Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Joliette for coming to the rescue. I was so absorbed in my speech that I did not notice the other conversations that were going on, but now, as I look around me, I see people talking.
As I was saying, the purpose of Bill C-82 is to issue a coin that will replace the $2 bill, as a money saving measure that, I agree, will save approximately $240 million over 20 years. But that is where the saving stops. When we consider the transition period until this legislation can be implemented, we are talking about substantial expenditures, because it is clear that the private sector will again be stuck with spending several million dollars during the transition. As you know, when the government issues
a new coin, in this case the $2 coin, it means all cash registers in every business in this country have to be changed.
At the present time, cash registers can accommodate coins in denominations of 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents and one dollar, and now all cash registers will have to be changed to accommodate the $2 coin. Who is going to pay? The merchants, of course. We will have to change all the vending machines across the country, at an estimated cost of more than $80 million. And yes, there is more. We will have to change parking meters in our municipalities to accommodate the $2 coin, and ticket counters and video games. And what about telephone booths? There are a lot of those in Canada. Apparently, the additional cost for the private sector in Canada will be $400 million during the first year, and that is a conservative estimate. That is the minimum cost to the private sector.
These are very substantial amounts.
It is nonsense to say, like the parliamentary secretary, that it is painless for the business community. There is nothing painless about obliging merchants to change their cash registers at a time when many are already suffering as a result of poor decision making by this government. Consider the GST and all the paperwork small businesses have to cope with, businesses that in some cases are on the verge of bankruptcy. Now they are being asked to change their cash registers. This is not necessarily good news for them.
We can hardly say this is painless and that the government is acting in the best interests of a private sector that will have to spend at least $400 million because a new coin is being issued.
I heard some comments from government members. Sure, this will get the economy going. This will make a real difference. Four hundred million dollars at least will be spent. That will make a difference. I think this reasoning shows a lack of imagination and I would even say a lack of intelligence on the part of the government, because we know perfectly well that if the government really wanted to boost the economy, it could do it in a positive way.
If the government really cared about promoting private enterprise and small business, it would make an effort to simplify the paperwork, the forms and all the taxes imposed on small business and forget about issuing a $2 coin.
Issuing a $2 coin is no help to small business or even businesses in general in Canada. It complicates their lives. It forces them to spend money for something they did not ask for. Who, in the end, is going to pay for it? Businesses will pass the cost on to the customer. It will have an inflationary effect, perhaps like the introduction of the GST and all the other government measures of the past. It will have an inflationary effect.
We all know that, with the introduction of the dollar coin a few years ago, a whole slew of things that sold for 80 cents, 85 cents or 90 cents suddenly started selling for a dollar. The same thing will happen again. Everything that now sells for $1.75 will now suddenly be selling for $2. It is not fair. This negative effect is not fair for consumers who will have to pay a little more for each purchase.
All the business people who will have to buy another cash register will pass the cost on in the goods and services they sell to their customers. Basically, the consumers will be the ones to pay. On the pretext of saving $250 million, the federal government is handing another bill to the consumers, who will have to pay two or three times more. This is unimaginative, would you not say, Mr. Speaker?
Besides, this is not a new approach. The federal government has often passed a debt on to the provinces or the municipalities in order to save money and reduce its deficit. In this case, it is passing the debt on to the consumer.
Furthermore, this measure not only does not help the economy, it may even have an inflationary effect on certain items. It may even be said to have a slowing down effect, dragging the economy down. Here again, this is not helping private enterprise, which is being stuck with a needless expenditure, one it never asked for. There is no money in this for private enterprise.
No business asked for this, except perhaps bus companies which could benefit from the elimination of the $2 bill. There would be no more $2 paper money. People would probably have to use one dollar coins. In other words, what I am trying to tell the parliamentary secretary is that there may be other ways to solve the problem caused by $2 bills in bus fare boxes.
To introduce a $2 coin at this time, given the present economic situation in Canada, with its crushing debt load and cuts to social programs and elsewhere, could possibly slow down the economy, because of the additional costs to the system. The government is considering expenses the private sector finds useless. It will cause consumers to spend more for the sake of saving a few million dollars.
Again, we, in the Bloc, believe Canada should save money, but not just any which way and at any cost. If, to try to save $250 million, you ask consumers to pay $400 million, what kind of saving is it? The parliamentary secretary mentioned the fact that the reaction from the public was very positive, that people were enthusiastic, and that the $1 coin had become the ever popular loonie. We were given the impression that the public agreed, and so did associations and merchants, but this is not the case at all.
The majority of merchant associations and consumer associations were not consulted. Only a few were consulted, and some said they felt the government was going too fast. Consumer and merchant associations remember the costly introduction of the $1 coin which was not readily accepted by the public and is not quite entirely accepted yet. Its impact was not very positive. It took some time to get used to it. Right from the start, the coin was found to be too heavy, too big, and unacceptable. This was a mistake.
The consumer and merchant associations I consulted told me that the government was going too fast. It might make another mistake and introduce a coin which might be heavier, bigger, and even less acceptable for the public, and which will be of no help to the private sector or retail business and will hurt them. It will cost shopkeepers at least $400 million more to adapt to this new coin and, in the end, consumers will have to foot the bill.
We have to ask ourselves whose interests the government is defending? Who exactly are we serving here? For whom do politicians work? To whom are we accountable? Is the government taking these measures just to solve some small problem of its own? By creating this $2 coin, we might be solving problems only for the Royal Canadian Mint, while ignoring those of the business people and the population.
The parliamentary secretary argued that the Royal Canadian Mint will have the opportunity to develop an industry and compete with other similar industries over the world, even sell $2 coins to the United States maybe. But can he explain why the Royal Canadian Mint is unable to compete on the international market right now? Why does it need a $2 coin? We already have the nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar coin; we could mint 2, 5 and 10 dollar coins for other countries.
Is helping the Royal Canadian Mint compete internationally a good enough reason to introduce a two dollar coin in Canada, when in fact, the Royal Mint is quite capable of competing on the international market as things stand right now? Are we creating that coin just to please the Royal Canadian Mint? Should we not first try to find out if the public wants such a thing? Do shopkeepers and business people want that coin? That is the question.
Before we implement a change as important as this one, it seems to me we should get to the bottom of the issue and ask ourselves who we are supposed to serve. I happen to think we are here to serve the public. Therefore, before doing anything else, we should consult the public. We should find out if Canadians really agree with the introduction of a $2 coin.
The parliamentary secretary says that everybody agrees. Everyone wants coins, they love the loonie, the "ever popular loonie", as he said. Yet, when you look at the poll which was conducted, you wonder whether it was not also orchestrated to please the Royal Canadian Mint.
The were two polls, the one we are interested in was done this year or at least the results were released this year. In fact, this is the only poll done this year by Environics, although it was in two parts. It shows that, deep down, there is a strong reluctance in the public.
The company did one poll that showed that about 50 per cent of the people said no, absolutely not, no $2 coin. Another 50 per cent said maybe, they hesitated. And this was interpreted as a positive response, 50 per cent said yes.
The parliamentary secretary did not talk about the people who are against it. Environics redid the poll a second time and talked to the same 1,000 people-because they only talked to 1,000 people in Sherbrooke, Toronto and Calgary. They repolled the same 1,000 persons and they told them that the country would be saving $250 million. That second time, of course, the acceptance rate jumped to almost 80 per cent. Sure, everybody is in favour of motherhood and apple pie.
Everybody in Canada wants to save money. Nobody in Canada would refuse the government a chance to save. But did they take the time to explain to these people that it will also cost a lot of money to merchants and consumers? No, they did not take the time to explain that. They did not take the time to explain the other possibilities or to do a thorough polling to try to avoid the mistake made when the $1 coin was introduced. There was a big mistake made at the time. We know that.
When you look back at the history of our currency, you realize that there was a very strong opposition to the loonie. People were saying it was not real money, it was just a piece of metal of the wrong colour and it was far too big and too heavy.
But worst of all, the government did not take the time to inform the people. It did not launch, let us say, an advertising or information campaign to explain to citizens the need for this coin. It could have consulted people and put some effort into producing a coin that would perhaps be less bulky, lighter and more original, but it did not do so.
Once a coin is introduced, we are stuck with it for the rest of our lives. We cannot change it. The same thing can be said of the loonie. A mistake was made and this is not the ever popular loonie. Even in Kingston, as in cities everywhere, banks have 50 million loonies in their strongrooms, because this coin is not circulating. People did not accept it.
Here we are stuck with perhaps 50 million loonies which are not in circulation, quite a load. Obviously, in Kingston as elsewhere in the country, we will witness the same reluctance to use the $2 coin and it is already happening. I sense it myself but one has only to speak to people in the streets, on the buses and so on to see that people do not want a $2 coin. People did not accept the loonie, so why would there not be even greater reluctance to use a bigger and heavier coin?
Of course such reluctance is normal, because the idea is new. But if we decide to eliminate the $2 bill, for example, it will be a new experience too.
The government lacks imagination and vision. It does not take the time to really think things through. Even if, for some, the introduction of a $2 coin will not change the world, one has to take the time to do one's job. The Department of Public Works certainly did not do its job in this case; besides the minister did not even bother coming here to defend his bill this morning. Or rather, the hon. minister is here in spirit, smiling through his colleagues.
I note, however, certain factors that clearly indicate to me that the minister is not particularly interested in defending his bill as I would have liked him to.
Polls which unfortunately are made to serve the interests of the Royal Canadian Mint, but polls which are also incomplete, very incomplete, and which repeat the errors of the past, which do not consider two other alternatives that must be considered, that the government could consider, with the same regard for economy and with a greater respect for the general public.
If, for example, the government took a close look at the situation, maybe it would realize that this is not the right moment to introduce a $2 coin. Maybe this is not the time. Maybe we should maintain for some time the current system with the $2 paper bill. Maybe the timing is not right. Maybe the retailers do not want to be involved in another change, when they are already being buffeted by changes in taxation and forms coming from the government. Another government requirement, more useless spending by the government. Maybe this is not the right time. Maybe this is a lack of judgment on the government's part, bad timing, and if the government really, sincerely wanted to save money, it could do it elsewhere.
I could suggest many ways to save those $250 million. The Minister of Public Works could himself abolish the Atlantic Canada Opportunities agency, something that has been suggested to him many times, because we know that this agency spends its money very freely, making gifts to this one and that one. We read in the newspapers that the minister, who does not have the best reputation in the government when it comes to his handouts, could, by abolishing the agency which spends between $300 million and $500 million every year, have saved a much greater amount that the savings that we are supposedly making by issuing a two dollar coin.
There are all sorts of reasons and examples that we can give to encourage the government to save $250 million. Also, there is a second alternative. First, we can maintain the current situation and continue for a while, because the timing is bad for merchants and consumers. The other alternative that the government did not even consider and that I suggest simply because I too am interested in savings, is to abolish the two dollar denomination, whether paper or coin, as was done in the United States.
In the past-I have a $2 bill, I had a $2 bill in my hand-there was a $2 bill in the United States. I was in New York when they abolished it. There was no problem with that. There are no $2 bills any more in the United States. It is not the only country in the world that has abolished the two dollar bill. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that a two dollar bill had been introduced in Great Britain. But that is not true. In Britain, it was abolished, and several other countries simply abolished the two dollar denomination.
Some countries did convert it into a coin, but others did not. The parliamentary secretary seemed to want to mention only those who converted it into a coin. Many countries have abolished the two dollar denomination, and if they did, so can Canada. That could be very well received. It is not as if we wanted to abolish the 1 cent coin or another denomination essential to counting money. A $2 bill is not like a cent. To abolish the cent would have a devastating impact because we would be abolishing a unit essential to counting money. But the $2 bill is not essential, for that purpose. The proof of that, I repeat, is that other countries did it successfully.
That is what I am suggesting to the government. If we kept the present $2 bill for a while or if we simply removed it for some time, the government would save more money than by introducing a $2 coin.
This way, private business would not have to spend another $400 million to no real puprpose. Municipalities would not be forced to spend money replacing parking meters, vending machines, cash registers and all sorts of other business machines all across Canada. We would save a lot of money, and even the government would save.
If the government decided to eliminate the $2 bill, it would still be possible to reintroduce it later, if it was considered a mistake or if the public did not accept the change. By contrast, once the $2 coin is introduced, we will already have spent $400 million. The damage will already have been done. If it were abolished later on because the public did not accept it, the private sector would still have made unnecessary investments.
Some say that perhaps the timing is wrong, since the government is considering the introduction of a $5 coin. Some coun-
tries, Australia for instance, introduced a $5 coin. By the way, in Australia, the $2 and $5 coins have not been accepted yet.
At least the government understood that this is not the right time to issue a five dollar coin. They have understood that at least. They say: We may issue a five dollar coin in five or ten years from now. Why not wait and issue the two coins at the same time? Why now? What is the hurry? Why impose unnecessary expenses on the private sector? Why not wait for technological advances?
As we all know, we live in a rapidly changing society. I, for one, pay my newspaper with a credit card. I do not use spare change very often. People, at least in my town, use credit cards or debit cards issued by their caisses populaires to make purchases at their convenience store or supermarket. Plastic may be the way of the future.
New technologies could make currency obsolete a few years from now. Why should we have a bill which will force unnecessary expenses on merchants and tax consumers even more, when we know that in a few years from now technology will make coins obsolete? I believe this bill shows a lack of foresight, intelligence and vision.
This government is clumsy. Obviously they have not done their homework. Even their argument regarding fare boxes in buses is clumsy. They claim that there will be no more two dollar bills obstructing fare boxes and that using two one dollar coins instead will solve the problem.
Some say that, if we eliminate the $2 coin, we will end up with a lot of small change in our pockets, with many more $1 coins. We will keep them in our pockets instead of leaving them in the bank. Obviously, if a $2 coin is introduced, we will have more change in our pockets anyway. Having one $2 coin is no better for us than having two $1 coins. What I am saying is that four quarters are still equal to a dollar, but that in the end we are forcing shopkeepers to spend considerable amounts.
My government colleagues disagree, arguing that people in Canada are weak and vulnerable; that they do not know how to count; that they are used to the $2 bill; that if this bill is eliminated, they will have trouble counting to two. These arguments come from the Liberals.
I think that people are smart enough to figure out that one plus one is two. They do not necessarily need a $2 coin.
Another argument from the government-as the parliamentary secretary put forward a moment ago-is that this coin would be a symbol of our national heritage. Just imagine! Some Liberal members also told me that a Canadian $2 coin would enhance the Canadian identity and makes us different from the Americans, who do not have a $2 coin. What an argument.
The Canadian identity must be pretty fragile if we need a $2 bill to maintain it. That is a pretty weak argument.
The issue of future developments must also be considered. The parliamentary secretary talked about all the other countries in the world, listing a few-like England-that have introduced a $2 coin. He said that England had issued a $2 coin which, in fact, has been eliminated. He is showing bias in his remarks, stating that several countries have issued a $2 coin, although a number of them have eliminated it.
The way of the future is not so clear. Either we eliminate the two dollar denomination or we introduce a coin. Both examples can be found in this country. The other way is perhaps to act prudently and wait for technological developments to see if credit cards and plastic money could do the job instead.
Perhaps now is not the time to make such a change, requiring business and private enterprise to pay out up to $400 million for the sole purpose of alleviating a government concern. You know, many reasons militate against passing this bill, but the main reason that I would like to call to your attention is the fact that it was brought forward by the Minister of Public Works, who has quite a reputation.
The minister has already introduced legislation, namely Bill C-52, which had to be put off indefinitely because it was flawed. The minister was trying to introduce through this legislation a means of competing with private enterprise, in particular with the Canadian architectural and consulting engineering sector. There was a general outcry across the country and it was decided not to go any further with this bill. Bill C-52 was never seen again.
Perhaps the Minister of Public Works lacks good judgment in his bills. Here is another example: this ongoing competition with Canada Post, which competes unfairly with courier companies. Again, the minister seems to encourage unfair competition with private enterprise, which goes to show that this minister does not care very much about the business and industrial community. This is a minister who has, time and time again, squandered the taxpayers'money. And the list goes on. If I had more time, I could give you more examples of how this particular minister diverts funds, wastes money and does not do his job, because what we have here is a perfect example of a minister not doing his job.
We, Bloc members, care about savings and there are great savings to be made. Perhaps this is not the right time to be introducing Bill C-82, as it entails major transition costs. This measure will cost businesses and consumers a bundle, and introducing a $2 coin will not solve the problem with the $1 coin. We suggest that the government do its job, that is to say put out feelers to check whether or not the time is right to be
introducing something like this or if other alternatives should be explored, like eliminating the two-dollar denomination altogether, which was not done. This should be done because we stand to save even more by eliminating the two-dollar denomination.
It would also add an element of flexibility, since a two-dollar coin could still be introduced in the future, if need be. At least, this would be a more prudent, economical move. All I have to say to the Minister of Public Works is: "Do your job, because you have not done it so far".