PQ teams up with Ottawa to reap billions from offshore tax havens

QUEBEC — The Globe and Mail

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to questions in the National Assembly on April 10, 2013. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Parti Québécois is setting aside its many long-standing differences with Ottawa in a bid to help collect billions of dollars in taxes hidden offshore.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said on Wednesday she supports “without any reservation” the federal government’s effort to obtain a list of those who allegedly use offshore accounts to avoid paying income taxes – and is working out a way to team up with Ottawa if and when it launches legal action.

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A list of 450 Canadians who hold offshore accounts was published this week as part of a more extensive file that included 30 years of confidential financial data from 10 offshore tax havens listing about 130,000 names of people from around the world. About 40 Quebeckers are said to be the list, according to documents obtained by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – of which the CBC is the only Canadian member.

The CBC refused to comply with a federal government request to release the list of Canadians with savings in hidden accounts. Quebec is also demanding access to the list and will either undertake legal action of its own or be part of Ottawa’s case.

“There’s a refusal to give us access to the list of names, which won’t stop us from taking whatever legal means available to us to get the information,” Ms. Marois said in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The Liberal opposition claimed that the names of as many as 40 Quebeckers could be on the list and demanded that the Parti Québécois set aside its differences with Ottawa and support whatever legal action is needed to obtain the information.

“It goes without saying,” Ms. Marois said. “For me it is a must, it is a requirement for the government to make sure that all citizens act within the law and pay the government what it is owed.”

Quebec is the only province with its own income-tax collecting agency. Residents are required to file two separate tax returns, one to the Canada Revenue Agency and the other to Revenu Québec. If the province were an independent country, it wouldn’t have to rely on Ottawa to intervene on its behalf with foreign countries to stop tax evasion abroad, said PQ House Leader Stéphane Bédard.

“I’d like to have bilateral relations with other countries but that isn’t the case. So the federal government must intervene with other countries,” Mr. Bédard said. “We will support whatever measure is needed to retrieve money that is owed Quebec in these tax havens.”

Michel Cormier, news director at Société Radio-Canada, the French network of the CBC, said the corporation will “fight tooth and nail” to protect the journalistic independence of the media against political interference.

“If we begin to reveal sources, on the one hand we would appear to be doing the work of the police and on the other hand we would be telling people from whom we seek confidential information that we will betray them once we get it,” Mr. Cormier said in an interview with RDI, the CBC’s French-language all-news network.

Federal Revenue Minister Gail Shea said this week that Ottawa was working with the United States and all other countries “to explore all our legal options to obtain this list.”

In France and Germany, the media also refused demands by governments in those countries to obtain the list of names of their taxpayers holding offshore accounts.

The CBC has argued that holding an offshore account was not evidence that any illegal activity had taken place. The news organization said it will pursue its journalistic work to confirm the information obtained through the CIJ and release stories in due time.

Last week the CBC reported on a Canadian offshore account held by Tony Merchant, husband of Liberal Senator Pana Merchant. Ms. Merchant is named as the beneficiary of the $1.7-million account held in the Cook Islands. The federal revenue Minister said she has asked the Canadian Revenue Agency to investigate any suspected tax evasion. Under Canadian law proceeds from an offshore account must be reported in all tax returns.

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