House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-209, introduced by the member for Jonquière.

Madam Speaker, the bill proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to permit individuals to deduct an undetermined percentage of their public transportation costs. These costs would include service by bus, subway, commuter train or light rail. To be eligible for a tax deduction, individuals would be required to provide supporting vouchers indicating the amounts paid for the use of an eligible public transportation system.

I should point out that the bill goes beyond or is different from what has been proposed by the Canadian Urban Transit Association. Notwithstanding that, this is an excellent initiative on behalf of the private member.

I will start by emphasizing that this government is very much committed to seeking ways to encourage more individuals to use public transportation systems in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, addressing climate change is a priority of our Opportunity for All agenda. Encouraging greater use of public transportation could certainly help us move toward this objective.

Regarding the specific option of a tax deduction for public transportation costs, I would point out that some important fairness and effectiveness considerations should be taken into account. Let me take a moment to explain some of the difficulties the bill raises.

First, it is not clear that this measure would result in the desired increases in the number of public transit users. The measure does not address the matter of new users and therefore we may imagine that it would be current users of public transport who would benefit the most from it.

We all know that the cost of public transit is often a small factor in an individual's transportation choice when weighed against other considerations such as accessibility, convenience and personal preference. Consequently, if the increase in ridership was small, there would be little benefit in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

We must also consider the fairness of introducing a tax measure that would mostly benefit individuals residing in large urban centres with extensive public transit systems.

The inhabitants of smaller centres and rural areas, where accessible and convenient public transport is not always available, would not benefit from this measure.

It is for these reasons that the tax system generally does not make provision for individual costs, such as public transit costs, in particular.

If it did, it would be equivalent to asking Canadians in general to subsidize the personal expenses of other individuals. This would not be fair, as personal expenses vary widely across individuals and reflect to some extent the personal preference of the individual incurring them.

The government recognizes the importance of examining cost effective ways of encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy. The government also believes that building on existing initiatives announced in recent budgets would likely achieve greater environmental benefits.

Let me also take this opportunity to explain some of the initiatives the government has already put in place to improve our environmental performance.

In budget 2000, the government allocated $700 million over a four year period to preserve and improve the natural environment, develop new technologies and effectively meet the challenges posed by climate change.

As part of this initiative, the government allocated $100 million to the establishment of a green municipal investment fund to provide loans in support of municipal projects in areas such as urban transit, energy conservation and waste diversion. An additional $100 million was also set aside for the establishment of a sustainable development technology fund to promote the development and demonstration of new environmental technologies, particularly those aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the environmental initiatives announced in budget 2000, the government also earmarked an additional $210 million over three years for the climate change action fund, which was set up in the 1998 budget to help Canada respect its international commitments on climate change.

Eligible initiatives under this program include those that demonstrate the best urban transportation technologies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In building on these investments, in our economic statement and budget update of October 18, 2000, the government allocated an additional $500 million over five years to address key environmental challenges such as climate change and pollution.

If we take into account the new environmental initiatives of $700 million in budget 2000, the government's investment in environmental measures in the year 2000 totalled $1.2 billion.

The government also indicated in the 2000 budget that it would be consulting with other orders of government and the private sector to reach an agreement on a creative and fiscally responsible plan to improve provincial and municipal infrastructure in Canada's communities. The federal government has allocated upward of $2.6 billion to this initiative over the next five years. Urban transit projects will be an essential component of this joint effort.

In conclusion, I am sure that all hon. members present today share, like myself, a very strong commitment to encourage greater use of public transportation systems in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, in light of what I have discussed, I hope hon. members also realize that providing a tax deduction for public transportation costs may not be the appropriate measure to achieve this outcome.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise this early evening to address Bill C-209, which seeks to amend the Income Tax Act and allow individuals to deduct certain public transportation costs from the exorbitant amount of income tax the government opposite extracts from them each year.

I would like to commend the hon. member for Jonquière for bringing forward an insightful and innovative amendment to the Income Tax Act. The merits of the bill are numerous, not just for individuals but for society as a whole, and I am delighted to bring some of them to the attention of the House this afternoon.

Perhaps before I do, I will just digress for a moment from my speech to say that I was very disappointed in the remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. It is quite obvious from his remarks that the government has decided yet again that it will be advocating that all the Liberal members vote against this particular legislation, and that should come as no surprise. The government is increasingly reluctant to offer Canadians any form of tax relief and of course that is what the bill sets out to do.

I seem to have struck a nerve over there because I hear them heckling even though hardly any of them are in the House.

The reality is that the remarks made by the parliamentary secretary dealt almost entirely with how the Liberals can shovel money out the door in all their grandiose programs and plans of how to spend tax dollars rather than offer Canadians tax relief. That is indicative of the way the government has operated and continues to operate.

As to the bill itself, the first benefit is the most obvious, that is, this amendment to the Income Tax Act would reduce the tax burden on Canadians, something the government opposite is reluctant to do and something our party has been advocating for years.

The bill will not go so far as to reduce taxes to the levels we have been promising Canadians, but it will nevertheless provide relief to some Canadians who so desperately need it. I am referring to the thousands of students, seniors and low income Canadians who rely on public transit as their sole source of transportation. For these people, driving their car to work or school is not an option since they usually do not have that luxury.

I need look no further than my eldest daughter, who lives with me in Ottawa and does not have the luxury of even owning a car. She is a struggling student, as so many are in our country, a fourth year student at Carleton, and she travels for about an hour and a half every day to get to university and then to get home in the afternoon or evening. She spends about three hours every day on public transit.

That is not unique to my daughter. Many students and many working Canadians in our country have to face similar long hauls on public transit. Without the public transit system, many of these people would be forced to quit their jobs or drop out of school. Without public transit, seniors would be unable to access essential services such as health care. Providing these people with a deduction for the expense of public transportation will not give them a windfall by any means. However, as anyone who has experienced the struggle of living paycheque to paycheque knows, every dollar does count.

There are also benefits to society beyond the immediate benefit to the individuals who use public transit. The implementation of this amendment would provide an incentive for commuters to leave their cars at home and begin or go back to using public transit. Often the cost of driving is only marginally higher than the cost of public transit. Most people usually elect to drive for no other reason than the sheer convenience of it.

The statistics on public transit highlight this trend. Only 19% of Canadians are frequent transit users and 11% of them are semi-frequent users while 22% are occasional users. An astonishing 48% of Canadians do not use transit at all.

This amendment will widen the gap between the cost of driving and the cost of public transit, giving public transit greater appeal and reducing the number of cars on the road. This single action is where the benefits to society begin.

One of the immediate benefits would be to the environment and consequently to the air we all breathe. For every bus we are able to fill, we are able to take up to 50 cars off the road. This is a critical number when we consider that six of seven major air pollutants come from cars and light trucks, which emit four tonnes of pollutants every year on average.

In 1997 Canada made an international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 emission levels by 2008-12. Despite the fact that Canada has yet to ratify the agreement, there is no reason for us not to at least attempt to meet our commitments.

We could simply follow the precedent established by our neighbours to the south and renege on our international commitment because of the downturn in the economy. However, this is not an option for Canada since we are consistently reminded by the Minister of Finance that Canada is immune to a recession.

Fortunately for the environment, this means that the Canadian government could withstand the minor tax exemption such as the one being proposed today.

Also of benefit to Canadians, which may not be as apparent as the immediate benefits to the environment, are the numerous benefits that accompany a reduction in the congestion on our roadways. Congestion is very costly to Canadians in terms of its impacts on the economy and road infrastructure.

Recent studies in Canada, the U.S. and Australia have estimated that congestion costs in urban areas are in the order of $1,000 annually per household. It therefore stands to reason that if businesses are able to move their goods to market more efficiently the cost of goods will go down. This is yet another example of how the bill would improve the lives of all Canadians.

The toll that congestion takes on our roads is self-evident. We have all experienced first hand the deplorable state of our national highways, the gridlock occurring in our major cities and the inability of growing towns to expand their existing road systems to accommodate population growth.

The government has made it very clear that it does not intend to spend any more than the current 4.1% of the $5 billion it collects in fuel taxes on improving our roadways. If we intend to retain the antiques we have, without further deterioration, we have to reduce the number of people using them.

The bill would hopefully provide the incentive for the people of Canada to take action where the government refuses.

I could continue with my praise of the bill, but I would like to take a few minutes to make a few comments on the whole issue of private members' bills and their place within the House. Each year the members elected to the House bring forward their ideas for improving the lives of all Canadians. More often than not, these ideas are allowed to fall off the order paper without having been given, in my opinion, due consideration.

I have been extremely fortunate that in the past two months my name has been drawn consecutively in the two private members' draws. This was an unprecedented opportunity for me to select and to present two of my six private members' bills.

The first, Bill C-237, was a bill that would have amended the Divorce Act to ensure that divorcing parents begin custody discussions on an equal footing. They would start out with joint custody and work from there. The bill was intended to remove children from the often bitter battles that accompanied marital breakdown to ensure that they could not be used as pawns during settlement negotiations. Put simply, the bill would have put the children's interests ahead of the divorcing parents.

However, the bill was not considered important enough to vote on by the private members' committee so it fell off the order paper after one hour of debate.

My second bill, Bill C-272, has not yet been debated but regrettably has been handed the same sentence: a one hour debate before it too drops from the order paper. The bill would have allowed adoptive parents a one time income tax exemption for expenses incurred during the adoption of a child. Unfortunately, the bill has also succumb to the same fate as my previous bill despite the apparent benefits to Canadian families and children.

While I appreciate the limited time the House has to consider legislation each year, I believe that as elected members we could be doing a better job of how we select and debate private members' legislation. An opportune time for us to examine these procedures is during the all party discussions on parliamentary reform.

As elected members, we owe it to our constituents to find a more effective means of bringing bills with merit into law. I am pleased that the process worked in favour of this particular private member's bill, Bill C-209, and I am pleased to express my support for the bill.

I will sum up by saying that I really hope the bill passes. I hope that it does not succumb to the same unfortunate treatment as my previous bill in the last parliament. That particular bill, after a lot of work and with the support of the majority government, the Liberals, was passed on to the justice committee. However, in the end, the Prime Minister called a premature election and the bill died at the committee stage.

The bill today, should it pass, would go to the finance committee where hopefully it will not suffer the same fate as my last bill. I urge all members to do support the bill and to vote for it.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, after hearing some of the comments from the member for the government side, I will alter some of my comments. It was forced upon me.

I will begin my remarks by indicating that we in the NDP support the private member's bill put forward by the Bloc member for Jonquière. We welcome the initiative that it shows. It is just one of a number of incentives and initiatives that would go some distance to resolving some of the problems we have with the burning of fossil fuel and other health and environmental problems that arise as a result of that.

Going back to the claims by my friend from the Liberal Party about all the things the Liberals have done, let me tell members about a personal experience I had in my home riding of Windsor—St. Clair because of something the Liberals did.

The automotive company, Chrysler at the time, made an arrangement with its union, CAW, whereby Chrysler's employees, who were members of the union, could purchase a large van at a reduced price to be used as a commuter van. A number of people who were commuting to the auto plant lived quite a distance away, some as far as 50 to 60 kilometres. The arrangement was that the employees could purchase a van at a reduced amount and that they would use the van during the week to transport other employees who were also commuting. This arrangement reduced the number of private vehicles being used by employees to between eight and ten, depending on the area of the county they were commuting from. It really was a substantial reduction in the use of private vehicles.

This went on for a couple of years and, lo and behold, the employees heard from Revenue Canada. All of a sudden these employees were being attributed a taxable benefit, and it was substantial. In most cases it averaged out to several thousand dollars a year and had to be paid back retroactively for the two years. This was a great endeavour on the part of the employer, an automotive company, and its employees to reduce the use of vehicles, and that was the response they received.

Another specific issue I want to mention, which has already been mentioned by my friend from Jonquière, is the effect automobiles have on infrastructure, especially on our roadways.

My home city of Windsor has a major problem with its roadways. As a direct result of the trade agreements and the amount of traffic those agreements have generated from Michigan and the U.S. generally, our roadways, which were designed to last 20 to 30 years, will now need to be replaced every 10 years or less. This will be paid for by the municipality. The initiatives we have is a great one because it would substantially reduce traffic and extend the lifespan of our roadways.

Another point I want to make about the trade agreements concerns the amount of increased air pollution and the environment. In the last month or two the environment committee, under NAFTA, which is based in Montreal, issued a report that specifically proved that the amount of air pollution has increased as a result of NAFTA, This is air pollution that has been identified as having increased quite dramatically in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.

What we would be looking for with this type of initiative in the bill is to reduce traffic. If we got the cars off the highway to some degree, it would make it easier for trucks to move along. We would have less air pollution from trucks because they would not be stalled and sitting in any number of locations, as is the problem at the Windsor-Detroit border and in a number of places along that corridor. If we could reduce the amount of auto traffic, it would make it easier for vehicles to move and would therefore reduce the amount of environmental degradation.

Living in the riding that I do, we often hear accusations that if we pursue these environmental type initiatives, which I see the private member's bill to be, it may jeopardize the jobs of auto workers.

The labour movement in this country has developed a transition program to deal with the changes that will inevitably occur as we move away from the extensive use of automobiles and the burning of fossil fuels by automobiles and, more generally, by factories and residences. This program would require government assistance and the co-operation of the labour movement, the employers and the government.

It is one that we will hear much more about over the next decade as we shift our lifestyle. As my friend from the Bloc indicated, it will require a just transition type of program to be put in place so that retraining will occur in the labour market. There may have to be some tax incentives in other areas. Compensation and assistance may have to be given to municipalities to deal with the transitions they would go through, and that is very important.

In terms of the assistance that comes from initiatives to move away from the attachment we have had to the automobile, other jobs will be created. As more public transit is used we will have an increase in the manufacture of trains, big vans and big or small buses. There will be more manufacturing of those vehicles, which would replace the loss of the manufacture of private vehicles.

If we move to alternate fuels we would be looking at the manufacture of wind turbines and windmills. This manufacturing process is quite adaptable to the plants that already manufacture automobiles.

The just transition program the labour movement has been developing analyzes all of this information. It will not be easy but it will be a useful mechanism that could be used to get through that transition.

We are in one of those phases, much as we were at the start of the last century when we moved away from the use of horses and the vehicles they drew. We will move away from total usage of private automobiles. It is an exciting time to be doing so. An initiative such as this is one of many that has to be followed. I urge the government to look at these initiatives and to move ahead.

We have had many questions in the last few days regarding the Kyoto protocol. My friend from the Conservative Party urges me to think in terms of not just getting the bill passed and ratified but beginning to implement it. Earlier this afternoon the minister was discussing this subject with some media people. I feel he is beginning to get the same message: that we have to move in that direction. I will wrap up by acknowledging and praising the work done by the hon. member for Jonquière. Our party will support the bill.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to have an opportunity to participate in the debate this evening. The overall context of the issue we are talking about is how it can improve environmental initiatives.

The hon. member for Jonquière is a very strong environmental member of parliament. That is why she has brought forth Bill C-209. Thank goodness for her bringing forth an environmental issue. The government has been very reticent from a legislative perspective over the last seven years to bring anything forward respecting the environment. Over the last seven years it has passed zero environmental pieces of legislation of its own initiative. There has been the mandatory review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, but we never saw that proactive initiative in the same context as we saw during the Conservative regime.

The learned member of parliament that you are, Madam Speaker, you will recall when the environment really mattered. The Conservative regime negotiated an acid rain protocol with the Americans. It brought forth a principal piece of legislation, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It even made initiatives with respect to bringing the world community together to fight ozone depleting gasses, which became the Montreal protocol.

The Progressive Conservative ministers Jean Charest and Lucien Bouchard had a tremendous record compared to the lacklustre condition of today.

Our party supported a very similar initiative brought forth by the former member from Kamloops, Nelson Riis. Our party thought that providing Canadians with some tax reduction was better than no tax reduction.

We should start rewarding positive initiatives. If the NDP is now advocating tax cuts and tax reductions, hopefully the Government of Canada will start embracing those particular aspects.

There is a dilemma here. Our party critic, the hon. member for Kings—Hants and vice chair of the finance committee, has pointed out that too often we utilize the tax system to leverage public policy. The downside is that it complicates the taxation system. It would be better if all Canadians were provided with broad based tax relief and a simpler taxation system.

We in our party are reticent to support the initiative brought forth by the member for Jonquière, but we do support the spirit in which she brought it forth. She is encouraging Canadians to use public transit in order to take away the gridlock on our road systems and to deter the wear and tear on roads. Also, it would ultimately enhance human health. Taking more vehicles off the roads would mean fewer hazardous emissions. The congestion we see on the roads also leads to more accidents and loss of life, so the spirit and the intent of this initiative should be supported.

Our caucus will be discussing the hon. member's bill. We supported a similar initiative when it was brought forth by the member from Kamloops, so we will reserve judgment. I am sure that my good friend, the member for Jonquière, will be lobbying me heavily in future votes.

Given that I have a few minutes remaining, it would be very appropriate to discuss one of the issues that we really need to think about in a more proactive way than we have over the last little while, and that is with respect to climate change as a whole. The government has really done zero with respect to reducing greenhouse gases. It has not begun to try to live up to our commitments with respect to the Kyoto protocol.

There is one thing I was concerned about that was a little revisionist, although we are going to reward good behaviour here as well. The hon. member for Prince George—Peace River pointed out that we need to reduce greenhouse gases. I remember the debate we had here in 1997 when his party was still challenging the science of climate change. There has been an epiphany at some point and that party now understands the consensus that CO2 clearly has a detrimental effect on our climate.

The Progressive Conservative Party would like to see a number of things in terms of addressing climate change. We should have massive tax reductions for the utilization of renewable sources of energy. We should have massive tax reductions for investment in energy efficiency initiatives. We should have massive tax reductions for R and D on renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency initiatives.

The federal government should lead by example and allocate a percentage of the energy it consumes to renewable sources of energy. We should be negotiating with the various industrial sectors as well. Instead of having voluntary initiatives or government from on high by regulation, we would rather negotiate with every industrial sector in the country on a sector by sector basis and agree to binding reductions as opposed to having regulations or doing it through voluntary initiatives.

Industry will play its part if it knows what the rules are. The government should establish the rules so that it can reward early action by providing further incentives when milestones are reached even sooner. There is a myriad of opportunities that tax incentives could provide. For example, the Danes use tax incentives and they have over half their energy provided by wind generated power. The government has to get its act together with respect to environmental initiatives.

The species at risk bill before the House has a framework that can definitely work. The problem is that it has four or five shortcomings that need to be improved. In order to protect species at risk the government should accept the amendments that will be presented by members of the NDP, the Bloc, the Progressive Conservative Party, and even some learned members of the Liberal Party. We should have a bill that we can celebrate as opposed to a bill that we merely have to accept.

The initiative of the member for Jonquière would encourage Canadians to use public transit. Bravo to the member. It would help human health by reducing toxic emissions in our cities and would save human life by reducing congestion.

The only concern our party has is that better ways need to be found to move the yardstick on public policy. We should be investing in our cities with more public transportation as opposed to nickel and diming it this way. The intent of the bill should be applauded.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham, ON

Madam Speaker, I will begin by congratulating the hon. member for Jonquière on her bill.

I think that the government fully supports her bill's objective, what she seeks to accomplish. It is just the method that is a problem. We think that there are alternative ways of accomplishing the same thing, but more effectively.

I should like to comment on how touching it was to hear the Canadian Alliance all of a sudden jumping on the green bandwagon and wishing to transfer all these funds to seniors and low income people.

It was touching but a little hypocritical. If one recalls the election campaign, that party had essentially no position on the environment. It had its so-called flat tax or single rate tax that would have produced the largest transfer of wealth to the rich. Suddenly the Canadian Alliance has changed its tune on this matter, and that is very nice to see.

The member for Fundy—Royal claimed that the government had done absolutely nothing on the subject of the environment. I would point out that it has committed $1.2 billion over four years for environmental projects. In the Liberal books, $1.2 billion is not nothing.

We need to do further work in this area. Public transit is a hugely important issue, especially with George W. Bush saying no to the Kyoto accord. Achieving environmental success in this area is all the more important because we may be more limited in areas such as forestry, oil and gas.

The Bloc member's basic objective is a laudable one, but we have more work to do in investigating alternatives on how to get there. What is the most efficient way of improving public transit? Is it through the tax system or through expenditures, for example through direct government support for public transit?

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise to get further clarification on a question I raised on February 27 about the softwood lumber issue that is now upon us.

I raised the fact that the four Atlantic premiers had written a letter to the Prime Minister, asking the government to renew the Atlantic accord which gives free trade and protection from litigation to the four Atlantic provinces.

I asked the question because time after time the parliamentary secretary and the minister would rise in the House and say that nobody wants the agreements renewed, referring to the softwood lumber agreement, when in fact four Atlantic premiers wanted the maritime accord renewed. That was the main thrust of my question at the time; but now, on April 4, the question is even more urgent and there is more support for the proposal to renew the maritime accord.

Governor Snowe of Maine supports Atlantic Canada's request to renew the maritime accord. She says it is working and it should be renewed. It is working in the interest of the U.S. and Canada. She wants it renewed. Here is the governor of Maine wanting it renewed and the Government of Canada will not renew it.

The people in the U.S. industry have recognized the unique situation of Atlantic Canada. Their petition to their government asks it to increase or to establish countervail duties and anti-dumping charges. The American industry says that the petitioners do not allege that softwood lumber production in the Atlantic provinces benefits from countervailable subsidies, and that this portion of Canadian production should be treated as it was in 1991 and 1992.

The American industry and the American government say that the accord should be renewed. The four Atlantic premiers say that the accord should be renewed. Even the province of Quebec came to our committee and said that it wants province specific treatment and that it supports the maritime accord being renewed. Now the Canadian industry in Atlantic Canada is unanimous in wanting the maritime accord renewed.

The fact of the matter is that the minister is out of step. Almost everybody wants the maritime accord renewed. There is a lot of confusion about the government's position in this regard. I learned today that some of the Liberals in Atlantic Canada are taking credit for the fact that the United States industry developed its petition and excluded Atlantic Canada. Somehow some of the Liberals in Atlantic Canada are taking credit for that.

Another part of the confusion in Atlantic Canada is the monitoring system which was just extended from the four softwood lumber agreement provinces. Suddenly, in the middle of the night on Thursday, the mills got a fax after closing hours saying that they now had to be part of the monitoring system as of Monday.

Today a B.C. industry, one of the leading industries in the softwood lumber business, is asking for a 15% export tax. There is a lot of confusion.

Let us agree with the Americans, the Canadians and the premiers and renew the maritime accord, put that aside, and then deal with the other issues across the country. Let us deal with the maritime accord, put it aside, and have that part of it done.

I ask the minister to get in step with everybody else. Again, the governor of Maine wants renewal of the maritime accord. The province of Quebec wants renewal of the maritime accord. The four Atlantic premiers are asking for renewal of the maritime accord. The Atlantic Canadian softwood lumber industry wants renewal. Even the U.S. industry wants renewal of the maritime accord.

Will the minister stand to say yes, we will begin the process of renewing the maritime accord?

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

London—Fanshawe
Ontario

Liberal

Pat O'Brien Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade

Madam Speaker, I acknowledge that the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester has been quite persistent on this file, as have all my Liberal colleagues from Atlantic Canada. We have heard no shortage of concern about the maritime accord.

The member raised questions about the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement. He specifically mentioned the letter from the four Atlantic premiers concerning the codification of the provisions of the maritime lumber accord.

As the member well knows, we are now in a situation which would be quite acceptable to everybody if the Americans would accept it. We now have free trade under the NAFTA rules for not only Atlantic Canada but for all regions. That is what we want for all Canadian regions.

The exchange of letters in 1996 confirmed the procedures for U.S. recognition that should a countervailing duty investigation be initiated during the five year period the maritimes would be considered to have not subsidized. The U.S. action does not target any program in Atlantic Canada. We think that is great.

We will continue, as the member asked, to advocate free access for lumber originating in the Atlantic provinces as well as free access for all provinces as provided by NAFTA.

As the member knows, the Minister for International Trade is a minister for all Canadians. He represents all Canadians on this file and he has to take into account their concerns. When he met on February 26 with U.S. trade representative Zoellick the matter was raised by the minister. It was one of the first topics he raised and the Prime Minister raised it with President Bush. It has had a very high level of attention by our government.

The minister put forward the idea of envoys. At first there was no great enthusiasm from the American side. Now it seems there is more interest in it. That would be very important. There would be wide consultation with the respective governments, including all provincial governments. We will pursue the matter of free trade for the Atlantic provinces but we want it for all Canadians.

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am rising to follow up on a question that I asked on March 14 which dealt with the ongoing existing crisis in Canadian agriculture.

Today I want to turn to an incipient crisis, a crisis that all Canadians and parliamentarians of all stripes want to avoid and to prevent by any means available to us. I am speaking of the potential for the foot and mouth outbreak in Europe to spread to this country. The risk from foot and mouth disease can scarcely be overstated. The economic impact the disease could have if it were to spread to Canada can scarcely be overrated.

Just looking at the province of Ontario 1996 production figures, we see that 24% of all farms in Ontario were beef farms and that 14% were dairy farms. Looking at my own riding of Lanark—Carleton, 60% of the farms in Lanark county, which make up about half the riding, were either beef or dairy. There were 130 dairy farms, 364 beef farms and 28 farms described as livestock combination and probably included one or the other.

In the part of my riding that has now been incorporated into the megacity of Ottawa, the township of West Carleton, a little over 50% of agricultural production is in beef or dairy. A disease that affects ruminants would have a tremendously damaging impact on my riding.

Looking at the 1952 outbreak in Saskatchewan of foot and mouth disease, which very fortunately hit only 42 farms before it was contained, caused $7 million of damage in today's dollars. However things have changed. The impact of this disease would be far more severe if it happened in Canada today because beef is such a prominent export for us. We could expect that borders would be shut for exports of Canadian beef.

Some countries, if faced with a foot and mouth outbreak, can continue to supply their domestic market, but in the case of Canada such an enormous amount of beef is exported that it is a crucial part of our industry. We would see tremendous damage done if there were to be an outbreak here. As a result I take this issue very seriously.

I attended the debate last night and listened with great interest to all speakers. I was involved last week in a press conference in which a number of Canadian Alliance MPs spoke to the issue. This week I am running ads in two newspapers in my riding on the subject to advise farmers of some of the things they can do. This includes alerting them to the government website that deals with taking preventive measures on their farms.

What I see being done is excellent in terms of slurry mats at airports, the turning back of British military vehicles and so on. However I am very concerned with the consistency with which these measures are being applied. We hear reports that they are not applied across the board. That worries me greatly as I know it does all members.

What is being done to ensure consistency of the application of these measures? Moreover, what is being done to ensure that information on measures individuals can take is being disseminated to Canadians?

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington
Ontario

Liberal

Larry McCormick Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Lanark—Carleton, who is a very successful business person, tabled a question about the main estimates. First I want to answer that and hope I have time for the foot and mouth issue.

The minister has said on several occasions since the main estimates were tabled that the budget allocated to farm income has not been reduced for the year 2001-02. On the contrary, we have increased our funding commitments to farmers.

Over the next three years we have committed to inject up to $3.3 billion of federal funds into the farm safety net system. With the provinces under the framework agreement of 60:40 cost sharing, this amounts to $5.5 billion over three years. As well, on March 1 the minister announced additional funding of $500 million which provides, along with the provinces cost sharing, $830 million more.

The year 2000 was a transition year. In the 2000-01 main estimates Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada had to account for both the 1999 AIDA program and the new Canadian farm income program, CFIP, for the 2000 tax year.

This was done in accordance with the accounting practices of the Government of Canada which requires departments to recognize liabilities in the year the decision was made to incur them. Since CFIP started in the 2000 tax year the budget allocated to that year of the program was reported in the 2000-01 main estimates. As I stated before, the Government of Canada remains committed to helping farmers. I thank my colleague for his confidence regarding the CFIA.

We had a great debate in the House last evening. In fact, it was not a debate but rather input from all sides. It was an opportunity for all Canadians to make a difference and keep the country free of foot and mouth disease, as all of us on all sides of the House want to do. I look forward to talking more on that subject.

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise again on a question I raised in the House a couple of weeks ago about genetically modified fish that are commonly called transgenic fish. I prefer to call them frankenfish.

The government has completely abandoned any possibility of rehabilitating the habitat of our natural environment so that wild fish stocks can come back. Unfortunately it is aiding, abetting and promoting a genetically modified or transgenic fish. The only place this is being done in the world is in Prince Edward Island and in Newfoundland by a company called A/F Protein, an American company, that is using Aqua Bounty in Surrey, Prince Edward Island, to promote its product.

The government will say that it is done in closed laboratories. The fish will not be allowed to be outside the closed labs. The company is now applying to extract millions of salmon eggs and move those eggs into the United States for rearing in an open pen. This is a problem for many commercial fishermen and aboriginal groups. They also have other concerns about the average aquaculture industry. There are many escapes from these pens. The aquaculture industry told us that aquaculture fish cannot reproduce or survive in the wild. We now know that to be wrong. They do reproduce in the wild. These fish are so voracious in their appetite that they can overwhelm and overtake natural fish.

What I and many people in the industry fear is that these fish will escape into the wild and destroy the wild stock altogether. Since they are a genetically modified or transgenic species, they themselves over time will become extinct if there are no proper controls. This is our greatest fear.

The other fear we have is about these fish getting into the commercial market. Consumers who go to a supermarket now do not see any salmon there marked “this is farmed salmon”. I have said to the aquaculture industry time and time again that if it is so proud of its product then that product should be labelled. The industry should let the consumers of Canada know what they are buying. Consumers would not know what they are buying if transgenics get into the market.

The aquaculture industry has also said for years that under no circumstances would it accept genetically modified or transgenic fish. It has now modified that position and is saying it will not accept these species of fish unless the government can prove they are safe for human consumption. The only way that can be proved is through very long term studies of at least 20 to 30 years. We simply do not have the resources within the government or the human resources to do those types of tests.

The hon. member from the Liberal Party will get up and talk about CEPA and say what great things the government has, with the proper legislation in place. It is simply nonsense. CEPA is a piece of legislation passed in the last legislature which has so many holes in it that it simply will not protect wild species or human consumption, and they are what we are greatly concerned about.

The Royal Society of Canada did a report, apparently actioned by the federal government. It did a test study on transgenics and came up with some recommendations for the government. The Royal Society of Canada said to place a moratorium on transgenics and genetically modified fish or, as I prefer, frankenfish. The Royal Society said to place a moratorium on these fish until there is more information.

This is what the government needs to do. This is what my party encourages the government to do. We in the NDP say once again, please do all that is possible to protect wild fish stocks and their habitat.

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington
Ontario

Liberal

Larry McCormick Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Madam Speaker, for my very fine colleague, a hard working member on many committees, I want to have the opportunity to present some facts.

Officials from the regulatory departments are reviewing and considering the recommendations of the Royal Society, the expert panel's report. Further, members of the Canadian aquaculture industry have publicly stated that they have no interest in growing transgenic fish. However, in the long term the technology could prove publicly acceptable and may confer certain benefits to the industry.

Over the next three years, DFO will spend $3.4 million in research to enhance the regulatory system to control the potential risks associated with this new technology. Until these regulations are in force, all applications for the commercial use of transgenic fish are subject to an evaluation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, as my hon. colleague mentioned.

In addition, any proposal to move transgenic fish from a hatchery to a grow out site, where they mature, or between any other locations, is subject to an indepth federal-provincial introduction and transfer review under the Fisheries Act.

The member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore also expressed concerns about what the minister and department are doing to protect the interests of commercial fishermen and the wild salmon stocks in Atlantic Canada from the potential use of transgenic stocks.

It is in the best interests of both the aquaculture industry and governments to minimize any escapes. To address this, under the leadership of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, the aquaculture industry met with government representatives here in Ottawa in February 2001 to further develop a code of containment for salmon culture. It is expected that this code will lessen the chances of cultured fish escaping to the wild and will contribute to the sustained growth of the aquaculture industry.

In Canada, no transgenic organisms are being grown outside secure containment facilities. In addition, our policy on transgenic organisms requires that reproductively capable transgenic fish used for research purposes be maintained in secure land based facilities. As an additional safeguard, all transgenic organisms destined for containment in natural environment facilities would be required to be sterile if they received regulatory approval.

Income Tax Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.20 p.m.)