Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this legislation, which, I would suggest, would be very costly and is very poorly thought out.
It is really a novelty proposal from the Liberal Party for a new taxpayer-funded travel subsidy. There are numerous flaws with this Liberal proposal, but unfortunately the 10 minutes allotted for my speech are not nearly enough to explain them all. However, before I address them in detail, let me briefly explain what this Liberal proposal would actually do.
This costly bill would give a very generous tax deduction of up to $2,000 for certain types of travel across at least three provinces by bus, train or airplane or, for short, the Planes, Trains and Automobiles subsidy. Unlike the 1987 comedy by the same name, with the great Canadian actor John Candy, there is nothing funny about this Liberal proposal, especially for the Canadian taxpayers who would be asked to fork over hundreds of millions of their hard-earned dollars to pay for it. Indeed, for Canadians watching at home, today's Liberal proposal is a perfect example of what our Conservative government means when we say that the opposition is fiscally incompetent.
In an era when governments are trying to get back to balanced budgets, I ask Canadians why a party with any sense of fiscal responsibility would suggest that a new novelty subsidy with a price tag of over $200 million each year be a sound idea. More importantly, why do the Liberals think it is the responsibility of government, which is taxpayers, to subsidize personal travel? That kind of big government thinking is a relic of the 1960s and 1970s. Respected National Post columnist Kelly McParland provided commentary on this Liberal proposal in a recent article. She wrote, in part, “...the shrunken little Liberal caucus is pumping out silly ways to spend even more borrowed money trying to manipulate Canadian behaviour, just like the old days”.
What's worse, this bill would not even accomplish what it sets out to do, and that is according to the Canadian tourism industry itself. The head of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada said directly, “...we don’t think this is a particularly useful mechanism because Canada’s challenge is not a lack of domestic travel”.
In the remainder of my time here today, I will address the flaws of this proposal in greater detail. These flaws include its unfairness to Canadians across the country, its sizable cost to taxpayers, and its inability to actually increase domestic travel.
After that, I will present our Conservative government's constructive, effective and more fiscally responsible approach to promoting Canadian tourism.
First, let us examine the issue of fairness—or unfairness, in fact—as it relates to this proposal. For instance, let us consider the modes of travel that are available: buses, planes and trains. What about boats? What about cars? What about motorhomes? Why would some be excluded? Why would some be included? It seems to be completely arbitrary.
What about the fact that eligibility would be tied to travel crossing three provincial boundaries? This would mean that some Canadians would benefit more than others, given the shorter distances between provinces in certain areas of the country.
Second, let us remember that this costly subsidy would not even accomplish what it sets out to do. As I noted before, the Canadian tourism industry itself has already dismissed today's Liberal proposal. It has done so for the good reason that it is clear this proposal would do very little to actually encourage interprovincial travel within Canada.
For that matter, even a basic analysis quickly reveals that it would carry a significant cost. Specifically, according to the Department of Finance and based on existing travel patterns and expenditures, preliminary estimates suggest that this proposal would cost at least $215 million each year.
I should note that is a conservative estimate based solely on existing travel patterns. If Canadians were actually motivated to change their travel plans to qualify for this costly subsidy, as is the stated intent of the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, this proposal would cost taxpayers even more.
I know the Liberal Party might not think that $200 million a year is a lot, but Canadian taxpayers know it is a lot of money.
We can think of it another way: over the first five years alone, it would cost, at the very least, $1 billion—not $1 million, but $1 billion. When politicians propose $1 billion in new spending over five years, Canadian taxpayers expect and demand that they also explain how they are going to pay for it. Canadian families working on their household budget around the dinner table know that if they add new spending, they had better know how they are going to pay for it. Even though the Liberals have come here today with a plan for new spending, have they told us how they are going to pay for it? Would they cut government services? Would they cut government programs? Would they cut health care transfers, as they did in the 1990s when they were in government? Would they just hike taxes, such as income taxes or the GST? Maybe they would simply add to the government debt.
We do not know what they would do, because the Liberal Party and the member did not think about those questions. That is the very definition of fiscal irresponsibility.
It is little wonder that many Canadians have given a thumbs-down to this proposal already. Indeed, here is what some everyday Canadians said when asked by Global News about this proposal. One man said, “It reduces tax revenue to the government, which means government has less money to do other things that I might value more.” Another added, “We are in financially tight times right now, and letting our country go further into debt for that sole reason seems like a bad idea to me.”
It is comforting to know that these everyday Canadians have more wisdom and more fiscal responsibility than the Liberal Party. It is no wonder more and more Canadians are turning their backs on the Liberals. By rejecting this costly Liberal plan, our Conservative government is standing by the existing support that we provide to Canada's tourism industry.
This government recognizes the importance of the tourism industry to this country. It contributes about $80 billion to our economy. It creates jobs for 600,000 Canadians and is an industry that touches all regions of the country. It is important to all regions and to all our constituencies.
That is why, in October 2011, we brought forward our federal tourism strategy. It is a whole of government approach. It reaches across 20 different departments or agencies and touches on 31 different recommendations across those 20 different agencies and departments.
It is centred on four key areas. The priorities are, first, increasing awareness of Canada as a premier tourist destination; second, facilitating ease of access and movement for travellers while protecting the safety and integrity of Canada's borders; third, encouraging product development and investments in Canadian tourism assets and products; and fourth, fostering an adequate supply of skills and labour to enhance visitor experiences through quality of service and hospitality.
One of the biggest things it does is pull together all those departments for the first time. It does so by bringing together a steering committee. The steering committee takes the plans and priorities we have for tourism, pulls them all together and gets all the departments and agencies thinking about the importance of tourism and the effect they have on tourism. For the first time, we are including the tourism industry in those consultations and meetings and making sure their voices are heard at the government table.
We are making a difference. If I had more time, I would like to share all the great things we are doing for tourism. Unfortunately, time runs short in the House, so suffice it to say that we are very excited about the future prospects of the tourism industry.
As a government we are committed to fiscal responsibility, and for this reason we will be voting against this proposal. That is also why we are supporting effective programs to boost tourism rather than the costly novelty of the Liberal proposal for a taxpayer-funded travel subsidy.