Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-40 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. With our research staff and those responsible for this issue, we conducted a review of this bill and, all in all, we have found very little to criticize. A lot of people, in Quebec among other places, will be pleased with many of the measures being introduced. I would like to address the first one, which is to make some medical services exempt from tax, thereby facilitating access to such services.
I remember that physiotherapists came to me a few years ago. They told me that it was important to allow these types of services to be exempt from tax. Out of need or because of their insurance, many people who could not afford to wait for public health care wanted to go see a physiotherapist after a car accident or an occupational accident. Systematically, these people had to pay tax on those services.
Then, under a ways and means motion, the previous government considered the possibility of looking at which types of medical services could be made exempt from tax from year to year.
This assessment had to be done every year. So, every year, the government determined whether it had properly identified those services that should be taxed and those that should be exempt from tax. It would ask itself, for example, if it was appropriate not to tax physiotherapy. The following year, around budget time, the word would often go around that physiotherapy would be taxed.
Physiotherapists visited MPs at their offices. I remember fighting with them for their services not to be taxed. Eventually, the government of the day decided not to tax them. It will be much better, however, to have legislation on that. This will avoid having this annual debate about what to tax, what to exempt from tax and what should be kept on the list of health products that should be exempt from tax.
This will take us closer to a standard of services that all recipients can find relatively interesting. It is not an easy thing to do when your health or physical well-being is affected to go see a health professional in an emergency or because you are required to under your insurance plan. In such cases, one has to pay not only the fee for services, but also the GST on that fee. It think it is completely worthwhile to have a list.
This is something we see quite often with speech-language pathology. Bill C-40 refers specifically to speech-language pathology. I would point out that problems with hearing and pronunciation are becoming increasingly common in our society.
I know parents whose children have speech problems, for example. They are having a very hard time accepting the fact that they have to wait two years to consult someone in the public sector. They often have insurance that allows them to turn to private clinics. When these parents go to consult a speech-language pathologist, it is much the same as with physiotherapy, which I mentioned earlier. These people have to pay for the professional services and then pay tax on top of that.
Since speech problems are on the increase, it is important, when people have no choice but to consult the private sector, that they not pay an additional tax.
It is somewhat similar to access to surgery. The taxes can be deducted. There are situations in which waiting is not an option. It should be recognized that waiting may not be an option in the case of physiotherapy and speech-language pathology services, and people should not have to pay taxes on top of the cost of professional services.
Social services are another part of medical services.
Many people these days want to consult social workers to help resolve children's behavioural problems or attention deficit problems.
As the father of a daughter myself, if she had required such services at age six or seven, I would not have wanted her to have to wait two years before meeting with a specialist in the field of social work, while she was having integration problems or any other such problems at school. Thus, I feel it is important to recognize parents' financial efforts and not make them pay additional taxes. I think that would be the right approach.
Furthermore, there is also a tax burden for charities. As a former unionist, I worked closely with charitable organizations. People in these organizations were close to the union movement. We defended a shared cause, that is, a more social approach within our society, a more equitable and fair approach. These people work year round for excellent causes. These causes might involve church groups or any type of organization that is a registered charity. In my view, the bill's new provision will be advantageous for them.
For example, a business owner who rents a shop in downtown Saint-Jean or elsewhere in Canada can deduct both the tax and the rent from his income taxes. If an owner gives space worth $10,000 in one of his buildings to a charity group, he can forego the rent and deduct it from his taxes. I think that really helps people who are supporting an important social cause.
I mentioned churches, but that might not exactly apply because they often own the premises they need to carry out their activities. This would apply more to the many registered charitable organizations that should have the opportunity to use premises for a minimal cost, that is, rent-free with no obligation to pay the rent at the end of the year. Often, the cost of rent can force an organization to cut services.
For example, if charitable organizations are allowed to use space for free, they can provide services to the public. These services are very important; nowadays, many people cannot get by without them.
We also really like the measure that supports small vintners. In fact, this affects me personally. As the member for Saint-Jean, I have to say that in Quebec, wine producers have been having a lot of problems lately. There have been some issues with the Société des alcools du Québec. It made no sense that liquor stores in Quebec were stocked with wines from all over the world, but not wines from Quebec. When I shop at the LCBO, Ontario wines are on every shelf, as are British Columbia wines. In Quebec, there were problems with that. People had to get their wine directly from the producers. Then they were hit with an excise tax, which made them less competitive. Wine production is becoming more and more competitive. Now, even the French acknowledge that they are in a very competitive environment. Wines come from all over. Stores now carry wines from South Africa, all over Europe and around the world.
Since this is a very competitive market, we should give a helping hand to the vintners. We should tell them that they no longer have to pay the excise tax. This would give them the latitude to probably offer more affordable prices. I do not think that the producers would put the entire savings from the excise tax in their pockets. I think they would pass on the savings to consumers, thus making these wines more competitive.
We like some other provisions, such as the ones on tobacco.
There are some clarifications on the provisions of the excise tax to better fight against contraband tobacco products. It is about time. We are not the first to think of this, since even the Romans thought to tax luxury goods. In today's society, we consider taxing unhealthy products, such as cigarettes. This is nothing new. Rome thought of it before us. Given all the harmful effects of tobacco, I think it is important to maintain the level of taxation. Smuggling must also be avoided, and I think that the current provisions will ensure that the origin of the tobacco product must be known.
We will have to deal with the fact that on aboriginal reserves, there are many of these little smoke shacks that sell tobacco products without tax, products whose origins are unclear as well. I regularly drive through part of the reserve at the exit of the Mercier bridge. It goes from one side of the border to the other. Some measures in Bill C-40 will make it possible to better control cigarette smuggling. It is not acceptable that some people can get away with this, while the corner store in downtown Saint-Jean must pay the total price. Conditions are not tough enough; all the corner stores must sell cigarettes with prices and taxes indicated, while elsewhere, such as on the reserve, for example, things are different.
Thus, I believe that this measure will not only get a handle on the problem, but will also allow the government to generate some revenue. This is what I mentioned this morning about Bill C-33. When an illegal trade develops and is almost entirely untaxed, it is the government that loses revenues, because some people will buy their tobacco products there instead of at the corner store.
Therefore, we encourage this measure, because it will try to finally put an end to cigarette smuggling and, if we really succeed, it will put more revenues in the coffers of the government, which will be able to spend some on all kinds of services and will be able to improve health or education services, as I mentioned this morning.
The same goes for alcohol. In the bill, some overtures have been made about the objectives. First, it allows provincial liquor boards and vintners to possess a still . This was previous illegal. Personally, I know someone—I will not tell his name—who would give me a bottle of grappa once in a while. He did not sell it to me; this was totally legal, I tell you right now. However, to produce grappa, you must have a still and a licence.
Before, one had to go through many people and many steps, and there were costs associated with these steps. The bill will save the provincial boards all these steps and costs inherent in the purchase of this equipment used to produce and sell alcohol. This legislation will allow people, whether they be wine producers or not, who wish to make grappa or any other type of wine, to do so legally. They will be able to buy these stills.
Moreover, another type of illegal trade will be eliminated. I was personally happy to be given a bottle of wine by this person, but maybe other producers were illegally selling their production and the government was losing out on these revenues. This will allow such companies to operate legally, to obey the law and to provide the government with some revenue.
I would also like to talk about the security surcharge at some airports.
After the events of 9/11, I remember sitting on the legislative committee where senators and MPs discussed a considerable surcharge—based on the number of passengers—to provide all airports with the necessary equipment to fight terrorism.
Now we learn that this charge will be eliminated at certain airports. In my opinion, this will allow airports to avoid being crushed by the weight of this surtax. We note that the La Grande 3 and La Grande 4 airports will no longer be subject to the charge
However, this is offset by the fact that certain airports that were not on the list—the Mont-Tremblant airport in particular—will now be added. There has been a significant increase in passengers at this airport because this part of Quebec is experiencing tremendous growth. Thus, they will be taxed and the charge will be added.
In other words, applying a charge to an airport that is already very popular and that is already making a bit of money, is preferable to applying a charge to all airports. Small airports would have trouble because each time a plane lands, a surtax is charged. Thus, this is significant for the budgets of small airports and we truly approve of this measure.
There are a number of provisions in this bill that we truly like.
Given that I have the time, I would like to go back a bit. Earlier I spoke of speech language pathology, but only with regard to young children who have hearing or speaking impairments. However, this measure will also help individuals who are slightly older.
I believe that many seniors may be receiving treatment for speech-language pathology. For instance, I am thinking of my father who suffered a series of strokes. Rehabilitation is a difficult and often lengthy process because of the long wait times for health care.
People with insurance could afford treatment for speech-language pathology. If they can afford it and decide to pay for it themselves, then why tax them? The situation is a little like that of the young children I was talking about earlier, who have problems speaking or hearing. The same is true of seniors who have the same sort of problem. And these clients are not wealthy. We know the statistics about seniors. Any measures that could help them further would be welcome.
We are still waiting for the federal government to look at seniors' tax returns and pay them the guaranteed income supplement immediately if they qualify. We are still calling for that. However, if they need a speech-language pathologist, we agree that this service should be tax exempt, as the bill provides.
The bill contains only good measures. There may be some things we would like to see taken further, but we believe this is a very good start. There are some measures in the bill that we have wanted to see for a long time, such as the duty on wine. Vintners would talk to me about this regularly. They will be very happy to learn that the Bloc Québécois is supporting this bill.
As I mentioned earlier, on the whole, this bill contains attractive measures not only for airports and vintners, but also for people who need health care services.
We can please all these people, and these measures are along the lines of what we want to see happen. That is why the Bloc Québécois will be very happy to support this bill.