Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to be the first speaker for the Reform Party on this bill. As members know, I am new to the House and studying this bill has provided me with an important lesson in the legislative process of which all Canadians should be made aware.
When the Prime Minister announced the government's national action plan to combat smuggling and Bill C-11 was introduced by the Minister of National Revenue, we assumed that Bill C-11 would contain all the measures announced in the national action plan to combat smuggling. Unfortunately it did not.
In fact all the tax measures announced by the Prime Minister in the national action plan to combat smuggling have been implemented using ways and means motions.
Ways and means motions require the government to bring a bill or bills before the House some time in the future. Ways and means motions cannot be debated. Therefore the tax reduction on cigarettes, the export tax on cigarettes and the health promotion surtax are not in Bill C-11. In effect they will not be seriously debated or subject to review and amendment by the Standing Committee on Finance until the government decides to bring in the other bills as required by the ways and means motions.
As I said, it was an educational experience for me to see how the government does things. The government is able to put its agenda forward even though there may be very little debate on it from its own MPs.
The measures introduced in Bill C-11 are fairly minor in comparison. The main amendments to the Excise Act and the Customs Act allow the government immediately to destroy certain seized property, even when there is an unresolved claim. It permits the government to give police forces the same seizure power as the RCMP.
Another amendment to the Excise Act requires cigarettes to be individually stamped if they are manufactured or imported into Canada in order to make sure that the duties have been paid. It is a very good control measure.
Finally, the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act has been amended to prohibit sales of tobacco products to any person under the age of 18. It makes it illegal to manufacture, package or sell cigarettes in packages containing less than 20 cigarettes. This is also a good measure.
On February 8 when the Prime Minister announced his national action plan to combat smuggling my constituency office received 52 calls, 43 of which opposed the reduction of taxes on cigarettes. Since the government made clear its intention to reduce the tax on cigarettes I have received letters from many different sources protesting the government's action.
Here are some of them: Saskatchewan Medical Association; Canadian Medical Association; College of Family Physicians, Saskatchewan Chapter; Saskatchewan Provincial Health Council; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada; and the Canadian Cancer Society.
Also opposed is the Saskatchewan Interagency Council on Smoking and Health which includes all the following agencies: Allergy Foundation of Canada; City of Regina Health Department; Community Health and Epidemiology Department of the University of Saskatchewan, Continuing Medical Education, Continuing Nursing Education; Manitoba and Saskatchewan Conference of the Seventh Day Adventists; Saskatchewan Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission; Saskatchewan Education; Saskatchewan Health; Saskatchewan Health Care Association; Saskatchewan Institute on the Prevention of Handicaps; Saskatchewan Medical Association; Saskatchewan Pharmaceutical Association; Saskatchewan Public Health Association; Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association; Saskatoon Community Health Clinic; University of Saskatchewan; Canadian Cancer Society, Saskatchewan division; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan Inc.; and Saskatchewan Lung Association.
We also received representations from Saskatchewan Heart-Health which includes the following agencies and organizations: Canadian Cancer Society; Canadian Diabetes Association; Consumers Association of Canada; Coronary Artery Rehabilitation Group; Coteau Hills Heart Health Coalition; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan; Interagency Council on Smoking and Health; Regina Health District; Regina Heart Healthy Partners; Saskatchewan Council on Community Development; Saskatchewan Diabetic Association; Saskatchewan Health, Community Services Branch and Health Promotion Branch; Saskatchewan Lung Association; Saskatchewan Public Health Association; Saskatchewan Medical Association; Saskatchewan Physical Education Association; Saskatchewan Recreational Association; Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association; Saskatchewan Restaurant Association; Saskatoon Tri-Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Program;
SIAST-Wascana Institute; and the University of Saskatchewan Heart and Stroke Epidemiology unit.
This huge list represents many people. It shows the great concern and the broad base opposed to the measures the government is taking. All these organizations have expressed their concern.
A letter opposing the tax reduction also came from the National Campaign for Action on Tobacco which includes the following agencies and organizations: Canadian Cancer Society; Canadian Chiropractic Association; Canadian Council on Smoking and Health; Canadian Dental Association; Canadian Home and School and Parent-Teacher Federation; Canadian Hospital Association; Canadian Lung Association; Canadian Medical Association; Canadian Pharmaceutical Association; Canadian Physiotherapy Association; Canadian Public Health Association; Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists; Canadian Teachers Federation; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada; Non-Smokers' Rights Association; Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada; Canadian Association of Optometrists; College of Family Physicians of Canada; Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons; and the United Church of Canada.
This represents a huge number of people who have objections and concerns regarding this measure. I will not mention any more but it gives an idea of how many people have concerns in this area.
Seventy agencies and organizations have made representations to me, just one member of Parliament. These 70 agencies and organizations are opposed to the tax reduction on cigarettes. In contrast, I have received just nine phone calls and one letter in favour of the measure announced by the government.
At this time I would like to read some of the concerns expressed in these representations. One letter comes from the Saskatchewan Provincial Health Council. It is addressed to the Prime Minister and reads:
We are puzzled and dismayed that your government is considering rolling back tobacco taxes.
Every province in Canada is involved to some degree in health reform and moving the emphasis from curing sick people to wellness initiatives and prevention of ill health. We have assumed that these initiatives were supported by our federal government.
Instead, we hear of your intended action which will reduce constraints and ultimately encourage and facilitate people, particularly our young people, to beginning or continuing an addictive practice that results in disease and death.
Please remember the following facts:
In 1989, tobacco smoking caused Canadians 9.5 billion in health dollars in the workplace.
One-quarter of high school students who smoke had their first cigarette by grade 6.
There are 43 known cancer producing substances in tobacco smoke.
Nicotine has similar drug and behavioural addictive effects as heroin and cocaine.
One hundred and seventy-five thousand teens will take up smoking if you roll taxes back.
Surely your government does not want to be remembered for contributing to the premature deaths of 250,000 people.
Another letter which is addressed to the Minister of Finance states: "We are writing to express our strong opposition to any decrease in tobacco taxes".
Here is another excerpt from that letter: "Tobacco is the only legal product available which when used as intended causes premature death and disability. Tobacco use is the largest single independent risk factor for heart disease, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in Canada. It accounts for 12 per cent of all hospital admissions, 20 per cent of patient days in hospital, 20 per cent of disability pensions paid by the Canada pension plan and is responsible for 32 per cent of total future earnings lost due to premature death".
Where does this letter come from? It comes from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan. It has a concern in this area.
It goes on to say: "To decrease tobacco taxes now would increase tobacco consumption by youth, decrease government revenue and reward one of the major causes of the tobacco smuggling problem, the actions of Canadian tobacco manufacturers".
I would like to read more excerpts from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. This is a letter addressed to myself: "Dear Mr. Breitkreuz: What you may not be aware of is that, motivated only by profit, the tobacco industry has misrepresented both the nature of the problem and the consequences of its proposal to reduce taxes. Health groups, in contrast, have nothing personal to gain from the position we adopt on this issue. Our only interest is safeguarding the health of Canadians by preserving the tremendous progress realized over the past decade in reducing tobacco consumption. What follows is a point by point rebuttal of the tobacco lobby's main argument in favour of a tax rollback".
I will not read the whole letter, but it addresses the myth that there is a tax rollback that would stop the revenue leakage caused by smuggling. It said that in fact governments would lose substantially more revenue by lowering taxes.
Then it addresses another myth that tobacco tax increases have no impact on reducing smoking. The fact is that tobacco consumption has dropped dramatically in Canada over the past 10 years largely because of tobacco tax increases.
The foundation goes on to say in this letter that tobacco consumption in Canada has dropped 40 per cent over the past decade, even with smuggled tobacco factored in, primarily as a result of tobacco tax increases which rendered cigarettes less affordable. Canada's 40 per reduction in per capita tobacco consumption is significantly greater than that of the United States at 27 per cent over the same period. We must take note of these facts when we have this discussion.
Then it addresses another myth that tobacco is taxed at an unfairly high rate in Canada. In fact Canada tobacco tax levels are on par with most industrialized nations.
I would like also to read a brief excerpt from the Canadian Cancer Society. It says: "Dear Mr. Breitkreuz: We urge you to speak up in caucus meetings against tobacco tax rollbacks which would only benefit the tobacco industry and would be a public health disaster".
I have another letter here from the Saskatchewan Interagency Council on Smoking and Health. I will read an excerpt from it: "Very recently U.S. government researchers reported that while heart disease and cancer may be listed as the nation's leading killers, the biggest underlying cause of death is tobacco use. Let us not forget that tobacco is the greatest cause of preventable death in Canada". Let me repeat that tobacco is the greatest cause of preventable death in Canada.
Let us not forget that cigarettes cause health problems when used exactly as intended. Canada must continue with its combination of fiscal and health policies if we are to continue to reduce tobacco use.
We support very much what the government is doing, what its intended use is, but we must question the things that have not been included in the bill, the tax reduction measures.
Here is another news release from the National Campaign for Action on Tobacco. Again I will not read the whole release. I am just going to take an excerpt. David Sweanor, senior legal counsel with the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, stated:
Reducing tobacco taxes would make tobacco products more affordable, which would result in enormous increases in consumption, especially among children and adolescents. The tobacco industry has lobbied itself into a win-win position. The industry profits from supplying tobacco products that end up smuggled back into Canada and, of course, the industry wins if governments bow to pressure to lower tobacco taxes.
That is one of the primary concerns that people expressed in those many phone calls we received. The government is bowing and the industry is bowing to pressure from certain groups to lower taxes.
Here is another letter from Saskatchewan Heart Health:
We are writing to urge you not to reduce taxes on tobacco products.
We believe that reducing taxes would not solve the smuggling problem, would lead to greater consumption of tobacco products by Canadians, particularly by youth, and would send the wrong signal to the United States at a time when they are considering a tobacco tax increase.
We have heard on the news recently that the U.S. was watching what we do in Canada and that it will encourage the U.S. not to increase taxes there. It continued:
Canada has witnessed an unprecedented decrease in tobacco consumption over the past decade, coinciding with significant increases in federal and provincial tobacco taxes. Because youth tend to have limited incomes, price increases have an even greater deterrent effect on them.
At a time when other countries view Canada as progressive in its tobacco taxation policy and the resulting decreased consumption, it would seem to be a very backward step to now decrease taxes.
This message comes from the Saskatchewan Lung Association and it is marked urgent. I will read three main points from its memo:
Reducing tobacco taxes would be an economic calamity.
Reducing tobacco taxes would escalate health problems.
Reducing tobacco taxes would not eliminate smuggling.
I have one more letter from a constituent in MacNutt, Saskatchewan. I will not read the whole letter. It is addressed to myself:
We are appalled at the decision that the federal government is planning to remove some of the taxes on tobacco products. Again, just like previous governments, they are trying to please Quebec. Why is there not more effort put into the policing of smugglers? Also, why should Indian Reserves be exempt from the laws and taxes of this country? Are we not all to be treated equally? How would the lost revenue from cigarettes be made up? Who would pay for the extra health costs incurred by the greater use of tobacco products?
That is an opinion expressed by one of my constituents. We should be aware of what they are thinking.
As a Reform MP I am bound by the constitution of the Reform Party of Canada to represent my constituents' wishes.
It is easy to see how I will vote when the government introduces the bill on reducing taxes on cigarettes. While I am also in favour of lowering taxes I do not believe we should lower taxes until the budget is balanced.
Let us first reduce government spending, balance the budget and then look at lowering taxes. Are Reform MPs the only members of this House receiving phone calls and letters opposed to the tax reduction on cigarettes? Am I the only one being inundated with this kind of information?
I wonder how many other MPs will be able to face their constituents if they vote in favour of the tax reduction whenever that bill is brought before the House. We have to listen to the people of Canada. We have to hear their concerns and respond.
On February 8, after the Prime Minister announced the national action plan to combat smuggling, the leader of our party announced in the House that the Reform Party was in favour of some aspects of the action plan and opposed to others.
Our leader said that we were in favour of stronger law enforcement, that the Reform Party supported the government's anti-smoking education campaign, that the Reform Party supported the export tax on cigarettes, and that the Reform Party was opposed to reducing taxes on cigarettes.
We supported three of the government's initiatives but we were opposed to reducing taxes on cigarettes. Since the government's announcement our Ottawa hotline has received over 60 voice messages and faxes. The vast majority of those have been opposed to reducing taxes on cigarettes.
I stand here today to announce to the House that I am generally in favour of the position announced by our leader on February 8, 1994 in the House and that this position is consistent with the wishes of my constituents.
I am going to reserve judgment, however, on each of the specific measures of the action plan on smuggling until my colleagues have spoken and provided the government with their analysis and introduced their constructive alternatives to the government.
While Bill C-11 does not contain all the measures announced in the government's national action plan to combat smuggling, we are convinced we cannot delay the debate of all the measures put forward by the government in its action plan.
We cannot wait another week or another month to debate the tax related issues in the House and fully inform all Canadians of the full impact and consequences of the action plan on smuggling. We should be debating all of those things right now.
The debate should start today on all the issues concerning the public and not just the few measures introduced into Bill C-11. How many people will become addicted to smoking before the real debate on tax reduction can begin?
In their calls and letters, people and the organizations they belong to told me some very startling facts. They told me that 840,000 more Canadians who will take up smoking as a result of the reduction of taxes this government announced.
This includes 175,000 new teenage smokers. They told me that 250,000 of these Canadians would die as a direct result of their addiction to tobacco products. They told me that in Canada there are 40,000 tobacco related deaths every year. This is before the 840,000 new smokers join the line-up at our hospitals and funeral homes. They told me that when the price of cigarettes goes up by 10 per cent, tobacco sales to adults drop by 4 per cent to 9 per cent. Sales to teenagers drop between 10 per cent and 14 per cent. Therefore it comes as no surprise that smoking will increase as dramatically when taxes are reduced.
They told me the extra health care costs associated with treating diseases in 840,000 new smokers could cost about $1.3 billion a year. Has the government taken this into account?
They told me they could not understand why a smuggling problem in Quebec should require the lowering of cigarette taxes across Canada. They told me they could not understand why the government has taken such broad action when the commissioner of the RCMP has confirmed that 70 per cent of smuggled cigarettes pass through the three Mohawk reserves between Cornwall and Montreal.
They told me they were concerned about whether the government's increased enforcement would be applied equally, regardless if the criminals live on or off Indian reserves. These are all questions they are asking. They also told me they could not understand why the Minister of Health could support the tax reduction on cigarettes when so many health organizations and most of the provincial ministers of health are so opposed.
That is from my own province where there is strong opposition. They told me they were concerned about the impact the government's measures would have on federal-provincial relations and relationships between the provinces, particularly Ontario and Quebec.
The Reform Party welcomes this debate so these issues can be brought before the House and before the Canadian public. As everyone can see we need answers to many questions. Will the government agree to answer these questions for us and for all Canadians?
In conclusion I want to pose some questions that Canadians have. First, what are the cost revenue implications in the short and long term? Has the government done a study? Do we know what the cost revenue results of this action will be?
Second, what will be the impact on the provincial health care programs and the federal government's share of these increased costs? Will we be able to afford the increased health care costs?
Third, what will be the impact on our law enforcement, justice and legal systems? We need to investigate all of these things.
Fourth, how many jobs will be affected in the tobacco industry? Has a study been done on this?
Fifth, how many tobacco farmers will be affected by this?
Sixth, if there are truly no "no go" zones in Canada, what impact will the stopping of smuggling on the Mohawk reserves have on self-government negotiations? Has anyone checked this out? Did government ministers and the Liberal caucus consult their own members from Ontario and across Canada before implementing these measures? Were all people asked? Were these MPs not receiving the same information that we as Reform MPs were receiving? Will we have answers to some of these important questions before we vote?
I appreciate the fact that we have the opportunity to debate this bill. I commend the government on its openness. I am glad I am able to express some of the views of my constituents and my own personal concerns.
The Reform Party believes that the national action plan to combat smuggling could be improved. Our speakers will be proposing constructive alternatives the government might wish to consider and bring forward as amendments during the committee stage.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to express my views on the government's anti-smoking measures in Bill C-11. I hope we have a good day as we debate these measures.