Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006. As we all know, the Bloc Québécois supported that budget.
I am especially pleased to speak to Bill C-28 here today because several measures in this bill are quite similar to measures that the Bloc Québécois has been proposing for many years. Consider, for example, the tax credit for public transit passes. I seem to recall that one of our colleagues already proposed in this House a private member's bill that was very similar. Another example is the textbook tax credit. For some time, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for the elimination of taxes on all products and services related to books. This has been done in Quebec. This encourages access, not just to textbooks, but to all literature, regardless of target audience, since we must start somewhere.
Finally, the tax break for microbreweries—in fact, the government has extended it to all breweries—is completely in line with what the Bloc Québécois has been proposing. The Standing Committee on Finance also looked at this issue several times. Bill C-28 finally contains this provision, which we have wanted for quite a while now.
There are also provisions to help the next generation. This has been a major concern of the Bloc for quite some time. We even organized a symposium together with the Union des producteurs agricoles on the next generation of farmers. It is important, therefore, to have provisions in the act that facilitate the intergenerational transfer of businesses, although I will have a chance later, of course, to say that much more could have been done in this regard and in other regards as well.
In addition, there are provisions to help apprentices and tradespeople acquire the tools they need. Other provisions help out family fishing firms. Finally, a whole series of tax measures help to strengthen small business, which is the real economic backbone of Quebec. The Bloc Québécois will obviously, therefore, support these measures.
In general, much still needs to be done, but we have a few steps here in the right direction and the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill C-28.
I would like, first, to describe the bill because it contains a host of provisions. It is important for the people listening to us to understand the full scope of what is in this bill. Basically, there are five main groups of provisions.
The first is a whole series of tax provisions for individuals. Here we find the tax credit for apprentices and tradespeople, an increase in the non-refundable credit for people receiving a pension, the establishment of a public transit tax credit, and an increase in the refundable credit for medical expenses. This first group is aimed, therefore, at individuals.
The second group extends benefits already given to farms to fishing firms as well. The fishing sector is in serious difficulty at the present time. These benefits are therefore very important to us, especially in regions such as the Gaspé, the Lower St. Lawrence and the North Shore. So as I was saying, the second group extends certain provisions previously available to farms to fishing firms as well.
There are various measures dealing with capital gains, the transfer of a business to other members of the family and agribusiness tax benefits.
A third main group of provisions in Bill C-28 has to do with various tax measures for businesses including, among others, the abolition of the surtax on the revenue of Canadian corporations and an increase in the amount a small or medium-sized business can earn if it wants to benefit from a tax credit.
A fourth series of legislative changes pertains to lowering the tax rate on capital gains of Canadian banks.
The last series of measures aims to lower the excise tax on the first 75,000 hectolitres of beer brewed in Canada in order to stimulate the growth of this sector and microbreweries in particular. This is an emerging sector that has had significant growth in recent years.
This sector has been growing in the regions also. For example, in the Joliette region, the Alchimiste microbrewery was experiencing difficulties because taxation by some of our European and American trading partners benefited their microbreweries. In the Canadian tax system, no distinction is made between a major brewery—such as Molson or Labatt—and microbreweries.
We will see that the minister has somewhat changed his tune from his initial announcement. It is interesting to note. We will all have the opportunity to comment on the reasons that led the minister to apply this measure not just to microbreweries but to breweries in general, as requested by the Standing Committee on Finance. The lower excise tax will also apply to major breweries as well.
I would now like to come back to the first series of measures: tax measures for individuals. The first measure for individuals introduced in this notice of ways and means and in Bill C-28 implements a mechanism allowing apprentices and tradespeople to deduct expenses for certain tools. Deductible expenses may not exceed $1,000 or 5% of the apprentice's annual income, whichever is greater. It also allows tradespeople to deduct up to $500 of the cost of certain tools.
Next, the bill implements indexation of the tax credit for apprentices and tradespeople. The maximum non-refundable credit for some people receiving pension income will double from $1,000 to $2,000. It also creates a $1,000 non-refundable tax credit for employment income starting at $250 for 2006 and increasing to $1,000 in 2007.
It creates a non-refundable tax credit for public transit. To be eligible for the credit, taxpayers must supply a receipt or proof of purchase of a long-term public transit pass. Obviously, this does not apply to daily or weekly passes because we want to promote the use of public transit and relieve congestion on our roads. We could also have talked about meeting the Kyoto protocol targets or helping meet them, but because that word has become taboo for this government, we thought it best not to mention it.
This bill also creates a tax credit for textbooks of $65 per month of full-time study and $20 per month of part-time study. The refundable medical expense supplement will be increased from $767 to $1,000 and continue to be indexed to the cost of living. In addition, the bill will reduce the threshold for deducting medical expenses to the 2005 level. It will then continue to be indexed.
This first series of measures for individuals, some of which are better than others, aligns with what the Bloc Québécois has been proposing over the past few years.
The second group of provisions extends the same tax benefits currently enjoyed by fishing businesses to agricultural businesses as well. Thus, tax measures such as forward averaging when transferring a family business that includes agricultural capital property will also apply to fishing businesses.
The third group of provisions has to do with corporate taxation. The business limit under which Canadian and Quebec small and medium-sized businesses can seek a reduced income tax rate is being increased from $300,000 to $400,000. This will reduce the tax rate for small and medium-sized business from 12% in 2007 to 11.5% in 2008 and 11% in 2009. This measure will allow small and medium sized businesses to generate the liquidity they need for future investments.
This bill will eliminate the 1.2% surtax targeted for Canadian controlled private corporations in 2008, with a subsequent reduction of 0.5% planned for corporate income tax in 2009 and 1% in 2010. As a result, this will translate into a corporate income tax reduction from 22.2% in 2006 to 19% in 2010. These measures should encourage investments, although a generalized tax reduction such as this does not automatically lead to increased investment, as we have learned in recent years.
The corporate tax rate was some 28% in the early 1990s, but has fallen to 22.2%. Despite that, the rate of investment last year was not as high as expected, and Canada has moved down in the ranks in terms of productivity. We are currently ranked 15th or 16th, although we ranked much higher just a few years ago.
These measures are necessary, but are not enough to ensure that the Canadian and Quebec economies regain their former productivity. This is important, as we all know, especially considering our aging population and the knowledge-based economy.
The fourth group of provisions amends the tax rate for banking institutions. A single tax rate will now be applied on the taxable capital surplus of financial institutions, and the threshold at which financial institutions start paying tax is being increased. Previously, banks were taxed according to a sliding scale. For example, corporations did not have to pay tax on surplus capital of $0 to $2 million. Between $2 million and $300 million, the tax rate was 1% and for higher amounts it was 1.25%.
The new legislation amends the tax scale whereby a 1.25% rate will apply when taxable capital exceeds $1 billion. In future, we will have a uniform tax rate at a tax level that is quite interesting, especially for small and medium-sized banks, as I was saying.
The last group of provisions has to do with reducing excise duties on beer brewed in volumes up to 75,000 hectolitres. This new measure amends the Excise Tax Act and the Excise Act, 2001, by implementing a sliding scale based on the number of hectolitres brewed.
As I mentioned earlier, prior to this amendment all breweries, no matter the amount brewed, paid a fixed duty according to the volume of beer brewed. This new measure is favourable to microbreweries. In addition, and this is rather surprising, major breweries will also benefit from the reduction in excise tax payable on the first 75,000 hectolitres produced. I am almost certain that some of these major breweries exerted pressure on the government to have this measure apply across the board. Nevertheless, what is important to us it that it will benefit microbreweries and allow them to compete with American and European microbreweries in particular.
I would now like to comment on our position on these provisions. With regard to the first group, concerning taxation of individuals, as I mentioned, we have been calling for a tax credit for tradespeople's tools for some time. These workers often have to pay for their tools out of their own pockets even if employed by a garage or shop. It is quite a significant expense for them. In our opinion, this tax credit will be a tremendous help, particularly for apprentices who not only have to upgrade their tools but also purchase a basic set of tools.
The second measure pertains to public transit. I mentioned that a non-refundable tax credit is being proposed by the government. I have two comments in this regard. We would have preferred a refundable credit because quite often, people who use the bus, subway or public transit are not well off, do not pay income tax and thus cannot benefit from this measure. Consequently, we feel they could have gone one step further by providing a refundable tax credit.
Naturally, we do not believe that the overall number of users of public transit in Canada and Quebec will increase solely because of this measure. We need much more, particularly in light of the fiscal imbalance, to ensure that municipalities and transit commissions to have the necessary means to provide good service at affordable prices. Once again we support this measure in view of attaining the Kyoto targets.
What about the elderly and other segments of the population such as individuals receiving disability pensions, for whom these benefits represent their main source of income?
We in the Bloc Québécois have always maintained that older people should receive special treatment. Obviously, we would like to go much farther than that. Specifically, we are calling on the government, as we have done for a number of years, to ensure that all older people who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement receive it. A few years ago, we noticed that tens of thousands of people who were entitled to the supplement were not claiming it, because they did not know the program existed. Unfortunately, this is still true. At the time, Marcel Gagnon, the member for Champlain, travelled across Quebec. We were able to locate many people who did not think they qualified for this program. Unfortunately, many people still are unaware that they qualify.
As for the tax credit for textbooks, I repeat that we are not opposed to this measure, but we would have thought a refundable tax credit would be preferable, because students, especially full-time students, usually work only during the summer and therefore do not pay income tax, because they do not have sufficient income. They will therefore not benefit from this measure. I know that students can carry this credit forward, but they are purchasing books now. It therefore would have been preferable to have it now.
I know that the Minister of Finance was interested in the suggestion my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber made at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance to look into this. In my view, it should go further.
As well, we are calling for the abolition of the GST on books. Once again, this is vital for us, especially when we are talking about a knowledge-based economy.
Now, if we look into the second main group of provisions—new measures for fishing businesses—as I have mentioned, we are in favour of the new measure aimed at introducing the same types of forward tax averaging in the fishing industry as for farm businesses. However, we think that this benefit could have been more widely accessible. The measure proposed by the government applies to transfers between people in the same family. We think that the government could have gone further and extended the measure to intergenerational transfers outside the family.
As to the third series of provisions, corporate taxation, as I was saying, we fully support increasing the amount of revenue that would allow small and medium-sized businesses to have access to a lower tax rate. In fact, that was part of our 2000 election platform. The Bloc Québécois will stand up for measures that strengthen our SMEs, especially in Quebec, where the economy is made up of small and medium enterprises.
We are aware that competition exists among different countries and jurisdictions with respect to taxation. We must therefore also reduce the corporate surtax.
However, in the case of oil, there is no danger of relocation because companies cannot transfer the oil supply to China or Mexico. Therefore, we think it makes sense to maintain a surtax for oil companies and to abolish rapid amortization in the oil sands, where all investments can be written off in one year, instead of 25% per year, as is the case for conventional oil and gas. We think that is abusive.
I mentioned the fourth group of provisions, which has to do with taxation of banks. Obviously, the proposed measure benefits all banks, but it could also have an impact on the smaller banking institutions. I would like to remind the House that, as we have said in relation to Bill C-37, we have been trying for many years to increase competition in the banking sector, which is extremely concentrated. Five big banks control nearly all of the activity and do not really offer consumers any choice. The proposed measure will most likely have a positive impact in this respect. Let us hope it does.
I would like to conclude by saying that we are very pleased with the measure to reduce the excise tax for microbreweries. I am certain that the entire microbrewery sector, particularly in Quebec, will benefit from this new measure. Might I remind the House that we have been asking—