Hon. Percy E. Downe: Honourable senators, my question is for Senator Harder as well. Today is the third anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers from one company in Panama that had thousands of names on their files, including the names of 894 Canadians. We find out today that in the last three years countries around the world have recovered $1.2 billion. Canada, however, in the last three years has recovered zero dollars.
Why does the government allow people who hide their money overseas to avoid taxes to get away with this?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question and, frankly, for his ongoing interest on these matters and other subjects that he gives attention to. That is good for us. It also gives me an opportunity to report to him and the chamber that he will not be surprised that fighting tax evasion is a high priority of this government and is the basis on which the government has invested $1 billion in the fight against tax cheats.
With respect specifically to the Panama Papers, I can report that 894 Canadians have been identified, that 300 have been identified for audit and that 116 audits have been completed. In addition, last week the agency responsible, the CRA, executed two search warrants related to the Panama Papers in an alleged $77 million tax evasion scheme.
The work continues. It is a high priority and one that this government places great emphasis on.
Senator Downe: The government keeps saying it’s a high priority, but the results belie that statement. Other countries around the world have collected money. The Australian government, in the last three years, has collected $92 million. Spain has collected $164 million. The United Kingdom collected $252 million, and even Iceland, a smaller country than Canada, $25 million.
Today, we have zero collected. The CRA talks about how complex it is. They also talk, as Senator Harder did, about the $1 billion investment as of the end of 2017; 11 per cent of that has actually been spent. That’s another promise that is a high priority, but the actions belie the reality.
We all understand that we have to pay taxes. We debate what the rate should be. We all have to contribute to infrastructure, to health care. Those of us who don’t have children in school anymore pay taxes so that the education system can educate those who have to go to public school.
Why does the government allow Canadians to hide money overseas and not contribute their fair share? Why do they allow this to continue?
Senator Harder: I thank the honourable senator for his question. I think his question misinterprets what I have said with respect to the commitment of the government. The government is absolutely committed to ensuring that everybody pays their fair share. That is why it has made the investments I’ve referenced. That is why they have executed the search warrants. That is why the audits have taken place.
This is, as the honourable senator himself recognizes, a complex matter. But I will take this occasion, as I have in the past, to remind the minister responsible of the attention given to this question by this chamber and by the honourable senator in particular.