House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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June 12th, 2003 / 11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, while members of the committee are in that region, perhaps they could take a detour over to Indonesia where Paul Martin could see some of his employees for Canada Steamship Lines. While they are in the region, they may as well.

As I was saying, it is important to note that of the over $4.7 billion in gas taxes that are collected by the federal government, only 2.4% of that amount is actually spent on roads. Of the 100% of the 2.4% spent on roads, 99% was spent east of the province of Ontario. There is a dramatic inequity and it is something that needs to be considered. I am citing a report from Walter Robinson, a good friend of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He reminds us of an important fact, that Canada is a confederation, that it is a unity of provinces each looking out for their interests, united together for the common purposes of a national identity and national interest. We need to keep that in mind.

Canada's road system is comprised of a total of 900,000 kilometres of roads, highways and bridges. Of those 900,000 kilometres 15,000 are federally owned, which is only 1.7%; 231,000 are provincially owned which is 25.5%; and 655,000 are municipally owned which constitutes almost 73% of all the roads. If we take that in total, of the 100% of the cost of a litre of gasoline, about 50% is taxation. Half of that taxation is federal and half is provincial.

Ninety-eight per cent of all the roads are engineered, built and maintained by provinces and municipalities but half of the tax gouge on gasoline is going to the federal government. The federal government is only returning 2.4% of that into roads and of the 2.4% that it turns back into roads, 99% is spent east of Ontario.

It may sound like a lot of numbers but it is an extraordinary gas tax ripoff that is happening for Canadians. What we are trying to do in the Canadian Alliance is to stand up for Canadian travellers, to stand up for Canadian taxpayers and to ensure that they are getting a fair deal for what they are paying at the pump.

Here is another number. Only 2.4% of gas tax revenues on the federal side is spent back into roads. Here is the reality: 91.6% of all provincial gas tax revenues that are collected are invested back into roads. That is what the accountability mechanism of this motion we are debating today is all about.

While 50% of the price at the pump is taxes, half of the taxes go to the federal government and half of the taxes goes to the provincial governments. Ninety-one per cent of the revenue collected by the provincial governments is going into roads, 2.4% of the revenue by the federal government is going into roads and 99% of that amount is only going east of the province of Ontario.

What we are endeavouring to do with this motion is to turn over to the provinces a portion of the gas tax revenue. The provinces have demonstrated clearly by the statistics I have cited to be more fiscally responsible and more accountable with regard to engineering, building and maintaining the roads that they are responsible for, in over 98% of the roads that we drive on in this country.

We have a broad problem in this country with regard to fiscal responsibility. There is one level of government that has to provide a service; a second level of government that taxes money away that would provide that service; and then there is bureaucracy between the two levels of government that causes confusion and a lack of straight line accountability for Canadian taxpayers.

We see this with regard to health care. The fact is there is not a single provincial government, not Mike Harris, not Ernie Eves, not Gordon Campbell, not Ralph Klein, not a single provincial government has ever cut from one year to the next the net amount of dollars spent on health care. It is only the federal government that has ever cut health care but because of the way that taxes are collected and spent, there is not a clear line of accountability. The Canadian Alliance with this motion is trying to create that sort of accountability.

I understand that I only have one more minute left to speak which is unfortunate because there is a lot to go into. As the leader of the Canadian Alliance, the leader of the official opposition, said in a speech just a week ago, what we are proposing is that the federal government permanently vacate a portion of the federal gas tax, say 3¢ to 5¢ 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.

That is what is needed for accountability. It is what is needed to stop the gas tax ripoff. It is what is needed to ensure that the taxes that are collected for a certain public purpose are used for that purpose, which is the building of roads. As 98% of all roads are engineered, built and maintained by provinces and municipalities, those levels of government need to have the tax dollars necessary to ensure that this important element, not only of infrastructure but of nation building is maintained into the future.

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11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, this topic is very important for Canadians across the country. My hon. colleague has done a good deal of research into this area. He is very eloquent and articulate about sharing this information with Canadians.

I would like him to comment on the Liberal government and the previous Conservative administration taking dedicated taxes and using them for the purposes that they said they would use them for when they imposed the taxes on Canadians. It is a dismal record. Perhaps the hon. member would like to comment on that.

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11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

My colleague from Nanaimo is quite right. According to a chart I have here, if we go back to fiscal year 1992-93, which means it was a government budget under the Progressive Conservatives, of the $3.4 billion that was collected in gas taxes, only $100 million went into roads. This year it is $4.7 billion and $119 million going into roads. Under either administration there has not been much improvement.

We hope that there is a shift across the country with regard to all political parties in terms of having more accountability and responsibility with regard to fuel taxes.

My colleague is quite right. There are two other examples both of which fall under the previous administration and the current administration. In the final budget of the former finance minister and the leadership frontrunner for the Liberal Party, he introduced the infamous $24 air security tax. That tax was supposed to go into air security. It did not. It went into general revenues. It was supposed to be channelled from general revenues into air security. We still have not had a clear base line accounting on how that money was collected and spent. This is an example again of the Liberals saying that they are imposing a tax for a purpose and the tax does not go to the purpose for which it was imposed.

The most infamous example perhaps of the last decade was imposed under the Progressive Conservatives and which the Liberals said they were going to deal with but they have not dealt with. They said that the goods and services tax was supposed to go specifically to paying down the debt and that it would not go into general revenues. That was in fact not true and it was deliberately not the truth. That is not the kind of fiscal responsibility that was expected by Canadian taxpayers.

If a tax is imposed for a purpose, taxpayers expect politicians to keep their word and make sure those dollars go to that purpose. The GST did not serve that purpose, the $24 air security tax did not serve that purpose and gas taxes day in and day out are ripping off Canadian travellers.

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11:25 a.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I first want to acknowledge my colleague's motion today. I congratulate him and the Canadian Alliance on finally recognizing after many years in the wilderness the issue of infrastructure.

For many years that party across the way opposed the national infrastructure program. The Johnny-come-latelies in that party have now decided that this is a politically motivated motion which they are now trying to bring before the House. It is very nice to see. It is better late than never. Obviously they got themselves a new sun dial. Now they realize that this is an important issue. This is an issue that the government embraced immediately in 1993 when it was elected, so it is nice to see that.

I would like to ask the member one specific question. I am sure I will have an opportunity to ask a few questions during the day. How does the member believe, in terms of its structure, if the federal government vacated tax room that we would actually see the moneys vacated utilized by the provinces for the purpose for which the member suggests should be done?

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11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is easy to do. It is done all the time. The federal government did it last fall with regard to health care. It has done it in all kinds of agreements. It happens all the time.

In fact, the province of British Columbia, a Liberal administration, has allocated the gas tax room to the municipalities where the municipalities have used it.

I want to back up and comment on the member's original comments at the beginning of his question. The fact is that when he said that the Canadian Alliance members are Johnny-come-latelies, if he thinks he can posture that the Liberal Party actually believes in this policy, I very much look forward to his vote and the Liberal Party vote. If he is saying that we are Johnny-come-latelies to a position that the Liberal government has had, I look forward to the Liberal government voting in favour of our motion and in fact seeing this come to pass.

The Canadian Alliance members need to take absolutely no lessons with regard to fiscal responsibility from the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberal Party, which broke its word with Canadians with regard to the GST, which takes the air security tax and puts it into general revenues, rips off the air industry, continues, in terms of infrastructure and putting money into roads, to rip off Canadians at the pump. If the Liberals believe in fixing it, they can fix it. Paul Martin had his chance and he did not do it.

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11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member knows full well that he cannot refer to the member by his name but by referring to him as the former finance minister or the member for LaSalle--Émard.

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11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to follow my colleague from Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam. My colleague gave the logic, and I will give a bit of the emotion.

Mr. Speaker, I would like you to buckle your seat belt because we are going for a ride. The destination is Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys. The ride is a little rough and that is what we are going to talk about today, but the trip is well worth it. The people in the area are wonderful.

In order for members to really understand the big picture I have to provide a bit of background information. Two of the main industries in my riding are forestry and cattle ranching. The third is tourism. All of them rely heavily on roadways. Let me start with forestry.

Under this incompetent government's watch, forestry is on life support. I have listened day after day for two years as the Minister for International Trade has tried to convince Canadians that he is working very hard for the industry. Road apples.

It is physically impossible to bury one's teeth in a trade issue with the United States while puckering up at the same time for political and diplomatic blunders made regarding Iraq. No Liberal, including the anointed member for LaSalle--Émard, can fix the mess that the government has created on this issue. The U.S. does not take any Liberal issue seriously, and with good reason.

The $110 million in diversification funds that the Minister of Natural Resources keeps bragging about is also a joke. B.C.'s share of that will be $55 million split between 100 communities. I say will be because not one red cent has passed from this greedy government's hands into the hands of those decimated communities, regardless of how the minister wants to spin it. Not one penny.

It is also interesting to note that the $110 million proposed for diversifying a primary Canadian industry--

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11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but I really question the relevance of her speech to this point. I certainly hope that she will tie in what she has just said to her party's opposition motion on infrastructure.

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11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, and I do have respect for the Chair, it is relevant. All the things I will talk about have had an impact on my riding and all of them require transportation.

I will go back to what I was saying. It will be split, because not one cent has passed from the greedy government into the hands of the people who need it; not a penny. It is also interesting to note that the $110 million proposed for diversifying a primary Canadian industry just happens to be the same amount the Prime Minister spent on two new Challenger jets for his personal use; so much for Liberal priorities.

I see you are getting a little anxious here, Mr. Speaker, so let us move along. Now I will talk about the cattle industry, which is also dependent on transportation.

We had one incident in the country involving one cow. The devastation caused by that has changed the industry for evermore. There is a very good chance that some of those markets, on which we used to rely, will no longer be there because they have now been absorbed by other parts of the world and other countries will be contributing the cattle that we used to contribute.

I do not like to condemn people for nothing. It was one cow, though, and the government has taken so long to try to come up with some sort of solution, and it still has not reached one. Not only have we lost the forest industry in my riding or it has changed forever, we are now looking at the possibility of a forever and a day change in the cattle industry.

Cattlemen have been around since the start of the country. They are the original entrepreneurs. That is one more industry in Canada that has been damaged severely. When we look at the big picture, it is not hard to understand why we are not getting cooperation from the United States. Hon. members should go back to the reason I gave them for forestry. It is very difficult for the government to take a firm stand with the United States or anywhere else in the world right now because of the decisions it has made, diplomatic blunders.

The third part is tourism. That most definitely relies on roadways. We need roads and all forms of transportation if we are to diversify our economy to bring tourism up to a level that may help compensate for the losses we have suffered because of the softwood dispute, and now with cattle.

The part that is really upsetting to my residents, because the federal level of government gives so little money, in fact it gives less than a nickel for every dollar we pay in taxes on gasoline, is now we have a provincial government, which is also Liberal, poised to rent out an asset. The leasing of a major artery in the interior of British Columbia for the next three generations is providing an enticement for business people around the world. By the deadline for proposal calls this week, 28 people have penned a letter of intent and have sent it to the provincial government saying that they are interested in leasing the Coquihalla highway for the next 55 years.

I have the same reaction as the majority of the people I represent. I do not like that. I see absolutely no reason why a provincial government should be put in a position of having to lease an asset that was paid for by taxpayers because it cannot afford to keep up the road. If the federal level of government had any kind of decency, it would realize it has been gouging people for years at the gas pumps. That money was collected for a purpose. It was supposed to be for transportation and that includes roads.

I have a bit of a personal bent about the Coquihalla highway. I happen to be one of the people who cut the ribbon and opened it. It was put in place for Expo 86, which was a tremendous success. It brought in many tourists from all over the world to British Columbia and to Canada. As a result of that, we have seen changes across the entire country. British Columbia gets to take credit for part of that. It had the foresight to do these things, which worked out really well.

Like most people from my riding, I have driven the Coquihalla highway enough to actually believe that I probably own at least a kilometre of it. I have paid enough tolls and have gone over it enough times, and that is pretty much the way most people in my riding feel. They feel ownership of that highway. Therefore, when it is being jeopardized because there is not enough money to keep the highway going under provincial jurisdiction, people have a right to be upset.

The people of Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys are asking how anyone could lease out an asset that has been paid for with their tax dollars. I happen to agree, and it is a question I would like to have answered in the House.

I know what one of the answers is. From the provincial side of it, the answer is desperation. That desperation could be eliminated if that side of the House would take a serious look at what the Canadian Alliance is proposing today, which is a viable solution that hurts no one and does not increase taxes in any way, shape or form. It is just a matter of sharing.

That sometimes is something the Liberals do not do very well but I hope they will make an exception in this case because this is a very serious issue. Do we want to have highways within Canada leased out to possible foreign ownership? It is quite possible. One person who bid was from Spain. I do not think this is the direction in which we want to go. We are trying to maintain sovereignty in our country. That is not something that we really want to entertain.

The Coquihalla highway is beautiful. If anyone ever has a chance to travel it, I suggest they do so. That highway is a lifeline between the interior of British Columbia and the mainland. It carries three million passengers and vehicles per year. That is a fairly well used piece of roadway. Therefore, when we hear that people are upset, we understand why.

While the provincial government is holding garage sales of major assets, the federal government continues to take 95¢ out of every dollar collected on gas. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

In conclusion, Liberals do not think big. They have no national visions or dreams. They think paving the street in front of a Liberal voter's home is what government is all about. Canadians deserve better and are demanding better. They want government that thinks big and grasps the magnificent potential of Canada and all it various parts and its people.

We have an opportunity today to make a change that will matter. By voting in favour of this motion, we will not only eliminate a problem, we will have done it without increasing taxes. This is about common sense. Let us use it for a change in the House.

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11:35 a.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, first, I know the Coquihalla highway very well since my parents used to live in Kelowna. I have driven it many times to Vancouver. It is a wonderful highway and, obviously, not only is it great to drive but from an infrastructure standpoint is quite an engineering feat.

The member talks about vision. I want to indicate to her that when it comes to vision, this government is the first government to say that we will be partners with municipal governments, that we will embrace a national infrastructure program, that we will embrace the strategic infrastructure fund, that we will deal with the green enabling fund, all these things to make our cities better. There are some in the House who were with me, who fought those battles with the FCM against the government of the day. We said that we needed to do this, that we needed to go back to our communities.

The premise of the motion is based on faith that the provinces will do their part. The provinces have not done their part. Ontario is an excellent example of the slash and burn policy of the Harris-Eves government in terms of not delivering moneys to municipalities. In fact they have cut back continually.

Why does the member have such great faith in governments that--

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11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys.

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11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a good thing I have a sense of humour. We are talking about vision and the only vision I have seen come from the Liberal side, in the last two and a half years that I have been here, is tunnel vision. The member mentioned that the Liberals have this infrastructure plan in place and the country is moving ahead, et cetera. Saying it and doing it are two different things.

The member for LaSalle—Émard spoke the other day in Winnipeg. He pretty much said exactly what this motion says. It is Canadian Alliance policy. He actually was quoting Canadian Alliance policy No.15. It would be wonderful if it would happen but we know better. We are putting an insurance policy in place today and we are asking members to do the right thing and save this country.

We need to have the money from the gas taxes to put the infrastructure in place for roads. If we are going to travel and if we are ever to meet eye to eye, we have to improve the roads in this country.

The member says that I have to have faith. Does the member think this is a motion of faith? I do not know why we should not have faith. If we do not, then we have a very good way of going around that by putting it into the agreement.

My colleague has just explained all of that. This is not difficult. It is not rocket science. It is written into the agreement that if the federal government gives back 3¢ to 5¢ on the litre, the provinces have to agree they will put that towards infrastructure for roads, and the federal government has to ensure that.

I do not think there will be any argument from any of the provinces. In my particular case, British Columbia is looking at the loss of an asset because it does not have the money to pay for the upkeep, and the government can fix that. The governments are supposed to be cousins. It is the Liberals in British Columbia and the Liberals in Ottawa. Do the right job, stand up for the family for a change and help these guys out because British Columbia will lose a road.

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11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am confused with some of the comments.

The implication of the previous question implies that the federal government is a terrific success at whatever it does. I look at things such as defence, security, Air Canada, firearms registration, aboriginal policy, the pension system, et cetera. I really do not know where the Liberals get their enthusiasm because I certainly do not share it with them.

I do want to pose a question to the member from Kamloops. Her speech was very much on point. I come from the province of Saskatchewan. Our economy is dispersed throughout the province. We have roads from one end to the other. There are only a million people in Saskatchewan. We are dependent on gasoline and diesel fuel to move product out of Saskatchewan. It is a big burden in our province and our highway system is a big burden.

If I hear the prime minister in waiting correctly, he wants to invent this great big urban bureaucracy to spend money in infrastructure in the urban areas. It seems to me that the more common sense approach is the Canadian Alliance motion, given the capacity to provide proper infrastructure and not create another huge federal government bureaucracy. What is the member's reaction to--

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11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There is no more time on the clock. However, with the indulgence of the House I will give a minute to the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys.