Mr. Speaker, as strange as it may seem, I would like to offer the Minister of Finance my congratulations, but I will then move right on to three complaints.
I congratulate the minister on taking a step in the right direction by abolishing the GST on books purchased by educational institutions, non-profit organizations and other organizations working in the field of literacy.
This is also a victory for the Bloc Quebecois, for I would remind the finance minister that, since 1992, when there were seven members of the Bloc Quebecois in this House, we have been calling for the complete removal of the GST on all books sold, not only in the case of educational institutions and non-profit organizations, but everywhere, in all provinces, in whatever manner, for the purpose of eliminating illiteracy in Canada.
We are claiming a victory, because of the initial hard work done by our seven colleagues, and because the Bloc Quebecois, as the official opposition, carried on this fight for the complete removal of the GST on books.
Just as the Minister of Finance often slips bad news in with the good, the bad news is that this agreement with the Maritimes is going to cost Canadians almost one billion dollars. This is one billion dollars that Canadians outside the maritimes, as well as Quebecers, will have to pay for a political agreement with the Maritimes to fool the public into thinking that the government is doing something about the GST. If it had had to do anything, if it had had to keep its red book promise, it should have abolished the GST.
Now it is buying off the maritimes, and pretending to the Canadian people that it has taken action and sorted out part of the problem, when in fact nothing has been sorted out, and this political agreement has cost one billion dollars, 250 million of which will come from Quebecers, to make the Minister of Finance look good.
Second, I must protest the minister's lack of transparency, because nowhere in his statement does he mention this one billion in compensation that we will have to pay.
A second instance of lack of transparency pointed out by the auditor general: the minister doctored his figures in the last budget to include in the financial year ending on March 31 the $961 million, nearly one billion, he will pay to the maritimes. Why did the minister do that? He did it so that next year, he would have even better news for us about reducing his deficit. That is doctoring figures. That is cooking the books.
The auditor general said it as follows: "Ottawa violates its own accounting rules". To make himself look good, the Minister of
Finance included an amount in the previous financial year, before the agreement was even signed with the maritimes. Now that is carrying transparency a bit too far.
Another case of lack of transparency is the minister's refusal to release the formula and the parameters for establishing this one billion dollar compensation for the maritimes, despite the fact that the Quebec government and other provincial governments, at the last meeting of Finance ministers, asked the federal government to come clean, for once, and release the formula for establishing this billion dollar compensation.
For instance, why should Quebec not be entitled to this kind of compensation, since it harmonized the QST with the GST back in 1991 and 1992? The government says Quebec is not entitled to compensation, but it never released the formula for calculating this compensation. That is a lack of transparency.
I want to congratulate the minister on partially abolishing the GST on books, but at the same time I have serious reservations about the transparency of the process. As far as the Minister of Finance is concerned, transparency does not exist.