Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-70, which seeks to amend certain aspects of the GST. My initial reaction when I reviewed this legislation was: "Poor Canadian federalists. The more things change, the more they stay the same".
Over the years, all kinds of programs were created to try to buy peace in some part of Canada, and this is the case once again. Before talking about the unfair benefits and the special status being granted to the Atlantic provinces, we must first pass moral judgment on this government.
For three years now, the government has systematically done the opposite of what it promised. In the case of unemployment insurance, it implemented the reform that the Conservatives had in mind, but only after condemning it throughout the election campaign. As for the GST, it was supposed to disappear. Such was the position of the Liberals, and also one of their major commitments.
Today, three years later, the government comes up with a proposed amendment which, instead of eliminating the GST, makes it even worse. We never promised to kill the GST, because the principle of a tax on goods and services is not necessarily bad, but the Liberals did so when they formed the opposition. During the election campaign, they said the GST was bad and that they would make fundamental changes to it. The Liberals did not fulfil their commitment. This is how governments lose their credibility.
What really gets members from Quebec is this government's double standard. On the one hand, the Government of Quebec has harmonized its provincial sales tax with the GST for a number of years now, and it has done so without asking for compensation, because there was never any talk of any. Plans were made so that it would be done properly, it was and it works.
Suddenly, in the last year, we learned, when all was said and done, that the maritimes were going to be paid $1 billion to harmonize with the GST. There is no reference to this in the bill, not a trace. But the facts are there. There is the fact that, in a shameless display of window dressing, harmonization with the GST will cost $1 billion. Is this how the Liberal government is going to try to make Atlantic Canadians forget their anger over employment insurance reform? I do not think this is the way to go about it.
They had an opportunity to come up with a truly dynamic employment insurance reform that would allow a community to take responsibility for itself, to develop, but they preferred to base their reform on the following principle: "If there are no jobs where you live, you must move somewhere else", rather than the following principle: "The government has a responsibility to ensure that an area's resources are used in the manner most conducive to its development". This principle was ignored in the employment insurance reform and another substituted for it.
But then, with an election looming, we are suddenly hit with the news of this wonderful $1 billion in compensation. Imagine what this does for competitiveness. It means that Quebecers will pay $250 million in taxes to help the maritime economy harmonize with the GST. It is completely unacceptable.
It is as though you suddenly decided to pay the heating costs for a third of the town by billing the rest of the inhabitants, but not supplying them with any heat, and using their wood in the bargain. This leads to major problems that are unacceptable.
Perhaps it is a political gift, so that the maritimes will be more receptive to UI reform, but I have to say that $1 billion in compensation to the maritimes over the next four years is a large amount.
Furthermore, in future, all Canadians will have to pay more in equalization payments to the maritimes. That is why I say that, the more Canadian federalism changes, the more it stays the same. Time and again, we see that it is an uncontrollable beast, which tries to balance things artificially rather than allowing the various components to evolve naturally.
Canada-wide harmonization is not for tomorrow. The proof lies in the way in which each province guards its jurisdiction, the responses from the west. We are facing a situation that will go on for several years. This compensation sets up a double standard in Canada. It is completely unacceptable.
The Liberal government, and particularly candidates in Quebec ridings, will have to answer about this in the next election. They will be asked why they gave $1 billion in compensation to the maritimes, but nothing to us, who did our work properly. How will they see that we are compensated? There will probably be a number of proposals on the table, but that will not deal with the fact that we have a double standard here.
The procedure being implemented is somewhat insulting to the maritimes, even if they are getting compensation. Ways could be found to improve the economy other than by giving them special
status in this respect, compared with other Canadians. This will make for unfair competition.
Part of my riding is right next door to New Brunswick. Consider the following: we have two regions, Madawaska in New Brunswick and Témiscouata in Quebec, and a decision by the federal government has changed the rules of the game. The same side has all the advantages. The next thing you know, some Quebec federalists will say it is up to the Government of Quebec to deal with the problem. The lack of fairness in federalism is one of the major drawbacks of our system. It may be egalitarian, but it is not fair. The Liberal government will pay the price in the next election.
During the few minutes I have left, I would like to emphasize the positive impact of the battle fought by members of the Bloc Quebecois in the last Parliament. I am referring to the members for Richelieu, Lac-Saint-Jean, Saint-Hubert, Longueuil, Hull-Aylmer, Rosemont, Shefford and Laurier-Sainte-Marie. They fought non-stop to remove the GST on books.
Today we see the results, although is a partial, not a complete success. The Bloc Quebecois always wanted the tax on books removed altogether and to have the whole book industry exempt from the GST because this has a major cultural impact. We have won at least half the battle.
We fought for this from the very beginning, and now all books purchased by institutions engaged in literacy training, schools and public libraries will be exempt from this tax. This is quite an achievement. Congratulations are in order for the members who worked unceasingly from the word go to obtain this exemption. The government could have gone further by accepting the Bloc's request that books not be taxed. Books are a jewel in the crown of our cultural industry.
This is how Quebecers and Canadians often have a chance to make a name for themselves. It is what gave Quebec and Canadian culture a chance to take its place in the North American market, the world market and the francophonie and do so in a way that is financially profitable.
The battle fought by Bloc members, and there were only eight at the time, has finally produced results. Since we formed the official opposition, we continued the struggle, and now we have won half the battle.
You may rest assured that we will continue our fight to have the tax on books removed altogether, which will have a real impact on the cultural industry, so that our authors will get the recognition they deserve and be proud of what we are doing.
This then, in short, is legislation that exempts certain books from taxation but that creates incredible inequity for Quebec and the regions bordering on Quebec, especially as far as the maritimes are concerned. For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois can never vote in support of this bill as it now stands. It creates two types of citizens, of taxpayers: those who live in the maritimes, who pay less sales tax thanks to the federal government's contribution, and the others. It in fact encourages governments to adopt a certain laissez-faire approach to managing their affairs. It encourages them to say: "We will be able to spend a little more; the federal government will compensate us for it". It is as if the government was trying to use a tax measure to reduce differences in income and in quality of life in Canada. This is not how to go about it.
The way to do it is to establish the principle that we will allow each region to develop its economy to the best of its ability, using its natural and human resources to the fullest, and that Canada's entire political and economic system will be based on that. No problem can be resolved by providing under the table compensation on sales tax. This creates an unnatural situation in the market, which goes against all current economic trends where the thrust is to emphasize the quality of our resources through ability and the possibility of competing on an equal footing.
Now, with the new law, there is no equal footing. The Atlantic provinces are told: "You will have a special advantage". Why do the people in the Atlantic provinces enjoy this advantage, when eastern Quebec, the Gaspé, the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore and the other regions of Quebec face the same economic difficulties as the maritimes? Why give Madawaska an advantage and not compensate Quebec in order to give Témiscouata the same advantage? This is unacceptable. This could in fact encourage Quebec consumers to go and buy in the maritimes. I think the federal government is once again not playing fair, to the advantage of the maritime provinces. In the past, it was to Ontario's advantage, particularly in research and development.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against this bill and will put the following question to all federal Liberal candidates in Quebec in the election campaign: "Do you think it is fair to give the maritimes $1 billion in compensation for the GST?"