Debates of Oct. 2nd, 2003
House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.
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October 2nd, 2003 / 3:10 p.m.
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion from the Canadian Alliance regarding the use of federal gasoline taxes.
I noted earlier in the day that the member for Erie—Lincoln said that we were chasing the parade on this issue. He has it backwards. The Reform Party was talking about this issue 10 years ago. The trouble is that his party is full of slow learners. They take a long time to get with the program and to understand exactly what are good ideas in this world.
All his blustering when he delivered his speech earlier today was simply a smokescreen designed to try to cover up the flip-flop that has taken place on the opposite side. In June of this year they voted against a motion that is almost identical to the one that we put forward today. In addition, I think he is trying to cover for the former finance minister, soon to be prime minister, who suddenly has stolen this Canadian Alliance idea and is out there peddling it as if it was his own bright idea.
Any researcher looking through the archives of the Hansard records of this House will see that what I am saying is absolutely correct. That side of the House has consistently argued against what the former finance minister, soon to be prime minister, is now promoting. We have always supported that approach.
However I am not sure that we can even trust the new prime minister to follow through on the promise, and I will tell the House why.
I was in Vancouver last week when he delivered his speech to the union of municipalities. I heard him say that he would give them a portion of the federal gas taxes, no matter how long it took. What exactly does that mean?
First, what percentage of the gas tax is he promising? He says a portion. That could be 1%, or .5% or 100%. We have no idea what it means. Second, he said, “No matter how long it takes”. What does that mean? Is it 10 years, 20 years or thirty years? We have absolutely no idea what that commitment means.
I have never seen so much ado about nothing. Everybody is excited. The media is charged up and the municipalities are charged up about this new promise that has been made by this soon to be prime minister without actually promising anything at all, not a single solid piece of concrete material of which we can use to critique or approve. There is no percentage, no amount and no time frame. Heaven knows what that might mean. It might mean exactly nothing. The new prime minister might find 101 reasons to never implement his promise. I will believe it when I see it.
In the meantime I will continue to promote the Canadian Alliance policy which is something I have been doing for the last 10 years. For example, earlier today I looked back in my files and found recent mentions I made of this issue in columns that I wrote for my local newspapers in North Vancouver. I found interventions I made in the House in the last few years. I can get some examples.
On November 3, 1999, I wrote a column for my local newspaper in which I pointed out that while the price of gasoline at the time was 57.4¢ a litre. It is amazing. In the Vancouver area it is close to 80¢ a litre today but in 1999 it was 57.4¢. Of that 57.4¢ price, 13.7¢ was going to the federal government. Unfortunately, the federal government, those Liberals, were returning less than 2% of that amount for our roads.
On September 18, 2000, I stood in the House and made the following statement:
Mr. Speaker, this year alone the Liberal government will take more than $350 million from the people of B.C. in the form of fuel taxes. That is an annual tax grab of $20 million more than the entire Vancouver area budget for new highways to the year 2005. Yet the Minister of Transport stubbornly refuses to return to B.C. a single cent of those taxes in support of our transportation network.
While greater Vancouver residents line up in gridlock on a four lane Trans-Canada Highway built back in the 1950s, the minister pumps our fuel tax money into election goody projects elsewhere.
Our taxed-to-the-hilt drivers have had enough. They are sick of topping up the minister's pork barrel every time they gas up and they are not going to take it anymore. They want their share of the national highways funding returned to B.C. and they want it now. When exactly is the minister going to deliver?
On September 27, 2000, I wrote an article for the local newspaper talking about the federal gas tax, much the same as the earlier one I quoted.
Then again, on March 14, 2001, I stood in the House and asked a question of the finance minister. The exact text is recorded in Hansard and I stated:
Mr. Speaker, there is a transportation infrastructure crisis on the lower mainland of Vancouver, but the government continues to suck $360 million a year in gas taxes out of British Columbia. That is more than five times the annual highway budget for B.C. How could the Minister of Transport justify this $360 million tax grab when he does not return a single cent of that money to B.C. for highways?
It is interesting that although I asked the question of the Minister of Transport, it was the then minister of finance who stood to answer the question. The then minister of finance, the soon to be prime minister, gave this answer in the House on March 14, 2001. He said:
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows that the government does not operate and no government can operate on the basis of dedicated taxes.
That is what he stood and said and now he is out there with our policy pretending it is his own, that he is going to give some of those taxes to the municipalities.
Then he said:
If we look back over the course of the last seven years, the fact is that the government has invested very heavily, whether it be in the Canada Foundation for Innovation or the national child tax benefit. A multitude of moneys is going to universities in British Columbia. Right across the board, we have reinvested enormous sums and ought to do so in British Columbia.
He completely ignored the highways question, other than saying that his present policy at that time was completely unacceptable.
There is some evidence just from my own files of the number of times that I have raised this issue since 1999. For government members to stand there and say that we have never raised this issue is absolute bunkum.
The member for Erie--Lincoln also went off on a bit of a tangent talking about low cost housing. I feel compelled to respond to some of the comments he made.
One of my colleagues in the House, the member for Edmonton Centre-East, has carried out more than five years of extensive research on this particular subject of homelessness. He has turned up some interesting statistics which I would like to put on the record in response to the member for Erie--Lincoln.
There is no shortage of federal money. We will acknowledge that. Presently, 780 million tax dollars are being spent on new or expanded shelters and $680 million is poised to go into the building of so-called affordable housing. That is $1.46 billion and is equivalent to $103,180 for every one of the 14,150 homeless persons identified by Statistics Canada in the year 2001.
We have already committed enough money to give every homeless person $103,180. There are many people in Vancouver who are not homeless and who are buying apartments for that price. There are plenty of other smaller cities in Canada where people can buy an apartment for a whole lot less than that.
How come the government cannot solve the problem with $103,180 for every homeless person? The reason is because, without any rules or guidelines for restraint, it continues to write cheques for extravagant projects that may be designed for low income, but they are certainly not low cost.
I will give one example. Don Mount Court on Dundas Street East in Toronto is a project completely off the rails. Heated sidewalks that were installed in the entrance to this building have been left running continuously for years. The hydro bills are so extreme in that building that taxpayers have had to bail out the cost every year since it was introduced. For the people who live there it is a very low cost, but for taxpayers it is absolutely outrageous. The fact is that the money is being wasted on hydro, and it is probably the money from this tax that is collected on gasoline in B.C. that is subsidizing heated sidewalks in Toronto.
The incompetence is unbelievable. It is time the government adopted more of our policies and got this country back on track.
James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, one of the concerns that I have had, and I raised it in my speech on this issue of gasoline taxes, is a problem in British Columbia that is constantly perpetuating and I would like the member for North Vancouver to talk about it.
British Columbia's economy has been affected largely because of the NDP. It was not helped by softwood lumber and certainly was not helped by a number of things that have happened in B.C.'s semi-recent past.
British Columbians seem to get so worked up about singular problems in its transportation infrastructure. We get angry about the Island Highway. We even get angry about fast ferries. We get angry about the potential selling-off of the management of the Coquihalla Highway. We also get angry about the Richmond airport's Vancouver line and whether or not that should go forward.
However there is something that certainly British Columbians need to appreciate and this point needs to be driven home. These are battles in a larger public policy war that are having to be fought because the federal Liberals in Ottawa have persistently failed to give British Columbia a fair share of its gas tax dollars.
The constant underlying theme about all these things, whether or not Highway 97 should be federalized, whether or not there should be a second bridge into Kelowna, whether or not there is appropriate and adequate funding for the Coquihalla, whether or not the Island Highway was properly financed, is that the Province of British Columbia is being handcuffed financially by taxpayers who think that they are paying more than enough at the pump to finance all these projects so that we should not have these problems. However, taxpayers are not seeing that money going to roads. I would invite the member for North Vancouver to comment.
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for those comments. It enables me to expand a little on the price of gasoline and how that relates to these taxes.
During the summer I visited Ottawa a number of times and I noticed that the gasoline price was consistently between 63¢ a litre and 68¢ a litre, while at the same time in Vancouver it was close to 80¢ a litre for that entire time. Every time I came back, I was shocked to see that it was still 76¢ to 80¢ a litre while here in Ottawa it was 65¢ a litre.
At one point during the SARS crisis in Toronto there was that special sell off weekend when gasoline was being sold at 35¢ a litre. Ours shot up to 90¢ a litre that weekend and I suspect we were subsidizing that effort.
What is really important about the price of that gasoline in Vancouver is the huge amount of federal taxation we are paying, not only the excise tax but the GST on that excise tax. We paid $360 million a year a few years ago. It is probably more now. That should have been sent back to us for our infrastructure.
The member is quite right about the difficulties that we are having. British Columbians are getting angry with their local governments, however, their focus should really be on the federal government because the high price of gasoline is related to these federal taxes which suck huge amounts of money out of British Columbia.
That money is rightfully ours. It should be put into the highway system and other transportation systems. This government has to smarten up and do something about it.
Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague again about this inequity in the Province of British Columbia.
In my own riding of Dewdney—Alouette, for years there has been a proposed crossing of the Fraser River from the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge area over to Langley. Officials have been trying to find dollars for that project. If there would have even been a slight increase in the amount of federal taxes put back into the province for the municipalities, that bridge could have been completed many years ago, as well as the Lougheed Highway that goes from Maple Ridge to Mission. It is sorely in need of twinning.
Again those are some specific projects that could have been put in place if there would have been appropriate levels of infrastructure returned to the Province of British Columbia.
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I know that Ottawa feels left out when compared to Toronto for the money that it gets from Queen's Park, but the fact is that when we look at federal money, almost all of the equivalent of the gasoline tax taken by the federal government was poured into the Toronto area to build highways there.
Even the freeway through Ottawa is wider than the only freeway in Vancouver. The freeway in Vancouver is three lanes in each direction and here in Ottawa it is as wide as five lanes in each direction in some areas and this is in a city that is only one-fifth the size of the population on the lower mainland.
There is something wrong and it is blatantly obvious to anybody who travels backward and forward that the money is being sucked out of the west and poured into this part of the country. It is wrong.
Members may recall the cartoon that was drawn in the fifties. It was a map of Canada with a cow standing on it. The head was in B.C. and Alberta, and the udder was in Ontario. Guess where it was being milked? It was right in Ontario.
John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC
Mr. Speaker, today is an official opposition supply day and I am delighted to speak to the motion.
The federal fuel tax issue is a prime example of a major irritant that has been allowed to continue since the government came to power in 1993 despite many attempts by the Canadian Alliance, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and federal and provincial road builders to get the government to stop the process of taking billions of fuel tax dollars from Canadian motorists and not returning it to transportation infrastructure.
The statistics for my own province of British Columbia are illustrative. From 1998 to 2001, federal fuel taxes and the federal GST collected $6.4 billion from B.C. drivers and returned $31 million, roughly 0.5%.
Just as an indicator of the taxing power fuel taxes represent to the federal government, we witnessed earlier this year essentially a 10% increase at the pumps. This 10% increase represented a windfall to the federal government in GST fuel revenues alone of $350 million. The GST on fuel is for the most part a tax on a tax. That is most inappropriate.
On May 2, 2001, I embarrassed the federal transport minister by pointing out that in the previous year the United States had committed to spending more in British Columbia by upgrading B.C. highways at border crossings than did the federal government in all of British Columbia.
In the previous year, the federal government returned 0.5% of fuel tax revenues to British Columbia highways. The transport minister excused all of this by responding that it was not his fault because highways were a provincial responsibility. That being the case, then it is only logical to call on the federal authorities to vacate the federal fuel tax room to lower levels of government for their infrastructure requirements.
This is essential to our well-being and will address the fiscal imbalance that exists between the levels of government in Canada. Instead of fixing the fiscal imbalances, the former federal finance minister and now Liberal leader cut transfer payments to the provinces and made the situation worse.
The Canadian Alliance recognizes that changes have occurred over time and our institutional arrangements have not kept pace, unlike the government. Every attempt to get the federal government to stop the current reign of terror on federal taxation of fuel has been hindered by the federal Liberals.
Our industry and transportation critics have created a policy for the Canadian Alliance which was adopted by our parliamentary caucus and ratified by our national council. It is a policy we will run on in the next election, and it is a policy we will implement as government.
I can summarize our position quite well by including an excerpt from an address by the Canadian Alliance leader to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' annual meeting in Winnipeg on June 2, 2003. Our leader proposed:
--that the federal government permanently vacate a portion of the federal gas tax--say three to five cents a litre--and allow provinces the option of collecting that revenue. In order to ensure that this money is not used for other purposes, the transfer of these revenues to provinces and on to municipalities would be conditional on signed agreements that these resources would be used for infrastructure.
This method of funding municipalities meets the criteria set out by the [Federation of Canadian Municipalities]: It would provide a reliable and stable revenue source for infrastructure. It would be as transparent and visible as constitutionally possible. It would have zero additional administrative and compliance costs--provinces already have infrastructure programs and collect gas tax revenues. It would be efficient--additional resources could be allocated to regional and local priorities. And it would be equitable--these revenues would become part of the equalization formula to ensure that all provinces receive the same per capita share of gas tax revenues. More importantly, this approach promises a worthwhile level of funding.
In the last federal budget, 100 million dollars were pledged for infrastructure for cities--not enough, as the [Federation of Canadian Municipalities] pointed out, for a single kilometre of subway line in Toronto or three interchanges in Calgary.
In contrast, transferring three cents per litre of gas taxes for infrastructure would mean an immediate, annual injection of $1.3 billion per year.
If we do the math, clearly the Canadian Alliance has a position that is on side with municipalities, provinces and the motoring public. The federal fuel tax regime is irrational and counterproductive. At every turn, however, the government has stymied our efforts to change this federal fuel taxing behaviour.
This is what the current finance minister had to say earlier this year when he rejected any notion of amending fuel taxes:
...I know that the provinces really like the tax points, but sometimes, they forget about them. They really like them because they want us to impose the taxes and then let them spend the money.
What money? During June of this year he stated further:
...I do not favour the suggestion that the federal government vacate the fuel tax...it is foregone revenue without accountability...it undermines the vital partnership that we must foster between and among levels of government.
That is not very encouraging.
On May 2, 2001, I asked the transportation minister the following question:
Last year the federal government collected $750 million from British Columbia fuel taxes and spent $408,000 on B.C. highways. That works out to the grand total of one-twentieth of one per cent of revenues returned to British Columbia highways. Why is the federal government gouging taxpayers and ignoring their highways?
Here is what the minister had to say:
I want to remind the hon. member that highway building in this country is the responsibility of the provincial government.
This incredible response was followed up by the finance minister's response to my further question, which was:
...the federal government collects federal fuel taxes. The provinces spend on highways what they collect in provincial fuel taxes. In 1998-99 the federal government collected over $4.7 billion in gas taxes and spent only 4% of that across Canada. It is called highway robbery. When is the government going to commit to fund a national highway strategy...?
The former finance minister, who may or may not have had a recent conversion on this issue, had this to say:
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member ought to know that the Canadian government receives tax revenues from a multitude of sources and those revenues are then invested. They have been invested...in the British Columbia health care system...in the education system...research and development throughout British Columbia.
That is not very encouraging for infrastructure.
The reality is that change is long overdue. We have a national highway system in Canada but no national highway strategy. We have long unresolved grievances about a lack of federal commitment to infrastructure. We have major transportation needs identified, many resulting from federal facilities, such as Roberts Bank and Vancouver International Airport.
As well, we have had serious problems at the provincial level in terms of funding because of the softwood lumber dispute, SARS, BSE, forest fires and hurricanes, heavy burdens indeed.
I will conclude with one sentence. The motion put forth by the Alliance today is consistent with an earlier motion we put forward on June 12, 2003, which was defeated by the government, and I hope for better this time.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I think all members would agree that this is an important debate. I am sure the member would agree that the measure of success of a country certainly is the measure of the health and well-being of its people, and that the support for our cities, basically the ground floor where it happens, is extremely important.
The motion is with specific reference to the gas tax and the sharing of that. As the member knows, that goes into the general revenue pool. I wonder if he would agree that the issue is not so much the gas tax but whether or not there is a commitment of resources commensurate with the need, not just the need of the big “have” cities but also of the cities that are “have nots”.
John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the sentiment, but I would like to disagree with the premise of the question from the standpoint that this federal government always wants to be earmarking money to go to the provincial governments.
We are suggesting something very different. We are suggesting vacating tax room so that the provinces and the municipalities, the local governments, have the ability to use these fuel tax revenues for infrastructure needs. We only have to look at other jurisdictions such as the U.S., where fuel taxes are collected on the basis that they will be used to fund transportation infrastructure. That is what happens. That is why they have a very successful infrastructure system and we do not.
Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK
Mr. Speaker, in response to a point my colleague just made, I recall that in many of the states where I have travelled, when one pulls in with a car to fill it up, the federal tax and the state tax per gallon are listed. I have looked into that a number of times. It simply means that once the state proves it has spent its taxes toward the infrastructure such as highways, bridges, maintenance and so on, the federal government then kicks in its taxes. As my hon. colleague said, that is exactly why they finance a better highway system than we do.
One of the difficulties in doing the same thing in our province is that we could put on the provincial tax and the federal excise tax, but then we would have to throw on the GST. As the price of gas goes up and down, the GST is variable and there is no requirement for that. I would like this country to examine that same idea, because I believe it would work in Canada.
John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC
Mr. Speaker, I have had some discussions on today's motion with members of the British Columbia government. They are certainly highly interested, not only in the debate but in the vote on Tuesday. This is just such a natural, positive action to be taking that it is incredible we have not reached here before now, despite many attempts by the opposition to make it happen, as I have said.
I will mention that there are three components to this fuel tax: the excise tax, which we are asking to be earmarked; the deficit-fighting tax, although the deficit has been gone for five years, so we think that should be eliminated; and the GST, which is a tax on a tax, much of it, and which is most inappropriately charged and is an incentive for higher gas prices because higher gas prices lead to higher revenues for the federal government, largely through the GST. It is a perverse incentive for higher prices.
Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Mr. Speaker, it is like being in Back to the Future , if anyone has seen that movie. We had this discussion back in June. It is the same sequel and the same cast of characters, but at least the Alliance, for a change, is being somewhat consistent. The fact is, as everyone knows, I have said many times that when it comes to municipal government issues that party's sincerity is somewhat interesting since it historically has never supported municipal governments in the past. I will go through an array of issues with them.
It is very good to talk about a little history. For those who obviously are not aware, first of all, my friend and colleague from Dauphin—Swan River and I worked together over the years through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities when I was president of that organization. I remember the very dry days back then, when the government of the day did not even entertain the issue of national infrastructure.
In fact, for those who may not remember, in 1983 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and at that time there was a $17 billion national infrastructure deficit, went to the government of the day and said, “We need to get into a tripartite arrangement on traditional infrastructure, roads, sewers, bridges, et cetera”. The government said it would entertain that. Unfortunately, the government was defeated in the 1984 election. Then along came the Progressive Conservatives, with clearly a heavy emphasis on the conservative and not on the progressive because they did not support the national infrastructure program during their entire time in office.
Therefore, it was this government and this Prime Minister that in 1993 pledged to in fact bring in the first national infrastructure program, a tripartite arrangement. True to the Prime Minister's word, in 1994 that came in and I had the pleasure of working with the government at that time as part of the FCM in terms of making sure that this program came into effect.
Since 1993 this government has invested over $12 billion, and when one leverages that, over $20 billion, in terms of national infrastructure. The fact is that the party over there opposed it in 1993 and it opposed it in 1997. It is good at that, but now that party knows it is popular and it knows that after three programs this has become extremely important.
This motion is a little weaker than it was before, but basically it is inviting the government to have discussions with the provinces on the issue of sharing a portion of the gas tax. I can tell members that this government would be more than happy to talk to the provinces and territories anytime. My concern, and I have raised this many times, is the mechanism by which, if we vacate the tax route, in fact we will be assured by the provinces and territories that municipal governments, whether they are urban or rural, will in fact get the money.
In terms of the motion before the House today, I certainly can support it, because it simply is asking that we enter into discussions. I can tell everyone that this government can do that and will do that and will hear what the provinces and territories have to say.
But the reality is that this is only a portion of the issue. The real issue is, how do we ensure that? We believe on this side of the House that if we have a tripartite arrangement all three orders of government in this country participate fully as partners. If one is going to fund a third of the money, one should have a third of the say. I have always commended the government of Alberta for the fact that the government of Alberta has always had at the table municipal, federal and provincial representatives in terms of the approvals.
The fact is that this government needs to take no lessons from the party across the way because, simply put, it is this government that not only brought in the national infrastructure program but renewed that program in 1997, in fact, if the hon. members across the way would look at the record. The problem is that when we sign agreements with the provinces, each agreement is different.
Therefore, to my good friend from British Columbia, at one time a previous government of British Columbia was suddenly ordering all sorts of buses that were showing up in municipalities and not necessarily what they wanted.
From the beginning we have said that the program must be municipally driven. As a former municipal politician, we at the municipal level know what the needs are in terms of the communities, whether it is roads, sewers, bridges, whatever. Therefore, when we look at a five and 10 year capital forecast, we want to ensure that we can put forth projects and hopefully get the support of the province and, obviously, the Government of Canada.
I have always said that if they are proposing it, then I, as a member of Parliament, support it because they obviously know what their needs are in the community. It is not up to me as a member of Parliament or up to the Government of Canada to tell a city X what its needs are. The fact is this was such an important program.
I know we are not allowed to use props so I will not show it, but in the January and February Forum of the FCM of 1997 I read an article that was devoted to infrastructure. At that time we were talking about getting the first national infrastructure program extended, and the Prime Minister was prepared to listen.
On the team Canada mission in 1997, I had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and the premiers, except the premier of British Columbia. The Prime Minister and the premiers were prepared to entertain an extension of that program. In the end we got that extension. Some were a little later than others. Ontario was very slow. In fact it only agreed at the eleventh hour before the federal election was called in April of 1997. However we got it and it was extended. If it were not a good program, we would not have municipal governments supporting it continually.
We have a deficit in Canada when it comes to infrastructure. Had we acted in 1983, we would be in a lot better shape.
Respecting the constitutionality, municipal governments, which are creatures of the province, and I hate that term myself, they get their powers or not from the provinces, and we accept that. We also accept that there was a vital role for the government to play in a number of areas, in partnership with our municipal cousins and obviously with the provinces and territories. That over the years has been very successful.
Members also will know that we introduced the strategic infrastructure fund, another very important program, for larger projects in the urban scheme as well.
In my own area, the greater Toronto area, we were able to benefit by an announcement at the end of April of $435 million, matched by municipalities, by GO, TTC and others and by the province, finally. We were able to commit over $1 billion to improve the transportation infrastructure in the greater Toronto area. Why? Because these were proposals that they made. Not the Government of Canada, not the Ontario government, but the municipal authorities, which is very important.
I point out that when we talk about allocation of dollars, our friends across the way often talk about the fact that we are not giving enough.
I remember the days, and it is sometimes very useful to have some history behind one, when we argued at the FCM for a 10 year program. Remember that under the Conservatives we never had a program. Then when the Liberal government came in, we got a program, then we got another renewal and then we got another program. Under the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister we have committed to a 10 year infrastructure program in this budge.
I said earlier that it is important for municipal governments to plan ahead. He said that we would put a down payment on it. Of course the word that some members in this House do not use, and it is shameful they do not, is the word leveraging. It is the role of other governments and the private sector to contribute to federal funding to ensure we can advance these programs. When we talk about leveraging, it is not simply the federal government.
The provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and across the country have benefited significantly from these programs.
The hon. member in his speech this morning talked about the fact that we had to vacate this money. I am not sure how much he would like us to vacate. I assume he is also suggesting where we will find extra dollars because he will then be complaining about other federal programs that the government needs to be funding. At the same time, the government is prepared to come to the table, as we always have.
A few years ago we had Bill C-10 which was a very important issue regarding payments in lieu of taxes. In 1949 the then Liberal government had an informal agreement in which it agreed that in lieu of taxes it would pay a certain amount of money to municipal governments for services for federal properties.
I believe in 1992 under the Conservatives there was an arbitrary 10% cut. What happened was there could be a CTV building and a CBC building in a riding and one received a 10% discount. It was unfair and unreasonable and the municipality was still providing services to both.
This was something that the government had been pushing for years. Bill C-10 came to the House a few years ago. The government passed legislation which said that the Government of Canada would be treated like any other taxpayer. The government had to pay on time, otherwise it would pay interest. There would be guaranteed payments. The government would know what the assessment would be. If the government did not like the assessment on a federal property, then it would go through the procedures that every other taxpayer had to go through.
That party over there voted against it. If it really were interested in supporting municipal governments, I would have assumed it would have supported something like Bill C-10 as an example.
I would also point out that the issue here is simply accountability. I certainly believe that with municipal governments there is a new partnership. The Prime Minister launched the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues. The government made a number of recommendations. The government talked about a national transportation study, a national housing strategy and other recommendations.
Of course the naysayers over there really do not understand what it is all about. One day they will the fact that when we enter into partnerships, we are talking about true partnerships. We are talking about financial partnerships and policy issues. It is obviously hitting the right accord because even the Alliance gets it, which is good to see. I really welcome that because for years I had to deal with those on the other side who were not as positive.
The fact is we are talking about investments in cities. We also are talking about other investments. The government has done that in health care. It has done it with universities. It has done it in an array of areas such as housing which is very important. It makes these cities more liveable. Canadians cannot have liveable cities if they do not have the right infrastructure.
Provinces have the ability and the tax room that the government has. They have the same fiscal capacity as the Government of Canada. Municipal governments clearly are restrained. In some provinces they have more levers than others in terms of being able to raise taxes.
The most antiquated form of taxation I still believe is property taxes. Unfortunately they are dealing with that.
We want to see an arrangement where we can play a constructive role respecting provincial jurisdiction and at the same time work cooperatively with them. However I do not think it would be wise to simply write a cheque to province X and not have a clear direction of where that money is to go.
My colleagues on the other side talk about strings. I find that a rather odd statement because to me there has to be accountability, whether it is a national health council to track where the money goes. The transfers are for Canadians, not for the federal government. If money is transferred to the provinces, Canadians should know where it goes. I believe that accountability, whatever order of government it is, is extremely important.
The government has taken action in many ways. If it were not for the Liberal government, the Autoroute 30 around Montreal would not have been dealt with. The Red River floodway is very important. We know the Government of Canada stepped in and worked with the province of Manitoba, again cooperatively. These are cooperative efforts. The Government of Canada is not saying that the provinces have to do X. That is probably why this side of the House has so many former municipal colleagues. They know the work that the government has done since 1993.
We are not ashamed of the fact that we have had three national programs and we have worked in areas of housing and others. The national homeless strategy involved working cooperatively with other orders of government and with grassroots communities across the country. The Minister of Labour took the lead in that area. The results were very positive, and $753 million came from that. This is about partnership and about working together.
The hon. member would like us to talk to the provinces and territories about the issue of gas taxes and that is very much a reality. That can be done. However it will not work unless we ensure that moneys that go to the provinces wind up directly with the proper formula for rural and urban municipal governments.
I will not say that we have all the answers because we do not. However we know the other side has no answers at times. We on this side of the House have not just talked about these issues but have delivered on these issues. There is a big difference between talking about them and doing something about them.
The member across the way is too young to remember the 1993 infrastructure program, but if he had been around he would have known about the tremendous work that the government did. Other examples of the government working collaboratively with municipalities are the municipal enabling fund and the green municipal investment fund. It was this government that empowered the FCM with $200 million originally to work on issues dealing with the environment such as improving air quality et cetera. The 10% club was formed to reduce CO
emissions by 20% over 10 years. This is true cooperation. It is not talking about it. It is delivering.
The government even delivered to the riding of my friend across the way, and I know he is very appreciative. He should talk to his former mayor because he might actually learn a few things about municipal government. He was a good mayor and a very popular mayor.
We also have to look at the fact that the government has set an agenda. We believe that investing in municipal governments and in infrastructure is extremely important. Therefore we continue to look at all reasonable options. At the same time, the government will not go back into a deficit. We continue to ensure that we balance the books. We will ensure that issues such as paying down the national debt and investing in the social fabric of Canada continue. We can only do that if the dollars come and we account for those dollars.
Unfortunately, we had to deal with a $42.5 billion deficit. I am amazed that we did not get credit for the fact that at the same time as we had the $42.5 billion debt, we still invested in the national infrastructure program. Why? Because it returned tax money and created jobs. It was a very important initiative even when we did not have the money. Look at the highlights. We have a 10 year program, people are investing and it is good for the economy.
An hon. member
You're eyes are turning around.
Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON
I know my friend across the way would rather yell at me because he does not want to hear the truth, and I understand that. If I were him, I would not want to hear it either. With the sorry state of that party in terms of its record on this issue, I would be embarrassed if I were them, but then again maybe they do not embarrass easily. They should be embarrassed though. They know it was the Liberal government that brought it in, it is this government that continues it, and in all facets.
When we talk about this type of approach, they ask if we are going to swallow ourselves whole. Absolutely not. We have to be very clear here. If the issue is simply entering into discussions, the government has an unblemished record in its ability to deal with our partners and all orders of government.
James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to hear a speech by the parliamentary secretary. We cannot really have a rhetorical farce without a cameo appearance by the minister's deputy. It is always nice to have him in the House.
The minister says that because the Canadian Alliance opposed what the Liberals described as an infrastructure program, therefore we are opposed to infrastructure. Well yes, we oppose it because it was a dumb idea. It does not matter if they call it an infrastructure program. If it is a dumb idea we are going to oppose it. The government built a canoe museum in the Prime Minister's riding and they say, “Well, that is part of infrastructure and if you vote against that, you are against infrastructure”. That is the kind of mindset the government has.
Of course we are opposed to that because we are the watchdogs in the House for fiscal responsibility. Year in and year out, budget after budget for a decade, nine budgets from the former finance minister, the new Liberal leader, and he failed to do this.
The member opposite, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, said, “Well of course we are prepared to do this. We are prepared to meet with the provinces and talk to municipalities”. They have had 10 years to do it and nothing happened until the Canadian Alliance moved this motion. We are going to vote and we are going to win the vote. This Canadian Alliance motion, our policy, our ideas are going to win next Tuesday, and finally we are going to see some action from the government. It would not happen if the Alliance was not in the House. It would not happen if we did not move this motion. The government has had a decade to do it and it has persistently failed to have straight lines and accountability with regard to gas tax dollars.
I always find it appalling that the member opposite says, “We need assurances from the provinces. We have to have assurances from the provinces to make sure that this money goes into roads”. The member opposite often starts sentences with “the fact is”. Well the fact is that provinces gives an average of 91.6% of their gas tax revenues to roads. The Liberal government, the finance minister who the member trails around the hallways, gives 2.4% of its gas tax dollars to roads.
The provinces do not have to take any lessons from the government in terms of accountability. The minister and the government should learn the facts and just give the dollars to the provinces. It should certainly be on condition of agreements but the provinces do not have to take any lessons at all.
I did appreciate however that the member said he appreciated the job of the province of Alberta. He said that the Alliance does not know what it is doing but the province of Alberta does. Well the member should know that my seatmate in the House is the former finance minister of the province of Alberta who set up the regime that he praised in the House. We know what we are doing. We have our agenda right. We have been consistent and right on in terms of accountability in gas taxes.
The member said that he wants accountability, straight lines and appropriate behaviour by the government with regard to taxation, so my question is simple and clear. His choice for the leadership of the Liberal Party, the man who is the new leader of the Liberal Party, put in place a 1.5¢ per litre gas tax to pay down the deficit. The deficit, because of economic growth, is gone. The deficit is gone but the tax remains. Could the member please explain how it is accountable to have a deficit reduction tax still on the books when the deficit is gone? Explain it.
Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON
Mr. Speaker, first of all, the only thing that is trailing around here is the Alliance Party. That party is so far behind on this issue it is incredible. I am glad I am not in an airplane because I know what I would be reaching for at the moment, if I might say, listening to the member across the way here. The audacity of the member is unbelievable.
I would tell the member that it was because of the work of the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle--Émard, and the work of the Prime Minister that we got the national infrastructure programs that we have. That group of course does not realize that.
Alliance members talk about funding. We do not have dedicated taxes. News flash to across the way: no dedicated taxes. If the member is suggesting that we bring in dedicated taxes, that is a whole different issue of policy debate we would have to have.
The reality is that sometimes the Alliance members get their lines confused. They talk about funding roads. They talk about the provinces. They talk about a road between city x and city y . I am not quite sure if they are suggesting funding provincial roads or if they are talking about municipal infrastructure within communities, because there is a big difference.
The member referred to the 1.5¢ tax of 1995. Well first of all, he needs to do a little homework. In the mid-1990s the government of New Brunswick reduced the gas tax by 2¢ and the oil companies within a flash upped the price. So there is no guarantee in removing anything unfortunately.
Where does money go generally? Let us be honest with the public. The money goes to consolidated revenue which pays for health care, which pays for post-secondary education, et cetera. That group over there somehow thinks that by eliminating 1.5¢, all the problems will go away.
I do not hear him saying anything about the $100 billion tax cut, the largest in Canadian history. I do not hear anything about the only G-7 country paying off the national debt. I do not hear anything about six balanced budgets or better. That is because you suffer from selective memory and you always will.