It appears that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister knows a thing or two about offshore tax havens.
The Journal de Montreal is reporting that both Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his Parliamentary Secretary Francois Philippe Champagne were, at separate times, directors of Bionest, a company founded by Champagne's father seen with him in the above photo. It says Bionest transferred payments to one of its two shareholders through a company in the Turks and Caicos - a jurisdiction well known for offshore finance operations. The report indicates that Champagne approved some of those transfers.
Just a few weeks ago Champagne sat next to the Revenue Minister at an Ottawa media conference where they announced CRA plans to go after tax dodgers. He said there would be no safe place for tax evasion or avoidance. "Those who use their privilege to hide income and assets offshore, or try to evade or avoid paying the taxes they owe will be identified and will face consequences."he said. (Watch a Global News report on that conference here.)
Morneau says that he considers Champagne a friend as well as a colleague and believes he did absolutely nothing wrong. Tax havens are often used to dramatically reduce or totally eliminate tax on income. But the government has done nothing to make that practice illegal. Canada has committed to work with the G20 to strengthen reporting of financial investments and transfers. And this month, the UN, IMF, OECD and World Bank formed a new working group to monitor the growing problem - an estimated $32Trillion - of money hidden in offshore schemes and the resultant tax erosion.
Just days before this story was published,Champagne stood in the House of Commons Question Period to respond to NDP questions about reports of the Prime Minister's previous use of numbered companies and the Finance Minister's holdings in the Bahamas. Here is that exchange: (translated from the French):
Matthew Dube MP Beloeil-Chambly Mr. Speaker, here is the situation. We have a Prime Minister who is using numbered companies to pay less taxes and a Minister of Finance who runs a company bearing his name that uses the Bahamas to make bigger profits. Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians are paying their fair share of taxes. There is no problem for the wealthy. It is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. It is absolute hypocrisy. Does the Prime Minister realize that people are fed up with always seeing the same well-connected people benefiting from this system that does not work?
Francois-Philippe Champagne (Parliamentary Secty to Finance Minister) Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his question. This is the government that is tackling tax evasion. We talked about it in the recent budget and even during the election campaign. Well before the Panama papers, the Liberal team was saying that tax evasion was a problem that needed to be solved. In the budget, we allocated $444 million to give the Canada Revenue Agency the tools, technology, and teams it needs to do three things: detect and investigate fraud and prosecute the guilty parties. This is the government that is going after tax evasion.