Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on third reading of Bill C-70. This is a very important bill. It is certainly not routine. This bill will have crucial consequences for the maritimes but also for all citizens in Quebec and Canada. In my view, this bill is highly controversial, concerning as it does a measure that the members of this government fiercely opposed when they were in opposition.
Hon. members will recall, and especially my colleague from Sorel, the battle of epic proportions which the Liberal Party of Canada waged against the GST. Later on I will share with you some quotes from the Liberal opposition's report when the GST was introduced and from the debates that preceded its introduction. The position taken in this report was the exact opposite of the position taken today by the Liberal government, the opposition at the time.
Bill C-70 provides that in three Atlantic provinces, provincial sales tax will be merged with the GST, so there will be only one tax, referred to as it the "HST", the harmonized sales tax, which will be 15 per cent. Basically, this agreement compensates three maritime provinces for harmonizing their sales tax with the GST. In fact, this compensation will be paid for by the people of Quebec and other Canadian provinces outside the maritimes and is expected to amount to nearly one billion dollars.
The government has not provided any solutions. If the government wanted to achieve anything at all with respect to the GST, it certainly did not do so with this bill. We will comment on the government's commitments later on. The harmonization that was much vaunted by the other side for many months has not come through. It is only being done in a specific geographic area, in three maritime provinces. Harmonization should mean harmony, but that is certainly not the case.
During the three days of public hearings held by the Standing Committee on Finance, even representatives from the maritimes disagreed with the government's proposal and, meanwhile, the government did not have a clue how to get out of this mess.
Before getting to the crux of the matter, I would like to make two comments regarding the procedures followed for this bill and the conduct of the government's representatives. First of all, the government's representatives behaved in a manner I would call undemocratic, ever since we started examining this bill.
At the second reading stage, we received the bill 24 hours before hand. Twenty-four hours to examine a bill that is more than 300 pages long, plus explanatory notes. We were told to do our job. We must explain to the public that certain parts of the bill could cause problems and should be debated in the House.
It is unheard of to receive a bill as important as this one, with so many clauses and having so many potential consequences, only 24 hours ahead of time. It is hard to explain why, unless we realize that the Liberals want to talk about GST as little as possible. They want to give us as little ammunition as possible with which to attack the GST because their own arguments are so weak. From the very beginning, their approach has been very much ad hoc.
Quite simply, I wish to point out two things in connection with the attendance of the witnesses over three days in early January and the way the Liberals presented things.
First of all, right from the word go, right from the start of these hearings, the Liberals arrived at the finance committee with 16 amendments to their own bill. Imagine how unsure of themselves they must have been to have seen problems in the bill they had tabled themselves, to start off by giving the committee 16 amendments.
We saw those amendments at the same time everyone else did, even though our role as official opposition would require us to have access to them in advance so we could assess their scope. And that is not all.
On the third day of the hearings, because hearings on such an important matter were restricted to three days, the Liberals tabled 113 amendments on the very evening that the bill was being analyzed clause by clause. Yes, 113 amendments to a government bill introduced by representatives of the government-there is some incongruity to that.