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Perspectives — September 26-28, 2017
Perspectives — September 26-28, 2017
October 3, 2017
OPINION

Montreal’s new flag, the federal government’s proposed tax changes and bridge tolls were some of the highlights for senators this week.

Government

Canada has been celebrating its 150 years of history in style this year, but another significant milestone also deserves recognition. This year, Montreal is celebrating 375 years of history!

If you visit Montreal, you may notice that the iconic city flag has been updated and a new version is now flying proudly around the city. As part of the reconciliation process with First Nations peoples, the City of Montreal has added an Indigenous symbol to its coat of arms: a white pine tree in a red circle at the centre of its flag. I applaud this symbolic gesture that represents Montreal’s deepest roots. The gold-coloured pine tree symbol added to the flag reminds us of our history, but also represents the path to a promising future for everyone who calls this city home, a city I am so proud of.

Previously, the city flag, which was first flown in 1939, paid tribute to Montreal’s French, English, Scottish and Irish roots.

The path to reconciliation must include concrete measures that communicate the sincere desire to reopen a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. This new addition to the city’s coat of arms acknowledges that Indigenous peoples were here thousands of years before the city of Montreal was established. It leaves a proud legacy for our children and helps put history in perspective.


Opposition

We would like to congratulate Senator Yuen Pau Woo and Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain for their election to the positions of leader and deputy leader of the Independent Senate Group (ISG). I hope to meet soon with them and have constructive talks to ensure the Senate operates more effectively and productively.

Again this week, the governments proposed tax changes are being denounced by many experts. Tuesday, at the House of Commons finance committee, Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Ron Bonnett told that “Farmers have concern with the breadth of the proposals, the limited consultation occurring during harvest, and the immediacy of their coming into force.”

In a statement, the President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said "We are alarmed by the huge gap between the government's statements about the impact of their proposals and the detailed analysis by Canada's tax professionals. Tax practitioners are united in the view that these changes have the potential to affect all small business taxpayers, no matter their income."

Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia and Quebec have all recently expressed their concerns with Minister Morneau’s proposals. These are provinces led by governments of different political stripes — Conservative, Liberal and NDP — and they have all publicly recognized the harm that could come to their citizens, their businesses and their communities from this proposal.

We are pleased that the Senate adopted a motion by the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance to study these proposed tax changes despite the new ISG Leader's opposition.


Senate Liberals

As a Prince Edward Islander, I have long been concerned with the issue of bridge tolls, the 12.9km Confederation Bridge being the only year-round link between the province and the rest of Canada. The decision in 2015 to eliminate the toll on the new replacement Champlain Bridge in Montreal stands in stark contrast to the hefty toll charged on Confederation Bridge, leading to fundamental questions about fairness and consistency in the funding of federal infrastructure projects.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to put this question to the Hon. Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, during his appearance before Question Period in the Senate:

Hon. Percy E. Downe: Minister, as you know, Prince Edward Islanders pay a toll of $46.50 — let me repeat that: $46.50 — every time we cross Confederation Bridge, which is owned by the Government of Canada. Confederation Bridge, as you know, is a replacement for the ferry service that was a condition under which Prince Edward Island joined Confederation.

The Government of Canada is building two other bridges: the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, and the Champlain Bridge in Montreal. All three bridges are owned by the Government of Canada, so why is the Government of Canada pitting one group of Canadians against another group by charging tolls on two bridges but not on the other one, which will be toll-free? After all, Confederation Bridge is a replacement bridge for the ferry service.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!


Independent Senators Group

This week, Independent Senator André Pratte from Quebec shared his perspective on the Senate.  

The Senate’s choice to study Morneau’s reform

Should the Senate be involved in a matter before the government has finalized its policy in that area? Senators weighed in on that very issue this week when the Senate’s Committee on National Finance suggested launching an exhaustive study of the tax reform proposed by the Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau. This reform has proven to be controversial. The government has been carrying out consultations since the summer, and has already said that changes will be made to the proposed reform.

During the debate on whether the committee would study the matter, some senators said that it would be premature, and that it would be better to wait until the government has submitted its final proposal. Others, including myself, were of the opinion that, if the Senate would like to have an influence on government policy, it is better to be involved sooner. I also pointed out that many Canadians want to express their views on the proposed reform. The Senate is the only public forum available to them; it is our duty to listen to them.

In the end, senators gave the National Finance Committee the green light. This week, the committee will begin its study on the government’s tax reform. It will hear from both Finance Canada officials and various tax experts. As part of its study, the committee will travel to the Atlantic provinces and the Western provinces to hear from Canadians in those regions. Residents of Quebec and Ontario who would like to express their opinions on the matter are invited to appear in Ottawa. The committee will report to the Senate on November 30.