending queue. While the Conservatives like to brand themselves as the party that is open for business, their cuts to front-line public services has left a closed sign hanging in the window of government service delivery during precisely the time when small business owners need a leg-up because of the economic downturn. This has left entrepreneurs out in the cold, not to mention the impact it has had on job recovery in our country.
That is why the bill is such a misnomer. On the one hand, the government is using a sloganistic approach to improving the efficiency of government in responding to the needs of our job creators. Then, on the other hand, it has undermined the ability of the government to deliver services and respond to inquiries from those very same job creators with its reckless public sector cuts. New Democrats believe the government should be focusing on real measures to help small business owners grow their businesses and not just half measures through a self-promotional bill.
If the Conservatives truly wanted to help small businesses they would not be dragging their feet when it comes to taking real action to curtail the excessive fees credit card issuers charge merchants. Small businesses are being gouged every day. On average, they must pay about $200 or more in fees for every $10,000 processed. Despite dismissing a recent case against Visa and Mastercard, in a rare move the Competition Tribunal called for a regulatory framework to deal with anti-competitive practices. So far, the Conservatives are really only paying lip service to the plight of small merchants by finally admitting that action is needed to lower merchant fees.
I could talk about the time when I went to the great riding of Winnipeg Centre. My colleague from that great riding and I went out to talk to small business owners in the Forks, which I think is the name of that great little place that is around there. We had business owners trying to track us down to talk to us about their concerns with respect to how much they are having to spend every year, some of them talking about tens of thousands of dollars, just to be able to accept credit cards, and the credit card fees that they have to pay. Some of them have even said they have had to stop taking them, which is having an effect on their businesses. They said they were not hiring people. They were not expanding their businesses because of these fees they were having to pay.
Unlike the Conservatives, the New Democrats have common-sense proposals to help merchants, such as creating an independent government body to crack down on the anti-competitive merchant fees that stifle small businesses.
As well, training is important. As a party, we New Democrats know that smaller businesses do not necessarily have the resources to hire human resources managers to identify training opportunities and programs for staff let alone expertise to apply for government training programs. Training new employees costs time and money, and we sympathize with business owners who do not want to pony up the money to train employees only to have their competitors poach them and reap the rewards of their investment. Canadian business owners need to have the opportunity to have their workforce improved, because we have seen it fall by almost 40% since 1993.
We have also called for a youth hiring and training tax credit of up to about $4,000 to reward small and medium-sized enterprises that would give our youth their first chances to have well-paying jobs. Eligible businesses hiring Canadians between ages 18 and 25 could get up to about $1,000 for hiring a young employee and another $1,000 to match funds for the training of said employee. This tax credit would double in regions of the country where youth unemployment is highest, up to about $2,000 for each component. That is $4,000.
In tough regions in the north, such as my riding of Sudbury, we have higher unemployment. I have been talking to many of the small-business owners in my riding, and many are saying that something like this would be a benefit for them. We have three great post-secondary institutions in my riding putting out great graduates: Collège Boréal, Cambrian College, and Laurentian University. This would actually help those graduates get those great-paying jobs.
Again, noting that this bill, in our opinion, is sloganistic, we really need to find other programs that would work to really help small businesses. It is small businesses, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, that are the economic drivers and the heart of our economy. It is the small and medium-sized enterprises.
We need access to financing to help small-business owners grow their businesses. We have a strong start-up culture here in Canada, but entrepreneurs find it hard to access the funds they need to grow their business. New Democrats hear every day from experts and business observers that Canada needs a stronger venture capital market and access to more investors to help entrepreneurs grow their innovative ventures into real successes. Unfortunately, too many promising Canadian start-ups are sold off to U.S. investors before they can reach full maturity, because their owners just cannot access the financing to bring them to the next level. Budget 2013 increased taxes on small-business-friendly credit unions by over $200 million. That is money the credit unions could be using to continue to invest in our small businesses.
The Conservatives are also planning on phasing out their discounted tax treatment for labour-sponsored venture capital funds, which provide a critical source of investment for business owners, especially in Quebec.
Looking back at all the things we have been talking about that could be done right now to help small business, we have not seen any action by the current government. What the Conservatives have done is bring forward this bill that talks about reducing some of the red tape and the paper burden.
To conclude, regulations that are in the public interest should be maintained. It is not just a question of managing the number of regulations on the books but of determining which regulations are working for Canadians and which regulations are not working. This is a sound approach. What I am talking about is public administration.
By not even mentioning the word “environment” in the preamble and in this bill causes us great concern on this side of the House. While of course it is important to protect the Canadian economy and important to ensure that there is health and safety, we cannot have any of those three items without protections for the environment. It talks about the air we breathe and the water we drink and the places we reside. We need to ensure that those protections are put in place.
While we agree that we want to reduce the administrative burden on small businesses, we really do not have faith that the current Conservative government would do just that. It has a history of deregulation with no regard for the health and safety of Canadians. As I talked about earlier, there has been example after example of that.
One of the other things we could do right now is help businesses plan for the next generation in retirement. Entrepreneurs of the baby boomer generation are approaching retirement, and many are unsure of how they will dispose of the businesses they have spent a lifetime building. New Democrats know that entrepreneurs find it difficult to properly value the worth of a business they have poured their hearts and souls into and that finding a buyer who can raise funds to pay the right price can be challenging. A lifetime capital gains exemption protects business owners when they sell their businesses from paying taxes on capital gains of up to $800,000. These earnings will often be the source of retirement funding for many business owners.
Unfortunately, rules in the tax code can make it cost more for business owners to sell their businesses to members of their own families. Talk about red tape. New Democrats think we should make it easier, not harder, for family business owners to pass on their businesses to their kids. We support examining the tax code to make sure that a business passed from one family member to another has access to the same lifetime capital gains exemption of $800,000 as any other business that is sold. In talking about reducing red tape, we also need to ensure that we are looking at the tax code, something the government has not been talking about.
I am very pleased to stand and speak to this issue that is very important to our party. As I mentioned, my party knows that small businesses and medium-sized enterprises are the heart of our economy and are the job creators in this country. If we can find ways of reducing red tape while protecting our economy, our health and safety, and the environment, that is what New Democrats would propose.
The electoral district of Sudbury (Ontario) has a population of 92,161 with 74,228 registered voters and 212 polling divisions.
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