Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the motions in Group No. 3 put forward by the Bloc Quebecois concerning this part of Bill C-70. Because this bill is very substantial, the amendments have had to be grouped.
I am pleased to rise today to express my opposition to Bill C-70, as my colleagues have done before me. As has already been said repeatedly, this bill is a hodgepodge of amendments to the GST, a rather thin and tasteless soup.
One of the aims of this bill is to harmonize the GST and the provincial sales tax of three maritime provinces in exchange for a paltry compensation of $1 billion based on some particularly obscure calculations.
First off, I would like to point out that there would have been no debate on Bill C-70 had the Liberal government kept its election promises. In the last election, the Prime Minister promised to totally eliminate this federal sales tax. However, far from eliminating it, the government now wants to harmonize it, as it puts it, to better hide it. In addition to not fulfilling his election promise, the Prime Minister told Canadians and Quebecers he had never promised to eliminate the GST.
Canadians were probably not watching the right television channel when the Prime Minister said: "We want to scrap the GST; we want to abolish it; we want to eliminate it". Canadians were probably not reading the right newspapers when they read, written
in black and white, during the election campaign, statements made by the Prime Minister and his Liberal colleagues saying: "Yes, we will scrap the GST". Canadians were probably not tuning to the right radio stations when the Prime Minister, his ministers and other members opposite said: "We will abolish the GST; we will scrap it".
Today, we are told: "You misunderstood". And we misunderstood them in both official languages. This is all about respect.
Now, we all know what to make of the Liberals' promises, including future ones, because they will promise us the world again. We have proof that the Liberals are unable to fulfil their commitments. To make things worse, the Prime Minister was disrespectful to a citizen on the national television network when he told her: "No, we did not lie; this is what we meant, but we did not state it correctly".
Not only did the Prime Minister and his government renege on their word, they are now proposing a bill hastily thrown together, a bill that will cost us one billion dollars in compensation to just three maritime provinces. What a nice pre-election gift. They probably need it badly in that part of the country.
I will not discuss in detail the technical aspects of Bill C-70, but I have to point out the government's incompetence in this matter, and its lack of respect for the opposition and for Maritimers, who were not given an opportunity to be effectively consulted and heard.
Before Christmas, the Minister of Finance tabled a bill that has close to 300 pages. He tabled it just before the Christmas recess, giving the opposition 24 hours to review this technical piece of legislation and to prepare for debate at second reading. The purpose was obviously to prevent the official opposition from finding flaws in the bill. Unfortunately for the Liberals, there were flaws and there are still many. In fact, the government botched its work to the point that the Liberals themselves tabled over 100 amendments to their own bill. Their excuse is that they worked so quickly and did such a poor job that they did not have the time to read it over and so they have come up with 100 amendments to remedy matters.
The government has been moving full steam ahead with Bill C-70 so that the public will forget the GST fiasco before the next federal election. It shows, because this is a bad bill and the government is proving it by introducing so many amendments. Not only is Bill C-70 bad, but it is unfair, because it makes no provision for compensation to provinces that have already harmonized their provincial sales tax with the federal tax.
Oddly enough, the only province that has already harmonized its sales tax with the federal tax is Quebec. That is right, once again the Liberal government is thumbing its nose at Quebecers, by refusing to give them the money to which they are entitled. The Government of Quebec calculates the amount at $2 billion. If you work out fairly what Quebec should receive in light of what was handed over to the maritimes, this is the amount owing. We are not asking for a handout or anything extra, we are asking for what is owed us.
When the provincial premiers got together in Jasper last August, they reached an agreement that all provinces should be treated equitably by the federal government. All provinces including Quebec, since it is still part of Canada for a few years to come, are to benefit equally from the agreements regarding the harmonization of sales taxes, which naturally includes compensation.
On December 13, 1996, Quebec ministers Bernard Landry and Jacques Brassard officially requested $2 billion in compensation for having harmonized Quebec's sales tax with the federal sales tax. Since that time, the Liberal government has refused to compensate the Quebec government for this harmonization.
It is worth pointing out that Quebec harmonized its sales tax in 1991, on its own and without financial assistance. The costs of this harmonization were considerable, and part of those costs were borne by Quebec businesses. Moreover, Quebec businesses are still paying the price, and are not even reaping the benefits the harmonized tax will offer, as proposed in Bill C-70. The bill neglects to even mention Quebec.
As for the three Maritime provinces, they will benefit fully and considerably from the harmonization of their sales tax with the federal tax. Unlike the Quebec businesses, those in the Maritimes will be fully reimbursed for input taxes, without the increase in taxes Quebec businesses had to absorb. One of the best proofs of the Maritimes' new advantage is the poaching by New Brunswick's Premier McKenna during Team Canada's latest trip to Asia. During this trade mission, Premier McKenna approached Quebec and Ontario businesses to get them to move to New Brunswick by pointing out the advantages of harmonizing their sales tax with the GST.
The federal government is therefore using some of the Quebec taxpayers' money to finance unfair and unethical competition by the Atlantic provinces. We are also paying for the tax cuts promised by the Government of New Brunswick, while such a luxury is out of reach for us in Quebec. Unfortunately, the harmonization of sales taxes by the Maritime provinces will cost us more than just the $1 billion over the next four years. The reduction in sales tax from 19 per cent to 15 per cent will mean that Quebecers and all Canadians will be contributing more in equalization payments to the maritime provinces.
Furthermore, the federal government is guilty of a total lack of transparency and fairness in this matter. There is no way at the moment to justify the $1 billion the maritime provinces are going to get. The reason is simple, unlike the practice, the standards and method of calculation used to establish the amount of compensa-
tion remain hidden and under wraps. This is unacceptable. The government is being neither professional nor honest in this matter.
Now, a quick word in closing on Bill C-70's supposed elimination of tax on books. Another snow job by the Liberal government in an effort to hide its mistakes. Bill C-70 provides for the elimination of taxation on books purchased by literacy and teaching institutions only. This is a start, it is true. We recognize that. However, it is thanks to the unrelenting demand of Quebec, which, by the way, has eliminated sales tax on all books.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois opposes Bill C-70 and its plan to harmonize the GST with the sales tax of the maritime provinces. This bill is jerry-built and based on nothing more than political and partisan considerations. The Liberal government is attempting to mislead the public with this bill and make them forget the empty promise of eliminating the GST, but people will not be fooled and will still remember in a few months' time.