Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to speak to the bill on the harmonization of the GST.
I have heard a number of noteworthy and notable speeches by the Liberals to justify the appropriateness of this bill. I cannot agree with them. This bill represents the Liberals' acknowledgement of failure to my mind. During the election campaign, and even before, when the Conservatives thought they had found the magic formula for getting out of hot water and halting the growth of the deficit, in short, for better selling themselves to Canadians, they came up with the GST formula. I recall the Liberals, who were in opposition at the time, being all in a lather over this tax, which was to be added to the Canadian tax system.
The current Prime Minister, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, did not want to outdone. He said: "I will scrap the GST. We hate this tax and we are going to eliminate it".
Recently, confronted with the remarks he made at the time, the Prime Minister tried, as we say, to put the toothpaste back in the tube and discovered that it was no easy task. First he denied, then he softened his denial increasingly and finally he said that Canadians had been a bit slow in not understanding, that it was not what he wanted to say.
However, if the words "I will scrap the GST" are given their usual interpretation, nothing other than "dump out" for "scrap" comes to mind. That was what the then Leader of the Opposition, who hoped to become and has since become the Prime Minister, really meant.
Speaking of failure, upon taking office, the Prime Minister gave its finance committee the mandate to look for a viable alternative to replace the infamous GST, the goods and services tax. The committee held hearings, heard witnesses, summoned accountants close to the Liberal Party of Canada and came up with a couple of alternatives before ending up with the HST. Since the first two options were rejected, we are left with the HST.
Let us look at why the government is trying so hard to distance itself from its election promises. Having put out feelers and considered various options, why come up with this HST?
Several answers can honestly be given to this question. First, we have seen that not everyone was happy with the human resources development reform in Canada, the employment or unemployment insurance reform. In fact, I dare say the hardest hit were seasonal workers in the maritimes. I personally visited the maritime provinces twice in the past two years and I could see that, in the fishing communities, boats were put away. In every backyard on Lamèque Island, there is a boat that has not been used once in the last two summers. This has caused discontent.
I can remember the hon. member for Beauséjour and the Minister of Human Resources Development going back to their ridings to try and sell their so-called employment insurance reform. They had to be placed under the protection of the RCMP. When a member or a minister needs a police escort to sell any bill or policy to their supporters, there is a problem.
The members concerned probably realized there was a problem and managed to convince the Prime Minister he should admit it.
This, I think, is where the reform and harmonization of the GST really originated. The government wanted to pay off the maritime provinces, where 32 of the 33 ridings are held by Liberals. The federal government wanted to preserve that, particularly in light of the fact that a maritime province just elected a Conservative government, something which was totally unexpected. So, the Liberals said: "We have to do something, otherwise maritimers might turn against us".
This is how the idea of harmonizing the GST came about. I listened to the hon. member for Scarborough-Agincourt, who said in his speech: "This harmonization is great. It means that, in some provinces, the combined federal and provincial taxes will go down from 19 to 15 per cent, a 4 per cent reduction. People will be pleased".
Sure. However, that 4 per cent represents the $961 million that maritimers will no longer pay, but that the rest of Canadians will still have to pay, that is to say, taxpayers from Quebec all the way to the Pacific. This $961 million represents what we will have to pay, because maritimers will no longer do so, thanks to their lower combined tax rate.
The government should admit this to Canadians from the other provinces who will have to make up for this $961 million shortfall. There is no doubt in my mind that Quebecers, like the others, will pay their share, if not more, because it can no longer be said that
this $961 million will be prorated. It is not true. We can already exclude three provinces that will not contribute. There are players missing.
Instead of dividing that $961 million by ten, since there are ten provinces, it will be divided by seven, because three provinces will not pay. Instead, they will benefit from that measure. Quebecers have traditionally paid around 23 or 24 per cent of federal taxes. In this case, their actual contribution could go as high as 30, 31 or even 32 per cent of this $961 million. This is what is so unfair.
This is probably an attempt to make people forget about the closure or downsizing of military bases in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In any case, the government wanted to redeem itself. I listened to the members opposite, particularly the hon. member for St. Boniface. These defenders of every possible Liberal cause told us that this HST was the greatest thing since sliced bread, that Canadians should rejoice forever, and that the Liberals would definitely make it to heaven now.
You will understand if I have my doubts, particularly when you never know who or what this tax is going to hit next, and when it makes no allowance for soft sectors such as culture, and other sectors such as restoration. These are sectors that need a break, if I may put it that way, sectors that need general and regular support from the government.
Fine. The minister made a compromise that he thought was commendable but that I call almost insignificant, by exempting universities and schools from paying GST on books. The GST on books was being paid by him, or by governments. So he was doing himself a favour, or at least reducing the amount he owed himself. This is not something that is going to help industry. A tiny part of the book industry sells books in schools or in municipal or public libraries.
But think of all these writers, all those who publish. I will give you an example. Take sheet music. Music is not a profitable field, and even less so when it comes to writing it down on paper. An entire printing process has to be set in motion in order to sell 60, 70 or 100 copies of a musical score across Canada.
It can easily cost $2,000 for the printing setup and perhaps 100, 150 or 200 copies in certain cases of the musical work in question will be sold. If we want to respect copyright, something which has not yet been recognized, the place where an artist may sometimes derive some sort of benefit or profit is on the performance of the musical work, not through circulation of the paper on which it is written. This is a way of publicizing the musical work, but it is generally more profitable when it is performed, when it is heard, when it is broadcast.
This is where the artist can make a bit of money, when it is performed by orchestras, be they chamber, symphonic or philharmonic. Printing music is expensive and often cuts into the profits of the composer, the person who wrote it, the author. But now they have decided to squeeze him dry, to make his life more difficult. If he sold 80 copies, the Minister of Finance would perhaps be jealous because he cannot sell his copies of the budget for very much. But you can be sure printing his budget costs plenty. What I can tell you is that the poor people are being put through the wringer. This is at the root of our cultural industry and the Liberals could care less.
They are much keener when it comes to doublecrossing people, as they did in the Peason affair. They cancelled a contract and, in the end, it is going to cost us just as much as if it had been honoured. And the promoter will not have any of the financial risks that are typical of this kind of undertaking.
When we had the debate in June 1994, I said as much to the minister, the current Minister of Defence who was then Minister of Transport and who was in charge of the Pearson airport case. At the time he said the hon. member for Chambly was exaggerating, and that is on the record. And all this was supposed to cost us $20 to $25 million, those were the figures he mentioned, but certainly not more. We are not going on a witch hunt, and we must look to the future, the minister said at the time.
Almost three years, or at least two and three-quarter years later, we see nothing, absolutely nothing has been done about the Pearson airport case. And now, the government is facing a law suit totalling between $650 and $700 million in damages.
Recently, we read in the media that there might be an out-of-court settlement, something like the offer they made to the former Prime Minister of Canada. I do not know whether apologies will be forthcoming this time. It seems that $70, 80 or 90 million is the offer they will start with, but negotiations are not over yet. Actually, the Liberals are delighted that they managed to do indirectly when they could not do openly, which is to take care of their friends. They argue that if they do not settle, it will cost the government a lot more, and they use this argument as a sword of Damocles. Quite some case. So how do people manage to do favours for their political friends when they are in power?
Take for instance in my riding, we have a thriving industry called Unibroue. Unibroue was established by people who decided to ignore the rules and regulations of federal and even provincial legislation and start brewing beer, good beer, outstanding beer: Raftman, Blanche de Chambly. I know my friends in the Bloc have sampled and enjoyed them all-